Orders of the Day — Housing Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:13 pm on 30th November 1987.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 7:13 pm, 30th November 1987

Indeed, he was something of a wet, and we shall see whether his successor is a wet.

There is an acute housing crisis in this country. Far too many families are forced to live in squalid conditions in bed-and-breakfast hostels. We have long waiting lists, in my local authority area as elsewhere. Many people are waiting to be housed for the first time and many of the families living in multi-storey blocks, some of them with two children, now have to wait years to be allocated a house by the council. Local authorities are unable to undertake a substantial amount of the repair work that is needed because of the cuts described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley).

The Bill does not have much relevance to any of those problems. It is more relevant to the Government's continuing vendetta against the rented public sector, which they are again trying to undermine.

However, the Bill represents a positive response to those Conservative Members who have long urged the Government to do away with existing rent controls and regulations in the private sector. In the last Paliament, a number of Conservative Members attempted to bring in ten-minute Bills to do away with existing protection in the privately rented sector. On most occasions, if not all, I was the Labour Member who successfully defeated the measures. I was able to do so because Ministers were under an unofficial Whip not to vote. They did not want to give the country any indication that if they won the election they intended to do what some of their Back Benchers were urging them to do. One of the most enthusiastic supporters of a change in the Rent Act regulations was, of course, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow).

Under the Bill, council tenants are to be encouraged to find alternative landlords. Why tenants should wish to place themselves at the tender mercies of private landlords and property companies escapes me entirely, especially as such tenants would be on assured tenancies and thus subject to the payment of market rents. I cannot imagine many genuine housing associations being interested in taking over council dwellings. The aim is clearly to transfer properties from the public to the privately rented sector. That is the purpose of the so-called tenants' choice. The Bill provides no such right for private tenants who decide that they want to opt out. No one can be surprised at the absence of such a provision from the Bill, which excludes local authorities from being designated approved landlords for the purpose of the provision allowing tenants to choose an alternative landlord.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was right about the voting system, if it can be described as such, which would mean a sort of Russian style democracy in action. I am sure that my hon. Friends will want to pursue that point carefully in Committee.

The purpose of the proposed housing action trusts is to take over local authority housing in a given area and then, in due course, to pass it on to other landlords and not back to the local authority. Clause 57 requires the Secretary of State to consult the local housing authority and residents before such a transfer can take place, but that is all. There is no question in this case of any voting whatever. The Secretary of State makes up his mind and that is that, no matter how much opposition there is from tenants or the local authority. The Secretary of State simply introduces statutory instruments and the housing action trust can take over the property.

Who will be appointed to the bodies? In the main, it will be business people. There will be no democratic accountability and there will be no guarantee that the people appointed will have any knowledge of housing.

The day-to-day job of rehousing people in the ordinary process and of dealing with homelessness will not go to the proposed housing action trusts; it will remain with the local authorities, which will have all the remaining problems.