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Housing (Shorthold Tenancies)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th May 1976.

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4.47 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. In February of this year the Government published figures showing that at the end of 1974 the total housing stock in this country consisted of 19,625,000 dwellings but that at the same time the total number of households was only 18,900,000. This shows that we now have a surplus of 725,000 dwellings. We ought to take into account commercial properties with potential for part-residential letting and private properties which could reasonably be divided into self-contained units but which are not at present on the market. Taking those properties into account as well, I suppose that we have over 1 million empty or unused but potentially usable residential properties in Great Britain as a whole.

Although many of these properties are in the wrong place and many are below acceptable standards, clearly we could be making much better use of our existing housing stock. I do not think that is a matter of controversy. Homelessness and inadequate housing may be due to shortage of financial resources either for rent or home improvement, but insofar as they are due to a physical shortage of accommodation, the problems are of our own making. In Kensington—and I know this is so in many other districts in Central London and, I believe, in many of our major cities—we have thousands of empty houses and flats. We also have thousands of families who ought to be better housed.

I speak of Kensington because it is the constituency I have the honour to represent, and also because it is so frequently cited as a housing stress area. It ought to be easier for the parties to come together and to reach an understanding about their accommodation which is fair to both sides.

The object of the Bill which I am hoping to introduce, which will be very similar to that which the House gave me leave to introduce in the last Session. is to make a new departure in housing law to provide accommodation for those who need it and incentives for letting for those who own it.

My concept of the shorthold is of a new form of tenure which would give the certainty of vacant possession, if required, to the owner at a fixed date in the future—probably at least a year ahead, and maybe some years ahead—and certainty of security of tenure until that date for the tenant.

The question of security of tenure is one which has very often been debated in this House. I should like to make the point that many people do not need absolute permanent, life-long security of tenure. I am thinking, for instance, of young marrieds making their first home, who want something which is relatively inexpensive and which, of course, does not necessarily provide them with accommodation for the family they hope to raise in due course. There are also people who are expecting to inherit a house in course of time and people whose jobs take them on temporary assignments to places where they have no intention of settling in the long run. One can think of many other examples of people needing accommodation for periods of a year or more, and who do not want to acquire it on a permanent basis.

I believe that many owners would be encouraged to let if they knew that they could obtain possession on a certain date in the future, and that they would be glad to let. There is not a malicious category of owners of property who keep their property off the market because it gives them some satisfaction to do so.

If we may consider the safeguards for the tenant which I would seek to incorporate in the Bill, first, a property to be elegible for a shorthold tenancy must be up to standard. I would prefer that it should not just be equal to the standard laid down in the Housing Acts but that it should be near to the standard which would make it suitable for an improvement grant, if it were a question of making application for the grant.

I think that shorthold tenancies should be at the fair rent for the premises. The nature of the tenancy must be explained to the tenant, so that there is no doubt whatever as to the commitment that the tenant is making and what his or her rights are. The tenant should have the option to renew if the landlord wishes to offer the property again on shorthold lease. As a new condition, I should like to suggest that the owner should give not less than three months' notice of his intention when the shorthold arrangement comes to an end, so that, if he should wish to take possession of the property again, the tenant has good opportunities of finding somewhere else to go.

I recognise that a problem could arise at the end of the tenancy if the tenant still had nowhere to go, but the more properties that are available for renting, the better the tenant's chance of finding another place. It cannot be sensible to reconcile ourselves to leaving many thousands of people —perhaps tens of thousands —in inadequate or unsuitable accommodation for years to come while we have properties standing empty which could meet their needs in very many cases, just because we are afraid of getting back to our present difficulties in some of the cases in due course when the short-holds expire but are not renewed.

The same problem arises in the case of owner-occupation under the 1974 Rent Act but it has not led, as far as I am aware, to a strong demand for security of tenure in owner-occupied properties. Shopkeepers run the same risk, but their form of tenure is not a major social problem.

I do not offer the Bill as a panacea but as a means of adding usefully to the availability of property to rent, as a way to prevent the further decay of our housing stock, as an encouragement for the use of improvement grants, and as a facility, under proper supervision, for solving a real social need, particularly in Central London.

5.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Dean Mr Joseph Dean , Leeds West

I object to the Bill. One of the phrases used by the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) indicates the difference between my own thoughts, and perhaps my own party's thoughts, and those of the party to which the hon. Member belongs. He said that many people do not need security of tenure. I submit that there are many people who need the security of tenure that the present Labour Government gave them.

Photo of Sir John Hall Sir John Hall , Wycombe

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Do I understand correctly that the hon. Member is not opposing the Bill?

Photo of Mr Joseph Dean Mr Joseph Dean , Leeds West

I said that I object to the Bill.

Photo of Sir John Hall Sir John Hall , Wycombe

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought the hon. Member said that he was not objecting.

Photo of Mr Joseph Dean Mr Joseph Dean , Leeds West

I made it quite clear at the beginning that I was objecting.

At the last General Election, and the preceding one, it was quite an important plank of our platform that we would give security of tenure in the private sector and extend it to cover all facets of rented property in the private sector. I can see this Bill only as smashing a large hole in that very necessary legislation.

I believe that any fresh housing legislation dealing with the rented sector at present would only complicate what is already a very complicated situation. The present Secretary of State has already set in being a rent review committee to look into the whole aspect of private rented accommodation, to submit its findings to this House in a Bill designed to regularise and simplify matters, and to remove some of the very grave anomalies that exist.

The hon. Member said that many properties are empty, but I submit that there is a better method of dealing with them than by removing security of tenure and making them open to market forces. Under the present Government, over 40 local authorities are, with Government backing, making a very serious effort to deal with this problem by leasing private property and then re-renting it, either on an individual basis or to housing associations or to housing corporations. That is a much better way of doing it.

The hon. Member, in moving the Bill, looked at the private landlord through rather rose-coloured glasses. If the private landlords, before the existing housing legislation was brought in, had in the main behaved reasonably to tenants in the stress areas —and the Bill is concerned with areas where there is a housing shortage and with very high rents —there would never have been any need to provide security of tenure. But we knew what was going on in the stress areas. There was harassment of tenants. there was victimisation, and in some parts of London evictions in the stress areas became almost the order of the day.

I submit that if the Bill were to be accepted and finally moulded into an Act, it would have the very opposite effect to that which the hon. Member thinks it would achieve, that is, to provide more rented accommodation and to give people a chance of rented property in the private sector. I believe that, on the contrary,

it would make it much more difficult, and that the removal of the security of tenure enjoyed by tenants in the private sector would be a grievous step backward. I could not possibly support it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business): —

The House divided: Ayes 202, Noes 161.

Division No. 147.]AYES[5.0 p.m.
Adley, RobertGoodhew, VictorMitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)Moate, Roger
Awdry, DanielGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)Molyneaux, James
Bain, Mrs MargaretGray, HamishMonro, Hector
Baker, KennethGrimond, Rt Hon J.Montgomery, Fergus
Banks, RobertGrist, IanMoore, John (Croydon C)
Beith, A. J.Grylls, MichaelMorgan, Geraint
Bell, RonaldHall, Sir JohnMorris, Michael (Northampton S)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)Hall-Davis, A. G. F.Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Benyon, W.Hampson, Dr KeithMudd, David
Berry, Hon AnthonyHarvie Anderson, Rt Hon MissNeave, Airey
Biffen, JohnHawkins, PaulNelson, Anthony
Biggs-Davison, JohnHayhoe, BarneyNewton, Tony
Blaker, PeterHeseltine, MichaelNormanton, Tom
Boscawen, Hon RobertHiggins, Terence L.Nott, John
Bottomley, PeterHolland, PhilipOnslow, Cranley
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Hooson, EmlynOppenheim, Mrs Sally
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyPage, John (Harrow West)
Brittan, LeonHowell, David (Guildford)Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby).
Brocklebank-Fowler, C.Hunt, JohnPardoe, John
Brotherton, MichaelHurd, DouglasParkinson, Cecil
Buchanan-Smith, AlickHutchison, Michael ClarkPenhaligon, David
Budgen, NickIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)Peyton, Rt Hon John
Burden, F. A.Jenkin, Rt Hon P.(Wanst'd & W'dt'd)Raison, Timothy
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Jessel, TobyRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Carson, JohnJohnson Smith, G. (E Grins[...]ead)Rees-Davies, W. R.
Chalker, Mrs LyndaJones, Arthur (Daventry)Reid, George
Channon, PaulJopling, MichaelRenton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRenton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Clark, William (Croydon S)Kershaw, AnthonyRifkind, Malcolm
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Kimball, MarcusRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Cockcroft, JohnKing, Evelyn (South Dorset)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)King, Tom (Bridgwater)Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Cope, JohnKitson, Sir TimothyRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Cormack, PatrickKnight, Mrs JillRost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Corrie, JohnKnox, DavidSainsbury, Tim
Crawford, DouglasLane, DavidSt. John-Stevas, Norman
Crouch, DavidLangford-Holt, Sir JohnShepherd, Colin
Crowder, F. P.Lawrence, IvanShersby, Michael
Dodsworth, GeoffreyLawson, NigelSilvester, Fred
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLe Merchant, SpencerSims, Roger
Drayson, BurnabyLester, Jim (Beeston)Skeet, T. H. H.
Durant, TonyLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Speed, Keith
Dykes, HughLloyd, IanSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnLuce, RichardSpicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)McAdden, Sir StephenSproat, lain
Elliott, Sir WilliamMcCrindle, RobertStanbrook, Ivor
Eyre, ReginaldMcCusker, H.Stanley, John
Fairbairn, NicholasMacGregor, JohnSteel, David (Roxburgh)
Fairgrieve, RussellMacmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Fisher, Sir NigelMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMarshall, Michael (Arundel)Stonehouse, Rt Hon John
Fookes, Miss JanetMarten, NeilStradling Thomas, J.
Forman, NigelMates, MichaelThatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Fox, MarcusMather, CarolThomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Freud, ClementMaude, AngusThompson, George
Fry, PeterMaudling, Rt Hon ReginaldTownsend, Cyril D.
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinTrotter, Neville
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Mayhew, Patrickvan Straubenzee, W. R.
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)Meyer, Sir AnthonyVaughan, Dr Gerard
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)Welder, David (Clitheroe)
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Mills, PeterWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Goodhart, Philip
Wall, PatrickWelsh, AndrewWood, Rt Hon Richard
Walters, DennisWhitelaw, Rt Hon WilliamYounger, Hon George
Warren, KennethWiggin, JerryTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Weatherill, BernardWilson, Gordon (Dundee E)Sir Brandon Rhys Williams and
Wells, JohnWinterton, NicholasMr. Norman Tebbit.
NOES
Abse, LeoForrester, JohnNewens, Stanley
Archer, PeterFreeson, ReginaldNoble, Mike
Ashley, JackGarrett, John (Norwich S)O'Halloran, Michael
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N,Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Ovenden, John
Bagier, Gordon A. T.George, BrucePalmer, Arthur
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Ginsburg, DavidPark, George
Bates, AlfGraham, TedParker, John
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodGrant, George (Morpeth)Parry. Robert
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Grocott, BrucePavitt, Laurie
Bidwell, SydneyHamilton, James (Bothwell)Pendry, Tom
Bishop, E. S.Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Perry. Ernest
Blenkinsop, ArthurHarper, JosephPhipps, Dr Colin
Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Radice. Giles
Bray, Dr JeremyHatton, FrankRichardson, Miss Jo
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hayman, Mrs HeleneRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Heffer, Eric S.Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Buchan, NormanHowell, Rt Hon DenisRooker, J. W.
Buchanan, RichardHoyle, Doug (Nelson)Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Hughes. Robert (Aberdeen N)Sedgemore, Brian
Canavan, DennisHughes, Roy (Newport)Selby, Harry
Cant, R. B.Hunter, AdamSilverman, Julius
Carmichael, NeilIrvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)Skinner, Dennis
Carter-Jones, LewisJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Small, William
Cartwright, JohnJohnson, Walter (Derby S)Snape, Peter
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Spearing, Nigel
Cohen, StanleyKaufman, GeraldSpriggs, Leslie
Coleman, DonaldKelley, RichardStallard, A. W.
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Lamond, JamesStott, Roger
Corbett, RobinLeadbitter, TedStrang, Gavin
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Lee, JohnTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Crawshaw, RichardLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Cryer, BobLipton, MarcusTierney, Sydney
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)Litterick, TomTinn, James
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Lomas, KennethTomlinson, John
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)Loyden, EddieTorney, Tom
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Lyon, Alexander (York)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)McCartney, HughWard, Michael
Dempsey, JamesMcElhone, FrankWatkins, David
Doig, PeterMacFarquhar, RoderickWatkinson, John
Dunn, James A.Mackintosh, John P.White, Frank R. (Bury)
Dunnett, JackMcNamara, KevinWhitlock, William
Eadie, AlexMahon, SimonWigley, Dafydd
Edge, GeoffMallalieu, J. P. W.Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Marks, KennethWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
English, MichaelMarquand, DavidWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)Maynard, Miss JoanWoodall, Alec
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Mellish, Rt Hon RobertYoung, David (Bolton E)
Faulds, AndrewMikardo, Ian
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Millan, BruceTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)Mr. Max Madden and
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Mr. Ivor Clemitson.
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)

Question accordingly agreed to.

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