Rights of Private Tenants

– in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 13th November 1979.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill 4:03 pm, 13th November 1979

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to confer on tenants of privately owned property the opportunity to become owner occupiers of the property concerned, and to require owners of privately rented property to install inside sanitation whenever that property has a life-expectancy of five years or more. About 200 years ago Thomas Spence argued that the ultimate logic of the private possession of real property is that the landlord can oblige every living creature to remove off his property; so of consequence were all the landlords to be of one mind, all the rest of mankind might go to heaven if they would, for there would be no place for them here. Thomas Spence was arguing that the security that landlords have should be extended to all. Only ownership of property can be true security.

Today over 9 million British homes are private rented properties, 45 per cent. of the population are tenants, nearly 3 million properties are in the private sector and 13·9 per cent, of the population live as tenants in private property. Their rights have not greatly improved since the days of Thomas Spence. They do not have control over their own homes or immediate surroundings. Ultimately the landlord determines many matters affecting his tenant's daily life.

The Bill seeks to give tenants the same rights that are to be conferred on council tenants by the Government later in the year. It amounts to discrimination, and it goes against every elementary principle of justice not to extend the same rights to the tenants of private landlords. Not to do so is to apply double standards.

If the Bill were enacted, landlords would receive the market value for the property, with such factors as the length of tenure and improvements and repairs undertaken by tenants being taken into account when fixing the price. A discount system similar to that being given to council tenants would also be available for private tenants wishing to become home owners.

The benefits for Britain in creating a great property owning democracy would be untold. Democracy's weaknesses lie at its roots. Its failures may be found in different degrees of indifference, inactivity and unwillingness to accept responsibility. There is no better way of strengthening democracy than the creation of a nation in which each person has a stake in the community through the ownership of his own home. Equally there can be no surer way to undermine democracy than to confer that right on some tenants in the public sector but refuse to do so in the private sector. That is deliberately divisive.

Many private tenants have lived in their homes all their lives, as their parents did before them and their grandparents before them. However, they do not own one brick, although they have paid their rents religiously over three generations. The Bill will liberate many hundreds of thousands of tenants who want the opportunity to own their own homes without having to move to a different house in a different district. Where there is multi-occupation, the Bill will confirm a statutory right to establish co-operatives.

The Bill embraces different localities and different circumstances—for example, seaside landladies and resident owner-occupiers renting spare rooms. In those instances property will be excluded from the terms of the Bill. Local authorities will be empowered to determine the suitability of the Bill's powers in the context of their local housing needs. Liberals are arguing that that should apply to the Government's new housing Bill. In Liverpool, where 32 per cent, of all property is still privately rented, the Bill will create the right balance between rented and owner-occupier property.

The second major area covered by the Bill concerns the standard of property that remains in the private rented sector. There are still about 1½ million homes without inside toilets and bathrooms and a supply of running hot water. In the 1880s Octavia Hill, and other great reformers who were concerned to improve the housing of the working class, adopted as a standard the assumption that privies and a water tap could be shared by several households on the same landing. They considered it justifiable for a family with several children to live in one room.

We have moved on since the 1880s. A council tenant living in a brand new Parker Morris house has toilets upstairs and downstairs. The Bill will make it compulsory for landlords to provide at least one inside toilet. That will eliminate the appalling indignity that hundreds of thousands of elderly people will suffer this winter as they skate across ice in the middle of the night to find an outside loo. These are the children of the soldiers who were promised homes fit for heroes to live in. Some photographs that have been given to me by Shelter prove that there are people still living in squalid and totally unacceptable housing conditions.

The Bill will also make it compulsory for any landlord owning a property with more than a five-year life expectancy to provide inside sanitation. If he is not prepared to do so, it is my contention that he is not fit to be a private landlord. The Bill will create a right to have repairs carried out and for tenants to be able to undertake repairs and to charge landlords who have refused to do the work.

Such reforms and simplification of procedure have been promised for years and are long overdue. Reform was first mooted in June 1977 in the "Housing Policy: A Consultative Document", Cmnd. 6851, which stated: Local authorities have powers to compel improvements and repair of unsatisfactory housing, but the procedures involved are complex and cumbersome. They will be examined with a view to making them simpler and more effective. In August 1978, the Department of the Environment consultation paper on home improvements and repairs stated: The proposal to examine existing procedures for compulsory improvement with a view to simplification was welcomed by all respondents, who criticised present procedures as laborious, cumbersome and complicated. In April 1979 the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, in a submission to a panel of Members of Parliament examining the new Conservative proposals, wrote: More immediate powers are required to integrate compulsory procedures with grant legislation. The best way of achieving this objective is to compel owners to provide basic amenities in the same way as they can at present order repairs to fit or unfit houses. The Bill meets those requirements. It will give tenants home rule and the chance to have ownership, a stake in their community and a genuine say in the running of their own homes. Nothing is more basic than that. It also aims to provide them with basic amenities which in this day and age should be theirs by right.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Alton.