With this we may take the following amendments: No. 56. in page 33, line 40, leave out from ' granted ' to end of line 43 and insert
' or a certificate of Fair Rent has been issued for the dwelling under section 69 the 1977 Act.'.
No. 57, in page 33, line 43, at end insert—
' (d) The dwelling has been entered on a register of shorthold dwellings maintained by the local authority and made available at its principal office for inspection at all reasonable hours without charge. The Secretary of State shall by order lay down the standards to amenities, repair, &c. which the local authority shall apply in deciding whether to approve the registration of a shorthold property. For the purposes of this section "local authority "means the council of a district, the council of a London borough, the Common Council of the City of London or the council of the Isles of Scilly.'.
No. 172, in page 33, line 43, at end insert—
' (d) the dwelling house possesses at all times throughout the tenancy the amenities prescribed by Schedule 6 to the Housing Act 1974.'.
No. 58, in page 34, line 4, at end insert
' or of any dwelling house owned by the landlord proposing to grant the shorthold, or if it relates to a dwelling which was the subject of a regulated tenancy at the commencement of this Act.'
No. 59, in clause 52, page 34, line 32, at end add—
' (3) If at the expiration of a shorthold of any property the landlord wishes to create a new shorthold for that property and he does not offer the new shorthold to the sitting short-holder the local authority may, on the application of the tenant, remove the dwelling house from the register of shorthold dwellings outlined in section 51(1)(d) above.'.
I shall speak briefly in opening the debate on the shorthold provisions in the absence of the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies). However, I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) is in his place. I had the dubious honour of being beaten by him in two general elections in 1974. I hope that he will protest against the fact that all the safeguards that he called for in respect of shorthold tenancies in his Private Member's Bills have been thrown out by this Government.
In this amendment we are asking for a few basic safeguards—not all the desirable safeguards—for shorthold tenants. The first safeguard is that at the beginning of the shorthold tenancy a fair rent should already have been registered so that the landlord cannot charge what he likes until the fair rent is registered. At the beginning of the tenure there should also be a check by a public authority as to the state of the accommodation being offered on shorthold.
We suggest that that should be done by a local authority keeping a register of shorthold and giving a degree of approval to standards—which we are happy the Secretary of State should lay down—before a property can be let on shorthold. Those are the first safeguards that we would like to see.
We are particularly disappointed that the Minister, who said that he was considering the possibility of ensuring that a fair rent should be established at the beginning of a shorthold tenancy, has not tabled an amendment to that effect. We are, of course, delighted to offer him the opportunity of accepting our amendment, thus giving him the chance to fulfil his own promise and affording some assurance of reasonable rents at the beginning of shorthold tenure.
The second major safeguard that we seek is that at the end of his tenure the shorthold tenant should have the first refusal of continuing as a tenant, even if it is only to get another shorthold tenancy of that property if the landlord intends to continue letting the property on a shorthold basis. The reasons for that are obvious. We feel that if landlords are not under any such obligation no shorthold tenant will feel that he has even a chance of semi-permanent accommodation.
Thirdly, we do not believe that it should be possible to switch to shorthold a currently protected tenant. Such a tenant should not be switched to short-hold by being placed in other accommodation owned by the landlord, whether in the same house, the same street, the same town or even the same country. That should not be allowed, and one of our amendments seeks to meet that contingency. We do not believe that any dwelling currently covered by a protected tenancy should be switched to shorthold.
If the purpose of the Government really is to bring empty property into use at a fair rent—if that is their aim in introducing shorthold—they should be able to accept all the safeguards that I have listed, since none of them would preclude currently empty properties being brought into use as rented accommodation at a fair rent under the shorthold provisions.
If, however, the purpose of the Government is to weaken security of tenure for all tenants progressively and to allow much more than a fair rent to be charged on currently occupied property—and we believe that the shorthold provisions will be able by various means to avoid the effect of fair rent registration—they will reject these amendments.
We are waiting to see the intentions of the Government, who cannot have it both ways. Shorthold is either intended to have the limited application to empty property to be let at fair rent—which the Government claim in their manifesto and their speeches—or the Government see short-hold as the thin end of the wedge for the destruction of security of tenure in the private sector and for ending the fair rent protection for the vast majority of tenants. I speak as a Member for an inner London constituency. In inner London and perhaps central London, in particular, the effect of the shorthold provisions could be disastrous.
There is already great pressure on private sector housing in London, even though a quarter of all such housing is in London. Because of high property values, the number of visitors and the number of people from other countries who want to live here for a short time, and because businesses are willing to pay high rents for their staffs, not only is housing for single people hard to find; family housing is not available. Old people in particular are under great pressure.
Yesterday I received a letter from the Greater London branch of Age Concern. It refers to fears about shortholds, and says:
As the Bill stands there is a danger that a landlord can over persuade an existing protected tenant to enter into a new shorthold tenancy with limited security of tenure. This could occur … through a move to a new dwelling or room. Some elderly people are particularly vulnerable to such apparently attractive proposals. A protective provision is therefore essential in the Bill to ensure that these tenants do not lose their security.
I can give a specific example of what can happen. Yesterday I received a letter from the Paddington Federation of Tenants' and Residents' Associations which gave an example of what can happen. It said:
Lady aged 84 living in a basement near Westbourne Grove. Been there 18 years. The landlord keeps asking her to move to ' suitable alternative accommodation along the road.' If he gets a court order because it is found to be ' suitable ', what's to stop her being given a shorthold "—
and therefore having security for no longer than 12 months?
Labour Members asked about such examples many times in Committee, but they were given no satisfactory answer. I hope that we shall have a satisfactory answer today. There is no reason why any landlord who is letting on a protected basis, particularly in London, should not, when his tenants leave, put all his tenancies on to shorthold. A landlord who is letting and using the evasions available under the Rent Acts, such as holiday letting, or through licences, will have no incentive to switch to shorthold because if he has to charge fair rents he will at least halve the extortionate rents which he is now allowed to charge.
The prospect is that in London no permanent homes for let will be on offer. Massive key money will have to be paid for those tenancies that are on offer. A tenant will be keen to have his shorthold renewed, but that will be at the whim of the landlord. A tenant will not dare to ask for repairs or maintenance to be done. Few shortholds will last for longer than a year in London. At the end of a year a tenant will face being evicted or with living on a month-to-month tightrope, not knowing when the landlord might decide to get rid of him. A landlord will have the power to do that and, indeed, an incentive to do it, because once a dwelling is empty he can apply for the registration of a fair rent to be cancelled after two years.
My hon. Friend is being charitable to the Government. He assumes that the Government will maintain the two-year registration period. However, under the Bill the Secretary of State has the right to reduce the registration period to a year or less. My hon. Friend is making an admirable case, but he minimises the dangers to the short-hold tenant.
I accept my right hon. Friend's rebuke. I am painting a picture of what I believe will be the consequence of the Bill as it stands. The Government will tend not to invoke many of their secondary legislation powers. As soon as the Bill begins to bite, the Government's attempts to convince their own Back Benchers that the measure is beneficial will fail, because of the misery and extortion that will be caused by the Bill in general and the shorthold provisions in particular.
I declare an interest as an estate agent's surveyor. I am particularly worried about shorthold lettings in the private sector. The Government's keen interest is to ensure that more lettings come into the private sector. They want to provide more homes for people who wish to rent. I do not see how that is likely to result from the proposals.
I have discussed the matter with members of the professional bodies which represent landlords and others. They think that it is unlikely that many more short-hold lettings will come on tap. The reason is clear. When legislation restricts registration immediately to a fair rent, it is unlikely that many more lettings will be attracted to the market.
Many widows or widowers who live on their own who would, for instance, be attracted by the prospect of letting to a young couple are unlikely to be attracted if they have to register within 28 days of the letting, particularly since a tremendous amount of form filling is involved. Far more property could have been attracted to the market, but that will not happen. That is where the Bill goes wrong.
In the large conurbations there is already a six to eight months' wait for rent registration cases to be heard and a four to five months wait in other areas. In Camden it takes seven to eight months and in Redbridge four of five months. The reduction from three to two years will increase the number of registrations. The whole works will be gummed up by the new shortholds.
The way to tackle the problem is to allow the landlord and tenant to agree a fair rent. That fair rent must be for the duration of the tenancy and the landlord should not be able to increase that rent during the tenancy, whether it is for one year or five years, without reference to the rent officer.
Under such a system the landlord and tenant would be free to negotiate a fair rent. After that it would be up to the landlord to apply to the rent officer if he wanted a rent increase. That would attract more landlords to let in the private sector. There is a case for many more properties to be let because that will help young couples who wish to save for a mortgage. In my experience in business and as a Member of Parliament, the type of person who will be attracted by short-hold lettings is not the type who will ask for high and increasing rents.
I ask the Minister to give further consideration to that matter. I feel that current legislation will not produce the amount of property required. Many owners who have been waiting for the new legislation will now sell their empty properties. There has been an enormous amount of empty property in the private sector for some time. The legislation will not produce the desired effect. I ask the Government seriously to consider the matter.
I had hoped that the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) would speak in the debate. I am sorry that he has not done so. There was much to be commended in the measures that he presented to the House in the past. They could have had a valuable, if marginal, effect on the privately rented sector by helping it to serve a small function, and it would be a small function in any circumstances. The short-hold provisions, as he conceived them, could have served a useful function because they were designed to attract empty property into the privately rented market.
The Government's measures, far from being likely to attract empty property, will sound the final death knell of the privately rented sector. The Government have wholly misconceived the economic and financial circumstances that prevail in that sector. They have demonstrated clearly that they have never attempted to consider the housing policy Green Paper of 1977. I suggest that, even at this late stage, the Minister should look at the "Technical Volume, Part III" and the chapters dealing with the privately rented
sector. The evidence presented in that document shows:
The effect of the 1974 Rent Act on the supply of rented accommodation is uncertain. The large amount of unfurnished accommodation being re-let as late as the early nineteen seventies illustrates the dangers of relying on ' what everybody knows ' and concluding from anecdotes that the supply of furnished accommodation to rent has come nearly to a stop. The 1974 Act did not cause the supply of privately rented accommodation to dry up altogether as can be shown from a small survey of married couples (see Table IX.14 below).
There is a good deal more evidence in that document, but I shall not trouble the House with it now.
The reasons why landlords let, or do not let, are dictated principally not by the question of security of tenure, but by the substantially greater economic return that can be achieved through selling rather than letting property. That is a direct consequence of the mortgage interest tax relief, which enables somebody with a given sum to pay virtually 50 per cent. more if he is buying a property than he can afford to pay if he is renting a property. That lies at the root of the collapse of the privately rented sector, and the Rent Acts and the question of security of tenure are peripheral factors.
Notwithstanding the financial incentive, the reason why property continues to be available to rent under the Rent Acts is that, at present, there is a large quantity of property which the owners have no alternative but to let. That was vividly brought out in the minority report of the Francis committee in the early 1970s, when Miss Lyndal Evans pointed out that the overwhelming majority of the property which continues to be let is property that is quite incapable of being sold. That property is incapable of being sold because it is not self-contained and does not meet building society requirements. The property could not have those amenities because it consisted mainly of property in multiple occupation, where the landlord was not able to obtain security of possession of the whole house. He would get an empty room here and an empty room there. He found that it was to his financial advantage to let it rather than to wait until the whole house was empty, when he could convert it to provide much more expensive accommodation for people other than those to whom he was already letting.
The effect of shorthold will be that, as the landlord gains possession of one or two rooms or a flat in a property, he will be able to let that flat on shorthold. As another tenant moves out, he will be able to let the flat on shorthold. That process will continue until he has the whole building let on shorthold. Then all the tenants will be out as soon as their shorthold tenancies expire. The consequence will be that, far from building up the privately rented sector—as Conservative Members profess to believe—it will be absolutely destroyed.
In London, accommodation that is let outside the Rent Acts—through loopholes such as holiday and company let-tings—is let at rents that no family on average earnings can afford. Much the same applies in most of our cities. There are very few properties being let on tenancies outside the Rent Acts that an ordinary family can afford.
The result of the Bill will be that a property will be let for one year at a registered rent and, at the end of that year, the landlord will be able to say—as he did in the days before the 1974 Act, when we had theoretical but inoperable protection for furnished tenants—" I am willing to let you stay on, but, of course, the rent is going up." The rent will rise not by 20 or 50 per cent., but by 120, 150 or 200 per cent. The tenant who has dug himself in and made his arrangements will either have to dig into his pockets and pay such rents or move out and seek accommodation elsewhere. In practice, we know what will happen. He will pay up in order to keep his home.
The provisions in the Bill for registration of rents—unlike the provisions in the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Kensington—will make the Rent Acts a dead letter for all future lettings, if the provisions work at all.
I am surprised that the Government have paid no attention to the criticisms in that radical journal The Times, which in its editorial yesterday, pointed out that under the Bill as it stands:
The Government have attached particular importance to providing incentives to the landlord, and have therefore dropped proposals designed to safeguard the tenant's right to a ' fair rent ' and to encourage landlords to
renew tenancies unless they really do wish to take the property out of the rental market … the Bill as it stands has substantial weaknesses. There is the risk of the exploitation of tenants, many of whom will inevitably be confused about their rights. What matters still more is that reservations are so widely felt that the scheme has little chance of survival under a Labour Government.
How right that is. It was something that the Minister could have avoided if he had accepted the recommendations put forward in Committee when attempts were made to amend the Bill. He still has the chance to do that if he deals with the matter as he should in another place. Many Labour Members would be prepared to see a proper shorthold measure that would bring property back to the market. The Minister is killing the market.
Will there be chances for landlords to exploit tenants? Yes, there will be such chances. Last weekend I visited four elderly ladies, all of whom had been living in a property for between 30 and 40 years. They lived in four out of about 22 rooms in the premises that had been let. One lady was 84, and two of the others were more than 70. Their landlord would like them to leave. He is proposing to shuffle them around so that their rooms will be on one floor. That is a sensible arrangement. They would all have better accommodation. However, when I suggested to him that he should do that before the Bill became law, he immediately lost interest. I strongly suspect that what he had in mind was to shuffle them around so that they had their new tenancies shortly after the Bill became law. They would be nice shorthold tenancies with one of the nice new agreements that the Bill makes possible—and no security of tenure.
The amendments are the absolute minimum required. I do not know whether they are adequate. I accept that there is a demand and a need for privately rented accommodation which can in some respects be more flexible than other forms of tenure, particularly for young people. The majority of private rent-controlled tenants must now be elderly people. The Bill will undermine their security. It will create the virtual certainty that many of them will be exploited in future. It will ensure that such accommodation as is now coming on to the market under Rent Act tenancies will in future be let free of control to people who probably have less need for the accommodation than those to whom it would have been let were the law to remain as it is.
I urge the Minister to think again—he still has time—and to ensure that the measure that comes back to the House from another place more closely accords with the measure presented by the hon. Member for Kensington, who I hope will speak in the debate.
The proposal for short-hold tenancies represents one of the most important innovations that could be made to help to solve our housing problems. Having listened to the interesting and sincere speeches made by the hon. Members for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) and Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann), I regret the mistrust and suspicion that exist between two great political parties in trying to deal with this innovation.
I respect what was said by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden. I know the area that he represents. Many of the problems that he experiences in his constituency are similar to those found in the centres of many large cities. I suggest that not all the problems to which he referred are necessarily to be found in outer areas of London—for example, in the London borough of Hillingdon or in Uxbridge.
I appeal to Members of all parties to try to find a modus vivendi for this type of legislation. Let us try to reach an agreement that will enable the shorthold tenancy to be introduced into Great Britain. If it is introduced with appropriate safeguards, for both tenants and landlords, I believe that it will make a major contribution towards solving some of the housing difficulties, particularly of young people, as the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden said.
In Uxbridge there is Brunei university, with a large number of students requiring accommodation in the area for short periods of time. Also, large numbers of houses are under-occupied. For example, a widow living in a three- or four-bed-roomed house with surplus accommodation has until now been unwilling to let that accommodation because of the security of tenure provisions and the general feeling that, once a tenant is in, he or she is there for good and there is no way in which the owner can gain repossession. The introduction of short-hold could radically change that situation and make possible the letting of desirable accommodation for young people, many of whom are students desperately requiring quiet rooms in decent homes in which to pursue their studies. It is for that reason, and many others, that I am a strong supporter of the Bill.
I should like to refer to the reservations expressed by the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central. He called for the registration of a fair rent at the beginning of the shorthold. Undoubtedly there are problems. One problem was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall), namely, the considerable clogging up of the system, let alone the position that will obtain when these provisions become law.
The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central rightly asks for a decent standard of accommodation to be available for short-hold lettings. I support the view that accommodation should be of a decent standard. My only concern is whether the way in which it is proposed to go about it—a register of shorthold lettings, the involvement of local authorities and the inevitable administrative action that will be necessary—will slow down the process and thus delay the time when this additional accommodation will become available.
I take it from what the hon. Gentleman has said that he is dissatisfied with the absence of any proper conditions about the standard of dwellings. Is he aware that, although they may be a little cumbersome, the proposals for the register were included in the Housing (Shorthold Tenancies) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams)? We have simply lifted them lock, stock and barrel and incorporated them into our amendments.
I am aware of that situation. The reason for my awareness—the hon. Gentleman may not know this—is that I am one of those who, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams), have sponsored the Housing (Shorthold Tenancies) Bill on every occasion on which it has been introduced since my hon. Friend first took this initiative.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he has changed his mind since he acted as a sponsor? The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), said that he changed his mind because of the weight of office. Having become a member of the Government, he realised the error of his ways because of the administrative problems that had been pointed out to him by civil servants. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us why he has had a conversion on the road to government?
I did not say that I had had a conversion on the road to government. I was appealing for a bipartisan spirit in the House to try to reach agreement on this innovation. When my hon. Friend replies to the debate, no doubt he will wish to assure me and others of my hon. Friends who supported my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington that the proposals in the Bill are adequate. I shall listen carefully to what my hon. Friend has to say before I decide on my position.
I should like to return to this cross-Bench appeal for support of the short-hold concept. Let us consider the position if the House of Commons finds it impossible to reach agreement on the conditions that should surround this type of tenancy. I suggest that the outcome will be that many young people—indeed, many single people—will be deprived of accommodation which we all know exists in the centres of big cities, in suburban areas and even in the countryside. It is to that end that I direct my remarks. I want to try to get some cross-Bench co-operation to enact this provision, which I believe is vital.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be making the point that was made on Second Reading by the Secretary of State and by many others asking for consensus on this issue. In Committee we put down many amendments on shorthold. None of them was a wrecking amendment in any sense. Whatever hon. Members who served on the Committee may have thought about some of the amendments, the vast majority were taken chapter and verse from the Bill sponsored by the hon. Gentleman. We hoped that, perhaps not all, but possibly some, even one or two, of those safeguards would be accepted by the Government, but they rejected every one.
The way to put pressure on the Government to make the slightest concession, which would have made a consensus possible, was for the sponsors of that Private Member's Bill to say to the Government and to the public as soon as this Bill was published "We shall not vote for it unless some of the safeguards that we think essential are included". If that had happened, it would have been a real contribution towards achieving a negotiated consensus, instead of the vapid remarks that the hon. Gentleman is now making. He knows perfectly well that entrenched positions have been taken up.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes the view that my remarks are vapid. They are intended to be a sincere contribution to the debate. I have been a Member of this House for seven years—for a little longer than the hon. Gentleman. Like him, I have considerable experience of local government. Also like him, and like every hon. Member of the House, I spend every Friday evening talking to my constituents, many of whom require accommodation that would be made available by shorthold.
My remarks are directed to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, and also to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction. I stand in my place in an attempt, once again, to see whether the House can reach agreement on what I believe to be the greatest innovation in housing. I accept that Opposition Members have reservations. Hon. Members on the Conservative Benches also have reservations. I appeal for the opportunity, possibly tonight, or perhaps following further consideration, and perhaps including amendments in another place, to find a way to put this proposal on to the statute book with all-party agreement so that it will stick and provide protection for tenants and landlords. My object and the purpose of my remarks is to unlock this accommodation.
The hon. Gentleman makes his appeal across the Floor of the House and, incidentally, to his hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction. I suggest that he should make his appeal primarily to the Minister. We on this side are ready to re-assess our position, provided that the Government will move on matters which we regard as fundamental to the protection of these tenants. I shall make that clear when I speak in the debate. The Government have shown no sign of moving.
Hundreds of amendments have been put down by the Government. If they had had a mind to achieve cross-party agreement on this issue, they could have put down amendments which we would find acceptable. We would have reassessed our position. That remains our approach. I advise the hon. Gentleman to make his appeal to the Minister. Only movement by the Minister, away from the Bill as it stands, can change the Opposition's position.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister has heard it, and I hope that he will take serious account of those views. I trust that the Government will regard it as a matter of the highest possible priority that agreement should be reached. There is not an hon. Member of the House, I believe, who would not agree that it is worth giving shorthold a go. It is possible that Parliament will not get the issue right first time. Some of the fears that have been expressed may or may not be justified. If that is the case, I have no doubt that the Government, or Parliament, will take the necessary corrective action. My appeal, both to my hon. Friend the Minister and to Opposition Members, is for us to get together, to put aside any preconceived notions about this innovation and to see whether we can turn the key to accommodation that is available and should be occupied by people in desperate need of a home.
Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people, and those who are not so young, need short-term accommodation. They include couples without families who do not require the typical type of local authority accommodation or accommodation in the private sector, but who would find the proposal that we are discussing acceptable. Many elderly widows need a supplement to their income to make their lives more tolerable and would appreciate the company that the advent of a young couple, or a young man or a young woman studying in their home, would provide. We have the opportunity, I believe, to make a large contribution to solving the problem of loneliness that exists among the increasing number of elderly people in the community. Those are the reasons in my mind as I speak in this debate. That is why I appeal for co-operation.
The hon. Gentleman refers to loneliness and the provision of accommodation. This matter is covered by the Labour Government's 1974 Rent Act. Under section 12 of the 1974 Act a resident landlord can sublet part of his house without fear of being landed with someone he finds uncongenial. That aspect of the Act has been inadequately publicised. People can let parts of their homes without fear of someone living there with whom they are unable to get along. In that respect, shorthold is completely irrelevant. I do not think it is suggested that shorthold is needed to cater for lettings by resident landlords.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the provisions of the Act to which he refers have not been sufficiently widely publicised. It may be partly due to the fact, as well as for other reasons, that the belief exists—it is deep seated—that once one has a tenant in one's home, one cannot get that tenant out. No amount of persuasion by hon. Members or by anyone else will change people's view that that is the case. Every hon. Member has come into contact with constituents who hold that view. It is difficult to try to change their minds. I do not think that shorthold is irrelevant. I believe, on the contrary, that it is very relevant.
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that control by the resident landlord over the tenant exists in theory, but that, in fact, to get that tenant out the resident landlord has to go to court? A dear old lady may have to live for three or four months with a most objectionable tenant.
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is those reasons—the need to go to court and the entrenched belief that even if one goes to court one cannot get the tenant out—that make shorthold relevant. It introduces a new concept. It enables people to address their minds to a new type of letting carrying completely different conditions from lettings that have been available in the past. In my judgment, people will be far. more willing to address their minds to the new situation despite the changes, to which the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden referred, that occurred under the previous Act. It is not only the details of the legislation that we are attempting to put on the statute book that matter. It is the creation of an entirely new climate among owners of accommodation that we are trying to achieve.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden said about the four old ladies. I have the greatest sympathy with some of the points that he expressed. There must be proper protection for tenants, particularly elderly tenants. I trust that this can be achieved in the Bill or through amendments to it. I appeal only for a chance to get the whole innovation off the ground. It would redound enormously to the credit of the House of Commons if we could introduce this new provision, putting aside hon. Members' hang ups about accommodation in the privately rented sector, or other reservations.
Some of those reservations are longstanding and attributable to political beliefs, upbringing or constituency pressure. We should try to rise above those reservations in order to create an opportunity to release the large amount of accommodation that I am certain exists not only in central London but in areas such as that which I represent. We should give young people a chance to have somewhere decent to live. Not to give them that chance will mean that we have failed miserably in our duty.
On the question of shorthold and how it applies to the private rented sector, I should like to deal with one or two myths, rather than hang-ups, as described by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby).
I should like first to deal with the myth that has been put forward regularly in Committee by Conservative Members in suggesting that tenants can freely enter into a shorthold agreement, and will do so, and that, therefore, because such an agreement is freely entered into by tenant and landlord, it is fair that at the end of the period for which the agreement runs the landlord should be able to bring it to an end. That is a myth, because tenants will not be free to decide whether they enter into the shorthold agreement. They will be faced with a choice of accepting the landlord's conditions for the shorthold tenancy or of having nowhere to live—Hobson's choice. If they do not accept the conditions they will be homeless.
In Committee we have often tried to get accepted amendments that would safeguard the position of tenants who now have security of tenure and who move from one flat to another within the same dwelling house to try to make sure that the security remains and that they are not forced to be bargaining with the landlord about a shorthold tenancy, and the Government have refused such amendments.
We have tried to obtain safeguards for tenants when a shorthold tenancy comes to an end by amendments that would mean that the first offer of renewal, a new shorthold, was made to the sitting tenant. We have tried time and again to get the Government to make the position such that the tenant had some freedom of decision. Many charitable organisations, such as Shelter and the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless, have said clearly that, as the Bill is drafted, homelessness will increase as a result of the destruction of security, because landlords will be able to end a tenancy agreement at the end of the shorthold without the tenant having any choice.
I cannot understand what destruction of security the hon. Gentleman is talking about. He certainly cannot be talking about destruction of security that exists for tenants now. He can be talking only about destruction of security on new shortholds, which is something that the Government are bringing in and which hitherto would not have existed, so I cannot see how it will create homelessness. It will help people.
That is another myth. If the hon. Member had read the Committee proceedings and our amendments he would have been well aware that we have tried to safeguard the position of existing tenants—tenants protected under the Rent Acts. If the Government would accept that shortholds should apply only to new lets—of which Conservative Members claim there will be plenty because there are plenty of properties which, they claim, will be brought into use—and should not apply to property that is now let to sitting tenants, there would not be the great divide between the Opposition and the Government.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will recall the statement made by the Under-Secretary, which gave away the whole game. In reply to a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Sever), he said:
The hon. Member for Ladywood starts oft under a misapprehension. He talked throughout of the tenant's option. There is no option."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 13 March 1980; c. 1136.]
What Conservative Members must realise is that what is being brought into existence is a form of tenure that runs for a limited period, at the end of which the landlord has the right to bring the tenancy to an end and to seek eviction. The tenant has only 14 days in which to find alternative accommodation or to declare himself homeless. The justification for bringing in this kind of tenure is that it is said that there are many thousands of empty properties that landlords will not let because if they do so they might in future want to gain vacant possession but will not be able to do so, and that is a deterrent against landlords letting their property.
No justification has been put forward by the Government why, therefore, we should not restrict shortholds to new lets of properties that have not previously been let or are not now let. Until the Government can see that, they are not being rational or logical in their arguments.
I should like to deal with another myth—empty property. Conservative Members seem to believe that there are hundreds of thousands of empty properties owned by private owners who are potential private landlords, in London and everywhere else, waiting for the introduction of the short-hold provisions before being let. If they really believe that, they will be sadly disappointed when this shorthold provision reaches the statute book. There is empty property in the ownership of private individuals that is not being let. It is being kept empty for all sorts of purposes.
The idea that if one gets rid of the Rent Acts and tenants' security there will suddenly be thousands of properties available for letting in the private rented sector is a myth. If there is any truth in what the Government claim about this vast bank of private empty property, why have they not yet published the empty property survey that the Deparment of the Environment has caried out? When are we to see it? When will the Government make available the evidence that they claim exists?
The other thing with which I should like to deal is the myth put forward by Conservative Members that the private rented sector has declined because of wicked Labour Government Rent Acts which have provided too much security of tenure to tenants and have prevented landlords from charging economic rents and getting a fair return on their capital. That is what Tories argue.
I am being tempted to pass remarks that would cause me to be brought to order.
That is what Tory Members argue. They say that all that we need to do is to get rid of the wicked Rent Acts, which are unfair to landlords, allow landlords to charge higher and economic rents and to get a better return on their capital, and enable landlords more easily to get rid of tenants, especially bad tenants, and suddenly the provision of private rented accommodation will increase and the decline will stop. That is absolute nonsense.
In 1957 the then Conservative Government passed a similar piece of legislation destroying security. What occurred was a greater decline in the private rented sector, because when landlords can get rid of tenants, they do so in order to sell at vacant possession prices. When this Bill becomes an Act and when security in the private rented sector is slowly eroded as a result of the shorthold provisions, we shall see a further decline in the private rented sector.
We are indeed suggesting that, and the Government have been unwilling to protect tenants to the extent that we think is necessary for us not to make that kind of statement. Certainly one of the reasons why the 1957 Act resulted in a decline was that many landlords wanted vacant possession and wanted to make a profit on the property by selling it. The idea that the private rented sector has declined as a result of the Rent Acts is nonsense. The worst of the private rented sector, especially in inner city areas, has been bulldozed away and replaced, to a great extent, by public housing.
The interventions are proving the arguments that I am making more effectively than my remarks. I hope that they will continue.
The figures indicate that the private rented sector declined as a result of a housing policy that bulldozed away many of the unfit portfolios and estates of inadequate private rented accommodation. These were replaced in part by public sector housing. However, much of the old private sector rented housing that disappeared because of the development of progressive housing policies was replaced by owner-occupied housing.
The growth of owner-occupation has been dramatic and great. The reason why it has grown and replaced the private landlord lies in the financial advantages that successive Governments have provided to owner-occupiers by income tax relief on mortgages.
In 1951, 52 per cent, of accommodation was in the private rented sector. That amounted to 6·4 million units. Owner-occupation represented 31 per cent.—namely, 3·9 million units. Public sector accommodation was 17 per cent., 2·2 million units. By 1976 the private rented sector had declined to only 15 per cent, of the units of accommodation, namely, 2·6 million.
The hon. Gentleman is about to embark on an explanation of the decline of the private rented sector. One of the objectives in the Government's mind in introducing shorthold is to arrest the decline and, if possible, to provide more accommodation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind as he continues.
I am saying that Conservative Members' diagnosis of the decline of the private rented sector is fallacious. I shall complete the statistics that I was presenting. The private rented sector's share of accommodation had declined to 15 per cent. by 1976. The public sector share had increased to 30 per cent.—5·5 million units. The greatest increase, which I would have thought Conservative Members would welcome, was the replacement of the private rented sector by owner-occupation, which moved from 31 per cent. to 55 per cent.—from 3·9 million units in 1951 to 10 million in 1976.
A great deal of the additional owner-occupation was created by the best of the private rented sector accommodation being sold into owner-occupation. If the Conservative Party claims credit for the increase in owner-occupation from 1951 to 1976, it must welcome as a consequence of that the decline in the private rented sector. That sector would continue to decline if we abolished every piece of protection in every Labour Rent Act. The private rented sector will always be a dearer alternative to owner-occupation, council letting or housing association letting until it is subsidised.
No one in his right mind—perhaps some Conservative Members are exceptions—would seek the dearer alternative if he could gain access to the cheaper alternative. It is part of the Government's policy to restrict access to the other sectors—to make it impossible to get a council house by cutting council house building, to make council housing more expensive by forcing councils to sell the best of their housing, and to make it difficult to gain access to owner-occupation by high interest rates and a mortgage famine.
It is only in that climate of scarcity that the private rented sector can flourish. Only in scarcity will anyone be silly enough to go to the private landlord to pay a higher price. It is part of the Government's package to attack the other sectors to try to prove that by introducing shorthold, which will destroy security of tenure, they will revitalise the private rented sector.
I am pleased to explain a fundamental issue that we tried to explain to Conservative Members in Committee. We tried to do so throughout the Committee proceedings, but they were unable or unwilling to listen. If shortholds are restricted to properties that are not now let to private tenants—in other words, to new properties coming on to the market—we shall be creating a new tenure in an attempt to get properties into use that are not now let to tenants.
The Bill allows existing accommodation which is let by private landlords to tenants to be transferred into shorthold when certain situations arise. That will apply, for instance, when the tenant leaves and the landlord wants to relet the same property. He will relet it on short-hold. When a tenant moves from one flat to another in the same building he loses his security and the landlord can offer shorthold. We shall have what Labour spokesmen have described over the years as creeping decontrol.
When we hear the arguments of Conservative Members, we are given to understand that the tenants of private landlords never die and never hand in their rent books, and that accommodation now let by landlords to tenants with full security will not be let on shorthold when it becomes available for reletting. Of course it will be let on shorthold. Over four or five years a great inroad will be made into the present private rented sector.
Surely there is a converse to the argument. I live in a secure-tenant flat. Half of the block has been sold off on long leaseholds. If I were to leave, the present landlords would not relet; they would sell the flat with a 99-or 125-year lease. Surely that is happening to an increasing extent. Surely it would be better if it could be retained for letting.
I am grateful to the lion. Member for proving my argument. He suggests that when property becomes vacant it is sold and not relet, or that if it is relet it will be on shorthold. No landlord would do anything other than relet on shorthold. To suggest that landlords do not relet accommodation to secure tenants under the Rent Acts when it becomes available is not true. They relet in those circumstances.
There are many landlords who would relet.
I describe shorthold as creeping decontrol as outlined in the Bill. The Bill is part of the Government's total housing strategy. The Secretary of State for the Environment has described it as a social revolution. Indeed, it is. For the first time since 1945 the Government, unlike all previous Conservative Governments, are to hang their housing policy upon a dependence on provision by the private sector without local authority intervention or Government intervention for a major provision of housing to rent. That is contrary to what previous Conservative Governments have done.
The Government, as with all their other policies, including economic and industrial policies, are contracting out. The consequences will be horrendous for the homeless, for those in housing need, and for housing generally. The U-turn will be inevitable, just as it will be for the Government's industrial and economic policies.
I declare three interests. First, I am a shorthold tenant with a three-year lease. The property is let at a fair rent. I hope to renew the lease, because there is an excellent relationship between the landlord and his tenant. Secondly, I am a consultant surveyor and trustee of an estate that owns a few properties that might well take up the shorthold provisions. Thirdly, I am a very small shareholder in a public property company. It is one of the most reputable property companies, and for many years it has owned a number of rent-controlled and regulated properties in East London. I refer to the Bradford Property Trust Ltd.
I seek to make the debate more relevant and to take it away from the foothills of dogma.
With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer), I am not sure that we were in the mountains. The standard of debate and argument was so low that it remained in the foothills. Perhaps I can part the mists of irrelevance and restore some relevance.
There is no suggestion in the Bill that regulated tenancies will be converted to shorthold tenancies. As drafted, that could not occur. The Government have gone a long way towards meeting the Opposition's negative and sterile attitude. That will be demonstrated when we consider amendment No. 117.
I should like to get into the main thrust of my argument before giving way to the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann). He made a valuable contribution to the debate. He concentrated on the problems of London. As he is known to be an assiduous Member of Parliament for an outer London constituency, he is entitled to do that. The House should not consider only those problems that affect inner London. Inner London faces a particular problem of supply and demand. The House should consider the wider problems of homelessness and of ever-lengthening housing queues.
I have regard for the views of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden and also for those of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) and his friends. However, the argument should not be concentrated on London. London may deserve a separate Bill and perhaps the Greater London Bill will incorporate enabling powers.
The hon. Gentleman has said that no one will lose security of tenure. I do not wish to lecture landlords on how to use the Bill to winkle out their tenants, but a great many ideas have occurred to me as a result of my experience as a solicitor. I have experience not only of London but of many other parts of the country. Will an application for possession on the ground of the provision of alternative accommodation under Schedule 15 be satisfied by the provision of alternative accommodation that is let on a shorthold tenancy? My interpretation of part IV, paragraph 4 of the schedule, is that it would. Perhaps neither the Minister nor the hon. Gentleman is in a position to give an immediate answer. However, the Minister may receive advice before he replies. Many hon. Members would welcome his assurance.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As he knows, the landlord would have to serve a schedule of conditions relating to the new tenancy. As a practising solicitor, the hon. Gentleman will know that winkling is illegal. Furthermore, no existing regulated tenancy will be converted to a shorthold tenancy. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that categorically.
It is a long time since we heard the constructive words of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). I shall re-emphasise what he said by quoting from the editorial of The Times of two days ago. It reads:
It is clear that there are hundreds of thousands of dwellings which are kept empty, or sold for owner-occupation once vacant, because the owner finds no incentive to let under present law. Equally clearly, there are many people seeking homes—students, transient workers, young families not yet ready to settle down permanently—whose needs are not efficiently met either by the private market or by council housing, cumbersome as it is in its allocation procedures. That much can be accepted by all but the most hidebound opponents of private renting … Both sides … look charitably on the efforts of their opponents to do the same.
I regret that the Opposition cannot look charitably on the bold and brave initiatives that the Government have taken in order to bring a breath of fresh air into the housing market. Over a period, the Government anticipate that the housing crisis will be eliminated. In January the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)
gave an interview to the Local Government Chronicle. He categorically stated that if and when the Labour Party returned to power it would—without any hesitation or doubt—repeal the shorthold provisions. The right hon. Gentleman will live to regret that undertaking. In four years, barely the period of one short-hold, many of the electorate will suggest that if they cast their votes in favour of the Labour Party they may become homeless overnight—I regret that Opposition Members are laughing. Homelessness is no laughing matter.
Although the Opposition find it amusing, homelessness is no laughing matter. Perhaps my hon. Friend would care to speculate as to why the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) suggested in Committee that he would prefer to see properties empty than to see them let under shorthold provisions.
Did my hon. Friend hear the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) say earlier that the Labour Party had not closed its mind to reaching agreement on the question of shorthold? He indicated that the Labour Party was still prepared—if further proceedings allow—to reach agreement. Perhaps my hon. Friend will inquire of the right hon. Gentleman whether the Labour Party has changed its view—I hope that it has—since the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke on the radio. His reaction might have been off the cuff.
I would gladly put that question to the right hon. Member for Ardwick if I thought that it would elicit an honest response. I shall leave it to him to decide whether he will dwell on that point.
Earlier this afternoon, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary referred to another clause. We heard two different answers to the point relating to the option to the right to buy. We heard the answer of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), the chairman of the national executive committee of the Labour Party. We also heard the deafening silence from the right hon. Member for Ardwick, which clearly indicated his dissent.
I find the Opposition's lack of appreciation of a bipartisan approach to this debate sad, negative and depressing. I find it sad because shortholds will provide the key to unlocking our wooden and static society.
Last night, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) said that every Friday and Saturday in his advice bureau he hears from his constituents, particularly young people, who wish to rent a house, a flat or a bungalow. They do not mind whether it is a council house, flat or bungalow. All they want is the right to rent something somewhere. I believe that the Opposition's opposition to shorthold provisions generally is sad, because it means that some landlords will still prefer to sell their property when they obtain vacant possession on the expiry of the present tenancy, and thus that property and that landlord will be lost to the private rented sector for ever.
It is sad that Labour opposition to these provisions is negative. The Opposition have not—on Second Reading, or in the 140 hours of debate in Committee, or on Report—come forward with any constructive suggestions as to how those poor people doomed to remain on an ever lengthening council housing waiting list will ever enjoy the right to rent.
I find the Opposition's atittude to private landlords depressing. Many such landlords are highly reputable private property companies, such as the Bradford Property Trust. Some are charities and some are private trusts. Others are individuals whose life savings have been sunk in providing homes for others. The Opposition seem to find these landlords the subject of disdain and dogmatic dislike.
Despite, or possibly because of, successive Rent Acts and Housing Acts enacted by successive Governments of both political persuasions, the private rented sector has declined. Unless short-hold provisions are given a chance to succeed, it will continue to decline. It is only right to remind the House that in each year of the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979 the private rented sector diminished by 125,000 homes a year. It will continue to diminish unless the Opposition tonight give the shorthold provisions a chance to succeed.
It is despite, or possibly because of, the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 that homelessness has increased since that year. In 1977 there were 34,000 homeless households in the country. In 1978 there were 52,000, and in 1979, based on the half-yearly figure of 28,000, there were 56,000. It is just these poor people who have increased the numbers of homelessness since the passing of that Act who would benefit from the shorthold provisions which can give them the promise of a right to rent. It is just these people of whom the Opposition spoke, when in Government, in drafting their Green Paper of June 1977, whom the shorthold provisions would assist.
I quote from chapter 8.05 of the Green Paper:
—Elderly people, often now with low incomes, who are regulated or controlled tenants of unfurnished accommodation. They may have lived in their present houses for many years. Similar people in younger age groups would normally become public sector tenants or home owners. When these tenants leave, the houses are often not re-let but sold for home ownership, bought by local authorities or demolished.—Older single people and couples without children who cannot afford home ownership. If not accepted for public sector tenancies they will need to rent privately on a long term basis.
It is these people for whom the short-hold provisions will exist.
—Newly married couples, or young single people setting up home for the first time. Most of these will be private tenants for a short time only.
it is just these people for whom the shorthold provisions will exist.
—People who move from one place to another … This group includes immigrants from overseas.
It is just these people for whom the shorthold provisions will exist.
—Members of families who split up as a result of domestic difficulties often need quick access to furnished rented accommodation, which may only be available in the private sector.
It is for these people that the short-hold provisions will exist.
I remind the Opposition that that same housing policy document said that the needs of many of those people I have mentioned would only be satisfied by renting, and under present arrangements most would not have a very high priority on the public sector waiting list. It is just for these people that the shorthold provisions will exist.
The policy document goes on to say:
If the decline continued unabated and no action were taken to compensate for the loss of accommodation from the sector, many people—particularly new or mobile households—might not be able to find the housing they need. It might be argued—though the evidence is tenuous—that this is already beginning to happen in a number of areas. To guard against this, we need to consider what action can be taken to stimulate the supply of let-tings within the private sector.
It is just for these people and their aspirations that the shorthold provisions will exist.
Amendment No. 55 is irrelevant and illogical. There is no need for the local authority to maintain a register of short-hold tenancies because any hon. Member who has read the Bill thoroughly knows that a shorthold tenant has his rent registered with the rent officer, and the rent officer himself will have a register of shorthold tenancies.
The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) spoke as a fervent supporter of the shorthold tenancy. It was interesting to note that he had no reservations at all. However, there are some Conservative Members who have reservations, and we have not heard them today. I understand that their reservations were expressed in Committee and in the newspapers and I would have thought that their viewpoint should be reflected on the Floor of the House at Report stage.
I wish to take up the remarks made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who made a strong appeal for a bipartisan approach. He said, in effect, that shorthold tenancies were not likely to work if the Labour Party was committed to its present policy. However, there can be no consensus on this issue as long as there is such insecurity connected with shorthold tenancies.
When Conservatives talk about helping the homeless and finding accommodation for people in need, they do not understand that such people require security. The majority of people seeking accommodation do not want a shorthold tenancy without knowing what will happen to them at the end of the year. Most of these agreements will be for 12 months only. People with families do not want the constant worry and insecurity of wondering what will happen at the end of 12 months. This is why there is such a difference between the two sides.
I do not doubt the sincerity of Conservative Members, but they should not doubt our sincerity. To say that we laugh at the homeless, when our views are that no one should be homeless in this country, is stupid to say the least. We want to provide decent, adequate and secure accommodation for people. That is why last night we gave our views about the need for far more council dwellings. Therefore, the possibility of reaching agreement between the two sides is minimal.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge said that it was not too late. But it is. If the Government were willing to make the sort of concession that we are seeking, they should have done so rather earlier than on Report—and they are not doing so now.
I believe that it is never too late to fall in love or to find a way to reach agreement on legislation. I am prepared to accept that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are entirely sincere. I respect his concern about the need for a sense of security for people in rented accommodation. However, many people, such as university students, do not need long periods of security. Equally, many others would be happy to enjoy accommodation for one, two, three or four years, during which time they would have the opportunity to save to purchase a home in the private sector.
They are undermining provisions that have been made over the past few years to provide accommodation and security. Many of the arguments that are produced now were used to justify the 1957 Rent Act. We were told that that Act would release a great deal of accommodation and do much good. After all the scandal associated with that Act, such as Rachmanism, the Tory Opposition in the 1964 Parliament did not have sufficient confidence in the Act to vote against the Labour Government when they repealed it. That Act was much discredited during its operation.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) said, the 1957 Rent Act did not release more accommodation for renting. When accommodation became empty, it was quickly sold off. More rented properties were sold off during the operation of that Act than in later periods. We cannot ignore that.
There is a danger to existing regulated tenancies. Although certain measures may be illegal, that will not worry unscrupulous landlords. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) pointed out, those tenants who have protection and security may be induced to move to another house or other rooms, and they will not have the same protection. They may find themselves in difficulty.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the same thing can happen at present? Controlled tenants in properties that were not decontrolled under the 1957 Act can be moved into regulated tenancies. That legislation was laid down by the hon. Gentleman's Government.
That could happen, although controlled tenancies will be abolished under the Bill. However, if a tenant moves from a controlled to a regulated tenancy, he will retain security of tenure. That is important. Under regulated tenancies, security of tenure exists.
New clause 58, which I do not believe the Government are keen on, would at least give some protection. If the Government want our support—and I do not suggest that that will come easily—they should be willing to look sympathetically at our amendments and new clauses. However, they wish the Bill to remain in almost its original state, and they can hardly expect our support.
When the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) first put forward the idea of shorthold tenancies, I believe that he suggested that the existing tenant should be given first refusal. There is no such provision in the Bill, although there are amendments to that effect. Surely that is the way to persuade us that our fears are not justified. However, the Government offer nothing to strengthen the position of shorthold tenants.
The statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) was made after the Government refused every amendment tabled by us in Committee. At the beginning of the Committee debate on shorthold tenancies my right hon. Friend made it clear that we expected concessions and would make up our minds in the light of the Government's attitude. At the end of those proceedings they had not conceded one iota of change.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I repeat that I am reluctant to support new tenancies that do not give a tenant security and protection. I made my position clear on Second Reading.
Rent is important. While agreement can be made for the first period, which will probably be 12 months, from then on there is no effective control over the rent that a shorthold tenant would pay. When accommodation is scarce, there is no equality between tenant and landlord.
The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. The rent fixed under a short-hold agreement is the normal fair registered rent, and the same statutory provisions apply for continuance as for other regulated rents.
What I am saying is that where accommodation is scarce, as is the case now, there is no equality between tenant and landlord. Because the tenant realises the danger of not having the agreement renewed, he could be willing to pay a higher rent, whatever the provisions in the Act.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Labour Government's Rent Act, which devised the fair rent regulated system and set up the fair rent procedure, gave the rent officer stricter terms of reference, which drew attention to the scarcity factor. Therefore, when a rent is negotiated by a rent officer, between the landlord and the tenant, the scarcity factor is taken fully into account.
But the important difference is that a regulated tenant has security and knows that, regardless of the pressures put on him by a landlord, he cannot be forced out. Shorthold tenants will have no such security. We shall deceive ourselves if we believe that there will not be pressure on shorthold tenants to agree to unacceptable rents.
We believe that the shorthold provisions are unacceptable. Much has been made of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) has given a pledge to repeal shorthold tenancies. That view is held by all those who are active in the Labour Party and the Labour movement. We should have been disappointed if my right hon. Friend had not made such a pledge.
We believe, as a fundamental point of principle, that there must be protection and security for the tenant. We see no reason for apologising for the fact that we find nothing acceptable in shorthold tenancies.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain to my constituents who cannot get a home, but who see homes being left empty because they may be needed in future for an agricultural worker, and homes being let to Americans rather than to British people because there are no shorthold tenancies, how that position improves the equality between the landlord and the tenant? How can he say that to homeless people and believe it?
Such words are hypocritical in the mouth of a supporter of a Government who seem determined to stop council house building and to make it more difficult for people to buy their own homes, because of property price inflation and the 15 per cent. mortgage interest rate.
As matters stand, the Bill is a charter for rogues and racketeers in the property business. If Rachman were alive he would be encouraged by what is being put forward by the Government. When the Bill becomes an Act, our words will be proved right, just as they were after the 1957 Act. When abuses come to light we shall remind the Conservative Members of our warnings and why we believe that it is necessary to introduce the safeguards proposed in the amendments.
I feel rather nervous about taking part in the debate because I did not have the good fortune to catch Mr. Speaker's eye on Second Reading and my application to the Committee of Selection to be included on the Standing Committee fell on deaf ears. So many hon. Members on both sides have studied the shorthold idea in such depth lately that I have to approach the subject as an outsider.
It will be best if I confine my remarks to what I know from facts and observation in my constituency. When I set out in 1973 on my campaign to introduce a new form of tenure it seemed that there was a need for such a new form of tenure but that it should not be regarded as a cure-all for the housing problem.
Many people, certainly in Kensington and, I believe, to a greater or lesser degree all over the country, do not want absolute, lifelong security of tenure, but want to know where they stand for a year, or two or three years, in decent property where they are paying a reasonable rent and can afford to decorate, lay carpets or make curtains without feeling that the money will be wasted because they will not be in the property long enough to justify making it a decent place for themselves.
We have seen the demand for holiday lettings, many of which are, I am sure, using a loophole to create shorthold tenancies because the law does not provide the necessary facilities. We owe it to tenants who need short-term accommodation, as much as we owe it to people who have accommodation that they wish to let, to provide a reasonable framework of law in which property can be let without exploitation or abuse. I do not think that it is beyond the wit of hon. Members on both sides of the House to get this legislation right, and we must be close to it now.
As the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) pointed out, owner-occupiers can let under the 1974 Act, and can regain possession relatively easily under that Act. But they cannot convert part of their property and make a self-contained dwelling, and then let it and relet it on fixed terms. That was a lacuna in the 1974 Act, and he, as an honest man, will I am sure agree. It should be corrected.
What is happening now to secure properties which become vacant? I am not sure of the number of such properties, what proportion are sold and what proportion are relet, but I am sure that the majority are sold, and that is probably something that cannot be changed in the short term. My guess is that those properties that are relet are not marketable because they are either so squalid as to be very disagreeable properties, or highly specialised or luxurious, and nothing that we do about shorthold will alter their position.
There is still much empty property in Kensington, certainly in inner London, and I believe throughout the country, which could be let if we provided a proper vehicle. But we are looking only at properties which are now vacant and which could be let as they stand, which could be let after some expense, or which could be let after great expense.
I do not wish to prevent the hon. Gentleman from developing his argument, but when he says that we are looking only at property which is now vacant, is he saying that shorthold should apply only to properties that are now vacant rather than to conversions or properties with regulated tenancies? Does he seek to use the shorthold provision as a means of bringing empty properties on to the market?
From the start, my object was to bring empty property on to the market, and that is still the primary aim of the Government. Labour Members have tortured themselves with the idea that property that would now be relet if there was not a change in the law would be let unsuitably to families who are longing for life-long security simply because they are desperate for somewhere to live. I do not see that danger, and if there is any such danger it will not be difficult to avoid.
I looked up some of my original notes of 1973 on shorthold. My main objective then—it still is my main objective—was to get landlords to let. I recognise that it is equally important to foresee and prevent abuse in the stress areas. But there are many areas where there is now no housing stress, and the tenants there will be well able to look after themselves if they are offered properties which they do not like, or for which the rents are unreasonable. In Kensington and in other areas in our great cities there is still a shortage of accommodation, and we need to find a way to protect tenants from exploitation or abuse.
Let us consider the snags. Labour Members are concerned about what happens at the end of the fixed period. But in our debate on these amendments we are not dealing with Government amendment No. 117, which will be discussed next. Labour Members are being ungenerous in criticising the Government for not moving in their direction when amendment No. 117 provides the concession which they requested in Committee. I do not foresee a tremendous amount of misery developing at the end of the fixed period, particularly if we arrive at the position in which, if people do not get the chance of renewing the tenure of the shorthold they are in, they can easily move to one of the many others being advertised at the time when their lease comes to an end.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) would have suggested that the rent control element should be removed. I do not agree with that in respect of the part of London that I represent, because I am sure that it would be opening the door far too quickly to decontrol, and I would not support that. But I am prepared to believe that there are parts of the country where it is not necessary to apply control. That is something that we could learn about in due course. If the Secretary of State has discretion under the Bill to deal with different regions by separate orders, it might be possible to allow decontrol of rents in shortholds where there is no tendency upwards in the level of rents. Experience would show.
I have listened with great sympathy and interest to what the hon. Gentleman has said. When the sort of squalid property that he has described in North Kensington, which he and I have both represented, becomes vacant, what does he think will happen to it? I suggest that, first, it will be let on shorthold. Does he seriously imagine that after the 12-month period has come to an end the landlord will refrain from collecting from his tenants a rent well above the registered rent? Does he not recall what happened in that very area before the Rent Act 1974 came into operation? The rent regulation for furnished tenants was a complete dead letter. There was absolutely no security for any furnished tenant. Such tenants did not dare go to the rent tribunal.
The hon. Gentleman's experience of Kensington is very extensive. He remembers a very bad time. But I do not see why there should be special pressure on the tenant of a shorthold in regard to the matter of renewal, any more than at the moment there is pressure on ignorant or foreign people who do not understand our law under the existing very complex housing legislation. I am not convinced that there is this danger, which is being used as something of a scare. If there were to be breaches in the law and abuse in one or two areas, the existing provisions of other laws would enable the Government to overtake them.
One of the features of the Bill that I introduced each year was that the accommodation to be let on shorthold should be of a relatively high quality such as would qualify for a discretionary improvement grant. Therefore, I did not envisage it being possible to let really squalid or rotten properties on shorthold, because they would not come up to the necessary standard, and the rent officer would not let them through. My Bill would have allowed only a rather limited beginning to the idea.
If we include no stipulation as to the quality of the premises, the properties let on shorthold will not be any worse than they are now. Shorthold will not lead to the property deteriorating. If the property on one day is disagreeable and the following day it is let on shorthold, it will not make it any worse. I wonder whether hon. Members are suggesting that because it is let on shorthold it will deteriorate. I cannot follow that argument. I do not see any reason why that should happen.
There is a strong case, however, for a particular kind of discretionary improvement grant aimed at the type of property which would be let in small units. This might apply just in local authority areas where there is a strong demand for bachelor accommodation, or for very small units of accommodation for students and others who are looking for the type of thing that we think would be suitable for a shorthold letting. A grant is really a loan, because it comes back to the local authority in rates over a period, and it would be money very well spent if it were to rescue properties which are deteriorating, and which sooner or later will go out of use for accommodation altogether.
With regard to the balance of supply and demand, the only way in which we shall get a really satisfactory relationship between landlord and tenant is when the tenant can afford to move out easily because there are other properties of the same sort available and vacant to move into.
I remember inner London as it was before the war, when there was not a single street without a sign saying "Flat to let ". We could work our way back to that position quite quickly if we made the necessary changes in the law, because of the thousands of unlet properties which ought to be brought back on to the market. We must try to encourage the landlords to let. This is an appeal which I want particularly to aim at Labour Members. If they are as familiar as I am with the problems of young people looking for accommodation and unable to understand why they cannot get property offered to them which they know is vacant in their own neighbourhood, the Opposition will not do anything to sabotage the shorthold concept.
I can well understand that the Opposition may feel that the form in which the Government are presenting shorthold is not ideal or that it does not meet their particular conceptions or constituency circumstances. But just as the 1974 Act was a good measure that contained certain provisions which subsequent experience has shown needed to be changed, so this Bill is likely to show, in time, that there are provisions in it that will, in the light of experience, need to be changed.
I am not trying to take from Opposition Members the right to criticise or amend, but I implore them to say now that they will accept the shorthold idea in principle and that they will change it only if experience shows that certain changes are needed. I ask them not to damage the concept so that landlords are afraid to let. We do not want landlords to feel that there is a political risk in letting to a tenant on a new form of tenure. There will be nervousness anyway about a new form of tenure, but if the Labour Party makes shorthold impossible because it intends to enfranchise tenants retrospectively or change the nature of the law so as to damage landlords who have entered into these leases, it will deprive people of decent accommodation which should be offered to them and which could so easily be offered to them.
When the Opposition spokesman deals with this issue, I hope that he will say plainly what the Labour Party would wish to change and will say categorically that there is no question of the Labour Party retrospectively altering the law on shorthold so as to catch landlords who have let. Let the Opposition by all means change the law on future letting following a change of Government in due course but I urge them, at this point, not to damn the whole idea and keep people out of homes which they desperately wish to move into.
All my hon. Friends will have appreciated what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams), to whom the credit for this part of the Bill is really due. If it had not been for the enterprise and creative skill shown by my hon. Friend when we were in opposition and his tenacity in introducing a Private Member's Bill year after year, we might not have these important provisions in the Bill.
I also think that the whole House will have noted what my hon. Friend said. Those of us who have been in Standing Committee F for three months or more have listened to many hours of debate on the shorthold proposals. The Opposition view was that had my hon. Friend been on that Committee and heard our shorthold proposals he would have rejected them root and branch. The speech that my hon. Friend has just made demonstrates that that is by no means his position.
My hon. Friend has, quite rightly, indicated that our provisions are in accordance with his own concept of shorthold. He has also said that it is now incumbent upon the Opposition—our having introduced those safeguards, which I shall speak of shortly—not to wreck shorthold but to give it a fair wind. We are grateful to my hon. Friend for making that clear.
Throughout the passage of this Bill we have recognised that if we could achieve a bipartisan approach to the issue of shorthold it would be in the national housing interest. For that reason I wholly endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). We have certainly tried to do all that we can to further that objective by trying to reach an accommodation that is consistent with creating a statutory framework in which shorthold can get off the ground.
Unhappily, in Committee it became apparent that though the Opposition talked about safeguards in almost every other breath they were less concerned with safeguards than with trying to prevent shorthold getting off the ground at all. The Opposition amendments have been characterised by an attempt to create a succession of obstacles to those who wish to make accommodation available for shorthold purposes. The Opposition attitude has also been characterised by an important new amendment, which was not part of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington. It has been characterised by moves that try to restrict the numbers of dwellings that might be made available for shorthold purposes.
The Opposition suggest that we introduced shorthold on the basis that it is shorn of safeguards. That is nonsense. Some people outside the House and perhaps some hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall), feel that the safeguards are such that they will have a considerable effect on the number of dwellings available for shorthold purposes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge was right to ask me to set out clearly the safeguards in the Bill as it stands and in an amendment that we hope to have time to discuss.
The safeguards cover the salient features that affect shorthold tenants. First, we have made it a legal impossibility to convert an existing regulated tenancy to a shorthold. That safeguard was not in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, and I know that he welcomes the additional safeguards.
Secondly, we have introduced compulsory rent registration for shortholds. That has never appeared in any Labour Rent Act. It is a new safeguard for tenants.
Will the Minister therefore move an amendment to case 19 to prevent a court granting an order for possession if the landlord has been collecting more than the registered rent? As with furnished tenancies, landlords often collect rents that are way in excess of the registered rent because the tenant does not dare to take action. There is nothing to prevent a landlord from gaining possession when he has collected two or three times the registered rent.
If a landlord fails to comply with the obligation to register a rent within 28 days he incurs the serious penalty of finding that the tenant is a fully protected Rent Act tenant with two successions. Nothing could be a stronger deterrent than that. The hon. Gentleman refers to a landlord who registers a rent and in a backhand way collects additional funds. One of the other important safeguards in the Bill is that the shorthold tenant is a protected tenant in the same way as a tenant under the 1977 Rent Act. Exactly the same protection is accorded to the shorthold tenant in such circumstances as to any other Rent Act tenant when a rent is registered and the landlord tries to abuse the amount of rent secured.
I accept that such a tenant will be able to recover up to one year's rent, but he will not have security of tenure. At the end of 12 months of letting under a shorthold the landlord can say to the tenant "I shall let you stay on, but I want twice or three times the rent." If the tenant agrees and pays the landlord much more rent, the tenant will be a shorthold tenant thereafter, with no security of tenure and paying an unregistered rent. Can the Minister assure the House that that is not correct, because that is what the Bill appears to provide?
The Rent Act 1977 will apply equally to shorthold tenants. If a shorthold tenant continues in a short-hold letting by agreement or because no decision is made by the landlord to obtain vacant possession, the same provisions will apply. However, I shall examine the matter. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman and make my reply available to the House.
My understanding of the provisions in the Rent Act 1977 is that a shorthold tenancy is regarded as a suitable alternative tenancy. That will enable a large number of landlords to get their tenants out of regulated tenancies and into shorthold tenancies. I should welcome an assurance on that.
I shall be glad to deal with that point also. We have introduced compulsory rent registration, which has not been a feature of any previous Rent Act legislation. That is an important point of perspective in respect of that safeguard. During the currency of a shorthold, tenants will have the same statutory protection as other Rent Act protected tenants. That relates to the points raised by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann). It confers greater safeguards on the question of over-payment than those contained in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington.
We are about to introduce another important safeguard, in the shape of amendment No. 117, which will provide a further minimum period of one year's security if a landlord does not exercise his right of repossession at the end of the first shorthold term.
I thank my hon. Friend for tabling that amendment, for which my hon. Friends and I have pressed. Will he lay out the three alternatives that face a tenant at the end of the shorthold, so that the position is made absolutely clear? There has been rumour and counter-rumour, and anxiety has been expressed outside the House.
I shall be glad to do so, but briefly, because I am conscious that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) wishes to reply.
The position at the end of a shorthold is that either the landlord exercises his rieht to gain possession under case 19— the new shorthold mandatory repossession case under the Rent Act—or does nothing. In that case, amendment No. 117 will ensure that the tenant has full Rent Act security for a further year, and the landlord will not be able to apply to the court under case 19 to regain possession until one year after the expiry of the shorthold term. Alternatively, the landlord may have given the tenant a new agreement. In those circumstances the landlord would not be able to use case 19 to regain possession until a year after the end of the original shorthold term, or, if the agreement is for a period longer than one year, until the end of that period. I hope that that is helpful to my hon. Friend.
I turn to the points raised by the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley). He referred to the registration of rent at the outset of a shorthold. That question was raised in Committee, when I said that I would consider the matter. It has proved difficult to devise a way to achieve the automatic registration of a fair rent at the outset of a shorthold without making shorthold excessively complicated. That is clearly not in the interests of either landlords or tenants. We have not yet been able to devise a satisfactory amendment. I am still considering that problem, and I hope to introduce an amendment in another place.
The Opposition have clearly found equal difficulty, and their amendment does not solve the problem either. It does not achieve the results that they intended, namely, to ensure that no more than the fair rent is paid at the outset of shorthold. There is no requirement in section 69 of the Rent Act 1977 that a landlord who has been issued with a certificate of fair rent is restricted to that fair rent when and if he lets the property. Obviously, both sides of the House are in some difficulty on that matter. I shall continue to study the problem and introduce an amendment at a later stage.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. There are one or two aspects of The Times leader that are wrong, and that is one of them. The fair rent system applies for initial lettings where no rent has been registered—if a rent has been registered only that rent can be applied—and where, under the Bill, the landlord has to apply within 28 days. We are concerned about the gap between the application and the registration of the rent.
I turn now to the other Opposition amendments. The Opposition have asked for a register of all shortholds. As the amendment is drafted, no one will be able to let on shorthold until the property is on a register. It would mean that local authorities would have to compile registers of shortholds; it would presumably involve inspecting all the properties that might become available for shorthold; and it would certainly take months, possibly years, before that happened. I think that that would be a serious impediment to getting the shorthold scheme under way.
As for standards, the amendment tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton), which he did not move, relates to what was in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington. It is suggested that there should be a special standard for shorthold properties before they can become available. If the standard for shorthold dwellings in accordance with the amendments were applied, 300,000 publicly rented dwellings would not be available for renting and 600,000 privately rented dwellings would fall outside the standard. It does not seem sensible when people want short-term accommodation, to apply a standard that does not apply to long-term rented accommodation in either the public or the private sector.
Finally, I come to amendment No. 58, to which the Opposition attach the greatest significance. That is the amendment that says that no dwelling shall be made available for shorthold if it was a regulated tenancy at the coming into operation of the Bill.
We have heard a great deal about the safeguards proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington. This safeguard at no time features in the Bills that he brought forward. This so-called safeguard is proposed by the right hon. Members for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman). Let us make no mistake about it: this is the Labour Opposition's requirement for shorthold. The effect, as the House will be aware, would be to take out of potential availability for shorthold a large number of dwellings—the total number of dwellings with regulated tenancies at the commencement of this measure. We see no case for that. At the moment, if a dwelling is regulated there is no way in which it can be converted into a shorthold, for the reasons that I have explained. It is a legal impossibility.
The effect of what the Opposition are asking for by incorporating the amendment will be that if a regulated tenancy becomes vacant, rather than helping the interests of those who want rented accommodation, we shall make them worse. We shall be denying the owner of that property the ability to let it on a short-term basis. He will have a direct incentive—an even greater incentive than he has now—to sell that property. The effect of the amendment would be to diminish the available rented stock even more rapidly than it is going now. If ever there were clear evidence that the motivation of the Opposition is to reduce the available numbers of shortholds to the smallest possible, it lies in amendment No. 58.
It is a great sadness that, in terms of housing policy nationally, we have not so far been able to establish a bipartisan approach to shortholds. The Government have bent over backwards to include all reasonable safeguards on the short-hold scheme. In amendment No. 117 we have brought forward a further safeguard. We have now moved our position still further. I think that it now lies firmly with the Opposition to move their position and to make clear whether they are out to wreck shorthold or are genuinely prepared to see whether we can get a new source of short-term accommodation in the private sector for those who desperately need it.
On Second Reading the Opposition deliberately made no statement about their attitude to short-hold, other than a holding statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for
Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hatters-ley), in which he said:
If the Minister wants the co-operation of both sides of the House, and if he wants shortholds to be given a fair wind, as he describes it, the safeguards which have previously been included in shorthold Bills must be included in this Bill, and certainly his power to de-register shorthold tenancies must be removed. If he feels unable to do that, short-hold landlords should not enter into agreements in the belief that a future Labour Government would continue with this policy."—[Official Report, 15 January 1980; Vol. 976, c. 1475.]
Those were my right hon. Friend's remarks at the outset of Parliament's consideration of the Bill, and when the Standing Committee began consideration of the shorthold provisions on 11 March I repeated clearly the attitude of the Opposition. I said:
Our position at the end of clause 54 will depend on the Government's reaction to our amendments. I make that clear."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 11 March 1980; c. 974.]
In Committee, we debated shorthold for 11 hours, over five sittings. The official Opposition moved a series of amendments to provide what we regarded as the minimum safeguards for shorthold tenants. Many of those amendments were word-for-word passages from Bills introduced by the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams). Every one of those amendments was defeated by Government Members in the Committee. All the safeguards that we sought to insert, many of them word-for-word safeguards endorsed by the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) when they put their support to those policies, were obediently voted down by Conservative Members.
The shorthold tenancy emerged from those 11 hours of debate in Committee as a serious menace to private tenants. We hoped, even so, that the Government would bring in safeguard amendments to improve the position of shorthold tenants. We made it clear that if that were possible we might be in a position to reassess the attitude that I had stated on behalf of the Opposition. I have to say that the Government have hardly moved at all. They moved one amendment in Committee, which prevented the worst kind of winkling, though, as I shall demonstrate, other forms of winkling remain possible. They have put down one amendment on Report to safeguard the shorthold tenant in only one situation of vulnerability. All the other situations of vulnerability, to which I shall refer shortly, remain. The position, therefore, is almost as bad as ever.
That is the opinion not only of the official Opposition. Westminster city council, controlled by the Conservative Party and administering an area with particular problems related to private tenancy, held a special meeting on Monday last week and passed an emergency resolution dealing with shorthold. The resolution stated the council's misgivings about shorthold as it emerged from the Standing Committee. The council's principal objection—I shall come to this again—was that only empty properties should be eligible after a certain date—for example, the operative date of the Act—for the granting of shorthold tenancies. That was stated in a resolution moved at a special emergency meeting of the Conservative-controlled Westminster city council, which faces precisely the problems which the hon. Member for Kensington discussed when he advocated short-hold tenancy, and he repeated that advocacy in his remarks today.
The shorthold concept as it exists in the Bill is not the concept that was to be found in the Bills introduced by the hon. Gentleman. It now falls into place as part of the Government's attack on private tenants. Shorthold tenancies, as they emerge from this Bill, will be nasty, brutish and short.
There will be no genuine security for the shorthold tenant. After one year of tenancy it will be possible for the landlord to remove the shorthold tenant at three months's notice. After one year's tenancy the shorthold tenant will have three months' tenancy if that is what the landlord decides he should have.
The tenant will have theoretical rent rights under the Rent Acts. The Minister made much of the tenant having what he described as Rent Act protection, but that protection will only be theoretical, because when the shorthold tenant comes to the end of his tenancy and moves on to what we describe as the shorthold successor tenancy, he will have the choice of agreeing—although that word is peculiar in the circumstances—with his landlord on the rent that the landlord seeks to impose upon him, or agreeing to being evicted. That is why the Under-Secretary was perfectly right when he said that the shorthold tenant would have no option.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House. Would he care to acknowledge that it would be illegal for a landlord to seek to raise the rent above the registered rent level?
The hon. Gentleman knows very well, however, that the requirement for a registered rent can be removed by the Secretary of State by an order, without reference to this House. Therefore, the protection of registration will not exist for the tenant for any longer than the Secretary of State wishes it to survive. Following that, instead of the compulsion for registration, there will be only the right to registration. Any tenant faced with eviction after three months will not avail himself of that right to registration. Everyone knows that.
No. I have only a little time, and I have an important statement to make on behalf of the Opposition.
As I have pointed out, the situation is that compulsory registration of rents, about which the Minister boasted in his speech, can be removed by the Secretary of State at his will by an order which the House does not have to approve.
Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Kensington, have asked what the Opposition's requirements are for reassessing our attitude to shorthold. I shall tell the House. First, we should like registration of the fair rent at the beginning of the tenancy. That is something that the Minister says is not possible. If it is not possible, I would say that it is better not have a shorthold tenancy without it.
I am delighted about that, but during the course of the Bill so far the Minister has tabled about 300 amendments which he has found possible. This must be a particularly difficult amendment to table. That being so, this is a serious flaw in the whole shorthold context.
Secondly, we ask for a right of first refusal of renewal of the shorthold tenancy. Thirdly, we ask for a written agreement of shorthold tenancy to be deposited with the rent officer. Fourthly, we ask for statutory protection for the evicted shorthold tenant under the homeless persons legislation. Fifthly, we ask for the prevention of winkling—that means the prevention of a situation in which a landlord can persuade a protected regulated tenant to move into another property which he owns under a shorthold tenancy.
We moved amendments to that effect, and the Government rejected them. We asked for proper amenities of the sort that the hon. Member for Kensington was talking about. We asked also that the provision should apply only to empty properties. That is a demand that is made also by the Conservative-controlled Westminster council.
We advanced all these arguments in Committee during 11 hours of debate. After those proceedings we waited to see what the Government would do. The hon. Member for Uxbridge made an appeal to the Opposition. We responded to the sentiments of that appeal even before he made it. When we were asked by the Secretary of State for the Environment to enter into talks with him to ascertain whether a way could be found to achieve agreement, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook and I agreed to do so. We met the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister and had talks with them.
The Government would not budge from the position that they had taken in Committee. The Minister said this evening that the Government did all that they could to secure an agreement. They did all that they could except change their position. We cannot agree to the short-hold tenancy as it exists in the Bill.
When pressed in Committee, the Minister said that shortholds would come for three sorts of property. The first of these was new build. The Minister said that there might be developers who would build new properties for letting under shorthold. We doubt that. Secondly, the Minister said that he believed that empty properties not previously let would come forward for shorthold. That is very much the point that the hon. Member for Kensington made. Thirdly, he said that properties which were currently regulated would fall vacant and would be turned by the landlord into shorthold tenancies.
It requires some imagination to believe that property speculators will build new property to let under shorthold. As for the letting of currently empty properties, the Small Landlords Association said that
the shorthold concept would not achieve the aim of increasing the supply of rented accommodation.
The Centre for Policy Studies, which I believe has some réclame and support in the Conservative Party, has stated:
Proposals for shorthold tenancies are naive in the extreme. It is extremely unlikely that many lettings will result from these provisions.
I turn to the third form of property—tenancies which are currently regulated, which are fully protected under the Rent Acts and which will be converted by the landlord into shorthold when they fall vacant. That is what we believe will happen.
We were cautious about the original concept of shorthold as a means of bringing currently empty properties on to the market. The hon. Member for Kensington has told the House that he was excluded by the Government from the Committee that considered the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman knows that it is the Government who decide which Conservative Members sit in Committee. The hon. Gentleman told us, in what I thought was a rather sad speech, that his main object was to get landlords to let. That is very different from what the shorthold provision is turning into. It is developing into a means of converting fully protected properties into properties that will have all protection removed from them. The Government's scheme steals the name of short-hold for another purpose entirely. It is a deliberate device to end security of tenure and rent control for all private tenancies. The tenant will be at the mercy of the landlord. He will be able to tell the tenant to pay up or get out. In addition, he will be able to say "Pay up, and then get out ". All private tenants should know that the shorthold proposal will make them the target of the Tory Government's attack on private tenants.
The Bill is not only a landlord's charter, but is a sharks' charter. The provision represents the most dangerous attack on private tenants that has been made for 60 years.
I shall repeat the pledge that I made on behalf of the Labour Party. At the outset of these debates, the Labour Party had considerable misgivings about the shorthold provisions. However, we felt that our most constructive course of action would be to propose amendments that would provide safeguards. The Government rejected all of those amendments. They have ruthlessly used their majority to vote against them.
Even worse, admissions have been forced out of Ministers during the debate. Those admissions reveal that the dangers in the shorthold provisions are more serious than we had thought. While most—but not all—existing regulated tenants need to have no fears about their security of tenure under the Rent Acts, the same cannot be said for any new tenants who accept shorthold tenancies.
We share the scepticism of such bodies as the Small Landlords Association, and even the Centre for Policy Studies. The latter doubts whether shorthold provisions will create more than a few completely new tenancies. The danger is that winkling may occur where landlords own adjacent properties. Danger also lies in the conversion of regulated tenancies to shorthold tenancies when existing tenancies expire. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the new tenancies represent one of the most dangerous legislative developments to affect tenants of private landlords in the past 60 years. They mark the beginning of the end of genuine security of tenure.
The Labour Party wishes to make it clear that the next Labour Government will take an early opportunity to repeal the shorthold tenancy clauses in the Bill. Those landlords who consider using shorthold tenancies should bear in mind that the next Labour Government will give all shorthold tenants and shorthold successor tenants full security of tenure and protection under the Rent Act. That will not affect the existing rights to repossession that are conferred by the Rent Act 1974, which was enacted by the previous Labour Government, on resident landlords, on those who let their homes while working abroad, and, on those who wish to return home for retirement.
We warn prospective shorthold tenants that they should not involve themselves
in such tenancies. Those who accept them might well become victims of a 1980 form of Rachmanism. The Government are acting as if they were the official sponsors of a revival of Rachmanism. They are the enemy of the private tenant, just as they are the enemy of the council tenant and of the would-be home owner, who has been priced out of the market by 15 per cent. mortgages. I therefore call upon my hon. Friends to vote in favour of the amendment.
|Division No. 315]||AYES||[9.24 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Adams, Allen||Dunnett, Jack||Kilroy-Sllk, Robert|
|Allaun, Frank||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Kinnock, Neil|
|Alton, David||Eastham, Ken||Lamble, David|
|Anderson, Donald||Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)||Lamborn, Harry|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||English, Michael||Lamond, James|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Ennals, Rt Hon David||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Ashton, Joe||Evans, loan (Abordare)||Leighton, Ronald|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Ewing, Harry||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton a Slough)|
|Bagler, Gordon A. T.||Faulds, Andrew||Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Field, Frank||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Beith, A. J.||Fitch, Alan||Litherland, Robert|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Fitt, Gerard||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Flannery, Martin||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)||Ford, Ben||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Forrester, John||McElhone, Frank|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)||McGuIre, Michael (Ince)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||McKay, Allen (Penlstone)|
|Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||McKelvey, William|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Buchan, Norman||George, Bruce||McNally, Thomas|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||McNamara, Kevin|
|Campbell, Ian||Ginsburg, David||McWilliam, John|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Magee, Bryan|
|Canavan, Dennis||Grant, John (Islington C)||Marks, Kenneth|
|Cant, R. B.||Grtmond, Rt Hon J.||Marshall, David (Gl'sgow. Shettles'n)|
|Cartwright, John||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Hamilton), W. W. (Central Fife)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Hardy, Peter||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Cohen, Stanley||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Meacher, Michael|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Conland, Bernard||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Mikardo, Ian|
|Cook, Robin F.||Haynes, Frank||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Cowans, Harry||Heffer, Eric S.||Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)|
|Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)||Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)|
|Crowther, J. S.||Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)|
|Cryer, Bob||Home Robertson, John||Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Homewood, William||Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)|
|Cunningham, George (Islington S)||Hooley, Frank||Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)|
|Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)||Horam, John||Morton, George|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Moyle, Rt Hon Roland|
|Davidson, Arthur||Howells, Geraint||Newens, Stanley|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Huckfield, Les||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hudson, Davies Gwilym Ednyfed||Ogden, Eric|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||O'Hatloran, Michael|
|Davies, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||Hughe", Robert (Aberdeen North)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Deakins, Eric||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Janner, Hon Grevltle||Palmer, Arthur|
|Dempsey, James||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Park, George|
|Dewar, Donald||John, Brynmor||Parry, Robert|
|Dobson, Frank||Johnson, Walter (Derby South)||Penhaligon, David|
|Dormand, Jack||Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Douglas, Dick||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Prescott, John|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Race, Reg|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Kerr, Russell||Radice, Giles|
|Richardson, Jo||Soley, Clive||Wellbeloved, James|
|Roberts, Albort (Normanton)||Spearing, Nigel||Welsh, Michael|
|Roberts, Allan (Boolle)||Spriggs, Leslie||White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)|
|Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)||Stallard, A. W.||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Roberts, Gwllym (Cannock)||Stoddart, David||Whitlock, William|
|Rooker, J. W.||Strang, Gavin||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)||Straw, Jack||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Summersklll, Hon Dr Shirley||Wiliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Ryman, John||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Sandelson, Neville||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Sever, John||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)||Winnick, David|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)||Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)||Woodall, Alec|
|Short, Mrs Renée||Tilley, John||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Sllkln, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Tlnn, James||Wrlgglesworth, Ian|
|Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Torney, Tom||Wright, Sheila|
|Silverman, Julius||Urwin, Rt Hon Tom||Young, David (Bolton East)|
|Skinner, Dennis||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)||Watkins, David||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Snape, Peter||Weetch, Ken||Mr. Donald Coleman.|
|Adley, Robert||Crouch, David||Hill, James|
|Altken, Jonathan||Dickens, Geoffrey||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)|
|Alexander, Richard||Dorrell, Stephen||Hooson, Tom|
|Alison, Michael||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Hordem, Peter|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Dover, Denshore||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Ancram, Michael||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Arnold, Tom||Dunlop, John||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Dunn, Robert (Darlford)||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston North)||Durant, Tony||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)||Dykes, Hugh||Jessel, Toby|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey|
|Banks, Robert||Eggar, Timothy||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Emery, Peter||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Bell, Sir Ronald||Falrbalrn, Nicholas||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Bendall, Vivian||Falrgrleve, Russell||Kimball, Marcus|
|Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)||Faith, Mrs Sheila||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Farr, John||Kitson, Sir Timothy|
|Best, Keith||Fell, Anthony||Knight, Mrs. Jill|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Knox, David|
|Bitten, Rt Hon John||Finsberg, Geoffrey||Lament, Norman|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Fisher, Sir Nigel||Lang, Ian|
|Blackburn, John||Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Blaker, Peter||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Latham, Michael|
|Body, Richard||Forman, Nigel||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Fox, Marcus||Lawson, Nigel|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Lee, John|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Fraser, Peter (South Angus)||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Fry, Peter||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Bralne, Sir Bernard||Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Bright, Graham||Gardiner, George (Relgate)||Lloyd, Ian (Havant a Waterloo)|
|Brinton, Tim||Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Garel-Jones, Tristan||Loveridge, John|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Brotherton, Michael||Glyn, Dr. Alan||McCrindle, Robert|
|Brown, Michael (Brlgg & Sc'ttiorpe)||Goodhew, Victor||Macfarlane, Nell|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Goodlad, Alastalr||MacGregor, John|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Gow, Ian||Mackay, John (Argyll)|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Gower, Sir Raymond||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)|
|Buck, Antony||Gray, Hamish||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)|
|Budgen, Nick||Greenway, Harry||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Grieve, Percy||Madel, David|
|Burden, F. A.||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)||Major, John|
|Butcher, John||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Marland, Paul|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Grist, Ian||Marlow, Tony|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Grylls, Michael||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Gummer, John Selwyn||Mates, Michael|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)||Mather, Carol|
|Chalker. Mrs. Lynda||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Mawby, flay|
|Channel, Paul||Hampson, Dr Keith||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hannam, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Churchill, W. S.||Haselhurst, Alan||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Hastings, Stephen||Mellor, David|
|Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rusbcllffe)||Hawkins, Paul||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove S Redditch)|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Hawksley, Warren||Mills, lain (Meriden)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Hayhoe, Barney||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Colvin, Michael||Heddle, John||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Cope, John||Henderson, Barry||Moate, Roger|
|Carrie, John||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Molyneaux, James|
|Costain, A. P.||Hicks, Robert||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Critchley, Julian||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Moore, John|
|Morgan, Geraint||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)|
|Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Thompson, Donald|
|Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Thorne, Nell (Ilford South)|
|Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Mudd, David||Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Murphy, Christopher||Rossi, Hugh||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)|
|Myles, David||Rost, Peter||Trippler, David|
|Needham, Richard||Royle, Sir Anthony||Trotter, Neville|
|Nelson, Anthony||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Neubert, Michael||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Nott, Rt Hon John||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)||Viggers, Peter|
|Onslow, Cranley||Shelton, William (Streatham)||Waddington, David|
|Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Wakeham, John|
|Osborn, John||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hllls)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Page, John (Harrow, West)||Shersby, Michael||Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)|
|Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham||Silvester, Fred||Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)|
|Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)||Sims, Roger||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Parris, Matthew||Skeet, T. H. H.||Wall, Patrick|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)||Waller, Gary|
|Patten, John (Oxford)||Speller, Tony||Walters, Dennis|
|Pattle, Geoffrey||Spence, John||Ward, John|
|Pawsey, James||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Percival, Sir Ian||Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)||Watson, John|
|Peyton, Rt Hon John||Sproat, lain||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Pink, R. Bonner||Squire, Robin||Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)|
|Pollock, Alexander||Stainton, Keith||Wheeler, John|
|Porter, George||Stanbrook, Ivor||Whitney, Raymond|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Stanley, John||Wickenden, Keith|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Steen, Anthony||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Stevens, Martin||Wilkinson, John|
|Raison, Timothy||Stewart, Ian (Hitchln)||Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)|
|Rathbone, Tim||Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)||Stokes, John||Wolfson, Mark|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Stradllng Thomas, J.||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Renton, Tim||Tapsell, Peter||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Ridsdale, Julian||Tebbit, Norman||Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and|
|Rifkind, Malcolm||Temple-Morris, Peter||Mr. Anthony Berry.|