Orders of the Day — Housing Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:11 pm on 30th November 1987.

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Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle 11:11 pm, 30th November 1987

Why do Conservative Members and the Government not give private tenants the right to opt out and to choose social ownership, to choose to become tenants of a council? If Conservatives believe in freedom, they should let it work both ways. That is what a Labour Government would do. We would close Rent Acts loopholes such as bogus holiday lets and the use of licences instead of tenancies. We would introduce regulations to stop exploitation of service charges and would repeal the shorthold tenancy proposals which have driven a coach and horses through security of tenure.

We would give a right in law to an effective and efficient repair service for private and public tenants. Neither private nor public tenants have that at the moment. We would introduce provisions for full information about the name of the landlord and about other matters, because many landlords will not tell tenants who their landlords are. Some tenants of 40 years standing cannot find out who their landlords are. Is that freedom? We would introduce stiffer penalties and more adequate safeguards against harassment and illegal eviction, and place on the private landlord a duty to ensure the safety and welfare of his tenants.

We do not accept that these higher rents, these assured tenancies, are assured. In reality, an assured tenancy is an insecure high-rent tenancy, an assured shorthold is an insecure short letting and a market rent is a high rent. It is not just a market rent, it is a profit rent that will penalise people in the public and private rented sector, and we are against it. We have policies for real choice and will introduce a private tenants' charter when we form a Government.

We will introduce what some Conservative Members were calling on the Government to introduce—mobile discounts for families with children who are stuck in flats and who need help with deposits so that they can buy houses and become owner-occupiers. Those people have suffered as a result of the Government's housing policies. We would launch a massive council and housing association low-rise building programme in order to do something about the shortage of rented accommodation. Aneurin Bevan said that the best form of rent control is when nine people are chasing 10 properties, and not the other way round.

I remember attending my first advice bureau as the newly-elected Member for Bootle. A woman came to me and said, "I've got a problem." I asked, "What's your problem?" She replied, "It's a housing problem." I said, "That's usual. It would be that. What's your housing problem?" She said, "It's about my roof." I replied, "What about your roof?" She said, "I want one." There are thousands, millions, who need homes, and the way to deal with the housing crisis is to build more homes. There must be more homes for rent in the public rented sector. There must be a major house building programme and the right sort of housing must be built. I accept that there are some problem estates and that mistakes have been made, but the majority of council housing is low-rise with gardens in an attractive environment in popular estates, where the right to buy has been popular for all those reasons.

I plead guilty to that which we, the Opposition, have been accused of by Conservative Members during the debate. We are against a free market in housing. We do not accept that housing should be left to the free market. We do not believe that a decent house—a decent home—is a privilege. It is a right, not a privilege, in the same way that a decent education and access to health care are rights. Housing should not be a matter for profit and speculators. We should not be handing over the inner cities to profiteers, private landlords and speculators.

The Opposition will repeal the proposed legislation, if it is enacted, when we next form a Government. We shall ensure that the market place does not determine whether someone gets a decent house. Criteria of need are as important as the ability to pay.