Rent Control (New Lettings) Abolition

Part of the debate – 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.