HC Deb 04 March 1981 vol 1000 cc272-3
15. Dr. Mawhinney

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the level of interest shown in the shorthold provision of the Housing Act.

Mr. Heseltine

It is still too early to assess the impact of shorthold in terms of lettings.

Mr. Mawhinney

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he estimate how many people are living in bad housing conditions because of the Labour Party's vindictive prejudice against the shorthold provisions and the private rented sector?

Mr. Heseltine

It would be difficult to give a precise figure. There is a significant number in the position that my hon. Friend has described. On the other hand, it is not as large as the number who are living in inadequate accommodation as a result of the Labour Government doing nothing to deal with the private rented sector, in which so many could otherwise have been housed.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that most of the decline in the private rented sector stems from the fact that the majority of those who have been unable to escape from that sector have incomes that are inadequate to enable them to pay rents that will give a return to landlords to allow them to compete with the subsidised return of a house purchaser. Does he accept that the fact that a house purchaser is subsidised and a private rented tenant is not lies at the root of the sector's decline?

Mr. Heseltine

No. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are rent allowances to protect those on low incomes in the private rented sector. The root cause of the decline is inflation, which has placed capital values way above the income returns from controlled rents. We have tried to introduce a more flexible system to combat, in part at least, the trend that I have described, and that is why the shorthold experiment should be welcomed, as opposed to being deliberately sabotaged by the Labour Party.

Mr. Grieve

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing the shorthold provisions, which, if properly respected, should go a long way to deal with the shortage of private rented accommodation. However, does he accept that two factors militate against the release of the large quantity of vacant space in private houses? The first factor is the difficulty of obtaining repossession once a tenancy has been granted. The second factor is the weight of the Rent Acts. Will he give further consideration to amending the law in both respects?

Mr. Heseltine

I am most grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I think that he will find that the recent Housing Act has gone some way towards easing the situation and redressing the balance. The most dramatic advance that we introduced was, conspicuously, the shorthold concept. Nothing indicates more clearly the difficulty of trying to get genuine provision of more housing in the private rented sector than the deliberate sabotage on the part of the Labour Party. That indicates that it is far more interested in party dogma than in housing conditions.

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