Housing (Change of Landlord)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:14 pm on 17th April 1989.

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Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 10:14 pm, 17th April 1989

The hon. Gentleman would not ask that question if he knew the latest news. The rate increase of 3 per cent. in Hammersmith and Fulham is one of the lowest in the country. It is far lower than rate increases in Conservative areas and far lower than that in the area of the Minister for Local Government. The rate increase in Suffolk, Coastal was one of the highest in the country. What a shambles. The Government try to fix local authorities so that rates have to go up, and they get it so wrong that Conservative councils have to put up the rates. Labour councils still manage to provide decent services while keeping rates within bounds, which is just about possible under this system.

I look forward to hearing interventions by the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) when he complains on behalf of his constituents about the poll tax. He will say to the Minister, "I am worried about the poll tax. It is hitting families in my constituency very badly. Each child over the age of 18 in a family has to pay the poll tax." We shall see a different look on the hon. Gentleman's face when he talks about local government finance then.

As I have said, part VII does not mention what is to happen to debt. Can the Minister tell us whether outstanding debts will be dumped on the ratepayers? We want to know, and so do ratepayers. Under part VII, applicants can proceed even if initially they are unable to come up with the full price. I am deeply worried about that, because some housing associations and other associations, many of which had good intentions, are getting into difficulties after taking over properties because they have not assessed as they should have assessed the financial consequences. That is why we have seen rents going up so much in areas that have been transferred.

There may be debates about the causes of rent increases in ex-GLC seaside homes. When rents go up to 40 per cent. of the net income of two pensioners who are above housing benefit level because they have two occupational pensions, they will not survive for long without suffering acute economic hardship. It is unnecessary and cruel for the Government to put them in that position.

These regulations should not have been laid. They are based on a premise that makes them unnecessary. For some tenants this is a one-way ticket out of the public sector; it is not "pick a landlord" legislation. I should love it if tenants of a bad landlord could change their landlord, but they cannot. This is all about trying to get local authorities to give up their housing without providing anything in its place. That is why the housing crisis in this country is no longer just an inner-city crisis or a crisis in the rented sector, but one that goes to urban and rural areas and hits people who are buying as well as people who are renting. This Government's housing policy is a failed policy, and these regulations are a small part of that failure.