As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and I know, always being called last means that we have the enjoyment of listening to the whole debate. Today’s debate has been extremely valuable across the House, going into forensic detail on the Bill.
I want to make a plea for urgency, that is all. I welcomed the inclusion of this issue in the Conservative manifesto. In fact, I congratulated my then constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge, on bringing it forward. I also accused him of plagiarism, because it was in our last two Labour manifestos. I congratulated him because, as many have reported today, my constituents are in a housing crisis. Most of the council housing has been sold off. To go on the housing waiting list, they must have lived in the area for 10 years, and they have to prove that with documentation, which many people cannot. Once on the housing waiting list, they will wait between three and five, maybe seven, years. Their children will have grown up by then.
Four thousand new properties are being built in the middle of my constituency, but there are barely any that my constituents will be able to afford, because the prices are so high and the wages in my constituency—despite high employment levels—are relatively low. Since 2010, rents have gone up on average by three times the rate of wage increases. In London alone, rents over the last year are up 15% on average. In some areas, they are up 20% to 25%. Basically, that means that people struggle to get a roof over their heads, whether from the council or rented, and certainly struggle for owner occupation. I do not know any firefighter, teacher or NHS worker in my constituency who lives there any more—they commute for miles because they cannot afford accommodation in the constituency.
People live in my constituency in slum conditions: damp, cold, unsafe and mouldy, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson). I have the phenomenon of beds in sheds. In my office, we have a moral dilemma about whether we tell the council that someone is living in a shed, because we know that if we do, enforcement comes in and that person is then homeless, with nowhere to go whatsoever.
As has been said throughout the debate, as soon as people complain about the conditions or rents, the landlords bring in section 21. That is why it was right for the Conservatives to include the Bill in their last manifesto, and I welcomed it. Landlords always use the excuse that they are moving in a relative. We would need genetic link mapping to identify the relationship between some of the tenants who move in and the family. Landlords might say that they are selling the property but, as has been said, when we tour around, we see that in fact they have not: within days, the “To let” board goes up. They scam us all the time.
My constituents live in fear of complaining at all because they know that if they do, many of them will lose their properties. It is correct that the majority of landlords are good, but it is the rogue landlords that I fear the Bill does not address.
The major problem is that we are not building enough council houses. On the Conservative Benches a couple of Members referred to Harold Macmillan. Harold Macmillan took on from Clem Attlee a huge housing programme and built council houses. My family was a beneficiary of that. We moved out of a slum and into a council house. We just need to build more council houses. We cannot rely on the private market, because it profiteers. In my constituency, landlords can make a profit by leaving the property empty because the price will always go up, and sometimes they do not want to be encumbered by a tenancy. When tenants complain, they get kicked out and are made homeless. In my constituency, people have been pushed all around the country. I have people living in a Travelodge in Slough. They have to bring their children into Hayes each day, which takes an hour and a half. Then there is temporary accommodation with poor conditions and hostels. We have children being brought up in temporary accommodation. I looked at the figures: 131,000 children are now living in temporary accommodation.
I fully support the Bill’s getting rid of section 21, but the problem is exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) said. The sanctions and conditions will render it totally ineffective. Landlords will simply take a three-month hit and then rent it out straight after that. And to rely on the court system! We have to be honest with one another. The Government have closed 300 county courts. There was a cut of 35% in the Justice budget over the last period. In addition, if we are looking to local authorities to enforce, nearly 20 local authorities are under section 114 notices. In other words, they are bankrupt and do not have the staff to do the enforcement. To be frank, in many areas now the lack of access to basic legal advice—not legal aid, but basic legal advice—from local law centres is non-existent. My citizens advice bureau, bless it, works so hard, but it is rushed off its feet so it cannot provide sufficient advice on the scale that is needed.
My plea is for urgency. We have had a really good debate, a forensic analysis of the Bill: the detail and the beneficial elements, but also the gaps and the need for change and amendment. I hope the Committee will, on Report, bring back a significantly amended Bill that will scrap section 21—that is what both parties promised in our manifestos at the last election, and I believe that other political parties did exactly the same. There is unanimity in this House to scrap section 21, but we must do it with a sense of urgency and we must do it effectively.