New Clause 11 — Possession orders relating to certain tenancies

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 31st March 2008.

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Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South 5:30 pm, 31st March 2008

I welcome that intervention. I had not reached Tony Blair's part and his appalling treatment of local authorities, especially his total disregard of the role of council houses in providing answers to the housing crisis. Time and again, he mentioned the social consequences of crime and lack of education, but he never once faced up to the housing that his Government denied people. It is shameful for the Labour party, to which I once belonged. If I had not left it in 1980, I would have damn well done so in 1997, when Blair gave no commitment to councils' right to provide the sort of homes that they should have provided.

New clause 1 is essential. If the Under-Secretary is serious—I accept the good faith that hon. Members have attributed to him—about rebuilding that partnership, new clause 1 is the foundation stone of making tenants believe that we now have a Government who will address their problems as applicants for housing, whether they are homeless; or elderly people who want to move into a different style of accommodation and are under-occupying their properties, but will not move because there is currently no viable offer; or those who desperately want to be rehoused because they are in overcrowded conditions; or the hundreds of thousands throughout the country who are being told by local authorities, not only mine, that they have no chance of being rehoused in a reasonable time.

A reasonable time for some local authorities is 10 years, because the waiting lists are so long. My local authority has written to people on the housing waiting list and said, "We've got to be honest with you—you're now wasting your time believing that the local authority or housing association is going to solve your housing needs." What a disgrace that a Labour Government in office for 11 years are forcing local authorities to take those steps. New clause 1 is fundamental. If the Minister sticks to his word, and listens and addresses those issues properly, new clause 1 will be essential—to him, his Government and the future of the Labour party, if it is ever to rekindle any support on housing that it might have had from the people of this country.

Let me turn to the point that Sir George Young correctly made about new clause 9. Not many other hon. Members have addressed this issue, but he was right: ground 8 is essentially an unfair burden. Local authorities and housing associations have no choice but to implement that, while social landlords have no choice but to take the tenant to court to get either repossession or an order put on them. That imposes another financial burden, because once the proceedings start that tenant is responsible for the costs involved in the court case and so automatically faces another bill, of £200, on top of what they have already incurred. If we are talking about fairness, clause 9, which covers ground 8, is essential if the people affected more and more by that situation are to be offered any hope.

I am delighted that so many hon. Members have spoken in support of new clause 8, which is our only chance to address once and for all the daylight robbery in the housing subsidy. The council tenants in my city are effectively mugged by the Government year by year. If the relevant provisions are not repealed, close to £100 million will have gone to the Government from our city over the 10-year period from when those provisions first started to bite to 2012. We can imagine what could have been done with that in Portsmouth. Instead, we are having to put council rents up, to help fund the subsidy rip-off that we as a city face and pay the Government. Robbing the least able people—taking away money that could not only refurbish their properties sooner, but put in place the sort of housing that we desperately need—is notoriously bad politics.

Mr. Syms was right when he talked about his borough, but the situation is the same in many other local authorities. I listened to the Secretary of State when she addressed the issue in her presentation on housing a while ago. She said, "Of course the hon. Member makes a point, but it's all going to be solved in this review," but we have no idea what the review is going to cover and have been given no indication whatever of what consultation will take place with local authorities. My local authority contacted the Government and asked questions about how the formula is worked out, but was told, "It's very complicated." We know that it is complicated—that is why we had to ask. We were at least entitled to a sensible answer from the very people who are mugging citizens in Portsmouth, year by year, to take that money.

My hon. Friend Simon Hughes was right to talk about the problems of leaseholders. Again, we need to be careful, but the amendments that he has tabled address those problems. I meet many leaseholders who want the local authority to buy back their properties, because they cannot afford the surprises that they face when, for example, a new roof is put on a block in which there are only two leaseholders. They are suddenly confronted with bills not for a few hundred pounds but for £15,000 or £17,000. The local authority says to them, "You can't spread the payment over a period." People who are in their late 60s or early 70s, or who are even older, face that sort of dilemma, and may then get a court order forcing them to pay the amount. What should they do? Who do they turn to? Surely not a Labour Government. Those people are in that mess because a Labour Government, who were aware of the problem, did not put in place a regime that would allow the issues to be dealt with properly.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey talked about forewarning people of what is coming, and about making provision for a sinking fund, so that people can pay in advance, and know in advance exactly what they have to pay. Why do so many leaseholders find it so difficult just to get the details of the works that are being carried out? Why is the process not explained in a way that they can readily understand?

If the Minister and the Government are really concerned about council tenants it is about time that they showed it. When we heard that there would be a return to council house building, I thought, "I'll believe it when I see it." The problem is that I do not have strong enough binoculars to see that far into the future. Many of the people whom I represent, who live in real despair of ever getting a decent place to live, look to the local authority, the housing association and the Government, not for payment of housing benefit or for dilapidated bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but for a decent answer to a fundamental question. They want somewhere decent to live. The Government have failed miserably, not just over the past 18 months but over the past 10 years. As I have said, the Tories are not blameless either.

The Minister can look over the Dispatch Box for a smile from his Conservative opponents, as if to say, "That's the Liberal Democrats; they are again trying to blame everyone except themselves," but I am a member of the local authority in Portsmouth and I accept my share of the responsibility for not having been able to deal with the housing crisis there. However, we cannot deal with the crisis because our hands are tied and our legs are shackled, and we are, in the main, dealing with someone who does not want to listen, does not want to look at the problem, and is not saying much to lead me to believe that we will get the help that we deserve.

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