HL Deb 24 July 1991 vol 531 cc779-80

3.18 p.m.

Lord Jay asked Her Majesty's Government:

Flow many new homes to let were completed in the first half of 1991 in the public and private sectors respectively.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, figures for June 1991 are not yet available. However, in the first five months of 1991 some 3,800 local authority and 5,900 housing association dwellings for letting were completed in England. There is no detailed information about private enterprise building for letting, but the extension of the business expansion scheme of tax relief for investment in rented housing has resulted in some £700 million being raised since 1988, which should provide about 12,000 additional homes to rent.

Lord Jay

My Lords, do not those rather pathetic figures of houses being built go far to explain why homeless totals are getting worse? Do they not show also that the Government's policy of producing adequate houses to rent through the private sector is an almost total failure?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am not sure that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jay. It is implicit from what he said that he believes that only local authorities can be providers. Deregulation is going a long way towards encouraging the provision of more rented accommodation. We have a number of measures, which I could catalogue if there were time, which will encourage the provision of more rented accommodation. That will provide more homes for people.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can the Minister inform me whether there is any prospect of some of the surplus accommodation which has been occupied by service personnel being made available to homeless people? Has any thought been given to that?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. I have returned to that a number of times recently to say that a debate is ensuing between the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Defence. However, the Ministry of Defence is now actively considering the possibility of making provision for the young soldiers and sailors who will be made redundant as a result of the Options for Change announcement.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say how many houses from public housing stock will be sold to the occupants during the period when she says that 12,000 new homes will be available to rent?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord is confusing two issues. These are not new homes for rent. The business expansion scheme is bringing some old housing into stock for rent. The 12,000 homes will consist of restored, renovated old properties which will then be made available for rent.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, before asking my noble friend a question, on behalf of the House perhaps I may wish her a happy birthday. Can the Minister say why noble Lords opposite opposed deregulation of the rented sector?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those kind comments. I find I am having to make an adjustment to having very public birthdays.

What my noble friend says is true, and it is an important point. Noble Lords opposite opposed deregulation. It is our view that allowing landlords to obtain a fair rent for their property will go a long way to making rented accommodation available for those who need it.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there is a dearth of accommodation to rent for young people living in rural areas? Can she say what the Government are doing to encourage local authorities to give planning permission concerning small plots of land in order that people may build houses which could provide cheaply-rented accommodation?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Countess makes an important point: such planning permissions could free homes both for sale and for rent. However, perhaps I may mention that there is a leaflet available which will go a long way to encourage people who have a spare room in their homes to rent off part of the property. The leaflet is demystifying and it will help people through the mechanisms for doing that. Therefore a great deal is being done, including the introduction of an exceptions policy which the Government have put in place. That allows land which otherwise would not be used for housing to be made available for the building of low cost housing in rural areas.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the figures announced are disappointing? They are possibly the smallest figures on record. Bearing in mind that the survey by the Department of the Environment shows that 1 million new houses will be needed by the turn of the century, is the Minister aware that should the Government bring forward any plans to inflate the present situation and put a proper house-building programme into operation, they will receive the fullest support from this side of the House?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am not saying that the proposals will meet all the housing provision required. However, the measures that the Government are taking will make more rented accommodation available than would be available under the party opposite.

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