Labour would boost council housebuilding and enforce ‘fair rents’ – Richard Leonard

Richard Leonard

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has pledged to bring forward legislation at Holyrood to further reform the private rented sector and build more new council homes.

In his keynote speech to the Scottish Labour conference in Dundee at the weekend, his first since becoming party leader in November, Mr Leonard said a new Rent Restrictions Act would “protect tenants and to control rents”.

Named after the activist who was the main organiser of the Glasgow rent strikes in 1915, the proposed ‘Mary Barbour law’ would:

  • Mean a new points based system to enforce fair rents.
  • Link rents to average wages to ensure they are affordable.
  • Give tenants the power to challenge unfair rents or submit rent reduction claims.
  • Ensure that all private rented properties meet proper standards for health and safety and energy efficiency.

Rules on restricting rent increases to once every 12 months was a key part of the Scottish Government’s Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act, which came in force on December 1.

However Mr Leonard said the Mary Barbour law would regulate the private rented sector to ensure that no one is “forced to rent a home that pushes them into poverty”.

He told the conference: “I can announce today that in Parliament we have begun the work to introduce a new Rent Restrictions Act – a Mary Barbour law to protect tenants and to control rents exactly as I pledged to do in my leadership campaign.

“The Mary Barbour law will regulate the private rented sector to ensure that no one is forced to rent a home that pushes them into poverty or falls below the standards needed to protect their physical and mental health and well-being.”

Mr Leonard told activists that it was a previous Labour-led administration at Holyrood which introduced Scotland’s “world-beating” homelessness legislation.

“I have secured a commitment from the Scottish Government to review not only the scale of rough sleeping in Scotland but to consider a total ban on winter evictions.”

Richard Leonard

He said: “We have an old fight on our hands. Social ills we thought had been dealt with once and for all, are back thanks to Tory austerity.

“The weather of the last few weeks has been atrocious but for those of us in this hall we have, I expect, been lucky enough to close our front doors and stay warm.

“But imagine not having that option imagine having to sleep rough on the streets, the streets of this city, or any other on a hard, frozen pavement or in a shop doorway.

“Too many people don’t have to imagine it. Rough sleeping is all too real. But this party knows that it doesn’t have to be this way.

“It was Labour in the Scottish Parliament that introduced world-beating homelessness legislation.

“But through the years of Tory austerity and brutal welfare cuts, and the SNP complacency rough sleeping is on the rise again.

“So tackling the scandal of homelessness, rough sleeping, soaring rents, too few affordable homes lies at the very heart of our plans to change Scotland.

“I have secured a commitment from the Scottish Government to review not only the scale of rough sleeping in Scotland but to consider a total ban on winter evictions.”

The Labour leader also outlined how local government pension funds could be used to boost local house building.

Investing in social housing, he said, is a “logical step” for these funds which are already divesting their investments from equities and looking for low risk, long term investment opportunities.

“Building more public homes, tackling rip-off rents and agency fees will create better homes for bringing up our children.”

Richard Leonard

Mr Leonard added: “I passionately believe a home is a basic fundamental human right. That’s why a Scottish Labour government would ensure access to a safe, secure, habitable, and affordable home.

“It is a government’s obligation to the people to guarantee that everyone can exercise this right to live in security, peace, and dignity.

“But almost one-in-ten households in Scotland are currently waiting for public housing. In this city alone over seven thousand households are on the waiting list.

“When Scottish Labour was last in power we built 61,000 homes for social rent in Scotland.

“And when we gain power again, we will build again. Not only by funding local housing associations not only by stimulating housing co-operatives which we will do, but by restoring powers to local councils as well.

“So let me be clear, under a future Scottish Labour government we will start building council houses again.

“Building more public homes, tackling rip-off rents and agency fees will create better homes for bringing up our children.

“It will reduce the cost-pressures of housing, and it will provide a supply of sheltered housing too which will be in growing demand with our ageing population.

“And, of course, by building more homes we can boost local economies and generate local jobs. But we need it to be funded in an open and transparent way.

“Pension fund investments seek low risk investments with a reasonable return, making them perfect for long-term finance projects.

“Scottish local government pension funds hold forty two billion pounds worth of assets. So investment in public housing is a logical next step.

“What is needed then is the political will to secure the economic transformation that Scotland needs.”