Housing (Change of Landlord)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:36 pm on 17th April 1989.

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Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Local Government, Housing and Transport) 10:36 pm, 17th April 1989

I do not wish to detain the House for long, but I must say that it is a great shame that debates of this kind take place at this time of night. This is really just an extension of the drip of legislation by the back door—through statutory instruments provided for in the primary legislation, the detail of which Ministers were unable to fill in when the legislation was going through its various stages.

As the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, these regulations contain some improvements. The changes that will ensure that tenants get better information are welcome. Nevertheless, there is still not enough information about the reality of the Act, about the effect that privatisation will have on tenants over the years. I am thinking in particular—this has been mentioned already—of circumstances in which people find that they have been tricked, conned or bought into making a bad decision. The landlord—supposedly squeaky clean—is taken off the Government's list of acceptable landlords, but the tenants have to put up with him indefinitely.

Individual tenants can do nothing about the malpractices that they are suffering. Many of them will not have voted for the system, but the abstention vote will ensure that, so far as the Government are concerned, those people's hands were raised to show that they were in favour of the system. Thank goodness we do not, as yet, have voting by show of hands in this House.

Part IV provides that, if a tenant in a block votes against a new landlord, that tenant has the right to stay with the council. The landlord is enabled to let that particular flat back to the council, which can sublet it to the tenant. That is an improvement.

The thing that will lead me to vote against these regulations—I understand that there will be a vote—is the procedure under part V which prevents the council, during the bidding process, from letting a council property on the estate in question.

Almost every other provision in this instrument is concerned with detail. In most cases the detailed provisions are unlikely to affect what is happening, but this provision relates directly to people's ability to have their housing needs met—to be certain of a roof over their heads, to be certain of a home for their husbands, or wives, and children. It is about the most basic of things. In my view, this procedure will deprive people of the security of a roof over their heads, simply because of the bureaucracy of a voting system. It is a system which should not be taking place in any case, but which, in this case, will ensure that at least some individuals suffer.

As has already been said, the Government repeatedly criticise councils for not housing people when there are properties in which they can be housed. Without any question, some councils are better at it than any others. The Government are worst of all. These regulations put into the rules a system that ensures that the accommodation cannot be properly used. That is not only an error but fundamentally and morally wrong. They should be opposed tonight if for no other reason than that they will keep out on the streets yet more people without the permanent security of housing for them and their children.