Right to Rent

Part of Orders of the Day — Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 24th April 1986.

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Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle 5:30 pm, 24th April 1986

I do not deny that fact, just as I hope that the Minister will not deny that the city of Manchester, which was referred to in the debate on 22 April, has 2,272 properties standing empty and available for letting and that 1,932 of the properties that were included in the figure that he vilified in our recent debate are in exactly the same position. They are void and awaiting demolition or modernisation. If we are to be fair to the housing associations, we must also be fair to the local authorities, including the city of Manchester.

According to the HIP returns, 6·1 per cent. of public sector property that is managed by the Property Services Agency is standing empty. It needs to get its house in order. There are many myths about empty property. If one does not know what lies behind the figures, one cannot understand them. That does not excuse the fact that many public sector properties are standing empty, although they could be occupied, and they would be occupied if this clause was included in the Bill. The clause is imperfect and could not be implemented as it stands, but I ask the Minister to examine it. He has been flexible on previous occasions. I hope that he will agree to introduce a clause in the other place that will deal with this problem.

There are 40,000 people in short-life housing schemes. Many local authority and housing association properties would be standing empty if local authorities and housing associations had not done something about it. They have implemented the effect of this clause, although it is not included in the Bill. Many progressive and radical local authorities and housing associations have repaired properties that were standing empty and let them on licence. The Audit Commission estimates that 20,000 additional dwellings could be brought into use if a clause of this kind were included in the Bill.

The Minister and the Government make much of the fact that empty properties are standing empty. They have every right to do so, but they do not have the right to say that, because properties are standing empty, that justifies their decision not to build new houses. The Opposition agree that it is a scandal that properties are standing empty unnecessarily. They agree that 20,000 properties should be brought into use. However, that is no justification for not building new council houses and modernising older council houses and making money available to deal with the housing crisis that faces this country.