HC Deb 19 November 1986 vol 105 cc553-5
6. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received on the desirability of abating rent controls.

Mr. John Patten

We continue to receive numerous representations on this important matter. We intend to restore the right to rent.

Mr. McCrindle

Although I recognise the need to provide security for existing tenants, does my hon. Friend agree that a sizeable section of the population would like an opportunity to choose between renting and buying and that, at the moment, that opportunity simply does not exist for the most part? Will he therefore consider the desirability of some modest relaxation of rent controls which might well lead to the satisfaction of a sizeable number of people who could then take the type of housing that they require on the basis that they require?

Mr. Patten

Of course we must look after people who already have vested interests in the private rented sector, but it is bizarre and remarkable that we are the only country in western Europe in which people do not have a free choice in renting. In short, they do not have the right to rent. That is why we intend to restore it.

Mr. Raynsford

Does the Minister agree that talk about restoring the right to rent is utterly hollow coming from a Government who have drastically cut the rented housing programme? Does he further agree that the prospect that his right hon. and hon. Friends hold out would involve steep rent increases for many people in private rented housing and that to talk of giving them means-tested benefits is very hollow coming from a Government who have consistently cut the housing benefit scheme?

Mr. Patten

We do not need any lectures from the hon. Gentleman while Labour-controlled councils, in the main, keep empty about 115,000 public sector houses and flats and while we have the ridiculous situation in which there are some 540,000 empty privately owned houses and flats. Surely men and women of good sense and good will can get together and find a means of bringing that much needed housing back into use.

Mr. Gow

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the law relating to existing tenancies remained unaltered and if, in respect of all new tenancies, there were no rent control and no security of tenure, accommodation which is at present unused or underused would be brought into use, mobility would be improved and new investment would be attracted to the private rented sector? Will my hon. Friend please act as soon as possible?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend, who has deep experience of these matters, is probably right. He has gone a long way to convince me, but I doubt whether he will he able to convince the noble prelate the Bishop of Rochester.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Does the Minister recall his expressions of concern that there are certain landlords in, for example, Liverpool and Leeds who are increasing rents massively so that they are paid by housing benefit, so it is not incumbent on tenants to apply for rent registration? Given that the Minister has expressed concern in the past, does he not recognise that it would be wise to ignore the siren voices behind him and deal with the problem of putting excessive amounts of public money into the hands of private landlords?

Mr. Patten

We are listening, not to siren voices, but to the voice of common sense. That voice surely says that we need to help people with their housing needs by attaching subsidies to people and not to bricks and mortar.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Although I fully support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle), does my hon. Friend accept that there is a grave accommodation problem for single people and that a relaxation of rent controls would undoubtedly improve the situation? Clearly, however, we must note the reservations that have been expressed by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft).

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is right. That is why, in the coming year, we shall make more money available to the Housing Corporation in order to provide mixed forms of rented tenures specifically aimed at young people. Of course, some relaxation of the Rent Acts for new tenures would, as my hon. Friend postulated, make it possible to house more of those who need homes.

Mr. Rooker

The Minister said that it was common sense—indeed he agreed with the former Minister, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow)— and that it would be a good idea to remove security of tenure and rent controls. Will he confirm that the last time a Tory Government took this action—and he knows this—there was a further decline in rented housing after 1957? Frankly, if it is such a good idea to double rents in the private sector and to remove the security of tenure of millions of tenants, why will the Government not do it before the election?

Mr. Patten

That question is uncharacteristic of the hon. Gentleman. At no stage has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said anything about removing security of tenure from present tenants of flats or houses. The views of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are set out clearly in an excellent article by Mr. David Lipsey, published in New Society on 7 November this year. I shall make sure a copy is placed in the Library. Anyone interested in rented housing should read the article.