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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones