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Private Sector Tenants

Volume 113: debated on Wednesday 1 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received in respect of security of tenure for private sector tenants.

We get a steady flow of representations on this issue, requesting the reform of the private rented sector to bring empty flats and houses back into use in the interests of those who need homes.

Why should any legislation that would remove security of tenure from incoming tenants in the private sector be any more successful than the totally discredited Rent Act 1957, which not only ensured a substantial reduction in the rented sector, but led to Rachmanism and to existing tenants having their security undermined? When will the millionaire Secretary of State recognise that the appalling housing crisis requires much more public sector and housing association accommodation, not opportunities for racketeering landlords to exploit tenants?

On the hon. Gentleman's second question, I do not think that cheap personal attacks on my right hon. Friend do the hon. Gentleman any good at all.

On the hon. Gentleman's first question, opinion about the private rented sector has changed greatly. I direct him to the excellent editorial of 24 March in that admirable morning newspaper, The Guardian. Now that my reselection has safely passed, I can mention that that editorial was rather in my praise. The editorial said that the private rented sector had a vital role to play in housing, and it was right.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the appalling housing crisis to which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has just referred is entirely due to the dogmatic and static attitude of the Opposition parties? The way to give the right to rent to millions of young families is to encourage building societies, institutions and other responsible bodies to provide that rented accommodation. Will my hon. Friend do everything possible at the earliest opportunity to introduce legislation to that effect?

May I remind the Minister that the question is about security of tenure? Does he appreciate the vulnerable position of the tenants of some private landlords? Landlords knock on the doors of their female tenants late at night, not coming for a cup of coffee, but seeking other favours. That happens throughout the country and, indeed, in my constituency. That vulnerability is due to lack of security of tenure, and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and others call for greater security of tenure in the private rented sector. The Minister must address himself to that point. Young people, and women in particular, are extremely vulnerable under the present rules.

I was slightly surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, because he has never written to inform me of any of those complaints. I repeat what I said on Second Reading of the Landlord and Tenant (No. 2) Bill the Government have no intention of changing the security of tenure of present renting tenants.

Does not the present legislation relating to rented accommodation mean that unemployed people who have access to work are often unable to accept the offer of employment? Will not legislative reform enable people to take jobs that they cannot take now because no private rented accommodation is available?

Only the attitude of some — I stress, some — Opposition Members is preventing us from reaching a position in which the law can be reformed in order to bring back into use some of the 540,000 empty privately owned flats and houses in the country. That would be in the interests of those seeking work, of young people who are moving to big cities and of the homeless.