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Matthew Green (Ludlow) (LD): The Minister has talked a lot about the need to increase the amount of social and affordable housing, and about some of the various things that the Government are doing. However, as we are discussing the Housing Bill, can he tell me which of its measures will actually increase the amount of such housing?
Keith Hill: We have proposals to encourage investment through the Housing Corporation in companies that can engage in that area, and we are certainly in the business of restoring to use many properties that have fallen into decay, which is a central purpose of the Bill.
We continue to look to the future. We welcome the Law Commission's work on tenure reform, and its report, which was published in November. We look forward to proposals for a draft Bill later this year, and we expect to build on that work to move forward on some of the important issues that will not be addressed by the Housing Bill, such as tenant deposit protection, which could fit well with the models of written agreement proposed by the commission.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister has been speaking for 15 minutes and has told us all the things that are not in the Bill. Is it not about time he told us what is in it?
Keith Hill: I am tempted to say, Mr. Speaker, that they do not like it up 'em. The Government have sought to turn round a record of housing decline and disasterindeed, we are succeeding in doing so. I absolutely understand why the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) does not want to hear about our excellent record.
It is essential that we set the Bill's proposals in the context of our wider housing and regeneration policy. New build, regeneration and the modernisation of our social housing stock are vital, but so is the role of the private rented sector. We are committed to the promotion of quality and choice across all types of housing, as we set out clearly in our housing policy statement in December 2000, which was the first comprehensive review of housing since the 1970s. In that statement we expressed our belief that the private rented sector offers an important and flexible form of tenure to a wide group of people and a genuine alternative to owner occupation and social renting. A thriving, vigorous private rented sector can also encourage mobility and choice, and provide a step on to the first rung of the housing ladder, or starter housing. It can make a major contribution to the flexibility and success of the wider economy.
We are already improving quality in the private rented sector through extra money and new powers for local authorities' private sector renewal work, and through our funding of the £2 million private landlords project to work with private sector landlords to improve the management and condition of housing in selected areas with acute problems of low demand. Indeed, the importance attached by the Government to a vigorous and responsive private rented sector was reflected in last month's pre-Budget report by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who announced our intention to consult on the introduction of United States-style real estate investment trustsREITs, as they are knownto remove the tax disadvantages currently faced by institutions and to promote investment in the private sector. He also indicated that we would consider a domestic business tax allowance to give more favourable tax treatment to private landlords who make capital improvements to promote energy efficiency.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Part 3 of the Bill will be very much welcomed, not least by local authorities such as Gateshead council, which has long campaigned for a system of licensing private landlords. The Bill refers to areas of low housing demand. Is my right hon. Friend aware that that means areas that have become run-down because of neglect, or sometimes because of the deliberate policy of absentee
Keith Hill: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am aware that there are serious issues concerning antisocial behaviour and poor housing conditions as a result of abandonment in his constituency, and in a number of other local authority areas in the north of England and the midlands. That is why we are determined to take action through the Bill to curb the activities of a rogue element by introducing much needed reforms to both the private rented sector and the owner-occupied sector. The Bill will also introduce provision for social housing where action is needed, covering England and Wales.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): The two worst cases of antisocial behaviour that I have dealt with have happened when social services departments outside my own local authority entered into contracts with private landlords and then set people who were not qualified in any sense to support the people involved, who have turned out to be antisocial tenants. I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that social services departments have a responsibility to give support to tenants who have behaviour patterns that they may not be able to control. That is an important element to consider when we examine the licensing of private properties.
Keith Hill: My hon. Friend is right. If we confer new powers on local authorities to take action in the private rented sector, it is equally incumbent on those local authorities to take appropriate action to limit antisocial behaviour in the properties for which they are responsible. The new powers are widely applauded and will go a long way towards addressing the problem of antisocial behaviour, but experience indicates that early interventionnot least through social services departmentsis also important.
In March last year we published the Housing Bill in draft form. By the way, I should point out to Opposition Front Benchers that I have been talking about the Housing Bill for some time, as they would know if only they had been listening. In July the Select Committee published its report on the draft Bill. That exercise proved yet again the value of pre-legislative scrutiny. We were able to respond positively to more than 40 of the Committee's recommendations, including those on houses in multiple occupation and changes to the right-to-buy provisions.
The Housing Bill will provide new powers to tackle problems and inequalities in the private housing sector. Many of the most vulnerable in our society live in private sector accommodation, often in conditions that
Ms Russell: We all welcome the long overdue licensing of houses in multiple occupation. I was a member of the Select Committee, which had some concerns about the exemption of student accommodation. We accept that halls of residence are properly monitored and inspected by the educational establishment, but we are concerned about student accommodation in the community. I would welcome my right hon. Friend's views on that issue, because young people leaving home for the first time are vulnerable to problems such as dodgy wiring and unsafe gas appliances. Student homes should be included in the licensing provisions.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Interventions are getting rather long. I have put a 10-minute limit on speeches to accommodate the many Members who wish to speak, and long interventions are unfair to those who are waiting to be called.
Keith Hill: By that token, Mr. Speaker, it is appropriate for me to get on with my speech now, instead of being as generous as I have been heretofore in allowing interventions. I assure my hon. Friend that the proposals for the licensing of HMOs will catch a proportion of student accommodation. However, the purpose of the legislation is to improve the management of properties, not to determine the areas in which students live. I know that concern about student accommodation is widespread, especially among Labour Members, but the Bill includes provision for the extension of an HMO licensing system to areas with clear generic evidence of defective and unsatisfactory accommodation. That may embrace the possibility of extending the licensing system to cover student accommodation, but that is not the central purpose of the Bill, which is to improve the quality of management of the properties most at risk in the HMO sector.