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Mr. Clifton-Brown: The hypocrisy watch could still apply to the hon. Gentleman because his party tried this line of leasehold enfranchisement in 1968, yet did nothing about it during its time in office in the 1970s, because it realised how complicated the matter was.

Mr. Raynsford: On the contrary, the Leasehold Reform Act 1967--not 1968--was the one and only successful piece of legislation. It has helped hundreds of

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thousands of leaseholders to enfranchise. It did work, it was a Labour Act, and the contrast between it and the Tory efforts of the 1980s and 1990s is very interesting.

The Bill's proposals for leasehold reform are quite inadequate, and the Government admit as much. They acknowledge that the clauses in part III, chapter II involve only "minor amendments" to the 1993 Act. The Secretary of State is promising to introduce more clauses as the Bill progresses, but he is still refusing to countenance a right to manage for leaseholders, which would give them a powerful means of redress against rogue landlords.

Against a background of intensifying threats of forfeiture and scandalous demands for large service charges, the Secretary of State has not even bothered to reply to the urgent request that I made of him a week ago for a short emergency Bill to provide immediate protection against forfeiture, providing cover for leaseholders throughout the period--it will be a long one--that this long, complex and controversial legislation will take to wind its way through Parliament. Why is the Secretary of State so reluctant to act decisively? Once again, it is difficult not to suspect the influence of the big landowners.

What about more fundamental reforms, including the introduction of commonhold--supported by two Conservative Members in this debate--which was promised in the 1992 Conservative manifesto but not delivered? That is yet one more broken promise. Leaseholders, like home owners, have every reason to feel betrayed by the Government.

Tenants in all tenures--private, council and housing association--have equally good grounds to complain about the Government's record. They have seen their rents forced up deliberately by Government policy by between two and three times the rate of inflation. When tenants and Labour Members complained, Tory Ministers repeatedly told us not to worry because, in the felicitous phrase much used by the current Secretary of State for Transport, then the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction:


What a con that was.

Millions of tenants were forced deeper into benefit dependency and the poverty trap and when, inevitably, the housing benefit bill went through the roof, the Department of Social Security cried, "Halt." The outcome is an appalling mess in which large sums of public money have been expended on housing benefit, with not all of it, by any means, going to people in need or to bona fide claimants, while investment in new housing has fallen--as many of my hon. Friends have emphasised in this debate--to the lowest level for 50 years.

During the past five years, we have on average started only 35,000 new rented homes a year, compared with more than 130,000 rented homes on average each year under the previous Labour Government. Is it any wonder that we face such a crisis today? Is it any wonder that the level of homelessness is double what it was when Labour was last in power? Is it any wonder that families are consigned to long periods in bed-and-breakfast hotels, or that young, single people are sleeping and begging on our streets? They are the sad symbols of the failure of Tory housing policies during the past 17 years.

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The Bill will do nothing to remove those symbols from our society. It will do nothing to stimulate a new building programme, which is so desperately required. That programme could be kick-started today if only the Government had the will, and the imagination to release local authority capital receipts. That programme would help our hard-pressed house building industry and get thousands of unemployed building workers back to work. It is a programme which everyone in the country other than the Government knows makes economic and social sense.

Instead of decisive action to get more homes built, the Bill gives us more tinkering from the people who, in their previous housing Bill, gave us the remarkable rents-to-mortgages scheme. I am sure that Ministers would like to forget that little episode and draw a veil over it, but they cannot because it was the flagship of part II of their 1993 legislation and their main offering to tenants in the social rented sector. We warned them at the time that the rents-to-mortgages scheme was a non-starter but, as with their flawed leasehold measures in part I, the Tories stubbornly pressed ahead, insisting on the merits of their proposals.

What has happened? As we predicted, the scheme has proved a hopeless flop. The Minister was forced to admit in a parliamentary answer last autumn that, to date, despite 13 clauses in legislation and more than £140,000 in promotional expenditure, there have been only 13 takers in the whole country. I may be doing the Government an injustice--perhaps the number of takers has increased in the past two to three months. If so, I will happily give way to the Minister to allow him to announce the number of tenants who have taken up the rents-to-mortgages scheme. He might perhaps even add a few thoughts on the cost-effectiveness of the whole exercise.

The Bill comes from the very same stable--from the same Government who botched three previous attempts at leasehold reform and gave us the rents-to-mortgages scheme. Is it any wonder that the Government are so mistrusted?

Tenants in the private rented sector in particular will be alarmed by the latest Tory legislative offering. Not only does part III further weaken the already very limited safeguards available for tenants seeking private rented housing, but part II lets down large numbers of tenants living in bedsits in what are known as houses in multiple occupation. Ministers are well aware of the concentration of problems in such properties--the high incidence of unfitness and serious disrepair, the squalid conditions that too many bedsit tenants have to endure and the often life-threatening hazards that are sickeningly brought to our attention time and time again when fires or defective gas appliances kill innocent people week after week, month after month, year after year. The hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) highlighted one particularly tragic case that occurred in that town two years ago.

The Government know all about that dreadful toll. They issued a consultation paper a year ago that admitted the existence of problems, and they saw the evidence that was presented in response. Three quarters of the respondents told the Government what was needed, and a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House have given the Government the same message this evening. We need a national licensing scheme to ensure that there are proper standards in all such accommodation in all parts of the

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country, but the Government will not listen, and they will not act. They have put their ideological hostility to regulation ahead of their responsibility for safeguarding the lives of tenants. They have tried to cover their tracks by tinkering with the existing local authority powers to register some types of multi-occupied housing, but they know that that will not be adequate. Some Tory Members have said that tonight also.

Perhaps the most telling comment on the Bill's proposals is the contrast between the powers given to the Secretary of State to fix the maximum level of fee that can be charged for registering a property, as against the restriction preventing a local authority from registering houses containing four or fewer bedsitting rooms, even though those properties are known to be death-traps. The interests of the landlord and his freedom to let squalid property count for more with today's Tory party than the lives and well-being of tenants. There can be no more shameful example of the dereliction of duty of this discredited Government.

While the Bill manifestly fails to meet the country's pressing housing needs--in many respects, it will make a bad situation worse--it is not entirely devoid of worthwhile measures. On the old principle of an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters eventually composing "King Lear", it would have been surprising if the Government, having spent so long on working up such a lengthy package, had not managed to hit on at least one or two sensible proposals.

We support--indeed, we originated--the concept of local housing companies proposed in part I, although we are looking for a rather different framework to give more safeguards to tenants and to the local authority that decides to set up a company. We support--indeed, we advocated several years ago--the establishment of an independent housing ombudsman, and we shall back that proposal. We support--indeed, we have campaigned for--more effective measures to deal with anti-social behaviour. Again, we want to see proper safeguards in place to avoid the innocent being caught up.

We must also nail the pernicious lie that implies that only tenants are guilty of such behaviour. It is sadly symptomatic of the Government's attitude that part V, which addresses this issue, is headed "Conduct of Tenants". I spell this out to the House--anti-social behaviour is unacceptable, whether it is perpetrated by tenants, owners or anyone else. It must be stopped, whoever is responsible.

We also support the principle of voluntary purchase grant and the right to buy for housing association tenants. Once again, however, we are looking for safeguards to ensure that the benefit for those who are able to buy their homes is not at the expense of others who depend on a good supply of affordable rented housing.

Those rays of light are sadly eclipsed by the main thrust of the Bill, which is profoundly misconceived and will do immense damage. It is hardly surprising that the Government's attack on the homeless is relegated to the end. The fact that it comes in parts VI and VII is perhaps a sign of the embarrassment that the Government should feel about these mean-spirited proposals, which have rightly been condemned by the overwhelming majority of people who have examined them.

The 10,000 people who responded to the first consultation two years ago were almost unanimous in calling on the Government to abandon the planned

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changes to the existing legislation. The housing profession, local authority associations, the housing association movement, the voluntary organisations representing and working with homeless people, and the Churches--plus all of the signatories to today's advertisement in The Times--have spoken with one voice in calling for the Government to think again. Only a Government as stubborn, stupid and out of touch as this one could still press ahead regardless. Everyone else is out of step except our little Johnny, is presumably the sad attitude that they are taking.

What the Government are proposing in parts V and VI is wrong. If it were to be enacted, it would put the clock back to the era of "Cathy Come Home", when homeless families were all too often trapped in a destructive, downward spiral of insecurity, recurring homelessness and desperation. The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, introduced as a private Member's Bill with support from both sides of the House, except for right-wing Tories, broke that cycle. It is a sign of how far today's Tory party has lurched to the right that the Government are proposing to attack the 1977 legislation, which was reviewed by the Deputy Prime Minister, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment in the early 1980s, by the late Lord Ridley and by the Governor of Hong Kong, when they were Secretaries of State in the late 1980s. The latter said:


Now, with no material change of circumstance in the meantime and with the numbers of homeless exactly the same as in 1989, today's Tory party proposes to scrap that framework. The Government have no justification for what they are planning, no electoral mandate and no support outside their own ranks.

We shall vote against the Bill because those and other measures in it are wrong and damaging. We shall fight it tooth and nail through every stage of the parliamentary process. We shall do all in our power to stop the Bill in its present form reaching the statute book.


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