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Mr. Soley: The Secretary of State may recall that, during the passage of the Housing Act 1988, the issues he is raising now were raised then as serious matters for concern--not least the activities of Mr. Hoogstraten. The Secretary of State will also recall that we raised the same concerns that he has mentioned today about freeholders and leaseholders. Why has it taken the Government eight years even to begin to think about acting on those matters, when they rejected our amendments at the time of the passage of the 1988 Act?

Mr. Gummer: The amendments were not as the hon. Gentleman put them forward. The Government are meeting present needs clearly and directly. I am pleased that there is agreement on those matters on both sides of the House. I hope that the Opposition parties will help us to get the Bill through fast, so that, first, we will be able to ensure that families in real need get their homes. Secondly, we will be able to ensure that houses in multiple occupation are covered by better legislation than at the moment. Thirdly, we shall be able to ensure that leaseholders have protection, which they do not have now. All these things can be achieved if the Labour party drops its dogmatic opposition to the Bill and supports us in what we are doing. We shall watch the Opposition and press them. We look forward to hearing what the Labour party's policy is in a few moments.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East): May I welcome the changes that my right hon. Friend has mentioned? They will be generally welcomed in Bournemouth.

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How do the changes, together with the proposals in the original measure, respond to the problems being experienced by local authorities because of a lack of definition of what is a hotel, a hostel or a house in multiple occupation? Lack of definition effectively prevents local authorities from applying the controls that they already have. In responding to problems concerning HMOs, will there be a clear definition in a schedule to enable local authorities better to respond to the changes that my right hon. Friend has announced?

Mr. Gummer: There will be a clear definition in the Bill. It will probably appear in a schedule. It will make the position as clear as can be. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is not an easy area in which to introduce provisions and definitions. I have no doubt that there will be discussion in Committee.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer: No. I must get on.

The conduct of tenants who are already in place is a matter of considerable concern. We felt that a natural approach would be, first, to ensure that local authorities that so desired would be able to grant a probationary or introductory tenancy of a year to see how the tenant settled down and how others considered that he or she had settled down. It is not an unreasonable idea.

I am sorry that the Labour-controlled Association of District Councils is opposed to that. It is a great mistake. The Labour party is supposed to be in favour of taking action. Unfortunately, is opposes the simple mechanism that we propose. It is opposed by Labour authority after authority. It will be helpful if individuals have the opportunity to see how they settle down in a new tenancy. It will be for local authorities to decide whether that is what they wish to do. I would recommend them to adopt that approach, but the decision is entirely for local authorities. I want to give them the opportunity to make a decision.

Neighbour nuisance damages many people's lives. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are aware of that from surgery experience. We are giving landlords effective powers against a minority who do not accept responsibility. We need especially to protect social tenants, who may have little choice when it comes to their neighbours. It is a real issue, especially for our older constituents.

Our proposals have been developed in consultation with local authorities. We have taken account especiallyof recommendations contained in the ADC's report.We have also taken on board recommendations from elsewhere. We have tried to arrive at as common a view as possible. I am sorry that a measure which I think would be important has not gained the support of the ADC.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton): My right hon. Friend will be aware that, even in an area such as Taunton, there are noise problems affecting tenants and owner-occupiers. Those problems are greatly increased in many inner cities. Those suffering from noise abuse are often afraid to complain. I know of instances in which there have been reprisals against those who have complained. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that measures are taken to

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preserve the secrecy or confidentiality of those who complain, so that the proposed measures may be successfully implemented?

Mr. Gummer: That will be, I am sure, the concern of local authorities that wish to implement the proposals.I shall give them every encouragement to take the matter on board. If my hon. Friend has any ideas on how we might extend the proposals, I should very much like to be informed of them.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer: No. I must bring my remarks to an end.

The Bill is designed to extend opportunity. It is designed also to ensure that the resources available to help those in need are applied to those most in need. I say again to the Labour party that, if we are to accept--this has been the position under all Governments--that there are never enough resources to meet every need, we must decide which comes first. That has been the most contentious issue.

We have at the moment a system in which some people get to the top of the list by category, thereby overtaking those who by need should be at the top of the list. The way to overcome that is to ensure the most rapid transition for those in real need from not having a home to having a permanent home, and not to have a system whose automaticity means that one shoves down the list those who most deserve and need accommodation.

The Labour party should answer a simple question.Is it prepared to continue to allow people in lesser need to get permanent accommodation, and thereby push those in real need further down the list? That is what the Labour party proposes. That situation is wholly contrary to any proper assessment of the use of resources and to compassion for those who really need our help.

When the Labour party looks at the arrangements in the Bill and sees the powers of local authorities in association with them, it will discover that the fears that it has raised are unfounded, and that this is a sensible way forward.It is also a question of ensuring that people who can buy their homes are allowed to do so, particularly in future housing association building.

The Bill gives people the opportunity to protect themselves against a freeholder who abuses the system. We want to protect people in houses in multiple occupation much more effectively than we have until now, and we want to ensure that HMOs can no longer be concentrated in a way that does damage to everyone concerned. Lastly, we are concerned to see that the opportunities, which until now have been much more restricted, are expanded.

This is a proper policy, based on a White Paper that has had a great deal of discussion, argument and consultation. It is noticeable that neither the Labour party nor the Liberal Democrats have a policy with which to counter the Bill. It is for the House to demand that, in their criticisms, they sketch out the policy for which we have waited month after month, since the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras promised that we would have it. Today, we are waiting to hear what it is.

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4.26 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): The people of this country are racked with insecurity: people feel insecure in their jobs; people who need a hospital bed or an ambulance are no longer secure in the knowledge that they will get the attention that they need when they need it; old people feel insecure about their pensions; and millions of people of all ages feel insecure on the streets where they live.

The Government are doing nothing to combat the insecurity that they have inflicted on the people. Instead, they revel in it. Cabinet Ministers clearly welcome it. The Government preach insecurity. They are not hypocritical; they practise it. [Laughter.] Nowhere is their policy of making people insecure more obvious than when it comes to people's homes. Insecurity affects every part of the country, including the constituencies of the giggling oafs on Conservative Benches. It affects all sorts of families--owner-occupiers, leaseholders, council tenants, housing association tenants, private tenants. Above all, it affects the homeless, the families who have no place of their own.

Measured against the huge crisis of housing insecurity, the Bill is not just useless, but worse than useless. The proposals in it will make matters worse for many families. It ignores the problems of owner-occupiers. It only tinkers with the problems of leaseholders and of people who live in houses in multiple occupation.

The Government are not just complacent; they are nasty and mean-spirited as well. The Bill weakens the position of private tenants and attacks homeless families.It contributes nothing to the building of more houses for the thousands of families with nowhere decent to live.It is no good the Secretary of State trying to blame other people for all that. He cannot shift the blame for the present housing crisis. It is no use him trying to blame Labour councils for everything. The Government have been in power for 16 years. It is time that they accepted responsibility for what they have done. It is their record at which the public are looking. Labour councils, for instance, are not to blame for the plight of owner-occupiers; nor is it the fault of that other old Tory scapegoat, the previous Labour Government.


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