Among the many knee jerks following the riots is the proposal that those convicted of rioting offences may be evicted from council housing.
Cameron backs plans to ensure that council tenants found guilty of taking part in the mayhem will be evicted. Ministers are re-drafting consultation documents to ensure that councils get those powers. The Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, was tightening the law to make sure that even if a rioter was convicted of a crime outside their borough they could lose their council home, something that is not possible at the moment. ''Criminal or anti-social behaviour in the local neighbourhood by a tenant or a member of their family can provide grounds for eviction,'' he said. ''The government is looking to strengthen those powers and so anyone involved in the unrest should stop and think about the long-term impact that their actions will have on the rest of their lives.''
David Cameron told MPs it "should be possible to evict them and keep them evicted". He said: "Parents have a responsibility to control the young people living in their home. If young people living in your home have been involved in the violence over the past few days, they are putting your tenancy at risk."
Some sensibly pointed out that it would mean moving problem social-housing tenants to different areas, but there is a much deeper issue involved here. The whole idea of social housing is wrong and local government certainly should not own or let housing. However much you might try to avoid it, being a council tenant is stigmatising. Being is social housing labels people in a way that depresses expectations and and diminishes the chances of social mobility.
It will be said by some that housing is a fundamental right and it is necessary to subsidise the housing needs of poor people. Well food and clothing are just as essential needs, but not many people would say that the state should produce these needs. The truth is that the state is a very bad landlord and there is no more reason that they should be in that business than that they should be making jeans or baking bread.
There is very strong competition and highly efficient supply of functional clothing and basic food. Contrast that with long housing waiting lists, poor maintenance standards and enormous tax burden in the provision of council housing. What is required is for all housing to be privately owned and available in the same market irrespective of whether you are wealthy or poor. Supply will then meet demand, subject to it not being distorted by stupid planning laws, and people will be able to buy or rent accommodation that is suited to their means and needs.
Another aspect of the eviction proposal is the collective punishment involved. Stalin used to send the families of his political opponents to Siberia after he had shot the main irritant. This was generally regarded in the west as being a bit unfair, but it seems that we are happy with the principle. Is it really right that a woman and children could be put out onto the street because the man of a house is a looter. Not in my view.
We need clarity and to remain rational. It can be no part of a civilised justice system for a person and their family to be thrown out of their home as punishment for a crime unrelated to their use of that home. The state would not get into this muddled thinking if it understood its proper role and left housing to the the citizens who own and live in them.