New Protected Tenancies and Agricultural, Occupancies Restricted to Special Cases

Part of Orders of the Day — Clause 32 – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 13th June 1988.

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Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 7:45 pm, 13th June 1988

I do not object to the hon. Gentleman taking up the time of the House by repeating what I have said. Some amendments were made, but there was all-party agreement. The Labour Government enacted what they picked up from the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. That is what happened. This Government are busting the consensus wide open.

The problem is that some housing associations may wish to move up-market, when the Minister for Housing and Planning actually realises that there is a crisis in low-cost rented accommodation and when we need more housing associations, more local authorities, and more co-operatives providing for the lower end of the market. Obviously, if some housing associations choose to move up-market, they are free to do so. But they must not expect an open-ended Government subsidy, either under the present Government or under a future Labour Government. If they provide up-market accommodation, they carry the responsibility of arranging finance for it. The priority for a Labour Government will and must be good-quality, low-cost homes for people on low incomes. Investors who do not recognise that fact will burn their fingers.

The housing market is not and cannot be a free market. Conservative Members keep falling into the trap of talking about it as though it were a free market—it cannot be; there are too many imperfections in it. At best, using economists' language, it is an inelastic market, in which change takes time. But several other factors—for example, cost and availability of land, alternative uses and the various Government subsidies in the form of tax relief and regional grant—affect the supply of housing and make it nonsense to talk about a free market in the way that the Government do.

Where there is scarcity, a Labour Government will arrange for rents to be set independently of the landlord. I predict that even this Government will return to that sooner or later. They will do so because they will find that the growing sense of scarcity in the low-cost accommodation sector—be it for rent or for purchase—will drive them to it. As the housing crisis worsens, and as more people sleep out or are forced into bed-and-breakfast accommodation, so the Government will be forced to address the problem. As the Government take off the Rent Act tenancies, they are aggravating the problem that they are seeking to solve.

It is important that that message goes out loud and clear, not only to investors, but to everyone in the housing association movement. We set up the housing association movement with all-party support. The Tory Government have broken that consensus and placed housing associations in a difficult position. We will continue to support housing associations as long as they remain true to the principles on which they were set up. That is the important aspect that is being placed at risk by the Government's absurd legislation.