Fears of rift in coalition as Hughes attacks homes plan

The prospect that council tenants in Britain could be evicted because the state decides they are too well off has threatened to open a rift in the coalition Government.

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, bluntly warned that the idea, which was floated by the Prime Minister this week, is not government policy and that it would take "a lot of persuading" for the Liberal Democrats to accept it.

"The Prime Minister is entitled to float any idea he likes but we have to be clear it is not a Liberal Democrat policy, it is not a coalition policy, it is not in the election manifesto of either party, it was not in the coalition agreement," Mr Hughes said.

"The message just has to get out; this is now being floated by the Prime Minister – if he wants to pursue it then there are the proper channels to do so. We're very happy to have the discussion... [but] our party would need a lot of persuading that it has merit or could work."

During a visit to the West Midlands this week, David Cameron suggested that new council or housing association tenants should be given fixed-term tenancies, so that families who have come into money or whose children have grown up could be evicted to make room for more needy cases.

He suggested this was the way to ease a housing crisis which has 1.7 million families on council waiting lists when the number of new homes built next year is expected to fall to the lowest level since 1923.

But his remarks appeared to run completely counter to what the Conservatives claimed during the general election, when the Labour Party alleged that it might attack tenants' security of tenure.

An election leaflet, reproduced in yesterday's edition of the Labour newspaper Tribune claimed that "the Tories want everyone to be on an 'assured shorthold tenancy'" so they could be evicted under the rules that already apply to tenants of private landlords.

That leaflet provoked an angry denial from Grant Shapps, the Housing minister, who claimed: "These are unfounded and baseless scare tactics by an increasingly desperate Labour Party trying to frighten social tenants... Conservatives recognise the importance of social housing and the security it provides."

Mr Cameron's proposal, if it becomes law, will apply only to new tenants, not to those who already have lifelong tenancies. Instead, Mr Shapps trailed a new national scheme to persuade tenants with lifelong agreements to agree to swap homes.

The Government has calculated that 400,000 council properties are underoccupied – usually because children have grown up and moved out – while 250,000 tenants are living in crowded conditions. A number of councils already run successful exchange schemes locally, but under the new proposals all eight million council and housing association tenants across England will be able to put their names forward for the National Home Swap Scheme.

Mr Shapps's plan is uncontroversial because it does not involve forcing anybody to move house – though critics suggested that it missed the real point, which is that there are too few new homes being built.

"Making it easier for tenants to exchange with one another for more suitable accommodation is of course a good thing but it is no substitute for building new housing," said the former Labour housing minister John Healey.

"I also fear these measures could be taken as a green light by some to pressure people out of their homes. Not least, as the announcement follows David Cameron letting the cat out of the bag on the Tories' secret agenda to remove security of tenure."

The British Property Federation suggested that another way to address the housing crisis was to put money into grants for renovating the estimated one million properties standing empty in the UK, including 762,000 in England.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: "Renovating empty homes is an opportunity for the Government to get people off housing waiting lists and into 'good as new' homes; it will also save them money in the process.

"Awarding renovation grants will remove eyesores from the local community and rectify lost incomes for the owner and surrounding landlords. It is a win-win situation."

Mr Cameron himself was not in the country to hear the reaction to his remarks, because yesterday he flew to Italy for a "working dinner" with Italy's scandal-hit President, Silvio Berlusconi. The two leaders were due to discuss trade and the Afghan war, while avoiding the topics that are filling the columns of Italian newspapers, such as a recent split in Italy's ruling political party, the PDL, or the escort girls allegedly invited to the 73-year-old President's official residence.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home