Rent Control (New Lettings) Abolition

– in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 21st January 1987.

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Photo of Mr Michael Brown Mr Michael Brown , Brigg and Cleethorpes 3:52 pm, 21st January 1987

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Rent Acts to permit new lettings to be free of rent controls. The Bill is designed to enable more people in Britain to be housed. One of the problems of housing in Britain is homelessness. Empty homes, whether in the public or private sectors, are a waste.

It has been said: Local authorities estimate—these are the only estimates we have—that in England 545,000 private sector homes were empty in April 1985. Nearly 100,000 of them were in London, where the problem of homelessness is greatest. Many of those homes, but not all—even some needing refurbishment—could be let to people who need them if landlords were not inhibited by the effects of the Rent Acts."—[Official Report, 19 February 1986; Vol. 92, c. 381.] Those are not my words, but the words of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction, who spoke so eloquently on 19 February 1986. How right he was.[Laughter.] Opposition Members may scoff at those words, but they were true then and, if they were true then, they are even more true today.

We all recognise that there is a problem of homelessness, and that over 500,000 homes are available in Britain. Surely there is little doubt, even among those blinkered Opposition Members, that if we seriously want to do something about the problem of homelessness, it is the Rent Acts which are standing in our way.

I acknowledge that there are people who benefit from the Rent Acts. Indeed, my Bill specifically excludes, by both its short and long titles, those people who benefit from the Rent Acts. But there can be little doubt that at present in Britain there is a demand for rented accommodation which is not being met because of the Rent Acts, which have been on the statute book for several decades.

Surely the time has now come for us to give the British people the right to rent. There are people in Britain who want to be tenants in council houses and they still have that right. There are many people who wanted the right to become home owners, and my hon. Friend and his predecessors gave them that right. But there are single people in Britain who come to London for the first time to start their working career, as I did in the early 1970s: I must be typical of many hundreds of thousands of single people who, in their early twenties, leave the provinces for London and face the problem of a shortage of accommodation. They would be willing customers of the suppliers of private rented accommodation.

I recognise that one must go slowly in such matters, but, heaven knows, we have gone at a snail's pace in the past in addressing ourselves to this delicate problem. I also recognise that it would be unfair at this stage to include within the scope of my Bill those who are at the moment beneficiaries under the Rent Acts. But there is little doubt from the statistics of comparison available between Britain and other countries that Britain has a low level of supply of rented accommodation. In West Germany, 36 per cent. of households rent from private landlords; in France, the figure is 32 per cent., and in the United States it is 33 per cent. In Britain it is just 9 per cent. In those other countries, private renting is not the major political issue that it is in the United Kingdom.

We must ask—the question is posed not by me but by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction in his excellent speech last year—why we in the United Kingdom seem to concentrate on just two types of tenure—home ownership or council tenancy. There must be an alternative middle way to supply accommodation for those people who wish to have the right to rent.

We know that more than 500,000 homes in Britain are empty. They must be empty because of the restrictions of current and previous legislation. I believe that there is a willingness on the part of the Government to address themselves to the problem of homelessness in a way that no other Government have done in the past.

It may be possible for the Bill to reach the statute book in the present session of Parliament. However, I recognise that that is a big step. If the Bill is given a fair passage this afternoon, it is more likely that it will be a spur to my hon. Friend and his colleagues to ensure that it is included as a firm commitment by the Government in the Conservative party's next election manifesto. The people in Britian who are homeless and looking for rented accommodation and who want to exercise that right to rent will be able to do so only with a Conservative Government.

If I am successful this afternoon, I would dearly wish my hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment to ensure that Government time is made available so that the Government's clear wish can come to pass before the next election. I recognise, eternal optimist though I am, that that might be difficult. I note that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is here and he might wish to make Government time available. But if, by chance, there is some difficulty, I urge my hon. Friends to pick up the Bill immediately they are re-elected after the next general election.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 3:59 pm, 21st January 1987

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) on raising this matter. He has done us a service by spotlighting what would certainly occur if, by some mischance, this Government were reelected. I remind him that, when the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) was Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction, he tried to persuade the Cabinet, of which he was not a member, to bring forward legislation along the lines advocated by the hon. Gentleman today. The hon. Member for Eastbourne was reported in the press as having been quite upset when the Cabinet told him that no action would be taken in that Parliament.

The Cabinet is no less keen and enthusiastic in wishing to see the decontrol of the privately rented sector than the hon. Members for Eastbourne and for Brigg and Cleethorpes. The Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues simply consider it unwise to take any action before the next election. That is why, unlike last Friday, the ministerial payroll will abstain today. Eighteen months ago, when I opposed a private ten-minute Bill, it was lost by one vote. I am sure that the ministerial payroll will abstain today and that I shall be proved right.

The present Housing Minister, as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes said, has made the Government's position perfectly clear. In February last year, he said that there was little point in putting forward major legislation halfway through a Parliamentary term because of what he described as the destructive attitude which the Labour party was sure to take. If by "destructive attitude" he means that the Labour party would defend the right of private tenants to have protection on rents and security, we plead guilty. We are not ashamed of that.

Moreover, in his speech at the party conference on 7 October last year, the Minister made it clear that the Government, if re-elected, would remove controls and security of tenure from new lettings.

The Minister referred during that speech and on other occasions to "Socialist controls" in the privately rented sector. If they are "Socialist controls" why have they not been removed in nearly eight years of a Right-wing Conservative Administration? Why were these "Socialist controls" agreed to by the Conservatives when the Labour party was in office? The Conservatives made it clear that they would not oppose the Rent Acts being restored?

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes was right in one respect—there is an acute housing crisis, but deregulating the privately rented sector would make it far worse. The Conservatives use the same argument that was used when the Rent Act 1957 was going through. In 1956 the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), when he was a junior housing Minister said that deregulation would provide more tenancies and more flexibility. The same argument is used today by the housing Minister, other Ministers and the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes today.

In June 1956, before the 1957 Act came on the Statute Book, there were 6·5 million private dwellings. In 1961, after four years of the Act, there were 5 million. Where were the further dwellings?

The truth is that, once the places became vacant, many of the owners simply sold them off. Therefore, the Act which provided for decontrol led not to more but to substantially less rented accommodation. The Rent Act 1957 led to something else. It led to great homelessness, misery and injustice for many many private tenants and to Rachmanism. It led to the terror that existed in parts of London and other places, where Rachman and his agents were even willing to use Alsation dogs to force tenants out.

When the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes says that existing tenants will be protected, I say that, if deregulation came along, there would be great harassment and intimidation of sitting tenants, in order to get them out so that the places would become decontrolled and the landlord could let those places without any limits on rent and without any security. Hundreds of thousands of existing private tenants would be greatly at risk if this Government were re-elected and they introduced another Act like the 1957 Act. I say to the Labour Front Bench and to the Labour party nationally that we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that, during the election campaign, we warn private tenants what is likely to happen if the Tories win.

Many, many people are desperately in need of accommodation, but they will not find that accommodation at a reasonable rent in any deregulated private sector. That is why it is so necessary for local authorities to start building once again. This year, there will probably be even fewer than 30,000 new dwellings built by local authorities and housing associations. So many of our people are desperately in need of housing. They want rented housing, but they will get adequate rented housing at a reasonable rent and with protection only from the public sector.

I call on my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose this Bill, to ensure that, even in this Tory-dominated House of Commons, private tenants will continue to have that protection.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The question is that the hon. Member—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I must put the Question.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 144.

Division No. 62][4.06 pm
AYES
Alexander, RichardHill, James
Amess, DavidHind, Kenneth
Ashby, DavidHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Holt, Richard
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Hordern, Sir Peter
Batiste, SpencerHowarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyHowell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)
Bellingham, HenryHubbard-Miles, Peter
Bendall, VivianIrving, Charles
Best, KeithJessel, Toby
Bevan, David GilroyJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Blackburn, JohnJones, Robert (Herts W)
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaKershaw, Sir Anthony
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Brinton, TimLatham, Michael
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Lawler, Geoffrey
Bryan, Sir PaulLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Buck, Sir AntonyLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Butterfill, JohnLilley, Peter
Carlisle, John (Luton N)Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Churchill, W. S.MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)McLoughlin, Patrick
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)McQuarrie, Albert
Cockeram, EricMarlow, Antony
Colvin, MichaelMather, Sir Carol
Coombs, SimonMeyer, Sir Anthony
Corrie, JohnMonro, Sir Hector
Dickens, GeoffreyMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Dicks, TerryMorris, M. (N'hampton S)
Dover, DenMudd, David
Emery, Sir PeterNeale, Gerrard
Eyre, Sir ReginaldNicholls, Patrick
Fallon, MichaelPage, Sir John (Harrow W)
Farr, Sir JohnPawsey, James
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Powley, John
Fox, Sir MarcusProctor, K. Harvey
Galley, RoyRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
Goodhart, Sir PhilipRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Gower, Sir RaymondRoe, Mrs Marion
Griffiths, Sir EldonRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Rossi, Sir Hugh
Grist, IanRost, Peter
Ground, PatrickRowe, Andrew
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Sayeed, Jonathan
Hannam, JohnShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Harris, DavidShelton, William (Streatham)
Harvey, RobertShersby, Michael
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)Soames, Hon Nicholas
Hawksley, WarrenSpeed, Keith
Hayes, J.Stanbrook, Ivor
Hayward, RobertStern, Michael
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Stokes, John
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnWatts, John
Tapsell, Sir PeterWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Taylor, John (Solihull)Whitfield, John
Terlezki, StefanWiggin, Jerry
Thomas, Rt Hon PeterWilkinson, John
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)Wolfson, Mark
Thurnham, PeterWood, Timothy
Townend, John (Bridlington)Yeo, Tim
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Walker, Bill (T'side N)Tellers for the Ayes:
Ward, JohnMr. Eric Forth and
Warren, KennethMr. Allan Stewart.
NOES
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Home Robertson, John
Alton, DavidHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Anderson, DonaldHowells, Geraint
Archer, Rt Hon PeterHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Ashdown, PaddyHughes, Roy (Newport East)
Ashton, JoeHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)John, Brynmor
Barron, KevinJohnston, Sir Russell
Beckett, Mrs MargaretJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Bell, StuartKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Bidwell, SydneyKennedy, Charles
Blair, AnthonyKirkwood, Archy
Boothroyd, Miss BettyLambie, David
Boyes, RolandLamond, James
Bray, Dr JeremyLeighton, Ronald
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Litherland, Robert
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Buchan, NormanMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Caborn, RichardMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)McNamara, Kevin
Campbell-Savours, DaleMcWilliam, John
Canavan, DennisMadden, Max
Cartwright, JohnMarek, Dr John
Clarke, ThomasMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Clay, RobertMason, Rt Hon Roy
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMaynard, Miss Joan
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Meacher, Michael
Corbett, RobinMeadowcroft, Michael
Crowther, StanMichie, William
Cunliffe, LawrenceMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cunningham, Dr JohnMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Dalyell, TamOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)O'Brien, William
Deakins, EricO'Neill, Martin
Dixon, DonaldOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Dobson, FrankPark, George
Dormand, JackParry, Robert
Dubs, AlfredPatchett, Terry
Eadie, AlexPendry, Tom
Eastham, KenPike, Peter
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Fatchett, DerekRaynsford, Nick
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Redmond, Martin
Fisher, MarkRees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Flannery, MartinRichardson, Ms Jo
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Forrester, JohnRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Foster, DerekRobertson, George
Foulkes, GeorgeRooker, J. W.
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Freud, ClementSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Garrett, W. E.Shields, Mrs Elizabeth
George, BruceShore, Rt Hon Peter
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Godman, Dr NormanSkinner, Dennis
Golding, Mrs LlinSmith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Gould, BryanSmith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Soley, Clive
Hardy, PeterSteel, Rt Hon David
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterStott, Roger
Haynes, FrankStrang, Gavin
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Straw, Jack
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)Wigley, Dafydd
Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)Williams, Rt Hon A.
Thorne, Stan (Preston)Winnick, David
Wainwright, R.Woodall, Alec
Wallace, James
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)Tellers for the Noes:
Wareing, RobertMr. Terry Lewis and
Welsh, MichaelMr. David Clelland.

Question accordingly negatived.