HL Deb 21 October 1992 vol 539 cc754-6

3.23 p.m.

The Earl of Carnarvon asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they are taking to increase housing opportunities for those households in South-East England who are unable to buy or rent at current market prices.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, we have substantially increased resources for the Housing Corporation for low-cost social housing; £925 million has been allocated to schemes for approval this year in London and the South East to provide 20,500 new homes.

In addition, we are about to introduce a statutory rent-to-mortgage scheme. We have introduced a rent-a-room scheme to encourage householders to take in lodgers, and we are making £25 million available to local authorities over three years to bring flats over shops back into residential use.

The Earl of Carnarvon

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that across the political parties throughout the South East, the London boroughs, the shire counties and the districts all want to provide more affordable housing? What is the Government's attitude to funding housing for rent without an option to buy?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it is up to local authorities to decide how to carry out their planning functions and how to encourage more affordable housing for low income households. Of particular concern is their ability to ensure that there is an adequate supply of affordable housing; for example, to help young people set up home. In providing new housing we accept that there must be a mix of house types and sizes to cater for a range of housing needs.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether it would harm the Government's new economic policy to provide more low cost housing and therefore help to revive the building industry and the building materials industry?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it is part of our economic policy to make sure that we have long-term sustainable growth. I believe that that is currently being done by Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the Minister answer the latter part of the noble Earl's supplementary question, which was about the attitude of the Government towards the building of houses for low-cost renting when the present legislation enables tenants to buy their houses and thereby reduce the stock? That is the question that was asked.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, there is a logical problem in what the noble Lord has just said. The housing stock is not reduced if a tenant buys his house.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, may I take it from the noble Lord's reply to the original Question that the Government are now prepared, as part of an alleged capital investment programme the details of which have yet to be revealed, to release to local authorities the money that has been received from the sale of local authority housing so that local authorities throughout the country can now begin a large-scale programme of house construction? In the event of some local authorities having no available remaining receipts from council house sales will the Minister ensure that they are suitably funded so that at long last there will be a proper housing programme throughout the United Kingdom.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord clearly understands that it is not possible to allow local authorities to spend their receipts because some local authorities would do considerably better than others. That is why the money is remitted to the central Exchequer which decides, through the SSAs and on the basis of need, what each local authority area should receive.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the acquisition by local authorities of properties on short lease is a useful resource, particularly at a time when property owners may not be able to sell because prices are not what they were a few years ago? Will he confirm that it would be helpful to use short lease properties for families who otherwise would be homeless? Does he further agree that to move those families from one property to another is distressing to them and a cost to the poll tax payer? If he does so agree, will he instigate an amendment of the capital finance regulations which preclude local authorities from leasing individual properties for more than three years so that they have to continually find new properties just to stand still?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I shall not take up the kind suggestion of the noble Baroness to amend the legislation. We feel that increasingly the way to help people on low incomes is through the means of the Housing Corporation. In my original Answer I explained how much extra finance we are allocating to the Housing Corporation.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is it not the case that for a number of years the Government have claimed that an increase in the private rented sector was one of the major answers to the problems raised in the noble Earl's Question? Will he tell the House what success that policy has had in terms of numbers of units becoming available since 1988? Would he care to explain to the House why the Government's social funds specifically disallow payments for deposit or advance rent? Does he agree that such payments are a severe deterrent to those most in need to find private rented accommodation?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite correct to say that one of our major planks is to increase the private rented sector. That has not been as successful as we had hoped and the supply has not increased. However, evidence from a recent survey shows that the decline in the private rented sector has stabilised. As I explained in my original Answer, we have introduced a number of schemes which we believe will encourage it. The problem is not one of social funds and extra help for tenants; it is to make sure that the supply is there for the tenants to find.

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