HL Deb 22 April 1986 vol 473 cc1069-72
Lord Dean of Beswick

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 how many people have been living in rented property each year since 1979 in (a) the public sector and (b) the private sector.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Elton)

My Lords, it is estimated that in Great Britain in mid-1979 there were about 16.9 million people in council housing, 800,000 in dwellings rented from housing associations and 5.5 million in private rented housing. The corresponding estimates for mid-1985 are 14.8 million, 1.0 million and 4.0 million, respectively. Estimates for the intermediate years will be published in the Official Report.

Following are the estimates referred to:

Number of people in Great Britain in households renting from
Mid-Year Local authorities and New Towns Housing Associations Private owners
1979 16.9 0.8 5.5
1980 16.8 0.8 5.2
1981 16.6 0.8 4.9
1982 16.1 0.9 4.7
1983 15.5 0.9 4.5
1984 15.1 1.0 4.2
1985 14.8 1.0 4.0

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, is he aware that figures published by responsible housing organisations and authorities show that over the five years there has been a total loss between the private and public sectors of over 820,000 housing units for letting? Does that not indicate a very large falldown on the Government's responsibility in one of the areas of greatest need?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I do not agree that the decline in the figures in the rented sector indicate a fall in the Government's responsibility. I believe that it reflects the success, in part, of our campaign to allow people to own their own homes, as they wish to do.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister not aware, in regard to the figures that both he and I have given, that the number of families requiring sheltered accommodation or wheelchair accommodation has increased over the last 12 months by 31,000 to a total now of 250,000? May I ask the Minister whether the Government have any plans to deal with this very high area of priority?

Lord Elton

My Lords, we are encouraging the public sector to concentrate on those who cannot afford to own their own home, including special groups such as the elderly and the disabled on low incomes, to whom the noble Lord has referred, and to give particular attention to the needs of the homeless.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that most people in our country think that there would be great benefit to the whole community if the sector of rented property in private hands was substantially increased? Therefore, I would ask my noble friend to consider further relaxation of the over-stringent legislation now covering that sector.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Government hope to introduce major legislation to encourage the supply of more homes for renting in the private sector, but not during the lifetime of this Parliament. We believe that there is a very important role for the private rented sector to play in meeting housing need and that we must try to create the conditions in which landlords will be prepared to invest in accommodation for letting.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House why it is that the shortage in rented accommodation cannot be made good by the release of those funds which have been accumulated by local authorities from the sale of council houses?

Lord Elton

My Lords, those funds are in fact available for expenditure, but not in one slice. The noble Lord will recall that we have already had over this Table exchanges in which I have tried to explain that the prescribed proportion allows for 50 per cent. of these funds to be expended over three years and the remainder in subsequent years.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, is my noble friend able to say—though I doubt whether he will be able to do so without express notice—what proportion of the private rented figures, as given in answer to the noble Lord opposite, are covered by the rent restrictions Acts, and what view the Government take of any improvement in regard to their operation?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I cannot without notice give the proportion my noble friend asks for, but my attitude to the Acts has been made clear in my earlier answer to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, has the Minister any figures for Scotland? I ask this in view of the fact that we shall shortly be dealing with the Committee stage of a Bill in respect of housing associations in Scotland and the Scottish Federation of Housing Assocations is very much concerned about the loss of rented accommodation in an area—this particularly applies to the community associations—where it is very much required.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the figures in the Answer I gave were aggregated in the way that the Question was aggregated. I cannot give separate figures for Scotland, but I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister prepared to accept that an increase in rented property in the private sector would of course be a good thing? But will he bear in mind what happened the last time a Conservative Government provided so-called freedoms for the great property owners who develop private rented property? Within a year literally hundreds of thousands of British families were reduced to the ignoble and degrading status of being almost refugees in their own land.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I cannot say that I recognise anything in our recent history as corresponding to what the noble Lord has described, but I would say that the freedom which we think is of greatest value is the freedom of people to live where they want and to own their own property if they wish. We believe in a free and fair society, as noble Lords opposite claim to do, and I believe that we are delivering it.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, does what the noble Lord the Minister has said mean that it is the Conservative Party's intention to introduce legislation making it possible for private landlords to increase rent, but that prudently it does not intend to do that this side of a general election?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked his question with a particular gloss from a particular stance. We agree that the private sector has, as the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, pointed out, a valuable role to play. That must be an economic role and the tenant must have the security of legislation.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne there are 12,000 people on the waiting list, which is higher than at any time since the immediate post-war years, and that that area has the highest unemployment in Britain? There is therefore little hope of most of them ever owning their own houses. Do the Government accept any responsibility for that state of affairs?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Government are plainly responsible for the regulation of public housing by statute and by the regulations laid down by the Treasury, which I have sought to explain to your Lordships. The question I am asked is whether that is directed towards a fair distribution. I believe that it is.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, if the Government's housing policy is so good why are waiting lists all over the country, and in particular in inner city areas, growing at a fantastic rate? Why are thousands and thousands of people literally homeless? The number of people sleeping rough in our inner city areas is on the increase. Why is bed and breakfast accommodation absolutely chock-a-block or unobtainable? That which is obtainable costs fantastic prices. In the borough that I know best, the lowest rent is £75 a week for any accommodation that can be found. Who can afford that? How about all the other problems? Will the noble Lord the Minister boast about them?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a large number of questions. The general answer to the noble Lord's inquiry is that the level of public expenditure has had to be restrained, but nevertheless is broadly the same in cash terms as it was in 1979.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that an increase in rented accommodation would materially improve the mobility of labour? In other words, it is no good searching for a job elsewhere if one has the millstone of a mortgage round one's neck.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the availability of accommodation is, of course, a factor in the mobility of labour. The noble Lord will be aware of the large number of vacancies that there are round the country, which is something that we also wish to improve.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can my noble friend say how many empty houses there were in the GLC when that organisation died? Are the successor authorities, the local authorities, now picking up those empty properties and turning them into lettable properties and, therefore, employing them more usefully?

Lord Elton

My Lords, my noble friend is right to suggest that those figures are large, but they go rather wider than the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, in his ante-penultimate answer the noble Lord the Minister was good enough to give the comparative figures for 1979 in cash terms. Can he now add the real terms?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am not sure that my arithmetic is equal to judging what is at this stage ante-penultimacy or the comparative ratio of figures, but I shall write to the noble Lord.

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