HC Deb 24 July 1973 vol 860 cc1421-3

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to facilitate the letting of surplus accommodation in the possession of owner-occupiers to provide homes to rent and for purposes connected therewith.

No one will disagree that there is at present a great need for more homes. In certain areas there is a crying need. One solution which is being tried is to build more new homes. Progress is being made in that direction. But the building industry is overstretched and unable to cope with the present demand. It will be some time before it can do so.

This process is not the whole solution, anyway. These will all be homes for sale. That presupposes that there are those who can afford to buy, and that means that they will seek mortgages. There is at present great difficulty over mortgages. I can only reflect that if it were possible to halve the cost of mortgages we might end up by doubling the price of the scarce houses which people seek to buy with mortgages—so that it is no solution to enable more people to chase after the scarce commodity in limited supply, namely, homes.

There is an undoubted need for more homes to rent. Young people especially are immensely mobile and expect to move about from year to year in the course of their jobs. Any ambitious young man or woman wanting to work his or her way up the promotion ladder must expect to have to move about the country. Certainly in central Government and local government service and in the professions one must expect to move about in order to gain promotion. These young people, who are desperately anxious to buy in many cases and who put pressure on the scarce commodity, mortgages, would rent if they could. But they cannot because there is a diminishing supply of rented homes available.

The reason for this is that all the pressures are against any increase in the supply, certainly in the sector about which I am talking. The owner of a house who wants to make another home available in some spare accommodation can, under the existing law, find himself stuck with a tenant for ever at a controlled, uneconomic rent. This is the situation which has grown up over the years.

In my Bill I propose that new homes may be created out of existing owner-occupied houses. The speculator does not come into this. It has to be an owner-occupied house with a spare room or rooms which can be turned into another home. But in this case I believe that we should take a fresh look. These newly-created homes should not be subject to the restrictive Rent Acts and all that has been piled on them. They should be subject to proper leases agreed between the owners and those who will occupy the accommodation. They should be leases for a minimum period, both sides to an agreement knowing exactly where they stand. There should be a proper period of notice to terminate an agreement written into the lease. If Parliament insists that someone should act as a kind of "nanny" in a situation of this sort, it will be seen that I have written into my Bill a provision for the rent officer to be brought in to approve leases, though I doubt whether that will be necessary.

I believe that we should start afresh in an attempt to release some of this vast untapped wealth of potential homes. The Government cannot say that there is not a vast wealth of homes which could be made available, because they have no figures. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction on the Treasury Bench because he has answered a great many Questions from me and he will have to admit that the Government have not the information on which to answer the case that I am making.

A couple of weeks ago I was told in a Parliamentary Answer that the Government were thinking of trying to tackle this problem in the way that I am suggesting. I hope that as a result of what I say today and with the holiday before them, they will be able to think again. There is a vast number of potential homes for rent, perhaps as many as a million in the country as a whole. Many are in the areas of greatest need in the great cities where new building will never solve the problem.

So far all other attempts to bring this wealth of accommodation on to the market have failed. Bribes, in the form of grants, have not had the dramatic effect some of us had hoped. Threats and coercion through the rates have done no good to help the situation. The uncertainties created by those who by political threats say that they will take away the freedoms which exist do nothing to help the position. I hope that if the matter is considered dispassionately both sides of the House will be prepared to give freedom and to strive for change. It is worth a tiny. We cannot afford to neglect this untapped source of homes which are so badly needed.

I have received a good deal of encouragement from my hon. Friends on this matter, but I come before the House this afternoon without any sponsors for my Bill. This is deliberate. I hope in the new Session to introduce the Bill again, but I regard today as an opportunity to ventilate the matter. Only the Abdication Act went through both Houses of Parliament in one day, and there are not many Members left who remember how that went through. It is significant that hon. Members from both sides of the House have combined to make this a worthwhile effort in seeking to increase the number of desperately needed homes for rent.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robert Cooke.