Oral Answers to Questions — Housing (Shorthold Tenancies)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1975.

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3.33 p.m.

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington and Chelsea Kensington

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for the letting of residential properties on fixed terms, and for purposes connected therewith. I think that everyone who is interested in finding accommodation for himself, or who owns accommodation which is potentially lettable, will be interested in the problems of the relationship between landlord and tenant. It is proper to declare my personal interest before proceeding to ask the permission of the House to introduce a Bill dealing with this subject.

Many people are aware of the problems of homelessness and overcrowding, yet they feel a sense of despair at the relatively slow rate of new building. I believe that a solution to the problem could be found much more readily if we studied the use to which we are putting existing property, especially in our inner cities but also throughout the country.

This is a special constituency interest of mine in Kensington, but I am sure that the problem of shortage of suitable accommodation is not solely an inner London problem. On census night there were 628,000 empty properties in England, of which some 100,000 were in Greater London. I recognise that not all of those could have been occupied simply through a change in the law; but I think that we need to take into account that there are also large numbers of potentially lettable premises which are underoccupied at present, where families have contracted in size and there are spare rooms or spare floors in houses, premises above shops, and other lettable rooms which are vacant perhaps for months or even years at a time.

Much of the apprehension which landlords feel in putting these properties on the market arises from the provisions affecting security of tenure. I do not want to make a partisan speech because I think that hon. Members on both sides are concerned to find a solution to the problem. However, I think that ignorance of the law is one of the difficulties which landlords lace and which makes them disinclined to let their houses, flats or potentially convertible spare premises. If we are to find a solution, we must attend to the real conditions and not only try to live in an ideal world. I believe that if we aim at partial solutions of the housing problem we can achieve something useful and achieve it quickly.

The suggestion I should like to embody in my Bill is that we should create a new form of tenure. I employ the word "short-hold", which is not my own invention, because I think that it conveys what I mean—namely, that for a period of from one to five years, or perhaps even for a longer period, the landlord and tenant should come to a clear arrangement whereby both parties know exactly where they stand. I think that that is all-important. During the period of the tenancy the tenant should be virtually equal to a freeholder. He should know exactly where he is and have absolute security. But at the end of the period, agreed in advance between the parties, the tenancy should come to an end. There should be no doubt about that. Should the landlord wish to let the premises again, I suggest that, as in the case of a shop, he should be required to offer first refusal to the sitting tenant.

Obviously safeguards will be required. We cannot simply invent a new form of tenure and leave it to the parties to work out the conditions. Therefore I suggest that an arrangement of this kind should be permitted only where planning permission for the premises in question has been obtained in advance. The local authority would then be able to satisfy itself that the premises were suitable for letting, that they had the necessary amenities, and that the public health regulations had been complied with.

A fair rent should also be agreed in advance so that there should be no question of breaking the present structure of protection where rents are concerned. Obviously the system would not apply to anyone protected under existing legislation. This is purely a new arrangement for the future.

I think that it would be desirable for the premises eligible for this type of tenancy to be separately assessable for rates. In that way we could be certain that they would be properly self-contained. I believe that it would also be desirable, so as to encourage the supply of accommodation of this kind, that such property should be eligible for improvement grants. However, that is a Committee point which I hope that hon. Members will have the opportunity of studying in due course.

I do not want to weary the House by going deeply into points which are merely elaborations of my proposal, but I hope that I have said enough to make known my intention. I do not believe that hon. Members, if they study the proposal closely, will think it controversial and I hope that I may have the leave of the House to introduce the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Kenneth Baker, Mr. Hugh Dykes, Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg, Mr. David Knox, Mr. Michael Shersby, Mr. John Stanley, Mr. Cyril D. Townsend, Mr. Christopher Tugendhat and Sir Brandon Rhys Williams.