Orders of the Day — Housing Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:59 pm on 30th November 1987.

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Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde 6:59 pm, 30th November 1987

In line with your wishes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) on his maiden speech. I do not wish to embellish his remarks on the beauty of his constituency, because my vivid recollection from Taunton is of watching my county of Kent being thrashed by Somerset. However, I had a pleasant lunch in the village of Combe Florey. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will continue to make contributions to our debates in line with the standard set by his maiden speech.

The proposals in the Bill are complex and wide-ranging and certainly the most blatant and direct attack to date on private and public housing provisions. For this Government, that is saying a lot. The Bill is largely based on unsubstantiated dogma, rather than on any analysis of real housing problems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, it contains no references to housing needs or to the homeless. I remember that, as a young councillor on Paddington council in the early 1960s, along with my fellow Labour councillors I tried to expose the activities of a certain Peter Rachman. He has already been mentioned many times in the debate, and I suspect that he will be mentioned many more times. Despite our attempts to expose him, probably Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies did more to bring the activities of this man to the notice of the nation.

If enacted, this turgid Bill will make Rachmanism the law of the land. It is clear that the effects of part I relating to the private sector will reduce the security of tenure that is available to tenants. At the same time, it will reduce the amount of housing benefit — despite the lukewarm assurances given by the Secretary of State. Higher market rents will replace fair rents and no doubt there will be profiteering by unscrupulous landlords. The new Rachmans will use this legislation to harass tenants and to gain possession, because landlords will no longer need to be approved.

This legislation will inflict horrific damage on the private sector. Many of my hon. Friends have a good deal of private sector housing provision in their constituencies and they will develop that point as the debate proceeds. I shall concentrate on the effects that the Bill will have on many thousands of my constituents who are in public housing. They are typical of millions of people throughout Britain.

Tameside council is in my constituency and the real housing problems there are shown by a few short statistics. They are that 72 per cent. of all council tenants are already on housing benefit, that 9,142 people are on the waiting list for houses, and that 9,664 tenants are in rent arrears with the local council. There are over 1,200 homeless families. When those constituents heard that a new housing Bill was on the way, their expectations must have risen. They will soon be disappointed when they hear about this debate.

The Bill will redistribute homes away from the very people who need them to those who can afford to buy homes—even the spare home, about which the Secretary of State spoke. New homes will not materialise as a result of this Bill. With council house building at its lowest point since the 1920s, it was probably too much to hope that the Government would do anything other than make the situation worse. The Government attack what they see as the profligacy of responsible Labour councils that subsidise council house rents. In my area, the annual subsidy is £1·6 million. That saves the poorest members of the community about £1·60 per week in rent. Controls on such council spending will put yet another tax on the least fortunate members of society.

The financial basis for transferring council houses to new landlords or to housing action trusts is the latest Government jumble sale of public property, and it is worrying. In Tameside, houses will transfer at an average investment value of £2,800. This will give the new landlord plenty of rope with which to induce council tenants with short-term sweeteners before they are hanged by that same rope. While the sale goes on, the debt charges are left with the council and will have to be paid by a decreasing number of tenants. Is the Government's final solution to housing problems the imposition of extortionate rents upon the most needy, including the elderly and the disabled and those who are unable to transfer?

On Friday, hopefully, a number of hon. Members will present petitions to the House and I hope to have some petitioners from my constituency who believe that the housing crisis can be resolved by joining the campaign for homes and jobs. For every job created in the construction industry, another job is created in the wider economy. There are about 500,000 building workers on the dole and each one costs £2,400 a year in social security benefits and lost taxes. Therefore, the answer to the crisis is blindingly obvious to my constituents and, I suspect, to the Secretary of State's constituents. Why do the Government continue to ignore that?

I am happy to see and hear that opposition to the Bill is mounting and that it is coming from many unexpected quarters—including some Tories in the House and many more outside, and from many people who would normally support the Tory party. They realise that the Bill is based on sheer political dogma at the public expense. The dogma of home ownership at any price is being forced on them at a time when many people's ability to pay has been seriously impaired. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) said, that is instanced by the 700 per cent. rise since 1979 in mortgage defaulters.

The dogma is that private landlords are in some way better than council landlords, but there is no mention of the fact that since 1980 local authorities have been forced by the Government to increase rents by about 40 per cent. over inflation. We also have the dogma of Tory choice. However, it is choice for the rich and the profit-seeking landlords while the low-paid, the unemployed and the disabled will have no choice and in many cases will have no home because of this legislation.

Opposition to the Bill is growing. I have been in the House for over 17 years and I recently addressed the largest meeting that I have ever seen in my constituency. It is quite clear that tenants' groups are beginning to realise what the Bill means for them because there was a massive meeting on the Hattersley estate. Opposition is growing in my constituency and, I suspect, in the constituency of every hon. Member. I hope that the Bill will be amended in Committee and in the other place. At the end of the day, it should be amended out of sight, because that is what it deserves.