Scottish Labour leader to bring forward new rent control law

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Labour in Scotland will try to change the law to introduce rent restrictions to protect tenants in the private sector, new leader Richard Leonard will announce.

In his keynote speech to the Scottish Labour conference – his first since taking charge of the party in November – the left wing MSP will set out plans to introduce legislation on this at Holyrood.

This would be the Mary Barbour law, named after the activist who was the main organiser of rent strikes in the Govan area of Glasgow in 1915.

As well as bringing in rent control legislation, Mr Leonard will also promise Labour in power at Holyrood would increase the number of council houses that are built – and will also suggest that local government pension funds could invest cash to help pay for this.

He will recall it was a previous Labour-led administration at Holyrood which introduced Scotland’s “world-beating” homelessness legislation.

But Mr Leonard will tell the conference: “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.

“And 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.”

During the Scottish Labour leadership campaign last autumn, Mr Leonard argued in favour of rent controls.

He will add: “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 will tell how he “passionately believes a home is a basic fundamental human right”.

The former trade union organiser will tell party activists in Dundee: “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 10 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 £42 billion worth of assets. So investment in public housing is a logical next step.”

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