Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, when my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) raised some points with the Prime Minister in relation to the chairman of the Conservative party, you were quick to rush in and tell him that the Prime Minister had no responsibility. I did not argue with that ; we all know she has not.
But today, the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) raised the question of Labour party policy. He droned on for some time and you did not make a move, Mr. Speaker, in relation to that matter. If we are to have a decision about Conservative party policy--I do not disagree with that--then the same must apply to the Labour party and--
Mr. Speaker : Order. No. This is an abuse. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has been here long enough to know that we frequently discuss party politics across the Floor of the Chamber. What happened yesterday--and I am not prepared to go over what happened yesterday--as the hon. Member for Walton well knows, is that there was a question to the Prime Minister from the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) about an individual Member, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer). It was not about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Mr. Pawsey : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the real point at issue the fact that no Member rose from the Opposition Benches actually to say what Labour policy was on the discount of council houses?
Column 892matters with which I can deal, but we cannot have a continuation of Question Time or, as I have said to the hon. Member for Walton, a continuation of what went on yesterday. That was bad enough.
Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. News is just coming through that a helicopter on hire by Strathclyde police has crashed on a sheltered housing complex near Eastwood Toll in my constituency. I understand that at least one death has been reported so far. Would you consider sympathetically a request from the Scottish Office for a statement to be made on the matter in the near future?
Mr. Speaker : That is not a matter for me, although I am sure that the House will be distressed to hear what the hon. Gentleman had to say. However, I am sure that his comments have been heard by the Government Front Bench.
Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With great respect, and understanding your problems, you will be aware that, just before 3.30 pm, you called the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg), who asked a very important question about attracting the Olympic games to this country. He associated that point, quite rightly, with the vital question of South Africa and the views of the British Government which will dominate that matter. However, you did not find it possible to call a Labour Member, not even myself. I wonder whether you could exercise a little tolerance so that we can express our views about that matter.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received a request from the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) or for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) for a statement by a member of the Treasury Front Bench on the apparent unclearness of the Customs regulation?
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I respectfully ask that later this afternoon you obtain a transcript of the Official Report of the last few minutes of Question Time. If you would be so kind, would you read the question from the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey)--Question No. 15--because I believe that at the time that he asked his question you were being distracted? I could see the Clerks in front of you trying to attract your attention to make the point that I am about to make.
I for one, and I suspect many of my hon. Friends also, do not mind if Tory Members want to raise aspects of Labour party policy, because we are quite capable of answering those points--as long as the application of the rules of the House are wide enough to allow my hon. Friends such as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) yesterday, the same rights as--
Column 893Mr. Nellist : You are smiling.
Mr. Speaker : Order. Surely the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) is not suggesting that it is open to him and his hon. Friends to attack the Government for their policies, but not to hear an attack from the Government on Opposition policies. That would not be fair.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Just a simple point : is it in order for an hon. Member to incite people to break the law? If it is, will you at least deprecate that?
Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : Further to that point of order. The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) has put out a press release headed "MPs defy the Poll Tax". The paper on which that press release is printed carries the House of Commons portcullis crest and also a note of a House of Commons telephone number for inquiries about that incitement to break the law. Will you rule whether the rules of the House in any way allow the use of the portcullis and House of Commons telephone lines to incite breaches of the law?
Mr. Speaker : The whole House knows that that is not in order. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence of that, he should, as I said yesterday when a similar matter was raised, send that evidence to the Services Committee which deals with such matters.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : Could not the difficulty manifested in the turmoil today and yesterday be neatly resolved if you were to say that, when hon. Members make points of order they should distinguish between two new categories--television points of order and real points of order?
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have a reputation second to none for safeguarding Members of this House. I wonder whether you could use your position and your involvement with the Commonwealth Speakers Conference to have a word with the Speaker in Singapore about whether he will take steps to ensure that hon. Members visiting Singapore have their affairs safeguarded. In a recent case, three
Column 894Members fell for a situation in which a shopkeeper gave a very low receipt. This has caused problems in this country. If you, Sir, were to have a word with the Singapore Speaker, and if Members who were overseas were looked after properly, this sort of embarrassment would not occur.
Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Two and a half years ago, in response to a query from my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), you deprecated the Liberals' habit of putting down questions relating specifically to other Members' constituencies. There is a series of early-day motions on the Order Paper that relate specifically to the constituencies of Members of this House. Does your deprecation of questions, both oral and written, relating to specific constituencies extend to early-day motions?
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : You, Mr. Speaker, are responsible for the proper conduct in and working of this House. I believe that the influence of Militant Tendency on MPs' conduct is a matter of considerable concern to Members on both sides. You, Sir, will not be aware that the Isle of Wight Labour party has condemned the "Don't pay, won't pay" campaign against the poll tax or community charge--
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : You will know, Mr. Speaker, that there is considerable difficulty in raising questions about the internal workings of government--in fact, it is impossible to do so--yet it has been widely reported that the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is just leaving the Chamber, was humiliated by the Prime Minister when she restored the trade in ivory and thus put the African elephant at risk--a matter which concerns many hon. Members. Would it be possible to table questions about the Prime Minister overruling the Secretary of State for the Environment--
Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that in this House we will maintain our tradition of debating party policies rather than individual differences within parties. That is not our traditional practice in this House.
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?"
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
Column 896census 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.
Column 897Mr. Winnick : 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
Column 898houses. 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
Bevan, David Gilroy
Body, Sir Richard
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Buck, Sir Antony
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Fox, Sir Marcus
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hordern, Sir Peter
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Monro, Sir Hector
Rhodes James, Robert
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shelton, Sir William
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Barry Field and
Mr. David Evans.
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)
Beith, A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cunningham, Dr John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Heffer, Eric S.
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)