Duty to Keep Housing Revenue Account

Part of Clause 71 – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 7th November 1989.

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Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 5:45 pm, 7th November 1989

My immediate response is that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. I have never before heard such an incredibly blind view of the housing crisis, not least the crisis over rents. The Minister knows that what he has said about rents is only a very small part of the picture. Rents will increase dramatically.

The Government have not referred to the extent of the housing crisis which affects local authority tenants, housing association tenants and private tenants. This wide-ranging group of amendments provides us with an opportunity to debate both the housing revenue account and homelessness. Some local authorities will not be required to keep a housing revenue account, which raises the issue of what will happen to the homeless. The amendments also provide us with an opportunity to discuss rent arrears and rent levels.

One would have thought, from what the Minister said, that there is no problem. The reason that I was so anxious to intervene during his speech was to use for his benefit the Association of District Councils' evidence. That is not a Labour-controlled organisation; it is almost solidly Conservative controlled. When I spoke at a conference of the association in the Minister's constituency, Southampton, I received overwhelming support from Conservative councillors when I said that in the Labour party's view the Secretary of State does not have the right to take away the money that they have gained from capital receipts—from selling council houses—and make them use it to repay debts, although they want to use it to repair, renovate and rebuild the housing stock. I was cheered when I said that, so I say to the Minister, simply in terms of his own political survival, that he ought to be wondering why it is that he is so totally isolated and why it is that he is the only one who knows what a sensible rent is.

The Government have consistently refused to tell us what a fair rent is. At first they referred constantly to market rents, but when market rents became a little embarrassing, because they were increasing so rapidly, we began to hear about affordable rents and low rents. Nowhere have the Government referred to what they think rent levels should be in the local authority sector, the housing association sector or the private sector. Such is the extent of the housing crisis that the Government cannot bring themselves to face either the purchase sector problem or the rented sector problem.

That is why the Minister who, we are told, is responsible for housing, although I sometimes doubt it—the hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)—chose not to speak about mortgage interest rate rises when he addressed his own party conference. Mortgage interest rates have no effect, apparently, on the housing problem, yet we know that they are hitting people badly if they are trying to buy for the first time or if they are trying to sell and buy another house. They are also having a grossly distorting effect on the housing market because of the combination of house price inflation over a number of years—which will resume again in due course—and a distorted subsidy system, brought about by the cut in subsidy to the rented sector. It is that which has created the chaos that the Government have inherited.

As there is now a housing crisis, the Government have decided that they had better not have a Minister for Housing. We were told initially that the hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe was going to be the Minister for Housing. Then we discovered that he was in charge of water privatisation. However, we were told that when he had finished privatising water he would deal with housing. When the hon. and learned Gentleman has finished with water and deals with housing, which presumably will be some time in the new year, what the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) will know for sure is that his position is unassailable. He will no longer be what he is supposed to be now, I assume—the Minister for Housing, although he never actually confesses to being the Minister for Housing.