Private rented housing has been in decline for many years and for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the attractiveness of the other main forms of tenure. As the consultation paper on the review of the Rent Acts explains, we are concerned to safeguard the interests of existing private tenants, to arrest the physical decay of the stock, to encourage letting to meet particular social needs and to encourage new forms of social ownership and management from within the private sector.
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my Question. Is he aware that his Government's housing policies have resulted in an increase in homelessness, masses of unoccupied accommodation throughout the country and a proliferation of squatting, to name but three side effects? Will he now realise the outcome of the Government's legislation by envy and spite? Does he admit that it may be better to have one rogue than 100,000 homeless?
The hon. Gentleman takes me to task for not having answered his Question. But his supplementary question does not arise either from the original Question or from the answer that I gave to it. I should make the point, which is not new, that squatting, homelessness and empty properties did not suddenly come into existence after the passage of the Rent Act 1974. [HON. MEMBERS: "It made them worse."] There is no evidence to suggest that the Act made the situation worse. Perhaps I may make the point again, not for the first time, that the biggest annual decrease in rented housing during this century occurred when there was decontrol of properties in 1957. The figures rose to over 200,000 a year compared with the current average of 100,000.
There is nothing in law—I do not understand why this matter is constantly raised—to prevent a tenant who wishes to stay for a short space of time moving on elsewhere if he wishes. That happens now. But one thing is certain. I should make it clear that we do not intend to return to a situation of compulsory mobility—compelling people to leave their homes because of lack of security—such as was experienced at certain times in the past.
The next point which I should particularly make to the hon. Gentleman is that one way of assisting to resolve the problem of homelessness in London, which is mainly concentrated in the inner London area, would be for more of the outer London authorities, with which he is closely associated, to be more active and co-operative in the provision of housing.