Labour figures have blasted yesterday's rent controls debate, with one minister accusing Plaid Cymru of trying to "get social media likes".

The comments, one from a deputy minister, appeared to attack the concept of conducting Senedd debates altogether.

It comes after the majority of the party abstained on a vote to develop legislation on rent controls, which would place limits on the amount that landlords can charge tenants.

READ MORE: Senedd rent control motion rejected as most Labour members abstain

Labour had pledged to develop a rent controls policy as part of its co-operation deal with Plaid Cymru last year.

Deputy climate change minister Lee Waters, whose brief also covers housing, said this morning that Labour had abstained "because [rent control] is already covered by the budget agreement with Plaid and work on it is in hand.

"It’s easy to make gestures with motions on a Wednesday afternoon to get social media likes, we’re focusing on making change happen."

 

There is, however, no mention of the rent controls policy in the Government's Detailed Draft Budget Narrative, though £3.5million has been set aside for Labour's "private sector leasing scheme", part of a wider commitment of £30million made in December.

Landlords on that scheme are eligible for grants and zero-interest loans of up to £10,000 each. 

The council takes on the day-to-day management of the property, including repairs, and the landlord receives guaranteed monthly rent – whether someone is living at the property or not.

 

In exchange for these incentives, the rent price is reduced to 90 percent of the Local Housing Allowance rate.

A full report on the scheme by The National is available here.

The leasing scheme is a marked difference to traditional rent controls, which place restrictions on rent prices without grant incentives.

The National Wales: Deputy minister Lee Waters called the validity of the debate into question today. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Deputy minister Lee Waters called the validity of the debate into question today. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

Yesterday's motion by Mabon ap Gwynfor, housing spokesperson for Plaid Cymru, proposed to "restrict rents and rent increases to affordable levels and local factors", and "mitigate significant future rent increases".

Asked whether he believed that voting in favour of yesterday's proposal would have conflicted with ongoing work, or whether it contained elements that conflicted with the Welsh Government's intended approach, Mr Waters declined to comment.

READ MORE: Affordable housing crisis in Vale of Glam as 1,200 new homes needed each year

Alun Davies, the Labour member for Blaenau Gwent, suggested scrapping Plenary debates in the Senedd altogether, meanwhile.

"Wednesday afternoon debates have failed for many years to either stimulate real thinking or scrutinise govt," he said.

"I said this last year. Politics has to be more than 30 mins debate and then 1000 hits on Twitter.

"There are many alternatives.

"Reform the whole private members bill process, fewer debates with more time to contribute, more topical issues and topical statements.

"There’s been no meaningful debate on how we manage business for years."

READ MORE: Cost of living crisis deepens as rent prices soar in Wales

Not all Labour members agree, however.

Mike Hedges, MS for Swansea East, told The National today that while he understood why some in his party might have felt yesterday's vote was "premature", and acknowledged that a vote in favour would not have been binding, he was "disappointed" by the result.

"I voted in favour because I am passionately in favour of protecting tenants," Hedges added, arguing that we should learn from the dual policy of rent controls and social house-building favoured by Harold Wilson's government, as well as the Rent Pressure Zones policy in the Republic of Ireland, which stops landlords from increasing rents above the rate of inflation.

 

Carolyn Thomas, Labour's North Wales MS, who voted in favour of rent controls, also commented this afternoon.

“Rent controls are a necessary step to address the soaring housing costs that tenants in Wales are facing," she told The National.

"More and more of renters’ income is going straight to their landlords, leaving less to pay for heating and food.

"Rent controls are good for tenants, who are then protected from a soaring cost of living; good for the taxpayer, who has to pay out less in housing benefit and Universal Credit directly to wealthy landlords; and good for first time buyers, who are more able to buy as landlordism becomes less financially attractive to people who see houses as assets, not homes.

READ MORE: 

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"The Welsh Labour Government has committed to take forward the idea and produce detailed proposals for rent controls.

"I await the White Paper with interest - I’m keen that we take an ambitious approach and look forward to feeding into that White Paper personally."

Scotland's version of rent controls, which requires councils to apply, is time-limited to five years and restricts rent to one percentage point above inflation, were "timid", Ms Thomas added.

The National Wales: Ms Thomas says she is "proud" to support rent controls. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Ms Thomas says she is "proud" to support rent controls. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

"The lessons for Wales are clear from Scotland’s failure: we need one national scheme, we need to reduce the administrative burden on local government, and controls must be linked to the property, not the tenant.

"Allowing hikes when the tenant changes only incentivises evictions.

"Rent controls are a sensible and necessary step forward for Wales - and I’m proud to have voted to back them yesterday.”

Support also came from a more unlikely corner yesterday, in the form of Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds, who also voted in favour.

READ MORE: 

Conwy: Services ‘cut to the bone’ and council tax to rise by 3.95%

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She told The National today: "I am extremely worried about the rapid rise in rent prices over the last year.

"Across Wales we have seen average rents rocket up by 9.8 per cent, with even higher rates in places like Cardiff or coastal communities.

“Meanwhile average wages in the UK have only risen 3.5 per cent, and we’re facing a cost of living catastrophe with the cost of energy and food skyrocketing."

Taking care to note that she believes any controls on rent prices should be a "short-term, stabilising measure", she added: “While the Welsh Liberal Democrats would not normally be in favour of unnecessary market interventions, desperate times may require desperate measures.

“The overall solution to fixing both the housing and rental crisis is to build more housing.

"We have suffered a catastrophic shortage of housing that has been getting progressively worse.

"We must build more if we are to ever give our young people the opportunity they deserve to buy their own home."

Have you experienced a rent increase recently? Have you been given a "no-fault" eviction notice, or had to move out because of rent costs?

Get in touch! rebecca.wilks@newsquest.co.uk

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