Private rent controls backed by cross-party committee
- 17 October 2013
- From the section Wales politics
As parliamentary defeats go it's not quite in the Syria league, but it will be of interest to coalition watchers.
A committee with a government majority has called for rent controls to be introduced in the private sector as part of a strategy to control spending on housing benefit. Today's report from MPs on the Welsh affairs committee says: "We acknowledge that one of the main reasons for recent increases in the housing benefit bill and projected further increases is inflation in private housing sector rents. Efforts to control housing benefit increases therefore have to include strategies to manage spiralling rents in the private rented sector, including direct rent controls."
The coalition may be intervening in the mortgage market to help homebuyers but it's more of a leap to contemplate a Conservative-led government introducing rent controls in the private sector. So what happened?
That paragraph was included in the report after being put forward by Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards. It was carried thanks to the votes of one coalition MP - Liberal Democrat Mark Williams - and the support of Labour MPs on the committee. (Mr Williams said the housing benefit policy was "simply unworkable in Wales").
Two Conservative MPs present voted against the amendment. Committee chair David Davies didn't vote but has made public his disagreement with the recommendation of his own committee.
The Monmouth MP said: "Obviously this [housing benefit] is a contentious issue and I am happy that the committee found cross-party agreement for this report. There is one point in the report, the one paragraph on rent control, which I personally cannot support and which was opposed by Conservative members, However, I respect the views of the majority of the committee and present it on their behalf. I am keen to focus on the practical issues we all agree need to be addressed to ensure that the social housing market in Wales works, for tenants and landlords alike."
Five Labour MPs voted for rent controls, including the party's shadow Wales Office Minister, Nia Griffith. I asked the Llanelli MP if this was now party policy.
She told me: "I don't think we should be afraid of questioning, where there is gross exaggeration, shall we say, of prices. I don't think we should be afraid of intervening in the market. What we need to do is [do it] in a way that is sensible and works for people. You can't suddenly jump up and suddenly make rent controls in a very strict sort of way because what you'd end up doing is causing a slump in the housing market
"You have to think very carefully how you increase supply, how you make sure sure that people can get the homes that they need and then rents will be able to be evened out more easily."
So is it party policy? Labour has previously floated the idea of rent controls but it's unclear at time of writing whether they would be introduced at Westminster or in Cardiff Bay. I'll let you know when I do.
UPDATE: I asked Welsh Labour whether it supported rent controls. This was its answer: "The Welsh Labour government has been at the forefront of the fight against the UK government's cuts to housing benefit. By building more small homes, to counter the effects of the Tory bedroom tax and providing support to help people with cuts to council tax benefit Welsh Labour are standing up for Wales in the face of the UK government."