HC Deb 24 January 1990 vol 165 cc895-9 3.43 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal the Rent Act 1957, the Rent Act 1977 and the Rent (Amendment) Act 1984.

This Bill would repeal what remains of the Rent Acts. My objective is to increase the supply of modestly priced accommodation available for renting in the private sector so that no one need sleep out in a cardboard box or spend years in bed-and-breakfast accommodation while on a waiting list for a council flat, or pay an extortionate amount of key money to obtain a tenancy in what remains of rent-controlled property.

Everyone in this Chamber knows full well that Members of Parliament, at their surgeries, deal endlessly with people who come for help to find accommodation or to shift from one council estate to another. Certainly half of the people who come to my surgeries are in that position.

You, Mr. Speaker, and I know that, when we were young, there was an adequate supply of privately rented housing for people of modest means. My family lived in a flat in the top half of a house, but if we chose to move, we were able to do so. In those days, people even did moonlight flits from one private rented flat to another. There was somewhere for them to go. It is not true that today there is a shortage of low-cost housing; it is just that people who own that property are afraid to rent it out because they see the Rent Acts as an obstacle to their control over the situation.

We must ask ourselves what has happened to the market since the days when you and I, Mr. Speaker, were young people and could find somewhere to rent. Of course, we have retained the Rent Acts which were introduced as emergency measures during wartime.

A Swedish economist has said that, short of saturation bombing, the best way to create a critical shortage of housing is to control property through rent legislation. In Sweden, where there was a similar problem to ours, the Swedish Government took a step forward and removed what remained of rent control. Sweden now has a surplus of housing, and young people can pick and choose in the accommodation market. If Sweden, the Socialist Utopia, can do that, it is surely time that we, under a Government dedicated to the principle of creating markets, should also take that step.

People watching this programme may ask, "How does it affect my tenancy if I am a tenant in the private sector?"

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is not a programme for the television; it is a debate in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) is speaking to her motion. It is the case that it is in the view of the television cameras.

Mrs. Gorman

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

People who rent property may be worried about what remains of the Rent Acts disappearing, but property in the council and private sectors is already subject to market rents. By creating a new pool of rented property, we will help to secure tenancies. When I was Westminster city council's vice-chairman of housing, we examined the census for central London alone, and pinpointed 10,000 units which were under-let, not let or available for let only as holiday rents.

People would rather leave their properties empty than risk losing control over them, which is what currently happens. We have turned the landlord into a bogyman, and we have made it shameful to rent property. Therefore, it is not surprising that people are reluctant to adopt the role when they have a spare room in their homes. I am sure that my proposal would release such property into the marketplace.

Whenever the state seeks to take over the provision of any service—for example, education, health, roads and housing—we get shortages, queues and human misery. We know that, when the free market is allowed to operate—for example, in food, clothing, holidays and leisure pursuits—there is a surplus, because we are catering for people's needs and aspirations.

There is no shortage of privately owned cars, but there is a shortage of roads on which to drive them; there is no shortage of television sets, washing machines and other things to put in the home, but there is a shortage of homes to put them in. My legislation would partially correct that problem.

If the Opposition seek to divide the House on this simple, modest measure, people will conclude only that they wish to continue their doctrinaire attitude that only the state should provide housing for the people. However, my party is dedicated to the idea that, by restoring markets and by giving people the freedom to supply a service without unnecessary encumbrance, we will increase the supply of that service. That is what people want.

I acknowledge what the Government have already done, particularly in the Housing Act 1988, in recreating assured and shorthold tenancies, but people living in cardboard boxes in inner London cannot apply for tenancies because they lack the necessary references or respectability to do so. If we can release the spirit of the kindly landlady—the type of landlady I had when I first left school and rented a room in a private home—we will supply housing that can serve those people's needs.

That principle is the one at which my Bill is directed and to which the Government are dedicated. I commend the Bill to the House.

3.49 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I suppose that it is logical for the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) to make the arguments that she has, because her belief in the market is well known to all of us. She does not believe in any form of legislative interference at all and her belief in the free market can be described as being the same as that of any 18th or 19th-century Whig. She has a political attitude of her own that can best be described as the stone age tendency with some fraternal leaping towards ticket touts.

The hon. Lady's Bill refers to the Rent Act 1957. Most Tory Members would not be happy to refer to that legislation, which was piloted through the House by someone whose fervent enthusiasm for the free market is no less than that of the hon. Member for Billericay. I refer to Mr. Enoch Powell, who was then a junior housing Minister.

Mrs. Gorman

He is a brilliant man.

Mr. Minnick

On Second Reading of that legislation, Mr. Powell said—now we shall learn how brilliant he was— It will halt the drain upon rented accommodation, it will release additional accommodation which is under-used or wasted, it will arrest the deterioration of millions of houses for lack of maintenance, and it will give to persons who are moving or setting up home the opportunity to find accommodation in the market."—[Official Report, 21 November 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1775.] Those are almost identical to the words used by the hon. Member for Billericay. Mr. Powell was proved wrong, and not for the first time—just as the hon. Lady herself has been proved wrong.

In June 1956, privately rented dwellings numbered about 6.5 million, but by December 1961, after the Rent Act 1957 had done its work, that figure had been reduced—I emphasise the word "reduced"—to less than 5 million. The abuses that were a consequence of the 1957 Act are known to us all. That legislation brought such misery and hardship to countless people that, when Labour was returned to office in 1964, the then Tory Opposition could not bring themselves to defend it and did not argue against new legislation introduced by the Housing Minister, Richard Crossman.

Recently, Ministers said that the Housing Act 1988 would lead to a revival of the private rented sector, and there were questions on that subject today. We know that there has been no such revival, but a revival only of the practice last seen around the beginning of this century, of people having to sleep in the open, for instance, just five minutes' walk from this House. Night after night, they are forced like people elsewhere to tolerate such conditions because they cannot afford market rents.

The purpose of the hon. Lady's Bill is to take away the legal rights of tenants who were in occupation before the Housing Act 1988 came into force. If her Bill ever became law, the rights of more than 1 million tenants would be denied. There is enough intimidation and pressure on private tenants already, without that happening. I suggest that a more appropriate title for the hon. Lady's Bill would be the Return of Rachmanism Bill.

The 1957 Act failed totally and the Housing Act 1988 is also failing. The Department of the Environment refuses to answer my questions about how many new tenancies have been created by that legislation. The real need is not for a supposed revival of the private rented sector, which will never come about, but for local authorities and genuine housing associations to be permitted once again to do the job that they should be doing, and build new accommodation. It is not just the homeless as such: I have constituents, even families with two children living in council flats, who now have to wait years before they have the opportunity to get a house.

Some Tory Members referred at Question Time today to the number of council dwellings that have been sold. That is fair enough, but why should they not be replaced? Why should people be penalised because they do not have the means to obtain a mortgage or to pay the market rate for private rented accommodation? Why should so many of our constituents be penalised, be inadequately housed, or have to live in the type of accommodation that I have just described, or, what is even worse, in bed and breakfast accommodation?

The solution to the problem will result not from the hon. Lady's Bill but from a Labour Government allowing local authorities and genuine housing associations to build houses. That is the solution to the housing problem, and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 56, Noes 167.

Division No. 44] [3.55 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Alexander, Richard Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Amos, Alan McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Aspinwall, Jack McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Atkinson, David Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Bevan, David Gilroy Monro, Sir Hector
Body, Sir Richard Mudd, David
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Pawsey, James
Brazier, Julian Rhodes James, Robert
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Riddick, Graham
Buck, Sir Antony Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Budgen, Nicholas Shelton, Sir William
Butcher, John Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Sims, Roger
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Speller, Tony
Davis, David (Boothferry) Stanbrook, Ivor
Fox, Sir Marcus Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Fry, Peter Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Gill, Christopher Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Thurnham, Peter
Gregory, Conal Viggers, Peter
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Ward, John
Hannam, John Widdecombe, Ann
Hayward, Robert Wiggin, Jerry
Hordern, Sir Peter Wilkinson, John
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Hunter, Andrew Tellers for the Ayes:
Janman, Tim Mr. Barry Field and
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Mr. David Evans.
Allen, Graham Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Alton, David Dewar, Donald
Anderson, Donald Dixon, Don
Ashton, Joe Dobson, Frank
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Doran, Frank
Barron, Kevin Dunnachie, Jimmy
Battle, John Eadie, Alexander
Beith, A. J. Eastham, Ken
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Blunkett, David Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Boyes, Roland Fatchett, Derek
Bradley, Keith Faulds, Andrew
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fearn, Ronald
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Fisher, Mark
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Flannery, Martin
Buckley, George J. Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Callaghan, Jim Foster, Derek
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Fraser, John
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Galloway, George
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Cartwright, John Godman, Dr Norman A.
Clay, Bob Golding, Mrs Llin
Clelland, David Gordon, Mildred
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Gould, Bryan
Cohen, Harry Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Coleman, Donald Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Grocott, Bruce
Corbett, Robin Hardy, Peter
Corbyn, Jeremy Haynes, Frank
Cox, Tom Heffer, Eric S.
Cryer, Bob Hinchliffe, David
Cummings, John Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Cunningham, Dr John Home Robertson, John
Dalyell, Tam Hood, Jimmy
Darling, Alistair Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Geraint O'Brien, William
Hoyle, Doug Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Parry, Robert
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Pike, Peter L.
Illsley, Eric Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Ingram, Adam Primarolo, Dawn
Janner, Greville Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Radice, Giles
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Redmond, Martin
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Reid, Dr John
Kilfedder, James Richardson, Jo
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Kirkwood, Archy Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lambie, David Sedgemore, Brian
Leighton, Ron Sheerman, Barry
Litherland, Robert Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Livsey, Richard Short, Clare
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Sillars, Jim
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Skinner, Dennis
Loyden, Eddie Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McAllion, John Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
McAvoy, Thomas Snape, Peter
McCartney, Ian Soames, Hon Nicholas
McFall, John Soley, Clive
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Spearing, Nigel
McKelvey, William Steinberg, Gerry
McLeish, Henry Strang, Gavin
McNamara, Kevin Straw, Jack
McWilliam, John Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Madden, Max Thomas, Dr Dafydd Ells
Mahon, Mrs Alice Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Marek, Dr John Wallace, James
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Walley, Joan
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Wareing, Robert N.
Martlew, Eric Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Maxton, John Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Meacher, Michael Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Meale, Alan Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Winnick, David
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Wray, Jimmy
Morgan, Rhodri Young, David (Bolton SE)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Mullin, Chris Tellers for the Noes:
Murphy, Paul Mr. Harry Barnes and
Nellist, Dave Mr. Tony Banks.
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon

Question accordingly negatived.