asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now seek to amend the law in regard to housing to permit owners of vacant property to enter into leases for fixed periods, with appropriate safeguards for the tenants.
Is the Minister aware that there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of empty properties which owners would be willing to let if they could be sure of gaining vacant possession after a reasonable length of time? Is it not a fact that many people do not need life-long security of tenure and would be content with a form of lease that gave them security for a year or two?
Any empty property is of great concern to us at this time of desperate housing need. I must reassert to the House the fact that, following our Rent Act consultation paper, we believe that security of tenure for the tenant in his home must be maintained.
When will the Minister learn that the fact that houses are kept empty causes considerable distress? Will he visit the area which I have the honour to represent, because I can show him many houses there which landlords want to rent to tenants but cannot do so because of the stupid doctrines of the Rent Act?
I am sorry to see the hon. Gentleman so depressed. Our experience, however, is that when rent restrictions or security of tenure are relaxed there are still empty properties and there is still a decline in the private sector market.
I share my hon. Friend's concern about empty properties, but will he have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the 13 per cent. of Ministry of Defence houses which are now empty, particularly in the area of Marchington in Staffordshire, where many such properties have been empty for four years? Will he ensure that the sound advice on housing management that is available in the Department of the Environment is conveyed to the Secretary of State for Defence?
Does not the Minister recognise that if the Labour Party continues with the threat of interfering with this sector it will discourage people from letting? There is historical evidence that when there was a relaxation accommodation disappeared from the market because the Labour Party pledged itself to bring back controls the moment it was able to do so. Is that not the genesis of our troubles?
If the hon. Gentleman is as concerned with the desperate need for housing as he appears to suggest, he should not make party political points but should help to bring about more progress in this area. All our experience was that the private sector continued to decline even when the so-called expert remedies advocated by the hon. Gentleman were in force.