HC Deb 13 December 1982 vol 34 cc25-65 3.42 pm
Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington)

I beg to move, That this House expresses its disgust at the appalling treatment by this Government of tenants, public and private, and calls upon it to accord these citizens equal treatment with private owners of property in order to remedy the injustices which the Government is imposing upon them. The motion refers to a substantial number of people—about 44 per cent. of the population. I am asking that they be accorded the equal treatment that they were promised by the Prime Minister on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street when the Government came to office. The Prime Minister quoted St. Francis of Assisi. She said: Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith and where there is despair, may we bring hope. That message has a hollow ring to tenants, whether they be in the private or the public sector. It does not have that ring only to tenants, but I shall deal with the plight in which they find themselves under the present Government.

Rents paid by council tenants have in many cases more than doubled in the past three years and the subsidies that they have been given have been reduced. In 1978–79 the subsidy given by the Government was £1,004 million and the rate fund contribution was £200 million, yielding a total of £1,204 million. In 1980 the Government subsidy had decreased to £915 million, the rate fund contribution was £362 million, which made a total, at 1978–79 prices, of £865 million.

The planned figures for 1982–83 are even worse. The Government subsidy is to slump to £592 million and the rate fund contribution is to be £325 million, producing a total of £917 million. At 1978–79 prices, that £917 million is only £578 million. Therefore, the planned subsidy for 1982–83 is less than 50 per cent. of what was given in 1978–79. It means that the future of private tenants is bleak. It also means that they are being punished, when they are already suffering. Because of the Government's economic policies, many of them have lost their jobs. They are distressed and finding things extremely difficult.

Moreover, tenants are finding that local authorities are spending less on essential repairs. The housing stock will fall increasingly into despair as a direct consequence of the Government's policies. There is another facet of the problem. It used to be the case that young couples who got married could look forward to becoming tenants of a council house. Those who live in a community that calls itself civilised have a right to decent housing. They also have a right to expect either facilities to purchase a house or rented property to be available.

We know from long experience that, irrespective of what is done in the private sector, the quantity of rented property is decreasing, but under successive Governments it has always been possible to obtain a council house for rent. That applied under previous Tory Administrations, but they were nothing like the present one. The facility to obtain council houses for rent is being removed rapidly.

I shall quote the figures for local government starts and completions that have been given to me. In 1978 there were 79,517 starts and 101,877 completions. In 1979 there were 58,424 starts and 79,005 completions. In 1980 starts slumped dramatically to 37,492 and there were 79,896 completions. In 1981 starts had slumped again to 26,399 and there were 58,101 completions. The figures are even worse this year. In the first six months of 1982 there were 17,649 starts and 17,726 completions.

All that has occurred under a Secretary of State who, when in Opposition, repeatedly castigated the Labour Government for their building programme. The right hon. Gentleman was was fond of saying how disgraceful it was and how, when the Tories came to office, that sad state of affairs would be remedied. In reality, things are very different from what the Secretary of State for the Environment suggested. In the first six months of this year starts numbered only 17,649 and completions 17,726. If this continues, at the end of the year these will total 38,000 and 36,000 respectively.

When I talk of tenants in privately rented accommodation, I am talking of 44 per cent. of the population, or 9 million people. The vast majority of them will be unable to get a home of their own. The Government should be condemned, not only for their record but for their lack of interest in what has occurred in the housing sector.

It is disgraceful that many young people will have no opportunity to get a home. As a result, they will be forced into overcrowded accommodation or pushed into housing which, in many instances, is a disgrace. Such a state of affairs should not be allowed to exist. A remedy is needed, but the Government show no sign that they are taking any notice of what is happening.

The Tory Opposition used to tell us that they would find more privately rented property and strengthen the rights of private tenants. They used to say that they would become the friends of people in privately rented accommodation. The Secretary of State used to say that the Tories would tap the reservoir of empty private property and make it available. In reality, things are quite different.

As a result of the Housing Act 1980, housing is in many cases more expensive for private tenants. By that Act the Government reduced the minimum period for rent registration from three years to two years which means that landlords can have so-called fair rents reviewed every two years instead of three. It also means that instead of being spread over a three-year period, the fully registered rent becomes operative after two years, and that will lead to an escalation in the level of private sector rents.

A nasty shorthold tenancy provision was also introduced by the Minister for Housing and Construction and applied to lettings after November 1980. Under that provision a landlord can charge any rent and the terms of the letting can vary from one to five years. When we debated this matter we warned the Government that they were making a big mistake, because there was no requirement for compulsory rent registration.

The Government argued "Well, if the tenant so desires, he can always go to the rent officer". That is like telling a man armed with a peashooter that he can attack an army battalion armed with the most modern weapons. Nothing could be more suicidal, because if that tenant went to the rent officer he would more often than not be out on the street within six or seven months.

I am talking about some of the most defenceless people in our society. I am talking about young married couples who are unable to get local authority accommodation and who are desperate for any kind of accommodation. They will fall into the trap set by the sort of unscrupulous landlord about whom I am talking.

Students are equally affected but are not in a strong bargaining position. They will be forced to accept such accommodation, as will people who have moved to obtain a job. Nowadays, people must be increasingly mobile and must travel the length and breadth of the country to find a job. When they do find a job, it is often extremely difficult to get accommodation. It may even be years before they can be reunited with their wives or families. They are likely to be caught in the snare that has been set by an unscrupulous landlord.

The game was given away when it was discovered that this provision did not apply to the London area, but even so it has not resulted in the availability of more property. Instead, it has allowed some unscrupulous landlords to make a killing. It has been a bad deal for the private tenant, yet the Government have allowed such things to occur.

Another difficulty faced by private tenants is the time taken by landlords to carry out repairs, even though many of the properties are in a shocking and disgraceful state. Even when private tenants have security of tenure, it is a long time before the necessary repairs are carried out. All hon. Members are aware of the frustration that results. We have all received letters about that or have met constituents who have told us about the conditions in which they must live. Many of them do not even know the name of the landlord, because their rent is collected by a nominee. However, they do know that it takes a long time for the local authority to obtain the necessary orders so that action can be taken.

As a result, frustration and despair occur and such people have a lack of pride in their home, simply because their basic needs have not been met. In my constituency there are still many private properties with no hot water or inside toilet. The same can be said of many other areas. Alternatively, many flats are in such a state of disrepair that they ought to be condemned immediately. Instead, it is a long time before any action is taken by the local authorities. That is the sort of frustration experienced by private tenants, and I am sure that all hon. Members have at some stage been approached by tenants in that predicament.

In many local authority areas, repairs that would normally be carried out fairly speedily are not being done because funds are not available. Some repairs are held up because of bureaucratic mismanagement or red tape. One of my constituents suffered a burst pipe in his kitchen during last year's severe winter. He reported it to the local authority, which tried to repair it but found that the stopcock in the kitchen would not close. The authority then asked the water authority to turn off the stopcock on the main outside, but it could not find the stopcock. That repair has still not been completed and my constituent has to put out a bowl overnight to catch the water that is still leaking in. Such frustration is unnecessary, even taking into account the backlog of essential repairs that have been held up because of cuts.

I know that I speak for many hon. Members when I say that my post-bag is full of queries about repairs that have not been carried out. Many people come to my surgery asking whether something can be done to speed up repairs. Sometimes they do not know what is happening. They may have reported the fault to the local authority through, for example, the rent collector.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

In many constituencies there are no rent collectors. All repairs required are fed into a computer. The computer is not swift to respond to demands for action and the position becomes even more impersonal.

Mr. Hoyle

I accept what the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) says. A computer is only as good as the information fed into it. However good the local authority, the information is fed in by faceless bureaucrats and the tenant cannot obtain an answer. In many cases there is no human contact.

I hope that the Government will accept the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) to the Housing and Building Control Bill, which calls for a tenants' charter. That may begin to solve the problems that I have outlined. A tenant who reports a fault to either a private landlord or a local authority could, after a reasonable period had elapsed and the necessary repair had not been carried out, obtain three estimates from an approved list of builders held by the local authority. To provide a fair comparison, one builder would be the direct labour organisation of the local authority. The tenant must accept one of the three estimates, call in the builder to carry out the repairs and then send the bill to the local authority or the private landlord for payment. In that way we might overcome the difficulties that I have outlined and the difficulties with computers. It would certainly reduce the delay and the frustration of tenants.

The period meant by "reasonable" would vary according to the repairs. About four weeks would be long enough to wait for a new gate, window or door. For structural repairs, tenants must wait much longer before action is taken. However, those details can be filled in later. We must overcome the menace of the bad landlord in the private sector. In the charter that I have outlined, the good private landlord has nothing to fear. Good local authorities which are prepared to keep in touch with tenants and to ensure that repairs are carried out will have nothing to fear. But the bad local authority, where there is much red tape, frustration and bureaucracy—

Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Is the hon. Gentleman trying to persuade the House that there are never bad tenants but only bad landlords?

Mr. Hoyle

The hon. Gentleman knows that I would never say that. There are bad tenants, just as there are bad landlords, but at the moment most of the frustrated tenants are good tenants. They take a pride in their property and wish to see it kept in good repair. We wish to deal with the bad landlord who will not carry out repairs, and the absentee landlord who may be unknown to his tenants. Tenants are frustrated by "get rich quick" landlords who will not carry out repairs.

The charter that I have outlined would bring much relief, end frustration and begin to improve housing standards. The Government must consider such an amendment favourably. Most repairs begin as small repairs, but the longer they are left the larger they become and the more they cost to carry out.

In the Housing Act 1980 provision was made for the establishment of a charter for tenants. Welcome though it was, it was a watered down version of what would have been in Labour's 1979 Housing Bill. Tenants feel great frustration. They are often unaware of the general direction of the local authority's housing policy. Often they are not consulted about decisions. Although the measure made provision for participation, that should now be taken a stage further. There should be real participation, so that people are aware of what is happening. They should be free to partake in the making of decisions. It would give them a pride in the estate or area in which they live.

In addition to meaningful participation, there should be a growth of tenants' co-operatives. One or two have been established, but I should like to see the establishment of self-managing co-operatives in which tenants can play a positive role in management. That would do much to solve the problems which occur on many estates where there are rundown houses and much frustration.

Sometimes vandalism occurs because of tenants' frustration with what they find round about them. However hard they strive, they are unaware of what is happening. They feel that they are not in touch with the people on the councils. The position was not helped by the reorganisation of local government, because people felt more and more divorced from what was happening in the local authority. Although many councillors try hard to keep closely in touch with tenants, there is still a need for a positive role for tenants in the management of their estates. There should also be decentralisation so that decisions are taken as near as possible to the estates.

Tenants now find themselves in a more difficult position in relation to owner-occupiers. I say at once that I believe in help being given to owner-occupiers. Everything possible should be done to help young married couples who want to own a house of their own. However, whatever scheme is devised, there will always be some people who cannot afford a house of their own and will have to seek property in the rented sector.

The wealthier the owner-occupier, the better his position in relation to tax exemption and grants, but the ordinary private tenant who has been protected by legislation that keeps the rent of the property below the true market cost is finding that his protection is being slightly nibbled away. Council tenants are also finding that subsidies are being phased out. Council house rents have doubled in the last three years and are likely to increase in the future. That is unfair, particularly to the section of the community least able to defend itself.

There should be a general social subsidy on housing which tries to provide equity between owner-occupiers, council tenants and those in the private rented sector. Housing should be regarded as a social service. Good housing ought to be available to all. That is not possible at present, because of the Government's housing policies. They are obsessed by political dogma which leads them to believe that the best solution is for everyone to own his own house. The dream of a free market economy that would give everyone the best of all possible worlds is an impossible dream. It is unrelated to reality. There is a demand, and always will be, for rented property. There should be a subsidy, but it should be a general subsidy on all housing.

I hope that the Minister will take a leaf out of the housing programme outlined at the last Labour Party conference. Relief should be given to those who are most hard pressed. There should be a statutory one-year rent freeze. It should apply not only to council tenants but to the private rented sector and to housing associations. That would help to provide equity between each sector. In the longer term we should look at the rented sector as a whole and bring the housing associations and private rented property more into line with local authority housing.

I referred earlier to the mortgage relief that is given to the owner-occupier and said that I was strongly in favour of it, but I am not in favour of benefiting the very wealthy in our society in that respect. The cut-off should be at the standard rate of income tax. That is where help can be given to most people. While benefiting the greatest possible number, it would prevent benefit going to very wealthy people. The tax relief should be altered so that it acts in the same way as the mortgage option scheme—in other words, like a subsidy. That is one of the ways in which we could begin to move towards equity.

The Government are mistaken if they think that they can somehow wave a wand and prevent any further diminution in the private rented sector. They often say that the private rented sector diminished under the Labour Government, but it is diminishing even while the Tories are in office. That decline is irreversible. The Labour Government were moving in the right direction. The next Labour Government should move in a similar direction. They should, by every means available, actively encourage the transfer of the private rented sector into the public sector. As far as possible the private rented sector should become public. That is the only way in which we can ensure that there will be a fair deal for tenants.

Housing problems in inner cities, far from getting better, are getting worse. Problems have been caused by high-rise flats. There have been defects in the structure of flats that were built in the post-war period. Problems have been caused because successive Governments believed that high-rise flats should be built because there was a shortage of land. However, those flats separated people from their neighbours and broke up the community spirit that used to exist in inner city areas. People feel a sense of frustration because they are isolated. There is also the problem of the rundown of inner city areas. Things are not getting better in those sectors, but worse.

The answer to those problems is not to send in a blaze of glory, as if he were Messiah coming down to earth, the Secretary of State for the Environment. In Liverpool he came, he saw and he proposed, but the problems remain. The planting of a few trees in the centre of Liverpool is not the answer to the problems there. The problems in Liverpool, which were largely the result of a lack of employment, decent housing and education facilities, are still there. In many inner cities there are racial problems. There could be an eruption at any time unless a major effort is made to solve the problems.

The problems are partly caused by a lack of housing. What we are saying about Liverpool applies to other inner city areas as well. In Liverpool there should be an investment of a large sum of money to provide decent housing, to give people a sense of belonging and to rekindle the community spirit, which is absolutely essential if we are to combat the growing vandalism and sense of frustration and suspicion, particularly between the races. The Government must rethink their policy.

The Government will not solve the problems by having a free market economy or by making appeals, however well-meaning, to the City to bring people in black coats and pin-striped trousers to Liverpool and other cities to make proposals. They will not begin to touch the problems by doing that. Many of the problems in such areas are tenants' problems. The Government need more imagination. Money must be put into those areas. The problems can be resolved only within the public sector. The money that is put in must be in the hands of the local authority. It must be used in such a way that the people in the communities are involved in a partnership, so that the problems can begin to be solved.

The Government treat housing, as they do many other things, dogmatically. They look at it in a narrow political sense, as if all the answers can be found through the market solution. For housing, that is not true. More imagination and flair are needed. Their policy should have a new look about it.

The debate will be invaluable if the frustration of tenants, both council and private sector, is brought home to the Government. I hope that the Minister will give a sign that the Government are not only aware of those things but have a more radical plan for beginning to tackle the problems, which will not go away, but will become worse. The time to begin to solve many of them is growing short. I ask the Government to listen to the comments of those who take part in the debate. Many hon. Members will describe the problems faced by tenants. Whatever solution they propose, they will probably agree that it will take more than the £109 million that the Minister for Housing and Construction proposed last week to begin to solve the problems.

If the will is there, the problems can be solved. If the money was made available, employment would be provided in the construction industry, which is one of the most hard-pressed industries in the country and which has one of the highest unemployment rates of any industry. By making the money available the Government would bring not only employment but satisfaction to a deserving section of the community—the 44 per cent. of the community who are tenants. I appeal to the Government to do something to help them before their frustration boils over.

4.26 pm
Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

We have just listened to a speech on housing of almost one hour. The only suggestion of the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle) to solve the problem is that basically housing should be nationalised and taken over by local authorities. To give him his due, he has criticised local authorities and the way in which they have managed housing, but he still thinks that nationalisation is the solution.

I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman one or two questions. Will he give me any reason why houses are in short supply at present other than that they are rationed and controlled? Can he tell me of any other commodity than housing that is in short supply? Does he realise that housing is rationed and controlled? I do not know where the hon. Gentleman lives. He did not declare an interest. He did not say whether he was a tenant or a landlord. My impression is that he lives in Dolphin Square. I thought that I saw him there. I may be wrong.

Mr. Hoyle

The hon. Gentleman is wrong.

Sir Albert Costain

The hon. Gentleman was probably going swimming there. I did see him there, but I shall not press him.

Dolphin Square is a perfect example of a block of flats that was built by private enterprise for private tenants. It has been a great success. If my records are right, there have always been at least 40 Members of Parliament living there since the day it was built.

Mr. Hoyle

To say that the conditions in Dolphin Square exist throughout the private sector would be to talk about a different world. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the reality is different. Many landlords are not prepared to keep their property in good repair. I was addressing my remarks to tenants in such circumstances.

Sir Albert Costain

The hon. Gentleman is kind enough to say that I know as much about housing as he does. I suggest that I know a darned sight more. The company with which I was connected built tens of thousands of fiats. It would undertake developments such as Dolphin Square time and time again if it were not for rent restrictions. Before rent restrictions were introduced, which was during the First World War, most pension funds invested in private rented accommodation. The unions were only too happy to invest their funds in housing to let for their members and others. In other European countries where there are no controls private rented accommodation is being built to the great advantage of all.

Every proposal that Labour Governments and Oppositions make is designed to stop housing being built for rent. This stops the provision of badly needed accommodation. My solution to the housing problem would be aimed precisely in the opposite direction. Rent restrictions should be removed immediately in any area where the supply of houses exceeded demand. The Government have given many concessions in their enterprise areas, but I am disappointed that when houses are built to let they are still controlled.

The hon. Member for Warrington referred to shorthold tenancies. He claimed that they are not producing the desired results. He omitted to say that 30,000 houses are standing empty because shorthold tenancies are not being taken up as they should be. They are not being taken up because Opposition housing spokesmen have repeatedly threatened or promised that the Labour Party, if ever returned to office—heaven forbid!—would alter the law on shorthold tenancies. The result is that no one will build houses to let on these tenancies. If they built them and the Labour Party was returned to office, they would witness the cancellation of the shorthold concept.

Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds, West)

If the hon. Gentleman is a supporter of building housing for rent in the private sector, will he tell us why houses or flats were not built for rent subsequent to the 1957 rent legislation, which produced Rachman?

Sir Albert Costain

The hon. Gentleman seems badly to have misunderstood me. I have said that housing for rent would be built by means of the investments of pension funds and unions. That would happen in the absence of rent controls.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Is not the answer to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) that after the 1957 Act the tenant of furnished accommodation did not have security of possession? It is only recently that that security has been extended throughout the housing market.

Sir Albert Costain

The answer lies in supply and demand. The Opposition must realise that if all their proposals are against the landlord and in favour of the tenant the landlord will not build houses for tenants. How simple can we make this? The hon. Member for Warrington has union connections. Perhaps he will explain why trade union pension funds are being used now to invest in antiques. The answer is that there are no controls on antiques. The unions do not build houses to let because of the controls.

Mr. Joseph Dean

If union funds had been used to buy some of the housing in the area that I represented in Manchester 15 to 20 years ago, they would have been buying antiques.

Sir Albert Costain

I do not know the housing position in Manchester. As a Liverpudlian I never refer to housing in Manchester. If I took up Manchester's housing, or any of its other issues, I might be had up for slander. This is an old Liverpudlian-Mancunian situation. If I went into it now, I should bore the House.

As I have said, the answer lies in the basic principle of supply and demand. If enough premises were available for rent in the areas where prospective tenants wanted them, there would be no need for controls. There are controls because that level of supply does not exist. The controls will not be removed until prospective investors recognise that it will be worth while to invest.

The company with which I was connected built many houses to let over many years. In the end it had to build rented accommodation abroad and to concentrate on building office properties in this country. It built up a business of constructing blocks of flats and offices to sell to pension funds as investments. That meant that the company had sufficient funds to allow it to continue building. The pension funds discontinued this form of investment when controls were introduced. They decided to invest in office blocks and my company had to switch its operations from domestic housing to office blocks. It did not want to do so, but its hand was forced because it could not afford to build without the prospect of selling.

The hon. Member for Warrington talked about high-rise buildings. Does he realise that no private property company would have dreamt of engaging in high-rise building? These developments were introduced only when local authorities decided to take over the building of flats to let—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Leeds, West wishes to intervene, I ask him to rise in his place and not to growl at me. Do not growl at me, please, for it is bad manners.

Mr. Hoyle

The hon. Gentleman is painting a picture of conditions that disappeared a long time ago. He is talking about conditions before the First World War when 90 per cent. of rented accommodation was in the private sector. Will he explain why successive Governments since the end of the Second World War have chosen, quite rightly in my view, to protect tenants against landlords like Rachman and others? Surely it has been necessary to do this. Is he not harping on an era that will never return?

Sir Albert Costain

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that I am harping on a situation that will never return, he is admitting defeat. Rent controls were introduced during the First World War. There were about nine housing reports at that time. As a boy of 12 I went with my father to the first council estate to be built. It was built at Bootle. I remember being told "This is a council estate. It will provide homes for the heroes whom Lloyd George has been talking about. We are building 50 houses for the Bootle corporation. The people will not really want to live in them because they will think that they are almshouses. They will live in them for only three, four, six or nine months. They will want these council houses while they are waiting for accommodation to be built following the war."

However, the Government decided to retain controls because housing was in short supply. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman's mind is made up and he does not want to hear the facts. He must realise that landlords will invest in housing only when they recognise that it is worth while doing so. The hon. Gentleman keeps talking about the need for tenants to have certain rights. He says that tenants should have the right to have repairs done to their property and draws attention to landlords' obligations. If a window is smashed or a back door is broken, he says that he should be able to inform the landlord and to have the repair work done at his convenience.

What happens if a tenant and his family break the windows once a week? This happens in some areas. What happens if that and other damage is caused regularly by the tenant? I have seen houses where things have been thrown at the husband that damaged the plumbing and the electric work. It has taken two to three estimates to repair the damage done during a wifely row.

The hon. Gentleman must get it right. I admit that there are some bad landlords—I have one in my constituency. I am doing my best to get rid of him. Thank goodness, I have only one. However, I have more than one had tenant, but the hon. Member is saying that they should never be got rid of. All they should do is live in a house, make a mess of it, spoil it and move on, leaving the landlord to fix it. It is simple. We are short of houses to let because there are controls. If controls are released, there will be houses to rent. It is as simple as that.

4.40 pm
Mr. Robert Edwards (Wolverhampton, South-East)

I should like to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) in some detail because we have listened to the genuine voice of the builders. He referred to the period when the trade unions put money into the building of houses, through the National Housebuilders Guild. Many of our trade unions emptied their treasuries for that project. However, the building materials monopolies made it extremely difficult for the guild to get supplies. It negotiated thousands of agreements to build houses for local authorities, fine high-quality houses at low rents.

The Tory Government of the day were so scared at the development of the guild that they introduced legislation in a new housing Bill that made it almost impossible for the guild to negotiate new agreements with local authorities. It was this that destroyed the majestic project under which the unions were financing the building of good quality houses at low rent for the people. That is the true history of the finance of the guild.

Mr. Joseph Dean

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of the housing schemes that started with trade union backing had to be taken over by the local authorities, but still stand today as some of the best value for money in bricks and mortar, if one takes a 60-year loan repayment period into account?

Mr. Edwards

My hon. Friend confirms what I was saying about the National Housebuilders Guild. The unions were ready not just to put pension funds into building but to put general funds into the building of high-quality houses.

We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle) for introducing this subject for debate. I thought his speech was a majestic one, constructive and well argued. I compliment him on his remarkable speech, which will read well in Hansard tomorrow. The speech was so constructive that it is rather difficult to follow. I should like to say the same things. However, there are a few issues that he has not mentioned with which I should like to deal.

A report is coming out this week dealing with housing in England. It states that one in every 10 houses in England is not fit for human habitation. It goes on to say that there are 1 million houses in England that lack basic amenities. This is a scandal, and we should be ashamed of ourselves as Members of Parliament that we allow such a problem to exist.

We need millions of houses. Every hon. Member here knows that at every surgery we attend half of the cases are to do with housing, with young couples on long housing lists and old people in high-rise flats who want to get out because their lives are a misery. These flats should be razed to the ground, just as some of the slums should be razed to the ground.

We are in the middle of a period of depression, with 4 million unemployed, and we should be thinking in terms of rebuilding our cities and inner cities. What is the problem? There are 400,000 building trade workers unemployed—denied the right to work. There is plenty of land, and millions of bricks piled up unused. There is all the skill in the world and thousands of unemployed steel workers who could supply the steel needed. Pilkington Bros. is closing part of its glassworks, when that glass could be used for building houses. What is the problem? Is it a shortage of money? There is no shortage of money. We do not know what to do with the money that we have.

Lloyds Bank has just received permission from the Government and the Bank of England to loan the Fascist Government of Argentina £600 million. It is enough to make the 400 British Tommies who died in the Falkland Islands turn in their graves that we allow such a thing. We cannot find money to clear the slums but we find money to sustain the declining economy of this Fascist dictatorship. How can this be justified? The pension funds have been mentioned and there is about £60 billion in them, but the money is being invested in South Africa, Latin America and the new technology overseas to compete with our own new technology. I do not blame the unions for this. They have very little control over pension funds.

Mr. Hoyle

Does not this make the Labour programme to reintroduce exchange controls and set up an international investment bank that would invest in the construction industry and in projects such as those that my hon. Friend is describing essential if we are to get out of the economic mess that we are in?

Mr. Edwards

My hon. Friend is a loyal member of the Labour Party and subscribes to its policy. However, the present financial system has failed—it has broken up all over the world and we know it. We need massive Government intervention to use the money that is not being used effectively to reconstruct our country and put people back to work. This seems to be an elementary issue. One of the big construction jobs that is crying out loud to be done is the rebuilding of our inner cities. We must make our cities fit for our children to live in, in security and dignity. That is what the Labour movement wants to do with the funds that are available but are not being used.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington mentioned a charter for council house tenants. In 1969 I introduced a Private Member's Bill entitled the Council Tenants' Charter Bill, which aimed to Establish a charter of rights for council tenants. I introduced the Bill twice and received a promise from the Labour Government of the time that they would find time for it. Unfortunately, we lost the election and with it the opportunity to enact my Bill. However, I was given a promise that time would be found, and I accepted that promise.

My Bill was a simple one that asked that the 5 million council tenants should be consulted, that there should be a statutory body so that they would have some say over rents, amenities and referrals, and that every council estate should have a tenants' council.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

The hon. Gentleman said that he was promised by the Labour Administration that Government time would be found for his Bill. When was that promise given?

Mr. Edwards

It was included in the Labour Party's manifesto for the following election. Unfortunately, we did not win the election. I was promised that it would feature in the then Government's policy and that time would be given for such a Bill. I accepted that promise from my Chief Whip and the Leader of the House, because I introduced the Bill on two occasions. I must also point out that it was not a negative measure; it was not just for council house tenants. I also introduced a Private Member's Bill to protect home owners against jerry builders, and we had a considerable debate in the House on those two subjects.

It is still valid to have a charter covering council house tenants. I repeat, there are 5 million of them. They are a very important section of our community. This country is one of the most backward in the world when it comes to consultation. There is very little consultation in industry and almost none in housing, whether it be in the private sector or in the sector controlled by local government. It is time that we brought house owners and tenants into active participation in the running of their estates. If nothing else, it would end vandalism.

I remember an occasion in my constituency when a number of small trees were planted, and they were vandalised. Council officials visited local schools and asked every child to adopt a tree. That ended the vandalism, because each child had a tree to conserve. That is the kind of participation that we should support actively.

I know that other hon. Members wish to take part in this debate. The case has been made extremely well by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington. But even at this late hour I ask the Government to co-operate with us to get some kind of dignity, control and participation among council house tenants. They need a charter desparately.

4.53 pm
Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tamworth)

It is always a great pleasure to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Edwards) and, before I deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle), perhaps the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East or the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) can explain why the last Labour Government gave the hon. Gentleman the green light to introduce a Bill establishing a tenants' charter, bearing in mind that in 1977 a Labour Government voted down a similar Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre). It seems to be yet another example of the Labour Party, when in Government, speaking out of both sides of its mouth and making contradictory statements.

There must be many hon. Members on both sides of the House who would give their eye teeth to come third in a private Members' ballot, many more to come second, and still more to come first. We should be grateful to the hon. Member for Warrington for giving the House the opportunity to discuss, in the words of the motion, its disgust at the appalling treatment by this Government of tenants, public and private, and calls upon it to accord these citizens equal treatment with private owners of property in order to remedy the injustices which the Government is imposing upon them. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington on selecting this subject for debate, because it gives Government supporters the chance to examine precisely what the Labour Party did in government between 1974 and 1979, what the present Government have done since 4 May 1979, and what the Opposition parties would do if they were elected, jointly or severally, at some future general election.

I should begin by declaring an interest. The hon. Member for Warrington spoke of rent collectors, and his comment was picked up by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright). More years ago than I care to remember, when I was an articled pupil with a firm of chartered surveyors, I started every Monday morning on a bicycle collecting rents, drinking more cups of tea than I wish to recall, and listening to complaints, some relevant to the properties and others more relevant to the families of the tenants whose rents I was collecting. Having declared that interest, I shall refer later to the vital and important role of the rent collector.

The hon. Member for Warrington will be surprised, as will the House, that I agree with one or two of his arguments. I agree that a number of local authorities are patently bad landlords and will invest the money that they raise from the sale of council houses not in their housing stock, but in mayoral cars and liveried chauffeurs. The Labour-controlled Tamworth borough council did precisely that this month. Instead of making available bathrooms and new electricity circuits and curing the damp in properties in Bailey Avenue, Tamworth, for several of its needy and deserving tenants, the borough council decided to invest £20,000 in pomp and glory to provide Councillor Mrs. Nancy Padfield, the mayor of Tamworth, with a new Ford Cortina Ghia and a liveried chauffeur who is no doubt on an index-linked pension. I am entitled to ask the hon. Member for Warrington where the real priorities of Tamworth borough council lie.

The motion also enables the House to cast its mind back to the period of the last Labour Government, when the hon. Member for Warrington was a Back-Bench Member. The House will recall that that Government were responsible for the Rent Act 1974. As with all Rent Acts, it had precisely the reverse effect to that which the legislators and parliamentary draftsmen intended. Instead of increasing the supply of furnished rented accommodation, the Act decreased it. Instead of decreasing homelessness, it increased it.

The hon. Gentleman's motion also affords us the opportunity to recall that, during the lifetime of the last Labour Government, homelessness doubled. In 1974, the number of registered homeless people was 27,500. In 1975 and 1976, after the implementation of the 1974 Act, the figure rose to 33,600. By May 1979, when that Government were denied a further period in office, the number of homeless families had risen to 57,200.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the housing policies of the Labour Government is put no better than in the first leader in The Times of 1 February 1977: The 1974 Act itself, extending security of tenure to the furnished tenant, only completed a long train of legislation concerned with the landlord only as potential oppressor. There are many clogs on the easy renting of housing that fall easily inside Mr. Shore's proviso about security of tenure—the cumbersome processes that a landlord entitled to repossess must go through, the limited categories of cases in which special circumstances are held to justify letting for a limited period, the complicated accretion of laws and customs governing the fixing of rents, and so on. The failure in its present form of the rent allowance scheme (taken up by only a third of those entitled to it) is a decisive bar to the creation of a rational rent system …But it is the excessive weight given to the tenant's security in all circumstances that most limits the usefulness of the private rented sector. As at every other level, our housing policy heaps benefits, often irrelevant, on the incumbent tenant at the expense of those who seek to become tenants themselves. A major easing of the housing shortage could be achieved by drastically widening the opportunties for a landlord to enter into an agreement with a tenant without signing his property away for a lifetime. We must move on from 1974 to 1977. The hon. Member for Warrington was a Back-Bench Member of that Government, and he will recall his Government's housing policy review of 1977, which said: If the decline continues"— this refers to the private rented sector— unabated and no action were taken to compensate for the loss of accommodation from that sector, many people—particularly new and mobile households—might not be able to find the housing they need. It might be argued…that this is already beginning to happen in a number of areas. To guard against this, we"— that is, the then Government— need to consider what action can be taken to stimulate the supply of lettings within the private sector, and what can he done to provide accommodation in the public sector. What did the hon. Gentleman's Government do? They did precisely nothing. They did so little that no subsequent Labour Party conference even bothered to debate the findings of that Green Paper.

Perhaps I may remind the House of what Mr. David Webster said in an article headed Why Labour failed on housing in New Society of 17 January 1980. I am not a regular reader of New Society, but I suspect that its views are not entirely dedicated to all the philosophies and policies of the present Administration. Mr. Webster said: Perhaps most culpable was the failure of Labour's annual conference to transmit the growing discontent of council tenants or to mount any real pressure to tackle bad conditions in council housing. This probably reflects the party's declining mass base. But such a stance would also have been inconvenient for the party's traditionalists"— I include the hon. Member for Warrington among them. Council housing 'must be good', by definition, because it is in the public sector. There Mr. Webster sums it up.

What have this Government done in housing in three and a half action-packed years? Hon. Members may laugh, but I shall tell them precisely what this Government have done in three and a half years to help tenants in both the public sector and the private sector, and perhaps hon. Members will then admit that they had the opportunity during five whole years to do precisely the same, but that they let the opportunities pass by.

Did the Labour Government introduce a tenants' charter? No, they did not. This Government did. Did the Labour Government introduce security for public sector tenants? No, this Government did. Did the Labour Government extend to tenants in the public sector the right to take in lodgers to supplement their incomes? No, but this Government did. Did the Labour Government extend to tenants the right to sub—let, to provide accommodation for students, to provide the much-needed homes for first-time buyers, the newly-marrieds to which the hon. Member for Warrington referred? No, but this Government did. Did the Labour Government introduce the right for tenants to carry out repairs to the property that they hold either through the local council or a private landlord? No. This Government did, and, in particular, this Government increased substantially the improvement grants available to both private sector and public sector tenants. Indeed, recently my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced the extension of the 90 per cent. improvement grants to April 1984, which must further stimulate demand in the construction industry.

Mr. Hoyle

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that in the 1979 Housing Bill, which would have been enacted by a Labour Government, there was a far stronger tenants' charter than the one in the Housing Act 1980. It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman to say such things, when he knows full well that that charter would have been introduced by a Labour Government.

Mr. Heddle

I am tempted to remind the hon. Gentleman of Nero's fiddling while Rome burned. Instead, I shall remind him and the House of the occasion when the great artist Turner was painting the "Fighting Téméraire". You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that most vivid and beautiful sunset. Someone said to Mr. Turner "I could have done that". Mr. Turner carried on painting, and said after a few minutes "Why didn't you, then?" That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman.

I understand why Labour Members do not sit easily in their seats. Did they give tenants the opportunity to obtain the information about who owned their property? The hon. Member for Warrington specifically referred to absentee and anonymous landlords. If he read through the Housing Act 1980 he would find it all there. The present Government gave tenants those rights. Did the Labour Government introduce a national mobility scheme, a tenants' exchange scheme, to get our wooden and static society on the move again? No, but this Government did. Did the Labour Government introduce facilities to bring forward rundown houses in inner city areas for sale, either outright or on half-and-half schemes? No, but this Government did, backed up by generous grants of £7,500 in the provinces and £10,000 in London, to enable the houses which complied with yesterday's standards to be brought up to today's standards and to provide homes for young couples tomorrow.

Did the Labour Government introduce share purchase? No. This Government did. The hon. Members for Warrington and for Wolverhampton, South-East mentioned the plight of the inner cities. Inner cities can be given new life by enabling the people who live there to have a stake in their environment. That can be done best by allowing them to buy part of their home, if they cannot buy all of it now, and subsequently to buy more, as their job prospects improve.

The Housing and Building Control Bill, now in Committee, extends that right to many more council and private sector tenants. The Government have also introduced mortgage guarantee schemes to enable public sector tenants on low incomes to take out mortgages, and the Government will underwrite any loss that the local authority may suffer by selling to such tenants.

The Government have also introduced the priority estates project. In just over three years, they have, by enlightened estate management, brought forward 300,000 hard-to-let dwellings. The hon. Member for Warrington spoke of tenants' co-operatives. To an extent, I go along with him, but I commend to him and to the House the priority estates project. I know the plight of tenants who live in system-built high-rise blocks of flats, a subject dear to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean). The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East also referred to them. I agree with them that it is not morally right for tenants who live in such accommodation necessarily to suffer the dereliction that is not the fault of themselves, but, in large measure, of the architects and corporation officials who employed untried and untested materials and methods. That is why the House will welcome the Government's initiative in introducing the housing defects prevention units.

Mr. Joseph Dean

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, it is not fair to blame only the architects and local authorities. I agree that they have a tremendous responsibility for introducing the monstrosities with which we are now saddled, some of which are having to be demolished, and for which the coucil house tenants still have to pay. However, the overriding driving force was successive Governments of both parties. Let us put some of the blame where it lies. The idea was to get an extra 100,000 units per year into the building programme. That was the way in which Governments said that it could be done. At local level, some of us in both parties opposed it, but unfortunately we lost the vote. The main culprits were Governments, and it was all to do with high-density subsidies.

Mr. Heddle

I do not deny that that is true, but the Government have done something about it by introducing their housing defects prevention unit and, more directly, by protecting tenants and people who have exercised their right to buy under the Housing Act and who have bought Airey houses. They will have the security of knowing that any inherent defects in those structures will not be landed at their front door.

In addition, the Government have introduced the shorthold scheme. Labour Members will sneer cynically when we say that one reason why the shorthold scheme has not yet met the considerable demand for the right to rent is because the Labour Party is committed, out of sheer blind political dogmatism and hatred of the private landlord, private property and capital, to deny those awaiting the key to a council house the opportunity to rent. Does the hon. Member for Warrington agree that his party should withdraw its commitment to repeal the shorthold provisions of the Housing Act so that they can be given an opportunity to work?

Mr. Hoyle

The Housing Act is obviously not working. Why will not the hon. Gentleman admit that the private sector is still in decline, as it was under the Conservative Government which preceded the last Labour Government? The rosy picture that he is painting of the Government's actions is far from true. Why does not he admit that the Government have built fewer houses than any Government since 1924?

Under this Government mortgage interest rates rose to their highest level and are only now beginning to drop. Far from the picture being rosy, it has been more difficult for people to buy a house under this Government than under the Labour Government and, indeed, under previous Conservative Administrations as well.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I remind the House that the Front-Bench spokesmen hope to reply at 6.15 pm and six hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. Interventions tend to prolong speeches.

Mr. Heddle

I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion and say that Conservative and Labour Members should paint a constructive picture. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Warrington has not done so. He has peddled the further myth that by building more council houses homelessness will be reduced. The figures do not support that argument.

I shall conclude by making three constructive recommendations. Council house rent arrears are so appallingly high in some areas because, as was mentioned earlier, council tenants have no connection with their landlord. They cannot relate to the town hall. Therefore, I suggest that the rent collector should be brought back, not only to collect rents, but to advise generally on household management and to be a counsellor in times of need and distress.

Local authorities should be given the opportunity to take out insurance policies to cover themselves against defects causes by poor design, construction or materials. They would then be able to take early action to protect their properties and their tenants' interests.

The voluntary housing movement, housing associations and housing societies may have a rather better record as estate managers than do local authorities. Is not that an argument for transferring at least the estate management function—rent collection and the supervision of repairs—from the town hall to the voluntary housing movement? Until the Labour Party stops treating every council estate and tenant as its own electoral fief, put into practice what its housing policy review preached in Government and begins to understand the aims, ambitions and aspirations of ordinary people, it has no right to express its disgust of Government policy towards tenants in the public and private sectors. I hope that the House will overwhelmingly reject the motion.

5.14 pm
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

Like the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle), I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle) on his choice of subject for debate this afternoon. The hon. Member for Warrington ranged over a much wider area than is covered by the motion. If he will forgive me for saying so, the motion is a somewhat black and white work which seems to suggest that the Government are responsible for every ill that tenants are suffering.

I am willing to agree that the Government's attitude is not all that encouraging for tenants as a group. They certainly give the impression of believing that owner-occupation is inherently good, whereas renting implies a second class status, of which council house renting has the lowest ranking of all. The picture of feather-bedded council tenants being subsidised by hard-working, rate-paying owner-occupiers was always a caricature of the truth. The Government seem determined to reverse the postion by the help that is being given to owner-occupiers as compared with that which goes to council tenants.

I do not want to spend a long time on a negative argument. I do not believe that tenant's problems, whether council or private, are just a matter of Government policies, important though those are. Tenants are affected by their landlord, by his responsiveness to their needs and by his sensitivity to their problems. On such a test, too many local authorities fail. Too many are remote and bureaucratic, collecting rent, as has been said, by computer, failing to answer letters and taking months over comparatively simple repairs.

I make no apology for concentrating my remarks on the local authority sector because that affects many people in Britain. For example, 50 per cent. of my constituents live in local authority housing. I and my authority believe that a powerful case can be made for decentralisation in the management of local authority housing. I do not believe that highly centralised local authority housing departments can manage between 20,000 and 60,000 homes and at the same time provide the sensitive service that tenants need and deserve. That is why I, and Social Democrats generally, are strongly opposed to the municipalisation of private rented property.

I do not want to see local authorities, which are already struggling with housing problems, faced with another burden of a decaying and often dilapidated property in addition to their management problems. A system of local management in council housing, with a local manager in an area office close to the bulk of the tenants for whom he is responsible, would provide the responsive style of management that tenants need and deserve. Such a decentralised manager should have control over the day-to-day repairs—everything but the major repair problems. There should be, as hon. Members have said, the closest possible involvement of tenants in the area management structure.

If we want to attract tenant involvement in the management of estates, we must give them real responsibility, real problems to face and real duties to carry out. Some of the joint tenants and management committees that we have seen in the past have not been well supported by tenants because they turned out to be mere talking shops. If we want proper tenant involvement we must give joint tenant and management committees power over such things as housing budgets, standards of local services on the estates, and so on.

I agree with the hon. Member for Warrington that we should encourage management and maintenance co-operatives among council tenants. I think that he would accept that that is an easy argument to put forward, but a much more difficult argument to bring to reality. Many tenants simply say that they pay their rent, want the services for which they pay provided for them and would rather the local authority did its job properly than that they should be involved in all the hassle and difficulty of running a co-operative.

I agree, in principle, that the ideal way to organise such involvement would be through a method of management and maintenance co-operatives in which the tenants had control over their destiny and therefore could improve the quality of life on their estates.

The motion speaks of the need to give tenants equal treatment with private owners". In one respect local authority tenants are at an obvious disadvantage compared with private owners. I refer to the choice of property. Owner-occupiers have a choice where they live. Council house tenants, whether at the beginning of a tenancy or in a transfer, must go where the local authority tells them to go. The allocation system offers them only one or two choices. If they do not accept an offer they go to the back of the queue. That system of allocation causes resentment amongst tenants.

The allocation system is inefficient. Many properties are left empty for months because of the time that it takes to reallocate a property when it becomes vacant. Delays are caused by dealing wih repairs, and offering it to umpteen different people before it is accepted.

I was staggered to learn from a recent written reply that nearly 33,000 council properties were vacant in the Greater London area on 1 April this year. Between them, 11 inner London boroughs owned 22,000 of those properties. We are all familiar with the properties involved. They are boarded-up month after month because tenants will not take them.

We should introduce an element of do-it-yourself into the allocation system. People should be told what type of property is available to them. They should be allowed to examine vacant property lists and settle where they live for themselves. That would give council tenants greater satisfaction. They do not come out of the ark in neat packages so that they fit neatly into the computerised allocation system. Experiments have taken place. Housing allocation offices should operate more like estate agents.

The question of repairs has loomed large in the debate. I am glad that a tenant's basic right to repair his own home is now recognised. I welcome the commitment by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) in the new clause she has tabled to the Housing and Building Control Bill. The Labour Party is not alone in supporting such a reform. The tenants' movement has suggested it for many years. The SDP made a similar proposal in its discussion document on inner city problems published in the summer. The document states: Tenants who are dissatisfied with repair services should be given the right to call in an outside contractor from an approved list. There is a measure of agreement across a broad spectrum that tenants are entitled to such support. I welcome the conversion by some members of the Labour Party to the belief that competition with private enterprise can result in a better job for tenants who need repairs to their homes.

Some hon. Members suggest that repair delays on council estates are due to Government cuts. I have no doubt that that is a major factor, but other problems arise from bad organisation. Sometimes three local authority departments are involved. The housing department will receive the basic complaint, the works department has to do the job and sometimes the architect's department is involved. Sometimes outside consultants or contractors are also called in. That takes time and, as the hon. Member for Warrington said, tenants are not usually kept informed. The tenant may have to wait months for the work to be done. That causes frustration. Tenants believe that, since they pay their rent, they are entitled to expect the jobs to be done.

I have heard of constituents having to wait months for rotten window frames to be replaced. They encounter demarcation problems. The man who puts in the window frame is not the man who puts in the glass. When the carpenter leaves a tenant may have to wait weeks or months before the glazier puts the glass in the window. The tenant has to live with hardboard or polythene in the window. There can be further delays before the decorators repaint the window. Such demarcation may have been necessary once, but we can no longer afford it now.

We all know tales of disaster in our constituencies. I shall relate one about an elderly pensioner who was called back from holiday last August by a panic telephone call telling him to go home at once, because his house was on fire. My constituent rushed home to discover that the council's painter and decorator, when burning off the paintwork, had set fire to his bedroom window. The fire brigade prevented the blaze from spreading far, but the council had to board up the bedroom window. It is still boarded up four months later. The council has measured up, but cannot say when the replacement frame will be installed. Such delays cause bitter resentment and frustration.

Mobility is an essential ingredient of any tenants' charter. There are many schemes but few moves. It is easier to transfer a constituent to Australia or Canada than from one London borough to another. Many tenants want to move from inner London to more desirable areas in outer London or the shire counties. They have only an eighteenth storey flat in a multi-storey block to offer and mutual exchanges are not easy to arrange. Insufficient rented housing exists in the outer and rural areas.

A charter must include provision for compensation when tenants improve their homes. Some of my constituents have installed central heating, modernised their kitchen or built a garage in the garden, but when they move they receive not one penny piece in compensation. Sometimes they are billed by the local authority for putting back original fittings, which they have modernised at their own cost. A meaningful tenants' charter must include a compensation system for council tenants who improve their homes.

Council tenants must be given power and involvement. I was shocked by a statistic in another recent written reply about the number of properties in Greater London officially described as difficult to let. The Department of the Environment applies that description to dwellings which are frequently rejected or accepted very reluctantly even by applicants in urgent housing need. In Greater London there are about 90,000 such dwellings in the public sector. Between them, 11 inner London boroughs own 68,000 properties described as difficult to let. Such statistics are an appalling indictment of the standards on too many of our council estates.

The tenants usually know the solutions to the problems best. The more we recognise that council tenants have rights and the more power that we give them, the more successful we shall be in removing the stigma of council tenancies and the more we shall do genuinely to improve the quality of life for millions who live on council estates.

5.29 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The subject is wide-ranging. The most useful approach by Back Benchers is to focus on one matter which, in their opinion, provides opportunity for change. I suggest that tenants are unfairly treated in one major respect and that my right hon. and hon. Friends can intervene. Tenants have security of possession as a result of the Rent Acts, most recently as a result of the Rent Act 1977.

Many right hon. and hon. Members probably do not know that certain provisions of the Housing Act 1957 deprive tenants of their security of tenure as provided for by the Rent Act 1977. I am referring to the power of local authorities to make demolition and closing orders. Those powers are enshrined in section 16 to 20 of the Housing Act 1957.

A local authority has the power to make a closing or demolition order where it is satisfied that a house is not reasonably fit for human occupation, and, furthermore, that it cannot be put into such a condition at a reasonable cost. When a local authority is satisfied of those facts it makes either a demolition or a closing order. The consequence of such orders is great, because they mean exactly what they say, subject to one important proviso—that the owner may be able to persuade the local authority to revoke the order if he is able to embark upon a satisfactory rehabilitation scheme.

The orders have also a serious effect on tenants because, once a closing or demolition order is made, the tenant has no defence to an action for possession, and the Housing Act 1957 provides that the Rent Acts do not apply to such premises. Thus, when a closing or demolition order is made the tenant is out and he has no defence. The effect of the provision is so great that Parliament has enshrined two safeguards in the Housing Act 1957. Unfortunately, those safeguards do not assist the great majority of tenants.

The first safeguard provided by the Housing Act 1957 against an injustice resulting from such orders is the obligation on the part of the local authority, which is contemplating making such an order, to give notice of that fact to various classes of person. When such a notice is given those classes of person have the right to be heard by the local authority.

The classes of person whom the local authority is obliged to notify are mortgagees, owners and the person entitled to receive the rent. The tenant is the one person who is not told that a closing or demolition order is being contemplated. A fortiori, the tenant has no right to appear before the local authority to object.

Mr. Heddle

I find what my hon. Friend is saying interesting. I had no knowledge of it. Lest the House gains the wrong impression, will my hon. Friend confirm that the local authority has not just the power, but the duty, to rehouse the tenant whose property is subject to a closing or demolition order, and that in the majority of cases closing or demolition orders arise because of representations made by the tenant?

Mr. Hogg

The answer to the first question is, yes, the local authority has a duty to rehouse. However, the local authority does not always offer the tenant comparable accommodation, and in any case a long-term tenant might not want to move. The answer to the second question, as to whether the original complaint comes from the tenant, is "Sometimes but not always".

The tenant is the one person who does not receive a time-and-place notice, but the injustice goes further than that. Because the effect of the orders is considerable, Parliament has provided that there should be a right of appeal and the appeal procedure is enshrined in section 20 of the Housing Act 1957. It provides that any person aggrieved should have a right to appeal to a county court where the matter is considered afresh. However, section 20(2) limits the class of persons who have the right of appeal and the tenant does not have a right of appeal unless the unexpired portion of his tenancy exceeds three years. Tenants do not have a right of appeal if they are periodic, weekly, monthly, yearly or statutory tenants. A statutory tenant is a contractual tenant who is holding over under the statutory provision. Periodic and statutory tenants form the vast majority of tenants.

Closing or demolition orders are methods whereby tenants are excluded as they have no defence to a claim for possession of premises. A tenant who is affected is never informed that the local authority is contemplating an order, and he has no right to make representations or to appeal. That could be bad enough if landlords were always fair and reasonable people. What happens if the landlord is not a fair and reasonable person and has recognised that the interplay of those two statutes gives him a unique opportunity to secure possession of the premises? If the landlord incites the local authority to make a closing or demolition order, acquiesces in it, and the local authority makes the order, the landlord takes possession proceedings. There is no defence. The tenant is evicted. The landlord takes possession. He rehabilitates the property and sells it with vacant possession.

Mr. Robert Edwards

Is that done frequently?

Mr. Hogg

I am not able to quantify the number, but I know of cases when it has been done. If it can be done, I wager that it is done frequently. Some unfair landlords can gain possession of property by using a procedure that was never contemplated for that purpose. It is a use of an unfair position which has existed since 1957. It could he put right easily in two ways, firstly, by amending section 16 of the Housing Act 1957 so that tenants must be given notice that the local authority is contemplating making an order and thus, a fortiori, the right to address the local authority. Second, section 20 of the Housing Act 1957 should be amended by repealing subsection (2) to give all tenants the right to appeal to county courts against the making of such orders. The injustice would then be eradicated.

There is no political capital to be made out of the matter. No party is to blame. The position has existed since 1957. It is wrong, and I hope that in due course the House will put it right.

5.38 pm
Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds, West)

I join hon. Members from both sides of the House in complimenting my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle) in choosing this subject for debate. It is a while since we had a reasonable debate on housing and the rights of tenants, although the debate has ranged wider than that.

The overwhelming majority of tenants are in the public sector and most of my remarks will be made on their behalf. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington said that the Government's record on housing construction was the worst since 1924. I believe that their general housing policy is the worst since 1924. They have not increased public sector tenancies by one property, and any increase in the private sector has been minimal.

Since the Government took office council rents have risen by over 120 per cent. That is a much greater rise than for any other vital commodity. The Government are using council tenants in the worst way in their financial experiments. At present, 40 to 50 per cent. of council tenants are in receipt of assistance; the other 50 per cent. are having to bear the main brunt of the Government's rent policies. It may be argued that tenants have the chance to buy, but most of them, with incomes just sufficient for them to pay the full rent, are in no position to buy and never will be.

The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) spoke of the vital role of housing associations. I was chairman of housing in a large authority and have always been interested in housing. I am aware that charitable housing associations fill an important gap in areas that are particularly stressed, but the associations are being put into the sausage machine. When the Government's present legislation goes through, they will have to dispose of their assets.

Council rents are having to be increased to pay for many things. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth had a first-class debate on Airey housing. That is another facet of industrial building that is deteriorating. People who have bought the houses will have to spend substantial sums—considerably more than they can afford—to remedy the construction defects.

The Minister gave these people certain guarantees, but hundreds of thousands of council tenants live in Airey houses that are deteriorating. The city of Leeds has over 2,000 Airey houses and it will cost approximately £20 million to remedy the defects. The Minister has made no promises about council houses. He has not told Leeds that he will underwrite a large proportion of the money needed to do these repairs.

All informed opinion states that 500,000 fewer properties are available to let than when the Government took office. When the defective industrialised building is disgorged from the housing stock, I believe that the figure will be nearer 1 million. The Government have failed to grasp the nettle. It has been suggested that £3,000 million is needed to deal with the problem. Will the Government once again say that council tenants must pay?

During an Adjournment debate we discussed property in Leeds. A property in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), consisting of 1,200 units and costing nearly £5 million, was built just over 15 years ago. After paying loan charges for 15 years, £4 million is still owed and the building needs to be demolished.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

While my hon. Friend is talking of the enormous burden of debt that is likely to fall on council tenants, will he bear in mind the terrible plight of people in new towns? There have been appalling tragedies, particularly in such places as Easington, where bills of £40 million must be met. The Government promise only a small part of the sum needed.

Mr. Dean

That is true. It is a pity that the debate is short and that we do not have anyone from the new towns to take part in it.

Merely to demolish the block in Leeds and carry forward the loan charges will put 22p a week on council house rents for over 40 years. When I led a delegation to the Minister to ask whether Leeds would be given justifiable assistance, he told us to put up the rents.

It is time that the Government ceased their vendetta against council tenants. Most are not tendants by choice. A cross-party decision was made years ago on council housing and many Conservatives believe in council housing, where people should not be punished by high rents.

Where systems have been given full financial approval by the Government and local authorities have had to demolish the properties, the Government should bear the cost and allow the authority additional capital reserves for replacements. It is disgraceful for the Minister to suggest increasing rents.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

My hon. Friend speaks eloquently, sincerely and with a greater knowledge than many Tories. May I remind him—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not take too long with his intervention. Others are waiting to speak.

Mr. Clarke

I remind my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State for Scotland said recently that rent arrears in the district and island authorities had doubled in the past two years. The Government's policy is not only a failure; it is without mercy.

Mr. Dean

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point.

The success of a Government's housing policy can be judged by the length of waiting lists and of queues at one's surgery on a Saturday. Waiting lists and the queues at my surgery have escalated considerably. I lay the blame fairly and squarely at the Government's door.

5.49 pm
Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I am glad to have the opportunity to make a brief speech. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle) for raising the subject, although it will come as no surprise to him if I completely dissociate myself from the terms of the motion. I am also pleased to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean), who I know has great experience of housing.

Understandably, the hon. Member for Leeds, West concentrated on the public sector. I should like to concentrate on the private rented sector and to make a defence, if that is necessary, of the private landlord. I know that to do so will not be popular. The law of political popularity deems that there are more tenants than private landlords and therefore anything Government do to help the tenant, even though it may hinder the landlord, is good for votes.

I am conscious that it is difficult to generalise about the private rented sector. The speech of the hon. Member for Warrington in that regard seemed at best to be a gross over-simplification of the problem and at worst revealed the widespread and inherent prejudice there is against private landlords. The hon. Member for Leeds, West referred to the Government's vendetta against the public sector tenant. The Labour Party's vendetta against the private landlord is more overt.

I agree with the hon. Member for Warrington in one respect—there has been a decline both in the numbers in the private rented sector and in the proportion of the private rented sector within the total housing stock. In 1914, there were 7½ million dwellings in the private rented sector. That represented 88 per cent. of the total housing stock. By 1956, that had been reduced to 5.4 million dwellings, or 36 per cent. of the total housing stock. The most recent figure that I have—for 1978—shows that there are only 1.9 million dwellings in the private rented sector, representing less than 10 per cent. of the total stock.

Part of the reason for that decline is the increase in home ownership and the increase in council house building during this century. But a significant reason for the decline is that there has generally been a gross unfairness, especially in post-war rent legislation, directed against the private landlord.

Successive Governments have done little to stimulate private lettings. Conservative Governments have not done as much as I should like and the Labour Party, in both words and deeds, has positively encouraged the demise of the private rented sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) touched on a recent example. He reminded the House of the Socialist commitment to kill off the all-too-modest shorthold tenancy that the present Government introduced.

There are two good reasons why the private rented sector should be encouraged. First, there is a lack of accommodation, to which hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred. That is especially so in London and other conurbations. Surplus accommodation could be provided quickly in large cities if suitable incentives were offered to existing and potential landlords. Secondly, the private landlord is best fitted to provide accommodation, especially for the young and mobile, who do not choose, or initially cannot afford, to own their own homes.

There are many private landlords but quite a high proportion of them are single retired people on extremely modest incomes who have only one property to let. To conjure up visions of the landlord as a Rachman figure—that name has already been used today—is misleading. Moreover, I sincerely believe, however unpopular it may be to say so, that the rent legislation that has been passed by successive Governments is the Achilles heel of British justice. It is loaded so unfairly against the private landlord that it has become self-defeating.

It seems that rent legislation has been devised on the assumption that every private landlord is a rich, villainous exploiter and that every private tenant is a poor, innocent victim. That is not true. It is little wonder that the private rented sector is dying when a recent Department of the Environment publication showed that private landlords on average, under so-called fair rents, received only a 3 per cent. gross return on their investments.

I have six proposals that I hope that the Government will consider. Some are interrelated. First, I suggest that the Government seriously consider using existing powers under section 143 of the Rent Act 1977 to experiment and to disapply rent regulations in a selected region of Britain to see what happens. It is worth pointing out that the Rent Act 1977 was introduced and passed by the Socialist Government. If the Government are not minded to follow that suggestion, my second proposal is that they might seriously consider, for a trial period and in certain circumstances, that the Rent Acts should not apply to some new lettings henceforth. If they are not minded to do that—I do not see why not—my third proposal is that lettings of rooms by owner-occupiers should be free from all rent controls from now on. That would encourage more spare and surplus accommodation to come on to the market and it would help to reduce waiting lists and homelessness.

My fourth suggestion is that registered rents should be index-linked to inflation and adjusted every 12 months. The hon. Member for Warrington complained because the period of fixing rent reviews had been reduced in the 1980 Act from three to two years. He would soon be complaining if the retirement pension was reviewed only every two years rather than annually. I cannot see, in all conscience and equity, why the private landlord should not have his rents index-linked, irrespective of the level at which they are fixed under the so-called Rent Acts.

My fifth suggestion is that at least part of the tenant's rent should be allowable against tax along the lines of an owner-occupier claiming tax relief on mortgage interest. That would be a fair way of encouraging tenancies and helping tenants. Finally, the rent income of individual private landlords—it is little enough in most cases and is certainly not an adequate return on investment—should be treated in part as earned, and not as investment, income.

While thanking you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me in a debate which must be of immense interest to you in light of your experience as a Minister, may I express the hope that we can cease the vendetta that I believe successive Governments have waged against private landlords? I hope that it will be recognised that the private landlord has a valuable contribution to make to the housing stock. If any of my proposals are accepted, I believe that they would ameliorate the plight of at least some of the far too many people who are desperately looking for accommodation for their families.

5.59 pm
Mr. John Spellar (Birmingham, Northfield)

If housing vendetta there be in British politics and in this House, it is a vendetta by the Conservative Party, which is obsessed with council house tenants and the public sector generally.

I was struck by the suggestion of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) that registered rents should be index-linked. The tenants in my constituency would like to have had their rents index-linked over the last two years, because while the retail prices index has gone up 50 per cent., their rents have gone up 202 per cent.—even higher than the national average.

Mr. Chapman

The hon. Gentleman may be right if he takes the last three-and-a-half years, but since 1974 rent increases have not gone above the retail prices index.

Mr. Spellar

Since the Conservative Government came to power there has been a dramatic and massive increase in the rents paid by tenants in my constituency.

The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) persistently referred to housing being rationed. It has always been rationed. The argument is whether it should be rationed according to need, or according to price. Conservative Members seem to be keen on the latter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle) gave a general outline of the effects on council tenants of recent changes in housing policy and called for equal treatment and fairness. I should like to tell the House of what the general position has meant for tenants in Birmingham, particularly those in the Northfield constituency.

I have already referred to the increase in rents compared with the increase in the RPI. The RPI is heavily weighted by the impact on mortgages. Therefore, the recent reduction in mortgages as a result of the reduction in interest rates has relieved pressure on many of our constituents, but the reduction in the RPI is thereby even more loaded against council house tenants. That is why Labour Members echo the call by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington for a one-year rent freeze so that we can achieve some sort of balance.

The background to this increase in rents has been a dramatic drop in the Exchequer subsidy. In 1980–81 the subsidy to Birmingham was £45 million. In 1981–82 it fell to £26 million, and, according to the figures for 1982–83, it will drop to £15 million. By next year, Birmingham, like most other housing authorities, will be out of subsidy. That is a massive reduction, which must be borne direct by the residents and rentpayers of Birmingham.

In a recent debate, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), the Under-Secretary of State said: Within the funds available nationally for housing, our priority had to be to safeguard capital investment … and thus curb the indiscriminate revenue support".—[Official Report, 21 October 1982; Vol. 29, c. 644.] Although there are some differences between capital and revenue, that again reflects the Conservative Party's obsession with capital and revenue. In 1982–83, Birmingham will spend £6.73 million on starts. If, however, Birmingham loses £45 million and intends to spend £6.73 million, the argument about diverting money from revenue to capital sounds pretty thin.

The effects of the Government's housing policy are felt not just on the capital side, but on the maintenance side. In 1979–80 Birmingham spent £148 per dwelling on maintenance. It is now spending £217. That is a 46 per cent. increase, but it is well below the dramatic rent increase to which I referred earlier. As a result, repairs are not being carried out and properties are suffering from damp. That is especially true of system built housing.

In the recent debate the Minister made much play of a substantial increase in repairs, but many of those were the result of schemes adopted by the previous Labour administration in Birmingham. Many of those repairs also resulted from a catching-up process, because the Government's direct labour legislation substantially disrupted local authority direct works departments and the placing of tenders.

Mention has also been made of Airey system houses. On the south side of Birmingham there is a major problem with Smith built houses, for which the Department has said it will not give relief either to council tenants or to people who have bought those properties.

The city of Birmingham will complete only 214 houses in the forthcoming year, of which 190 will be for the elderly and 24 for the disabled. Not one family property will be completed in Birmingham this year, and that will have a massive effect on the 15,000 people on the waiting list.

Much has been said about people living in council flats, and many of them will now be condemned for life to live in those flats. Indeed, the number of points which two or three years ago would have obtained a house is no longer sufficient, and at the same time as no new properties are being built the council is selling the properties that exist—not only properties with sitting tenants, but empty properties as well.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) spoke of do-it-yourself allocations and of potential tenants finding the property. The tenants in my constituency are doing that, but when they contact the housing department they are told "We are sorry, the property may be empty, but it is already in the hands of the estate agents." A large number of empty properties in the city have already been sold, and many others are now in the hands of the estate agents. Therefore, do-it-yourself allocation does not work in Weoley Castle, especially in view of the response from the housing department.

Birmingham is a massive municipal authority with 132,000 properties under its control. I accept the need for devolution and decentralisation of those properties, but, as a result of the recession and Government and council rent policies, 88,000 of those tenants—seven out of 10—are on some form of housing assistance. It is ludicrous to suggest that they should now purchase those properties, especially as Birmingham has more high-rise blocks than any city in Europe.

It is unrealistic to talk of those tenants buying those properties, especially in view of the massive increase in rents. However, that is the attitude of the current housing chairman, who is so pleased that she has raised rent levels above the monthly mortgage repayment that she has written to tenants to that effect. There is, therefore, very little hope for such tenants, and the need for equal treatment is very much in the forefront of our minds.

There has been much talk about the inner cities. As I said in my maiden speech, Northfield is not an inner city constituency. It is among those areas that often suffer from higher deprivation than the inner cities. Such areas usually include an outer ring redevelopment area with massive housing estates, many of which have been system built, where the problems are even greater than in the inner cities.

The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, among others, also referred to good and bad tenants. Many estates now suffer because bad tenants and, indeed, bad citizens are dumped in them. The fact that little control is exercised over such tenants is the result of the decline in the number of rent collectors and the breakdown of our society. Much greater attention must be paid to the problems of bad tenants. The Housing Act 1980 has not helped. Tenants should not be required to pay massive increases in their costs and rents, while at the same time they are being attacked on ideological grounds by the Government and by Birmingham city council, which reflects the Government's ideology. What I hope for, but do not expect to receive, from the Government is a new deal for council tenants, both nationally and in Birmingham.

6.9 pm

Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but this morning I received a letter from the director of the Guinness Trust expressing the trust's deep anxiety about the way in which the provisions of the Housing and Building Control Bill might affect charitable housing associations. I declare an interest, in that my family has strong associations with the Guinness Trust. That is why I am so well briefed about the trust's anxiety.

The indignation expressed in the director's letter is surprising and persuasive, coming as it does from someone who has spent many years of his life quietly helping to provide good housing cheaply for others. The Government's decision to affect charitable housing associations in the way provided by the Bill is likely to lead bodies such as the Guinness Trust seriously to consider whether they should ever accept Government funds to supplement their own funds in paying for housing for poor people.

In 1974, when the provisions of the housing association grant were made available to bodies such as the Guinness Trust, many of the diehards—I know them all personally—expressed the fear that if they accepted such funds their independence would be compromised. In the end, the diehards' fears seem to have been proved correct. It is a salutary warning to any individual or body that craves independence never to take money from the Government.

The Government's proposals have led the trustees of the Guinness Trust to do an unusual thing—to join a pressure group called the National Federation of Housing Associations. I know all the people concerned, and that is an unusual and distasteful thing for some of them to do. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will know some of the people involved, and he may agree with me on that score if nothing else.

I appreciate that the provisions of the Housing and Building Control Bill do not affect all of the Guinness Trust property, but only that part which since 1974 has been constructed with the benefit of housing association grant. I appreciate also that the provisions do not affect that property for which exemptions are provided in the Housing Act by reason of accommodation being provided for the elderly and so on. Amongst all United Kingdom charitable housing associations, in addition to the Guinness Trust and including the trust's property, about 80,000 to 100,000 homes will be affected.

One point of criticism is that trusts such as the Guinness Trust are not Government agencies and the Government have no right to impose retrospective conditions upon them. Such trusts are not in the public domain. They are private owners of property held for the public good. The fact that they have received Government subsidies is not enough to bring them within the orbit of public ownership.

A housing association grant is different from other grants available to private individuals, such as improvement grants, subsidies and tax relief, none of which is recoverable. However, a housing association grant can, if the Government so wish, be repaid fully through the grant redemption fund.

The legal basis of charities causes considerable anxiety. They have a legal duty to obtain the best possible price for the properties that they sell, in the charities' interests. However, this legislation will require charities to obtain, not the best possible price, but a discounted price. That could establish a dangerous precedent, which may be used as an argument against many charitable institutions held dear by Conservative Members of Parliament and others who support the Conservative cause.

Housing associations are more adversely affected than local authorities—although local authorities have no reason to complain—because, once a property is sold at a discount and the housing association grant repaid, there will be precious little money left to increase the capital funds of the charitable housing association. They will not be in a position similar to local authorities, which can use renewed capital resources to build new houses to replace those that have been sold.

I urge the Government to be careful and not to go quite so far down this road as they intend. There are three areas of housing for rent—public housing owned by public authorities, private housing owned by private individuals and private housing for the public good, which is in the middle. It is private housing, because the charitable institution is both private housing and independent. If we go too far down that path, it will undoubtedly lead to a challenge to private owners. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State can give us some assurance tonight. If he cannot, I hope that the matter will be reconsidered carefully and that we can look forward to reading about such a reconsideration in the Committee considering the Bill.

6.17 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Bolton, West)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle) on his good fortune in obtaining this debate. The House should be grateful to him for his choice of subject. He raised a matter that worries many people. He referred to tenants as the minority, but they are a substantial minority and it is important that we should discuss their problems seriously. My hon. Friend and hon. Members on both sides of the House, including the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), highlighted the problems that face many tenants, both in the private and the public sectors.

The problems to which hon. Members referred have become much worse during the past three years because of the direct results of Government policies and because of deliberate Government decisions to weaken the position of tenants and harm their interests rather than to protect them. The protection of tenants should be a duty of the Department responsible for housing. That Department should have special regard for the needs of tenants because, by and large, they are the least affluent members of society in that they cannot afford to buy their homes.

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State realises the strong feelings, both outside the House and in this Chamber, about the proposals in the Housing and Building Control Bill. The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale mentioned some of the problems that we have been trying to explain to Ministers. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will not ignore the arguments advanced by the hon. Gentleman tonight. The Bill cuts across charitable law and it is retrospective, because, when housing associations accepted money under the housing association grants, they did not realise the consequences.

I hope that his hon. Friends—the Members for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) and Chichester (Mr. Nelson)—who are all, like the Minister, members of the Housing and Building Control Bill Committee, will have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale said. Labour Members will pursue those points closely in Committee and will probably quote what he has said today.

One of the reasons why we are debating this subject today—apart from my hon. Friend's good fortune—is that the Government's decisions have made life much worse for those in rented accommodation. One of the Government's first decisions was to halve spending on housing. Unfortunately, the Government are well on target for making such a cut. Housing spending has been reduced considerably. We are now seeing belated crocodile tears about the drop in capital expenditure, but a Government cannot announce cuts as large as those which were announced three years ago and later cry about the impact of those cuts.

Mr. Graham

This Government can.

Mrs. Taylor

The Government's intention to halve spending on housing was wrong, but what is appalling is the way in which the massive cuts have fallen mainly on the poorest sector—on those in rented accommodation who need help most.

We acknowledge that those who buy houses have been hit in the past three years. Although mortgage rats may be falling now, they have been at record levels. But when interest rates rise, so do the subsidies to owner-occupiers. That is not so for tenants. The Government have deliberately ensured that the brunt of all the cuts has had to be borne by tenants, and particularly those in the public sector. Under this Conservative Government, no group of people has been hit harder than the council tenants.

We need only consider rent levels to see one of the most important ways in which the Government have hit council tenants. In April 1979, the average council house rent was £6.40. In April 1982, it was £13.54. Tenants also have to pay £4 or £5 in rates, and many of them have substantial heating costs.

The Government have always said that rents had to be increased because they were low in 1979. It is true that rents formed a smaller proportion of the average income when the Labour Government left office in 1979 than they had in 1974. That is not surprising, as that Government had tried to help those most in need.

Even if rents were slightly lower in 1979 than when the previous Tory Government left office in 1974, we must consider the magnitude of the increases in the past three years. The doubling of council rents in those years has not simply restored rents to their previous high, Tory, level. There have been massive further shifts, and rents as a proportion of income are now higher than they have ever been. That is a clear result of Government directives. Each year the Secretary of State for the Environment has stated by how much rents should be increased, and has forced local authorities to increase them. The Government have deliberately forced rents up to the highest ever level, both in money terms and as a proportion of income. We should consider, as some of my hon. Friends already have, what tenants have had in return.

Have services to tenants improved? No. Have repairs been carried out more effectively? Certainly not. Have modernisation programmes been accelerated? No, of course not. In many areas, repairs and services have deteriorated, and in some areas they have reached crisis point. As a result of all the pressures that the Government are putting on local authorities, tenants are now paying more and getting less.

In the past few years the general level of subsidies to tenants has fallen dramatically as the level of rents has increased, whereas the subsidy to owner-occupiers has continued to rise. An examination of the balance of subsidy shows that over the past few years council house tenants have suffered considerably. The official Opposition would maintain the level of income tax relief on mortgage payments for those who are paying tax at the standard rate, but we believe that it is unfair to give so much help to those who are buying a capital asset, while penalising those who pay rent week after week for the whole of their lives. The present balance of subsidy is wrong, and the figures show how wrong it is.

In the current year, the subsidy per tenant in the public sector is now running at £287, according to recent answers to parliamentary questions. A person who is buying his own house on mortgage gets, on average, £375 tax relief per year, so the person who is buying a home gets far more subsidy than is received by the person who is living in a council house.

Given the level of rent increases, it is no wonder that the Minister for Housing and Construction was able to boast recently that, after discounts, many tenants would now find it as cheap to buy their homes as to continue renting them. That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Spellar) mentioned earlier. Some councils have deliberately forced up rents to such a level that council tenants would be better off buying their own homes. It is all part of the Government's drive towards the sale of council housing, which seems to be the principal objective of their housing policy.

The high rent policy that the Government are now pursuing will raise some awkward questions for the Government in the long run, and eventually Ministers will have to answer them. Already this year about 100 councils are transferring housing surpluses to subsidise their rate fund—in other words, council tenants are paying to keep the rates down.

The case of east Cambridgeshire, which has had a great deal of publicity, is becoming well known. It now gets more income from profit on its council house rents than from its entire rate bill, both business and domestic. I do not want to dwell on that case because the finances in east Cambridgeshire are somewhat exceptional, but there are other authorities which are also making a profit out of their housing revenue account.

The Minister for Housing and Construction is with us this evening. This year the Tonbridge and Mailing district council, in his own constituency, is transferring £861,000 of profit from its housing revenue account to the rate fund. The Secretary of State for the Environment represents an area in south Oxfordshire. The council there is transferring £481,000 worth of profit from its housing revenue account to subsidise the general rate fund. Those examples may be somewhat exceptional but I think that more authorities will be placed in that position next year and in future years, and council house tenants will increasingly be subsidising the general rate fund.

I am told that computer runs that have been done by the Department of the Environment show that if there is a £1 rent increase next April, not just 100, but 308 out of 367 local authorities will go into surplus on their housing revenue accounts. Therefore, in all those councils the general rate fund will be subsidised by profits that are being made out of council house tenants. That is unacceptable. I should like to know how the Government justify that. We have had no assurances from Ministers that that situation will not continue and worsen. When they talk about council house tenants being subsidised they should bear in mind how much subsidy council house tenants pay to everyone else. The least affluent people in our society are subsidising the general ratepayers.

Mr. Joseph Dean

The figures that my right hon. Friend has quoted are a revelation. Does not that mean that the people who are meeting the full charge of their rent—just over 50 per cent.—are supplying the subsidy to the ratepayers?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right. Because of the general level of rent increases and the increased incidence of unemployment, more people have to claim some kind of rebate. That means that the tenants who are paying the full amount of rent—the unrebated rent—are subsidising everyone else and carrying the full burden of all the increases that the Government have been making.

I hope that in future when Conservative Members speak about council house tenants they will acknowledge both that those tenants pay so much in subsidies to other tenants who receive rebates, and, more importantly and increasingly, that they are subsidising the general rate fund. I wish that Conservative Members would acknowledge that. I do not expect them to explain it, but I wish that they would acknowledge it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington mentioned some of the things that were necessary to help tenants out of this situation. He mentioned a rent freeze and a better deal on repairs and services. The Opposition are committed to those things. It is essential for us to change people's attitudes to council tenants and acknowledge the need for equality of subsidy and of status. Conservative Members should stop talking about council house tenants as subsidised people.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the private rented sector. Nothing effective has been done to alleviate the problem of that sector, which contains some of the worst housing and some of the poorest households in the country. We have heard mention of the rapid decline of the private rented sector. It is true that that sector has declined recently. I hope that it will decline more in future.

Mr. Heddle


Mrs. Taylor

I said that I hoped that the private rented sector would decline more in future. There is no way in which the interests of the private landlord and a fair deal for the tenant can be reconciled. The fact that that sector is bound to decline in future does not mean that we can ignore the difficulties of the 2 million households that remain in the private rented sector. Everyone knows that some of the worst housing is in the private rented sector. The recently commissioned survey by the Department of the Environment in Sheffield proved that many houses in the private rented sector lack basic amenities. We all recognise that major disrepair is a significant problem in the private rented sector.

Mr. Chapman

Of course, there is property in a serious state of disrepair in the private rented sector, but not all such property is in that sector. Is the hon. Lady saying that, because some such property is in the private rented sector, that sector should be finished?

Mrs. Taylor

No. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I acknowledge that there is poor property in other sectors. The private rented sector has a disproportionate amount of poor property. That sector has no long-term future, not because of the condition of the property, although that is one factor, but because the landlord's need for profit and the tenant's need for decent housing at a reasonable level of rent cannot be reconciled.

The Government have blamed the decline on the Rent Acts. That was one of the points that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet mentioned. He should look at the Select Committee on the Environment's report on private rented property. It is not the Rent Acts or the present security of tenure that put off private landlords. The Committee's evidence shows that, especially in areas such as London, a high proportion of landlords know their way round the Rent Acts. Bogus holiday lets show how easy it is for people to abuse the Rent Acts.

One of the reasons why shortholds have proved to be such a failure is not, as hon. Members would have us believe—and which I wish was the case—that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) has the power to say that, because we shall repeal them, no one will take them on now. His powers may be persuasive and some people may not go into shortholds because of that, but there are many other ways of getting round the Rent Acts. People have found other dodges. Many of them do not require shortholds to abuse the system in the private rented sector.

All of us in the Opposition could give the Minister many examples of abuse in the private sector. Recently there was a court case when a letting was claimed to be furnished because there was a charge of £1.25 for the use of the linoleum. Such abuse in the private sector is rife. Conservative Members have not mentioned it. The next Labour Government intend to tackle that abuse so that all the present loopholes can be closed.

Mr. Hoyle

Does my hon. Friend agree that her points and the points that have been made by Opposition Members need a reply from the Minister?

Mrs. Taylor

Yes. I hope that the Minister will reply to our points. I suspect that this is what my hon. Friend is getting at. I doubt whether the reply will be adequate. The Government do not realise the full consequences of their action. The Government cannot decide to cut spending on housing in half and expect to have no problems. They cannot pretend that all their so-called new initiatives make up a housing policy.

My hon. Friend and others have shown today that tenants in the private and public sectors have had a raw deal from the Government. They have been treated as second-class citizens. The Government have waged a vendetta against tenants. If the Government will not give equal treatment to tenants by supporting my hon. Friend's motion, tenants can have no hope of any help from the Government and they can only look forward to a change in Government, which will give them a better deal.

6.38 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)

The Government very much welcome the opportunity that the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle) provides to set out the substantial progress that the Government have made to improve the lot of tenants and to widen their housing expectations. Our policies are based, not on the paternalism of many Opposition Members, but on enfanchising the tenant where possible and giving him a greater say in the management and control of his environment. Our policies are much more in tune with what tenants want than are those of Opposition Members.

The motion begins by calling attention to tenants' rights. I shall remind the House of the rights given to public sector tenants by the Government in the Housing Act 1980. Before that measure was passed, security of tenure was a matter of great concern to public sector tenants. The scales were balanced heavily in favour of public sector landlords when they acted to terminate tenancies and obtain possession orders. Tenants had a limited defence against such action. Landlords could seek and obtain possession orders based on the flimsiest of reasons and, in theory, without giving any reason. In creating secure tenancies and limiting the grounds on which the court may order possession, a proper balance between landlord and tenant has been achieved and the ability for a tenant to challenge his landlord in a possession case before the court has been established.

Until the passing of the Housing Act 1980, the right of a tenant's family to succeed to the tenancy on the death of the tenant did not exist. It was left to the discretion and decision of the public sector landlord, and on occasion the family of the tenant, who might have been born in the house and lived there all their lives, faced eviction or transfer to some other house or flat because there was no right of succession. The right of succession now exists as part of the Government's tenants' charter.

The charter predates this Parliament. The Conservative Party attempted to introduce such a charter when it was in Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre), who is now the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, introduced a Bill on 1 March 1977. It received its Second Reading on 13 May of that year. I happened to take part in the debate, and perhaps I shall be forgiven for quoting the final three sentences of my remarks. I said: I gather from listening to speeches made by Labour Members that some of them are minded to oppose the Bill. If so, that will be bitterly resented by millions of council tenants throughout the country, who will rightly interpret such opposition as resistance to giving them a greater say in how they manage their affairs. The Labour Party has problems enough on council estates without being further handicapped by an intransigent and paternalistic approach, which is what would happen if Labour Members voted against the Bill."—[Official Report, 13 May 1977; Vol. 931, c. 1801.] That is exactly what they did and the Bill was defeated.

The Housing Act 1980 put the charter on the statute book. The right to take in lodgers was also established, and provision for sub-letting with a landlord's consent has been created. Before the passing of the 1980 Act it was apparent that a tenant's freedom to carry out improvements to his own dwelling, even to the limited extent of painting his front door, was limited by pettifogging restrictions that were insisted upon by the landlord. The right of a tenant to carry out improvements to his home and for consent not to be unreasonably withheld by his landlord was also established, together with the right of access to improvement grants.

An examination of tenancy agreements revealed a pretty sorry state of affairs. These were agreements of a sort that had not been reviewed for many years. They were riddled with restrictions on tenants and their families. Some had rules about times of the day when sticks could be chopped to light the fire—perhaps 15 years after the house had been converted to gas central heating. We introduced a right for tenants to be provided with information about secure tenancies and a written statement on the terms of such tenancies. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) mentioned many of the other tenants' rights that were introduced in the 1980 Act. The Act has been a major contribution in improving public sector tenants' standing, changing landlord-tenant relationships and improving tenants' freedom.

In many minds the most important tenant's right is that of the right to buy. Not once in a 25-minute speech did the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) mention the right to buy, which in the view of most hon. Members is the most significant right that tenants have been given this century.

The Government have done more than any previous Administration to recognise the desire for home ownership and to enable people to realise that ambition. Our policies have been given further impetus by our success in reducing mortgage interest rates to their lowest level since November 1978. We have given local authority tenants, new town tenants and certain housing association tenants the right to buy their homes at discounted prices. We have given them a right of access to mortgage finance to ensure that their right to buy is a reality and not an empty promise. In doing this we were honouring a major manifesto pledge.

The response has been truly remarkable. We estimate that by 30 September about 425,000 tenants of local authorities, new towns and housing associations in Great Britain had bought their houses since the Government were elected, either by means of the right to buy or through voluntary sales. This is a massive response and a vindication of the Government's policies. Other parties may theorise about equality and the redistribution of wealth, but the Government are doing something about it. The spread of home ownership has been the one most important factor in extending wealth holding over the past 30 years, and our policies will give that trend a fresh impetus.

There are wider benefits, too, besides those for the individual purchaser. There is evidence that on the whole owner-occupied houses are better maintained, age for age, than are houses rented from either private or public landlords. There is normally a greater ease of mobility in the owner-occupied sector, though we are taking steps to improve it in the public sector. There are social advantages in mixing forms of tenure rather than having areas of cities consisting of nothing but council housing. For the local authorities there are the capital receipts that they obtain from sales, 50 per cent. of which can be used directly to supplement their housing investment allocation.

On this, the most important right that any tenant can have, the Labour Party has pronounced. The hon. Member for Bolton, West, when she addressed the House on the Housing and Building Control Bill's Second Reading, said: I am happy to tell the Secretary of State that we are committed to the repeal of the right to buy. We shall say so in our election manifesto."—[Official Report, 23 November 1982; Vol. 32, c. 730.] The Labour Party has done nothing over the past three and a half years. It has learned nothing from the large swings to the Conservative Party in the new towns, in places such as Birmingham, Northfield and in the large estates on the outside of London which have been run by Labour authorities. In a desperate attempt to turn back the clock, it is revealing that it is out of touch with what ordinary people want.

Mr. John Spellar

It was the swing from the Conservatives in Northfield that led to me replacing a Conservative.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

Come off it, John.

Sir George Young

The largest swing to the Conservative Party in the May 1979 election occurred in Northfield, a constituency in which there are many tenants who are greatly attracted by the Government's right-to-buy policy. The hon. Gentleman should watch out for his prospects at the next general election if he endorses his party's policy on denying tenants the right to buy.

Some hon. Members have talked about repairs. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has today answered a parliamentary question that was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant), in which he commends local authorities on the imaginative scheme which has been established by the London borough of Havering, in which tenants' rent accounts are credited in respect of repairs that they do for themselves. If new clause 1 is reached in our consideration of the Housing and Building Control Bill in Committee, we shall be dealing with that in a Government measure.

The Housing and Building Control Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State introduced last month, extends the right to buy in three ways. First, it includes significant groups of tenants who remained outside the entitlement that was granted by the 1980 Act as well as those who have not been able to afford to exercise their right to purchase their homes outright. It brings within the scope of the right to buy 50,000 secure tenants of local authorities, new towns and housing associations whose landlords do not own the freeholds of their dwellings but who would otherwise qualify under the terms of the 1980 Act. These tenants will be given the right to buy the lease of their homes provided that their landlords' interest in the property is sufficient to grant a lease of not less than 22 years for a house and not less than 50 years for a flat.

I know that these developments will be of interest to tenants in Bolton. My Department received the following letter from someone who lives in Victory Road, Bolton: Recently I applied to buy the house, but my application was turned down by the Council which is Labour-controlled, on the grounds that they do not own the freehold. I am not satisfied with this, as the house adjoining to mine is under the process of being bought, and it is only since the Council became Labour-controlled that these weak excuses have been given. I have spoken to our local Conservative councillor Mrs. Millicent Lawton and she has advised me to write to you, as our local MP is Labour. I am quite prepared to buy the freehold if it is available for sale, but on enquiries to our town hall no one will tell me who owned the land … Please could you help or advise me because I want to fight the decision of the Council. Help is on the way through the Housing and Building and Control Bill.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will the Minister acknowledge that he can talk about tenants getting out of the tenanted sector and trying to buy their own housing only because the Government are offering them nothing and giving them a raw deal as tenants?

Sir George Young

I outlined at the beginning of my remarks the tenants' charter, which Labour Members voted down when they were in Government. Although they said that they would introduce a charter, there was nothing on the statute book by 1979. If the hon. Member for Bolton, West provokes me any more, I shall read out more letters from others of her constituents who are dissatisfied with her representation of them in the House.

Secondly, we are extending the right to buy to about 80,000 tenants of charitable housing associations and trusts whose homes have been provided wholly or substantially from public funds. We believe that it is unfair to deny the opportunity—perhaps the only chance that they will have to buy a home—to tenants of dwellings that have been provided out of public money and that are directly compatible with the housing stock of other housing authorities and non-charitable housing associations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) made clear his reservations, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction hopes shortly to make a speech on this topic in Committee. I am sure that he will take on board the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friend.

Thirdly, we are creating a new right to shared ownership. Many thousands of tenants, who have the right to buy but who cannot afford to buy their homes outright, will be given the opportunity to purchase an initial share of not less than 50 per cent., while continuing to pay rent on the outstanding share. They will then be able to proceed to full ownership whenever they wish by buying further shares in 12½ per cent. slices. In this way many tenants will be given a chance to get a firm foothold on the home ownership ladder, taking on the full financial commitment as time and resources allow.

As well as these three major extensions of the right to buy, we are taking the opportunity in the Bill to help those who are already seeking to exercise their right to buy by removing various uncertainties and anomalies and by dismantling the several obstacles which a narrow-minded minority of landlords have sought to throw up in the path of claimants, in the desperate attempt to deny them their legal entitlement.

The Government have also initiated a large number of low-cost home ownership schemes to try to take home ownership further down the lower income scale. We have promoted a six-point low-cost home ownership programme. I am happy to say that since we came to office more than 19,000 families have become home owners through one or other of these measures. Many of them would not otherwise have had such an opportunity.

Mr. Joseph Dean

In the few minutes that the Minister has left, will he answer some of the points raised by Labour Members instead of merely answering the points raised by his hon. Friends?

Sir George Young

A large number of Labour Members made suggestions about the private rented sector, with which I shall now deal. If I have time later I shall try to deal with some of the matters that the hon. Gentleman raised on Airey houses and some of the points that he made about Leeds.

The motion calls on the House to express disgust at the Government's treatment of tenants in the private rented sector. No treatment can have been more appalling than that dished out by the Labour Party, whose antagonism towards this sector of the housing market is clearly on record, and whose Rent Acts, by deterring landlords from letting, led to a decline in the role of the private rented sector in meeting housing need. My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) made this point in an intervention.

In the Housng Act 1980 the Government took a number of measures to make more privately rented accommodation available. If there is to be any disgust expressed, it should be at the Opposition's efforts to hamper the full effect of these initiatives by threatening to repeal shorthold. The 1980 Act also introduced a whole host of improvements to the rights of private sector tenants.

The hon. Member for Warrington advocated municipalisation of private rented stock, and from a sedentary position the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) indicated his assent. Do they propose to confiscate the property, or will they compensate the people from whom they take it? If so, that will involve them in a substantial amount of public expenditure, for no housing gains. It will provide no jobs and no new homes for tenants. If there is one sure way of drying up possible extra investment in housing from the private sector, it is to issue the threat of municipalisation, which will be bad for jobs and tenants. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) made this point.

One or two Labour Members have been talking about figures and have endeavoured to show that the Government have been favouring the home owner at the expense of the tenant in the assistance that they give. It is of course all too easy to allow oneself to be deceived by the comparisons made and the numbers quoted. It has long been recognised that there are many contentious items which some would include and others would exclude in this particular numbers game.

The last Labour Government in their Green Paper on housing warned all those attempting the comparison of assistance to home owners and local authority tenants: There is no objective basis for deciding these questions". No doubt this advice will temper the certainty with which Labour Members announce their conclusion to the matter.

If one takes account of the various forms of assistance for housing, costs coming from the public purse, inclusive of supplementary benefit, the figure for the average tenant household is about £485 per annum, and that for the average owner-occupier household £205 per annum—[Interruption.] These figures are not nonsense, they are the truth.

I hope that this removes any misapprehension that the Government are directing a disproportionate amount of their assistance away from tenants toward owner-occupiers. Tax relief on mortgage interest payments is widely recognised as a most effective means of encouraging and supporting home ownership. I am glad of the opportunity therefore to repeat the assurances given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that there is no truth whatever in reports that this Government are considering the abolition of tax relief on mortgage interest, and that there will not be any truth in it as long as she remains First Lord of the Treasury.

One or two hon. Members spoke about council house rents in such a way as to suggest that they had not been charged before we took office. We are now familiar with the tactics employed by Labour Members. They point to the increases in council house rents over the past three years and conveniently ignore what happened beforehand. That is hardly surprising, for the last Labour Government professed a policy of rents moving broadly in line with money incomes. In practice, they allowed rents to fall well behind. That was the position that the Government took over. As a result of rent increases since we took office, rents in relation to earnings are now at about the same level as that which the last Labour Government inherited from us. We have done the job that they said they would do.

In the previous Labour Government the policy set out by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was summed up by this: I believe that we are right to plan in the longer term for the proportion of housing costs to be borne by rents to grow from 43 per cent. in 1976–77 to 50 per cent. by 1980."—[Official Report, 10 March 1976; Vol. 907, c. 453.] However, by 1979–80 the position inherited by this Government was that rents on the basis that he used accounted for only 38 per cent. of costs. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) raised a rather upmarket point about the Housing Act 1957, but it is probably best if I try to deal with this point in writing.

With regard to Airey houses in Leeds, the Government will take into account the costs that Leeds will have to bear to put it right when they come to calculate the HIP allocations of the years in which the expenditure will fall.

Perhaps I can write to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet in response to his four suggestions.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Edwards) urged the Government to adopt an imaginative approach to the problems and called for partnership. The last example of this that I should like to give is what the Government are doing on the Cantril Farm estate in Merseyside. This is a major experiment that can demonstrate a new way to rescue severely rundown council housing estates.

The problems of Cantril Farm are rooted in its poor design. Vandalism has grown, some families have drifted between empty flats, rent collection has become difficult and arrears have grown alarmingly. Our approach to this is to set up a trust involving private developers, local tenants and the local authority to try to tackle these problems with the benefit of public and private investment. We have been enormously encouraged by the response of tenants on the estate to this new solution. A major programme of housing and repair will be executed by the trust, but it will be related to environmental schemes aimed at creating a more attractive and secure environment.

I hope that I have said enough today to demonstrate that the welfare of tenants has been, and will remain, one of the principal concerns of the Government's housing policy. Our record of achievement so far is one of which we can be proud. Few Governments can claim to have done so much to improve the well-being of tenants, expand the range of housing opportunities before them, and give them a say in the management and maintenance of their environment.

The only right that Labour Members appear to be interested in is the alleged right of a tenant to remain a local authority tenant, often against his will, in a property run by a remote, paternalist authority. That is a philosophy that the Conservative Party decisively rejects.

6.59 pm
Mr. Hoyle

I thank all hon. Members on both sides of the House who joined the debate. It has been an interesting debate, and I am only sorry that the Minister did not see fit to reply in a constructive way. He did not allay the fears of tenants. What I gathered from his remarks shows that I am right and that the vendetta will continue. Nothing that the Minister said will enable tenants to hope that they will get a fair deal. He could only concentrate on the selling of houses, which will not solve the problem.

However, it was right to air this problem today. The fact that we have had this debate was in itself well worthwhile. But, since we have had the debate, I hope only that the Government will allow time for a longer one. In view of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.