Orders of the Day — Rent (Relief from Phasing)

– in the House of Commons at 9:21 pm on 4th February 1987.

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Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon 9:21 pm, 4th February 1987

I beg to move, That the draft Rent (Relief from Phasing) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 13th January, be approved.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

I understand that it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the second motion on the Order Paper: That the draft Protected Shorthold Tenancies (Rent Registration) Order 1987, which was laid before this house on 13th January, be approved.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I am most grateful because, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at 3 o'clock this morning I was talking about the beauties of Basildon's shopping centre. With questions this afternoon, I feel that I have already spoken enough for one day. I should not like to have to go through two separate debates on these orders. Therefore, I am grateful to the hon. Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) for having agreed to this course. [Interruption.] And, indeed, I am grateful to every other hon. Member, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins).

The draft orders before us represent minor but essential and long overdue changes to Rent Act legislation. They will restore some of the incentives for private landlords to let properties which have been left empty because of the restrictions of the Rent Acts. They will particularly encourage landlords to make accommodation available in London where housing need is at its greatest. This will benefit many people—job movers, single people and the homeless for whom private renting is sometimes the logical and, indeed, the only choice.

I shall deal first with the Rent (Relief from Phasing) Order which abolishes the phasing of rent increases for regulated tenancies. The hon. Member for Perry Barr does not need to be reminded that it was the Labour party's Rent Act of 1965 that introduced the current fair rent machinery. That Act makes no provision for the phasing of rent increases. Under the 1965 Act landlords were allowed to charge the full fair rent immediately.

The phasing of increases in regulated rents has been with us since the days of counter-inflation measures. In particular, the Conservative Government in 1973 froze rent increases. That was subsequently converted into statutory phasing, in the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act 1975. Phasing was introduced at a time of high inflation to protect tenants from paying large increases all at once. I understand why it was thought necessary at the time to do that. The 1975 Act provided for an increase in the fair rent to be payable in three equal instalments.

In 1980, the present Government altered the phasing provisions and the effective period of registrations. We reduced from three years to two the period before a fair rent could be reviewed, and made a similar change to the phasing period. The effect of this is that only half of any increase in rent can be charged immediately, the full rent becoming, due one year later.

Under phasing, I do not think that it is unfair to say that the landlord never gets a fair rent. He or she does not get the fair rent assessed in 1985 until 1986, when it has already fallen behind. When, in 1987, a new fair rent is fixed, appropriate for 1987 circumstances under legislation, he or she does not get that rent until 1988. Unfair rent would be a better description, certainly less fair than it was in 1965 when the Labour Government introduced the Rent Act legislation which introduced fair rents.

For many years private landlords and housing supply in Britain have lost out because rent increases have fallen behind the rate of inflation. Since 1970— these are important facts—private rents have lost a fifth of their value against the retail price index, and two fifths against average earnings or against local authority rents, which are not phased.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Because I do not choose to.

Inevitably, there has been a catching up process, and this is still continuing, but the annual rate of increase has fallen from 12·5 per cent. in 1983 to 8·5 per cent. in 1986.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

If the hon. Member for Fulham was here at 3 am talking about Basildon he would be slightly tetchy. If the hon. Gentleman is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he can make his own speech in his own way.

Inflation is now firmly under control and is at its lowest for many years. The abolition of phasing will make a marginal difference to rents payable, but it will help landlords to obtain a better yield from rentals, and in turn help them to carry out often much-needed repairs to their properties. We suffer from a disrepair problem in Britain. Ending phasing will not affect the ability of tenants to claim housing benefit on any higher rents, which is very important.

The second order with which we are concerned is the Protected Shorthold Tenancies (Rent Registration) Order which deals with shorthold tenancies in Greater London.

Shorthold tenancies were introduced by the Government in the Housing Act 1980 as an initiative to encourage private landlords to let property. That has been useful outside London; it has been a lamentable failure in Greater London. The key element of shorthold is that it is a fixed-term tenancy of between one and five years, at the end of which the landlord may, if he wishes, take possession of his property. That allows a landlord to enter into short-term lettings with the knowledge that he is guaranteed possession at the end of the period. If the tenant refuses to go at the end of the fixed term, the landlord has an absolute right to repossess his property. The tenant enters into the agreement quite freely, knowing that it is for a fixed term, and that the landlord has the right to reclaim the house or flat at the end of the tenancy provided he serves notice as the rules of the tenancy require.

In devising shorthold, my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for the Environment, built in safeguards to protect the interests of tenants. The most important of these involves serving the correct notice to the tenant. Before a shorthold is granted, notice must be served to the tenant in a form prescribed by Parliament telling the tenant exactly what his rights are clearly and precisely, so that there can be no misapprehensions. There are also strict rules, which I strongly support, that the landlord must follow in bringing a shorthold to an end. If they are not followed, a fully protected tenancy is created.

Initially, it was a precondition of a shorthold tenancy that a fair rent had to be registered for that tenancy. This condition does not apply, and never has applied, for any other private letting. It was a unique precondition. The statutory provisions governing shorthold gave the Secretary of State power to review the position and modify the conditions, and he did so in 1981. It was clear that the requirement for uneconomic fair rents to be registered was enough to deter many landlords from using shortholds, so this requirement was waived for shorthold tenancies outside Greater London.

There has been modest growth in the number of shorthold tenancies. They have encouraged job mobility and have been a valuable addition to the housing armoury. People elsewhere in the Western world would think that we are wasting our time debating whether shorthold tenancies are good or bad.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham

How many shorthold tenancies are there?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

There are a limited number. If I have the opportunity later, I shall give the exact number. In many other countries in western Europe people would not waste their breath talking about whether shorthold tenancies are desirable. It is simply a form of contract which is entered into all the time. It is a great help to housing in other countries.

The order lifts compulsory rent registration for shorthold tenancies in London to bring them into line with shorthold tenancies elsewhere. The order does not affect the position of existing shorthold tenants in London. Their existing fair rents will continue to have effect. I emphasise that it is still open to either the landlord or the tenants, or both, of a shorthold tenancy outside London to apply for a fair rent to be registered. It is important for the House to realise that that opportunity still exists.

The reasons for our proposals are simple. There is growing evidence that, although shorthold is used successfully by many landlords outside London, it is not used much inside the capital. The order is designed to encourage its use in the capital, where there is a substantial housing need.

Since 1980, the Opposition have been hostile towards shorthold. I have heard of the pledges given by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and his hon. Friends to repeal this form of tenure should they form a Government at some future date. They are concerned that the shorthold tenant has insufficient security of tenure. But the tenant does have security for the duration of his or her agreement and he or she can extend the letting with the landlord's approval. Such tenants have, and will still have under our proposals, the right to have a fair rent registered for the property. That right is not removed.

There are great merits in the shorthold system and I hope that they will lead to an increase in this useful form of tenure in the capital. It has brought a bit of much-needed rented accommodation on to the market, by giving a fair deal to tenants and a degree of confidence to landlords.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

It is difficult to estimate how many shortholds there are in the country, but I shall endeavour, if I am given leave to speak again, to give the exact number. I am afraid that I do not have the figures in front of me, so I cannot answer the question.

Landlords have been able to bring into use properties which fear of the Rent Act had forced them to keep empty because they were concerned that they could never recover possession. The order will build on this success and bring benefits to both landlords and tenants. We want this process to continue.

I hope that I have made clear in my brief remarks the purpose of and justification for these two orders. They will help those in housing need. I commend the orders to the House.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr 9:35 pm, 4th February 1987

The Minister, who has admitted that he is somewhat tired, has attempted to make a quarter reasonable case for what might look like two quite innocuous orders, on the grounds of low inflation and bringing more properties into rent, but the Opposition do not take the matter so lightly. Indeed, if it were not for the Opposition these two orders would have disappeared upstairs to a Committee to be dealt with one morning, scrutinised under our procedures, but not dealt with on the Floor of the House of Commons. I think that we were right to insist on this debate on the Floor of the House.

We did that for a reason. We want to send a signal to the Government and, indeed, to private landlords. It is a simple signal. It is that, however innocuous these orders may appear to be, we are not prepared to accept the decontrol of rents and we object to this thin end of the wedge approach. We want the Rent Acts strengthened, not weakened, which is the effect of these orders. I know that Ministers might argue that it is only at the margin, but it is the thin end of the wedge, and we want to send this signal to those outside this House who may or may not make their decisions based on the fact that there will at some time in the future be another Government.

People outside do believe that we have not taken on the role of a one-party state. In this area of activity, housing policy and the private rented market, people outside know that their investment decisions depend on consensus. I tell them now that there is no consensus on rent decontrol, and if they have not taken that message on board before tonight, it has to be reaffirmed here and now.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, particularly in view of the arrogance of the Minister in refusing to give way at all. Is my hon. Friend aware that on a number of occasions the Minister has referred to rent controls as Socialist controls, and does that not indicate only too clearly that, in the unlikely event of this Government being re-elected, security of tenure for new tenancies will be removed?

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

My hon. Friend is perfectly right, but I hope that we can keep the debate more good natured and good tempered even than Question Time was today.

We know from the constant requests from Conservative Members to their Ministers that the majority of them want the lid to be taken off rents. This is constantly brought out at Question Time and in the occasional debates that we have on the matter. Ministers have now started to respond to that request, and it is clear that however much Ministers may prevaricate, they too want the lid taken off rents. They have made certain commitments about what might happen with new tenancies if they were to form another Government, but my hon. Friends know the score. The ultimate purpose will be to take the lid off all rents if they form another Administration. On what the Government decontrol, we shall reimpose controls which are suitable to the particular occasion.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Rutland and Melton

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that in section 12 of the Rent Act 1965, which was piloted through the House by Richard Crossman—this section as it now is having been introduced by him on Report—there is power, by ministerial order, to take any houses out of the regulated sector? That was introduced by Richard Crossman himself.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

One of the reasons why we object so much to this piecemeal approach is that we object to the detail here but we also object to the principle of the thin end of the wedge. There probably would not be any argument between us if the Government had a housing policy. If the Government were setting out to see that housing need was met, whether to rent or to buy, in the public sector and the private sector, and that there were sufficient houses for people to rent where they wanted to live, there would not be the artificial shortage of homes to rent—indeed, the artificial shortage in some parts of the country of homes to buy—thus forcing up prices of both homes to buy and homes to rent. No one is advocating—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not advocating—that that particular power in the Act be used in present circumstances, given the nature of the housing crisis.

The Opposition see no long-term future for traditional private renting for commercial profit as a form of housing tenure. For the avoidance of doubt, I reaffirm our support for shared ownership and assured tenancies, which I declared on 19 February at columns 377–78. I reaffirm also that being another person's landlord for a crude commercial profit is an unacceptable way of earning a living.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I understand through the usual channels that we shall have much more time available to us next week to develop our case than we have now. I shall be happy next week to take on board the hon. Gentleman's question.

As I have said, it is our belief that to be another person's landlord for a crude commercial profit is an unacceptable way of earning a living. I exclude from that statement the institutional part of the voluntary sector. We want to see private tenants opting for the voluntary sector that is represented by housing associations and co-operatives, or local authorities. We believe that tenants of private absentee landlords should have the right to buy their homes.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

When the hon. Gentleman last intervened in one of my speeches on the issue of private tenants—this was at column 377 on 19 February 1986—he uttered a four-letter word. I hope that he will not do that again.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

The hon. Gentleman may have to apologise to me about that, because he may remember that Hansard was corrected. I used the word "scrapped", not the four-letter word that appeared in Hansard. I remember thinking at the time that it was understandable that Hansard should have made the error.

I should like to know whether, in the private sector, the hon. Gentleman would include the provision of accommodation by building societies, insurance companies and pension funds. Is he opposed to their providing private sector rented accommodation, or does he regard them as more acceptable landlords?

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

The organisations to which the hon. Gentleman has referred may fund rented accommodation, but they do not necessarily provide it themselves. Most of them will act through housing associations that are registered with the Housing Corporation, or set up registered associations and use the assured tenancy scheme, which means that the landlord must be approved by the House. Shorthold landlords have not been brought before the House for approval, and it would be a different kettle of fish if the Government were to do so.

Without saying yes to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), I want to exclude the organisations to which he has referred. In some respects they are institutional, and they may use means other than the crude private landlordism—the old fashioned style—that we came to "love" so much. Many thousands of tenants came to love and hate it so much as they were winkled out of their homes in London years ago. As I said last year, that is still happening. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) knows that as well as anyone in the House.

In the first half of 1986, regulated rents increased by between 8 and 9 per cent. That information was based on one set of figures that was used to produce the answer to a question on 19 November 1986, at column 248. According to the collective view of 10 different organisations, rents increased by no less than 17 per cent. Either way, the increase is above the average wage increase. That is especially so when we consider that the concentration of tenants in the private sector comes mainly within low-income groups, who are not receiving anything like average wage increases. The Minister's argument about there being a low inflation rate does not justify an increased frequency of rent increases.

A sample carried out in 1983–84 showed that a quarter of private tenants had incomes of less than £2,600 a year. The Minister may say that such tenants can get help through housing benefit, but at the same time one of his colleagues is spending most of his time excluding people from housing benefit and reducing their eligibility to claim such benefit. The Minister's actions tonight will mean that rents will go up higher and faster, and at the same time the DHSS is reducing the number of those who are eligible for housing benefit. Approximately 1·9 million households in the private sector are eligible for housing benefit, but how many of those people will be eligible next year? The Minister should know those figures before he comes to the House with these orders, the consequences of which will be significant for thousands of families.

If we take a random borough—the London borough of Greenwich—[HON. MEMBERS: "Random?"]—I have no vested interest in Greenwich. I do not live there, I do not represent it and it is better to quote a different example from that of my city of Birmingham. In Greenwich, some 9,000 families in the private rented sector are in receipt of housing benefit. Many of those families may lose their eligibility to housing benefit once the Government's proposed changes take effect. They will lose that benefit at the same time as rents go up faster and higher as a result of tonight's orders. The Minister should consider the effects on those families before he brings orders such as this to the House.

Some of the families will be driven from their homes and as usual, the local authority will be forced to pick up the tab. The Minister has said that landlords get a low return, and I admit that that return is low at 1 or 2 per cent. net, but some of the worst housing in this country, in terms of quality and condition, can be found in the private rented sector. In many large cities and in my constituency, some of the worst housing is owned by private landlords. Nothing in these orders will improve the quality of those private rented homes. Perhaps that is the Governments intention. We might look at these orders in a different light if the consequent higher rents resulted in repairs being carried out to those homes. However, I suspect that landlords will continue in much the same way and will not carry out repairs to the homes of their tenants.

I believe that the second order on shortholds provides a positive incentive to raise rents so as to force tenants out and thus enable landlords to sell the property. That is the name of the game. The rent increases that landlords would consider equal or adequate in comparison to owner-occupied values may be as high as 200 or 300 per cent. in some areas.

I accept that tenants may register their rent, but the Minister must be aware of surveys that show that some 50 per cent. of tenants are unaware of the type of tenancy agreement that they have. Being unaware is one thing: being aware and scared stiff is something else. Some tenants are scared of the harassment that they still recieve from landlords in the late 1980s.

Shorthold tenure, especially in London—the Minister must be aware of this because it was mentioned in debates in 1980 when the tenancy was introduced—was supported by his hon. Friends only as long as fair rents were compulsory. After tonight there will no longer be compulsory fair rents in London.

The Minister cannot, in all justice, use the argument of non-registration outside London. He must be aware that things in London with regard to both housing and other aspects of life are different from life in the rest of the country. If the Minister does not know that now, he never will. It is not that London wants to be different; it is simply that London is different, whether in health, transport or any aspect of housing policy. Therefore, there are umpteen different reasons why London deserves to be treated separately.

The Minister might argue that shorthold has worked outside London, but he must be aware that outside London registered rents are much close to market rents. Nobody can claim that to be the case in London, where market rents are ridiculous and often four or five time higher than registered rents. For landlords of shorthold tenancies, the incentive will be to ensure that their tenants do not ask for a fair rent to be registered. That incentive is not as great outside London, and perhaps that is why the position is so different. It would help elucidate the argument if the Minister gave the figures for shorthold both in Greater London and outside it.

I repeat tonight what we have already put on record, namely, that we are committed to abolishing shorthold. There may be a csae—I put it no stronger than that—for retrospectively considering some shorthold tenancies. One or two of my hon. Friends may raise this matter tonight because of their direct constituency experience. It might apply especially where there has been a mushrooming of private landlords using shorthold tenancies outside London, especially in former National Coal Board property. We give notice to the owners of that property that when we are in government we will not hesitate, should the circumstances so warrant, to bring forward retrospective legislation—[Interruption.] Oh, yes, the owners of those properties must take that on board. It is not open season on those properties to exploit the tenants in the way that is happening in some parts of the country.

We may have to consider retrospective legislation. It is strong action, and no Government want to take it. I do not think that this Conservative Government, who have brought in retrospective legislation, wanted to do so. However, they have not shied away from doing it where necessary, and nor did the previous Labour Government. Where there is a case to be made and warnings have been given from the Front Bench, the Government of the day are fully entitled to say that such action is warranted. Therefore, I warn those who are operating shorthold in that manner of the consequences.

We are not interested in taking the lid off rents in the private sector, and therefore we shall oppose both orders in the Lobby tonight.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate 9:53 pm, 4th February 1987

"I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down"—that is the value that the public should place on the last few sentences uttered by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who has made open threats. Similar open threats were made during the passage of the Housing Act 1980, but they had little or no effect. I trust that they will have the same effect on this occasion.

I wish to confine my remarks to two issues, the first being phasing. I am distressed because during the past few days there has been an enormous stirring up with a compaign of falsehoods perpetrated by a number of local authorities and organisations. That is one reason why the debate is on the Floor of the House—although there is but a baker's dozen on the Opposition Benches. There might have been as many had the matter been dealt with in Committee. The debate has attracted no one to the Press Gallery and only a baker's dozen on the Opposition Benches—

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham

Where are the Tories?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate

As the hon. Gentleman knows, when Governments introduce such measures they are not expected to have vast hordes of Members in the House. The Opposition called for the debate, but they are notable by their absence.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that only two weeks ago a move by one of his hon. Friends to deregulate the privately rented sector was defeated? Apart from the fact that the payroll vote abstained for obvious political reasons, surely that shows the interest of Labour Members in defeating that attempt to deregulate the private sector in a Tory-dominated House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate

The hon. Gentleman never learns. He is mixing up ten-minute Bills, which he knows are of little importance, with something that is actually going to happen. Private Members' Bills are, quite rightly, different from ten-minute Bills. As someone who got a ten-minute Bill through the House many years ago, I know what luck was involved and that it does not have any real political significance.

Having illustrated the genuine interest of Opposition Members—they are not here—I am disturbed to hear the hon. Member for Perry Barr say that there is no consensus on the building of properties. He must realise that one result of that would be a continued reduction in the number of rented properties available. If, as the hon. Member says, most landlords are getting a net return of between 1 and 2 per cent., they will feel that, if one of their properties became vacant, they would be better served by selling that property. That would remove the property from the rented sector, and I do not believe that that is the right thing to do.

If we are now to have the two-year phasing period, when the rent officer is working out the fair rent he will not have to take into account the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Minister rightly says, the full fair rent will not come into effect until halfway through that period. Therefore, the effect will not be greater increases, which is what the hon. Gentleman implied. I do not believe that that will happen.

The policy of the Labour party has contributed to the unfortunate shortfall in private rented property in London. Can my hon. friend the Minister tell me why the phasing requirements, in relation to registered rents for housing association tenancies, are not altered? I am not suggesting that they should be altered, but I am asking why there is that differentiation. That was put to me by a deputation which visited me yesterday, and which wanted to know—they were not friends of mine—why only the private tenants would have the phasing requirement removed. They wondered why co-ops and the like would not have it removed. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would answer that.

Those of us who have lived in London all our lives, as has the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), will remember that among the best private landlords were companies such as Legal and General, the Prudential, the old London County Freehold and Leasehold Properties, which built hordes of low-rented properties throughout London before the war. The only reason why they went out of business was the continued restriction on rents, which meant that they could not repair the properties properly out of the income that they received. That is why those good landlords went out of business.

I genuinely did not follow the argument of the hon. Member for Perry Barr. Does he mean that if that sort of company wishes to go back into the market it should not do so because it would be getting profits from what the hon. Gentleman would call people's homes? I should be grateful if he would elucidate that point.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

What I said before the intervention was probably clearer than what I said after it. Institutional bodies will probably use a different system from the previous one. They will invest in assured tenancies or in rented housing through legitimate housing associations. Generally speaking, it could be argued that that is not done for crude commercial profit, as the Freshwaters and the Rachmans of this world did in the past.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate

As the hon. Gentleman will know from my speeches in this House, I held no brief for Freshwaters or one or two others which I could and may name when we debate the Bill, following the Nugee report in this House. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that because the point is important and that may be a source of supply.

I am the only survivor here tonight of the ministerial team who put shorthold tenancies on the statute book. My hon. Friend the Minister is absolutely right to remove the compulsory element from London. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Perry Barr that masses of people in shorthold tenancies do not know their rights. The information given to them is in such a detailed form that they would find it impossible not to know what their rights were. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell me whether the forms that must be provided when these orders become law will state that, although there is no compulsion for registration, it is open to the landlord or tenant to apply, if they wish. That would seem to be logical.

I am worried that shorthold tenancies have not got off the ground as we hoped they would. We believed that shorthold tenancies would provide extra rented property which could make its contribution under controlled terms towards housing people who might have wanted to work and live in London and who required a property for only one or two years. Under shorthold, landlords were prepared to accept that because they knew that at the end of the term there would be no problem of the tenant wishing to remain for ever and, indeed, the tenant's successors.

I acknowledge that shorthold has not been the success that we hoped. Again, that is because of the attitude of the Opposition, who made it clear that they were wholly against the concept. However, despite that, some people have entered into shorthold tenancies. When it is clear to the public that there is not the slightest possibility of a Labour Government for at least the next decade shorthold will begin to take off properly, especially in view of my hon. Friend's action to remove the compulsory element of registration in London.

I welcome these two orders. They will do absolutely no harm to those who require accommodation in the private sector. Indeed, they will help to preserve or restore some element of balance between the two sides in housing, and it is important that we remember continually that balance is part of our society.

Photo of Mr Michael Meadowcroft Mr Michael Meadowcroft , Leeds West 10:03 pm, 4th February 1987

I agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) that this is a question of balance. It is necessary to emphasise that there is a problem with rented accommodation which must be tackled. It will do no good to enforce a particular ideology for its own sake, considering the problems that people face day by day. Therefore, it is important to consider whether the Government's attempt to shift the balance from its present position will be beneficial to those in greatest need. That must be the test of the orders.

There has always been a problem with rented accommodation and it could always be affected by controlling legislation. The difficulty is that unless all housing markets are controlled, both the buying and rented markets, it is difficult to control one without upsetting the whole picture. Yet it has never been possible to decontrol the whole area, because we do not have a variety or a sufficiency of housing for those who want it to be able to pick what is suitable for them. The consequence is that we are left picking bits and pieces of it to control but always finding that unsatisfactory. I do not believe that it is possible to find a perfect way through that jungle. It will always be a question of compromise at any given time.

I accept, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said, that there is a psychological prejudice against landlordism. It is a prejudice that I instinctively share, but it is not something on which one can base legislation, not least because we really need every rented accommodation unit that we can get, whatever its ownership. Therefore, perhaps in some idealistic future we may be able to act upon that prejudice, but it is not something that will influence how we decide on the orders today.

The reality is that landlordism is no more nor no less justified than any other way of making a profit out of an essential commodity of life. One has to look at it to see how to provide the best out of a difficult situation. I find the private ownership of land far more instinctively objectionable than landlordism because one cannot create more land as one can create more houses. Nevertheless, one has to determine one's views and policies according to how to provide the most accommodation units for those in need.

In my constituency if one was to look at the old terraced houses, which are popular and beloved of many people, those in the worst condition are owned by the local authority. That is the sad fact. In some cases, but not all, it is because the local authority wishes an area to have a blight on it so that it becomes a candidate for clearance and compulsory purchase. I totally reject that. People are no more fond of a public landlord than a private landlord in those circumstances.

When we have a problem of law trying in this regard, it is a problem of law to regulate the bad landlord, which has a detrimental effect on the good landlord. That is a real difficulty. Many of the good landlords, often those who have no more than half a dozen houses at most and who have treated their tenants fairly, resent the implication of the way in which legislation affects all landlords. Therefore, one has to look at whether the orders are beneficial in those circumstances.

I have had to conduct campaigns, like so many other hon. Members, against landlords who would seek to find a way round particular legislation by pretending that they are offering bed and breakfast accommodation and throwing a rasher of bacon through the door in the morning. It sometimes takes two years to enforce the law against those landlords. One uses all the resources of the press to try to combat that, but the good landlords feel themselves to be under pressure because one is talking about private landlords as a whole.

Another problem, which has been referred to already, is the geographic problem that there is not the same pressure in other parts of the country as there is in London and the south-east. The problems of trying to find accommodation in London are horrendous. In other cities, includng my own, the problem is not one of quantity but quality. There is a quantity of housing, but much of it is unlettable because people will not take it in any circumstances. That is a different problem and it will not be helped by the orders. They will not create better quality housing in other areas even if they attempt to affect the quantity in London and the south-east.

In proposing that the orders be approved, the Minister has to show that the situation in London is better than it was when the previous regulations were introduced. He has not shown that. He cannot come to us and say, "The evidence is that a variation in this way will improve the housing situation in the capital." Even on new properties, the rent differential between London and other parts of the country is 2:1. Given that, I do not see how one can argue that it is the right moment to start easing the regulations regarding shorthold tenancies or of phasing as it affects London.

There is the question of how one draws a balance between competing interests. It is interesting to draw an analogy between what happened at Question Time regarding planning regulations and the type of houses being built as residential accommodation. We heard that the free marketeers on the Conservative Benches wanted regulations to allow different kinds of houses to be built than those currently being forced through under planning regulations. They recognise quite rightly in their constituencies such as Bournemouth or Eastbourne, that the kind of houses that were needed were not those that were being built. If people in the housing market are providing houses for profit rather than housing for need, there must be even more pressure on rented accommodation. The orders tonight will not improve that position.

If the housing position is improved, there is an argument for shifting the balance more towards the landlord. However, I do not believe that the housing position has improved. I believe that it is worse. Why should the balance be tipped towards the landlord when the housing position is worse than it was?

The Minister made a great point about inflation being lower. Therefore, the argument for phasing becomes less sustainable. The problem from the Minister's point of view is that inflation in rented prices does not necessarily conform to general inflation. The suggestion is that in 1986 the inflation rate for private rented accommodation was about 17 per cent., not the Government's 4·5 per cent. figure. There again, the argument for phasing to be abolished is hardly a help when a tenant finds that his private rent does not subscribe to the general theories about inflation.

I believe that it is wrong to introduce this greater benefit to landlords at the moment. It is all very well for Conservative Members to refer to the right to rent. We should also consider the ability to rent. That question is apparent to many people who are struggling to rent at the moment. It is also strange that the Minister had to admit in his publications that shorthold has not been properly monitored. He said that there are problems in knowing how many shorthold tenancies exist. if they have not been monitored and we do not know the conditions and problems that such tenancies create, it is unfair of the Minister to come to the House today and claim that creating more of these tenancies will help by reducing the powers of control on such tenancies. I believe that that is an argument against approving these orders.

A special area of concern exists among elderly people who are living at the margin where they do not receive housing benefit. They are fearful that, because their income is phased, it does not conform to the rules of rented accommodation and they will suffer greater hardship by the abolition of phasing than many other people. The danger of removing the controls on shorthold may well increase the number of shortfold tenancies, but not in the way that the Minister would like. People may see a loophole to increase incomes from such tenancies. Therefore, as and when they can, they will create shorthold tenancies out of long tenancies to shift the market and the prices in their favour. By increasing scarcity in that way, we will not improve the position for people who have to rent.

The Minister emphasised—and indeed overemphasised—that the regulations will not affect existing tenancies. We are not over much concerned about existing tenancies. We are concerned about how the position will change in future. I do not believe that the orders will improve the position. The people in these tenancies are often most vulnerable. I am fearful that we will establish an itinerant population moving from shorthold to shorthold who are afraid to claim and enforce their rights. They are not confident enough to enforce their rights.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that it would still be open to a tenant to register a fair rent? It is only the obligation to do that which is removed.

Photo of Mr Michael Meadowcroft Mr Michael Meadowcroft , Leeds West

The hon. Gentleman is correct. However, I fear that the conditions in his constituency are different from those in mine. Although we may explain people's rights to them, they only see the roof over their head which they may lose if they make life difficult for their landlord. They are not normally people who would take that risk.

It is all very well to claim that there are laws against harassment. Of course there are, but it is not easy for a weak tenant to enforce those laws against a powerful person. The regulations will not improve the situation.

The important recent case of Street v. Montford, of which those concerned about housing will be well aware, showed that landlords cannot so easily get away with licences. The court has now held that these create tenancies. In future, London landlords may be wary of inadvertently creating a tenancy and may prefer to go down the shorthold route, particularly if rents do not have to be registered. Such a case shows that this is the wrong time to be shifting the balance towards the landlord. The orders should be opposed because the case for them has not been made.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West 10:15 pm, 4th February 1987

On an evening when the headline in The London Evening Standard reads: Threat to home buyers: Labour plan tax relief cut on one million mortgages", it is appropriate that the Government should be promoting legislation that goes some small way to improving and strengthening the private rented sector. I am deeply saddened by what I have heard from the Opposition Benches, because I had hoped that we might be moving somewhat nearer to a consensus on housing in general and on the provision of housing in the private sector in particular. I can see that that is not the case both by what has been said by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and by the signs that I am receiving from the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford), but that does not particularly surprise me, given his record.

It is profoundly sad that we are debating whether it is appropriate for accommodation to be provided by the private sector, and, if so, how the private sector can assist. I should have thought that Labour Members who complain regularly that there is insufficient investment in housing would look seriously at whether the private sector can assist and at ways in which they can encourage the private sector to take part in the process that we would all like to achieve—housing people well.

It must he wrong for us to expect the private landlord to subsidise rents. If rents are to be subsidised in the long term, they should be subsidised by the public sector and not the private sector. Elsewhere in the world—for example, in Canada and Germany—it is easy to obtain rented accommodation in the private sector. That includes not just institutional investors such as the pension funds, insurance companies, building societies or similar organisations, but individuals.

I know that the hon. Member for Perry Barr feels passionately about this, but not all private landlords are the evil, self-seeking people he believes them to be. I can introduce him to private landlords who invest in the provision of private accommodation for others because they regard it as a Christian duty to do so. They would prefer to invest their money in providing accommodation for other people less fortunate than themselves than to invest it in the stock exchange. I can see nothing reprehensible in that—I find it admirable. I can think of groups of families who invest in that way and continue to relet their properties at rents substantially below the market level because they consider that to be their Christian obligation. For the hon. Gentleman to denigrate the whole of the private sector in that way pays little tribute to the dedication of such investors.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the initial phase of British landlordism led to the public sector being responsible for slum clearance and redevelopment? The facts about that are quite well known. The Rent Act 1957 basically did that which the hon. Gentleman is advocating. It discredited landlordism and itself to such an extent that when the hon. Gentleman's party was thrown out of office it could not even bring itself to vote against the incoming Labour Government's legislation and argued instead that that which Richard Crossman was proposing should broadly be accepted.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the problem. The problems with rent controls and the effect of such controls on the private sector go back much further than the hon. Gentleman suggests. The interference with the market that took place in the past gave rise to the shortages that he describes. Those were compounded by the war and the enormous damage that caused to our housing stock. I accept—I think it Es common ground between us—that there were some appalling landlords and none of us would wish to see the return of such people. If we could reach some agreement with the Opposition by which we could encourage a reinvestment of the private sector on a responsible basis, that would be a great advantage. Surely what we are doing here goes some way towards that.

Photo of Mr Michael Meadowcroft Mr Michael Meadowcroft , Leeds West

Of course there are good landlords and I know of such people in my part of the world. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in most places there are owners of properties on which there is little or no outstanding debt? The number of altruistic people who have to pay high debt charges on modern property is nowhere near as great as the number of landlords of older properties who do not have that problem. We will face bigger problems with modern properties than we will face with old properties.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

I accept that that can apply to some extent. I do not advocate the immediate abolition of all rent controls because, like the hon. Member for Perry Barr, I do not wish to give an immediate profit to all the property speculators who have invested in the hope of getting vacant possession or making a huge hike in rents. That would not be appropriate. I should prefer a system under which the rent reflected the price paid by the landlord. I should also like to see a degree of indexation. On that basis we might be able to start to agree. We could do that if we could get over the quite inexplicable prejudices of the Opposition against the private sector as a whole. I passionately would like to see conditions improve. What we are doing tonight goes some way towards achieving that.

The shorthold system is valuable, but its expansion has been greatly limited by the sort of threats we have had from the Opposition. First, they say that they will abolish the system. Secondly, they say that they may consider retrospective legislation. Who can be surprised that the private sector has not rushed forward to invest when threats of that sort are being issued quite clearly by the Opposition Front Bench?

There are other problems with the present shorthold legislation and I should like to give an illustration from my constituency. One of my constituents owns three flats. When he became severely disabled and was unable to work, he used his savings to invest in the provision of accommodation for others. He has deep religious convictions and believed that that was a proper way to invest his money. He has let on a shorthold basis his little block of three flats. Sadly, one of the tenants was not very satisfactory. He was disruptive to the other tenants and generally behaved in a way which was upsetting to his neighbours and to the other tenants in the block. At the end of the year, my constituent sought to terminate the tenancy by giving, he thought, the correct notice under the Act. He employed a firm of solicitors to do that for him. Sadly, there was a defect in the way in which the notice was served, and a further tenancy was created. Two years have gone by and my constituent still has not been able to obtain possession from his unsatisfactory tenant.

We need to look again at the question of notice. If we are to have a system whereby a landlord is able to get possession—it should be a system that is so simple that he should not need detailed legal advice—it is wrong if a landlord, having taken legal advice twice, is unable to get possession, particularly when the tenant is disruptive towards neighbours. That is an entirely different problem. I should like my hon. Friend to look at that matter and consider it further.

It is anomalous that, with regard to shorthold, one situation should apply in London and another elsewhere, particularly one that is prejudicial to the establishment of further shorthold tenancies.

Therefore, I welcome the action that my hon. Friend is taking.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham 10:25 pm, 4th February 1987

We are considering two shabby and vindictive little orders introduced by a shabby and discredited Government who no longer have any pretence of a housing policy. They preside over the worst escalation in a housing crisis that I, and I believe most hon. Members, have seen. It is perhaps ironic that we should hold this debate tonight when, during Question Time, the Minister gave figures showing that, in the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, under the Government's housing policy, the number of homeless households has passed 100,000 for the first time. What a disgraceful comment on the appalling failure of the Government to have a responsible housing policy.

The reason for the escalation of the housing problem is a critical shortage of rented housing, which is the result of two specific trends. One is the deliberate running down of the public sector rented housing programme, which was the deliberate policy of the Government through drastically cutting their support for councils and housing associations. The figures show only too clearly the extent to which those cuts have reduced rental options in the public sector. In England the number of new homes becoming available through council building programmes reduced from 67,000 in 1979 to just 18,000 in the past 12 months. The number of housing association homes also reduced, despite the Government's pledges to support the housing association movement. The number of new build and rehabilitated dwellings provided by housing associations reduced by approximately 50 per cent. during the lifetime of the Government. That record is their responsibility.

The other reason for the homelessness crisis is the shortage of rented housing in the private sector. There has been a continuing decline during the lifetime of the Government. The Government's policies have failed to stem that decline.

We are now presented with two orders that, we are told, will help to stimulate private renting. The evidence is against the Government. In 1957, the Conservative Government attempted, by reducing rent controls, to stimulate the private market. The evidence shows exactly how wrong that philosophy can be. The Rent Act 1957 did not usher in an increase in the number of lettings but heralded the period during which there was the sharpest decline in the number of private lettings during the whole of the century as landlords used the opportunity to get rid of their tenants and to sell their properties. On being returned to office in 1979, the present Government introduced in the Housing Act 1980 a measure that they hoped would stimulate private lettings. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), said: I believe that we shall improve the opportunity for rented accommodation."-[Official Report, 15 January 1980; Vol. 976, col. 1457.] We heard various other pledges about how the 1980 Act would improve options for rented housing. In practice, that did not happen. Between 1979 and 1986, 500,000 rented houses went off the market. The number of private rented homes declined from about 2 million to 1·5 million. The Government cannot pretend that that is our fault. They were in power during those years. The Government's 1980 Act was supposed to stem that decline and stimulate the market. They should take the responsibility for their failure.

The 1980 measures failed to stimulate private lettings, as will the two minor measures that we are debating tonight. They will cause further hardship to private tenants who have already suffered very considerably from this Government's actions on a number of fronts: from cuts in housing benefit, from the threat to remove Rent Act protection from new lettings and from the threat to change the rent registration procedures and repossession procedures, as announced in a recent consultation paper issued by the Lord Chancellor's Department. This attack on private tenants throughout the country, but particularly in the London area, will be remembered by them at the next general election.

The Minister pretended that the rents registered for private tenants have failed to keep pace with inflation. He did so by an extraordinary sleight of hand. He quoted figures that were based on 1970. Why should he have used 1970 as the base? Does he not believe that there was a Labour Government between 1974 and 1979? Is he not prepared to be honest and straightforward with the House and take the logical and sensible base? The 1979 figures are quite simple. They are figures for which this Government are responsible.

Since 1979 there has been an 87 per cent. increase in the level of mean registered rents for unfurnished tenancies in England and Wales. In the last two years—to put the Minister's comments into context, since he referred to the reduction in inflation—the increase in the registered rent levels has been 18 per cent., far ahead of the level of inflation. What is the possible justification, therefore, for claiming that rent levels have not kept pace with inflation and should be increased? It is a completely dishonest and specious argument that is justified by bogus statistics from a Government who are desperate to try to cover up their own failings.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham

Yes, Although the Minister would not give way to me when I was about to rise to correct him on those figures, I shall happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Will he tell us what the increase in the cost of living has been since 1979? Is it not true to say that since 1979 the increase in the cost of renting accommodation has been less than the increase in the cost of living?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham

I was quoting the figures for the period from 1979 to 1985.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

The hon. Gentleman is being selective again.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham

No. That is the latest period for which figures are available from the Department. I took them straight out of the latest published housing and construction statistics.

The Minister has been extraordinarily generous in giving us statistics on shorthold tenancies. I am sure that he would like the House, therefore, to have the most upto-date statistics. I am quoting his Department's figures. He may not like them, nor may Conservative Members, but they are their figures.

The title of the first of these orders is the Rent (Relief from Phasing) Order. It provides relief from phasing for landlords, but it does not provide relief from phasing for tenants. It removes relief from steep rent increases. Many of my constituents are facing very steep rent increases. Rent officers in the London area are fixing rents at figures that are substantially higher than the rate of inflation. There is no justification for the order. It is being moved on a bogus premise and it should be rejected.

The second order is the Protected Shorthold Tenancies (Rent Registration) Order. Here the Government are ratting on commitments that were given by previous Ministers. I say that advisedly. During the debate on the Housing Bill in 1980 the then Minister for Housing was challenged about what would happen, because a power was available to Ministers to vary the provision for rent registration. The then Minister for Housing said: However, I cannot agree that the shorthold proposals are basically unreasonable or unfair to tenants. Tenants will have to pay no more than a fair rent as provided by other rent legislation … There will be no deregistration to market rents."—[Official Report. 15 January 1980; Vol. 976, c. 1564.] Tonight we have a simple case of the Government reneging on Minister's pledges.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead and Highgate

The quotation that the hon. Gentleman has given destroys the snide case that he has been making. The Minister said that there would be no deregulation to market rents. What this order is doing is getting deregulation to fair rents, but it is still permitting the regulation to be applied if the tenants want it. There is a difference between market rents and fair rents, and the hon. Gentleman knows that.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham

The hon. Gentleman knows from his experience of the London housing market that the majority of lettings in London are outside the rent registration procedures. Figures suggest that a small minority of lettings in London are registered. The problem with this safeguard is that it will subject—as has been made clear by Opposition Members—tenants, who are by definition in an insecure position, to pressures from landlords against getting the rent registered. Tenants will be told that if they apply for rent registration they will be out. That is the kind of pressure that is being exerted on tenants in London, and it will intensify as a result of this shabby order.

We know that the pledges given by the Ministers cannot be trusted. What surprises me is that the orders are before us not for a sound policy reason, not even for a policy reason based upon proper analysis, but on the basis of a vague hope that a few extra shortholds will be conjured into existence in London. What an appalling comment. The Minister has been unable to give us any figures on the number of shorthold tenancies, when he is proposing an order which is designed to increase the number of shorthold tenancies. It is a pretty sad comment that the Government's grasp of the subject is so poor that they do not have an analysis of the current position. Perhaps the Minister is able to give us figures, but a few weeks ago, one of his colleagues, in answer to me, was unable to do so.

The problem with these orders is that they are meanspirited measures that will penalise a number of private tenants, increase insecurity and anxiety, and fail abjectly in their supposed objective of creating new lettings. I hope that the House will reject these shabby and mean-spirited orders.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East 10:37 pm, 4th February 1987

Speaking after the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) is quite depressing, because of his jaundiced and snide remarks. These are good measures, and all the hon. Gentleman is seeking to do is deter potential landlords from offering shortholds. This scare and smear tactic is completely unacceptable to people who are desperately seeking accommodation in London and elsewhere and who have a real opportunity under these two measures, which are welcomed by those who want to work in London. The Labour party spends its whole time knocking the Government over the unemployment figures. My hon. Friend the Minister is making a positive contribution and Labour Members baulk at it.

The shortage of short-term rented accommodation is becoming almost a national crisis. Whether or not the problem is mainly in London, it has certainly affected the employment situation. We all know that shorthold has been possible since 28 November 1980, but because it has been so difficult to remove difficult tenants who do not pay their rent, many landlords have hesitated to put their houses out to rent.

It is a smear tactic to criticise the landlords. The majority of potential landlords are decent people. Some of them have large properties. As the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) said in his excellent speech, there are housing problems. I do not think that I am risking anything by saying that, if the hon. Gentleman ever wishes to join the Conservatives, we would welcome him, especially in considering housing matters.

We certainly need more private sector rented accommodation. The orders will ensure that more properties become available. I shall continue to express concern at the lateness of repairs on properties sometimes, but, nevertheless, the measures are welcome. Years ago, private sector rented accommodation was a growth industry. Only abuses and the failure to repair property led to things going wrong. Because tenants had security of tenure, many potential landlords were deterred from lettng property.

The shorthold requirements, giving a fixed term tenancy, whether for one year or five years, will encourage many potential landlords to come forward. It is unfair for the hon. Member for Fulham to rubbish the tenant protections in the orders. It is clear to all Conservative members that any tenant on a shorthold tenancy will be safe for the full period of the tenancy, provided that he does not break the conditions of the tenancy. That is a fair, just and equitable way of dealing with the housing shortage, especially in London.

The arrangements for shorthold tenancies make it possible, subject to the usual conditions, for the tenancy to be liable for renewal after the shorthold period ends. That is a good provision. Fair rents may still be registered for all shorthold property. I do not believe that the majority of landlords will abuse the system. Of course, I believe in a market economy. Rents obviously must be fair. I should think that the proposed fair rent charges will be agreed on both sides. A landlord will have the right to repossess at the end of the shorthold tenancy, and that must be welcome news. At least a future tenant will know that he can go to London or Leicester for a minimum of five years, provided he honours the conditions of the tenancy. That will mean labour mobility, which must mean good news for employers who want to take on extra staff and for potential landlords who can increase their reserves by letting out part of their property. It is a crying shame that many houses fall into disrepair because no extra funds are coming into the household. As my hon. Friend the Minister made clear, the ability of any tenant to claim housing benefit on higher rents will not be affected by these changes.

The orders are good news for the tenants who want to move to better jobs. They are good news for the employers. They will ensure that housing becomes available to all. They will ensure that the landlord and the tenant have rights. I hope that houses will be kept in good repair. On that basis, we should support the orders.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford 10:43 pm, 4th February 1987

I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) say that the orders are good news for all. There are other places apart from London, and I think that the mining communities will not share his views. The authorities there did not wait for these two shabby orders before starting to implement Rachman tactics with former National Coal Board houses. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) said that he does not support the racketeers cashing in on short-term tenancies. I do not know whether the Minister, or indeed the House, knows what is happening at present. Coal Board estates, homes belonging to miners who have worked in the mining industry all their lives, are being flogged off at auctions, being put out to tender, and going for very low prices. Then, within days, some of the purchasers, who are not known to the tenants, are offering to flog them off to the tenants at prices far in excess of what they purchased them for, knowing full well that the tenants are not in a position to purchase them.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

Is it not true, though, that the properties are offered first to the tenants before they are sold by public auction? They are only sold when the tenants decline to buy.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

It is true of some of the properties, but not all. The fact is that the tenants have not been able to purchase them. Some of them are elderly, retired miners who are unable to get mortgages.

Let me describe a classic case of a shorthold tenancy. I have in my possession a letter from a firm of solicitors to a couple residing just outside the borders of my constituency. It is to offer them a shorthold tenancy of a Coal Board house purchased only a few weeks previously and it says: We act on behalf of the owners of the above property, your proposed Landlords, and are informed by their Managing Agents, Messrs,. Michael A. Wrest & Co. of Cockerham Hall Mews, Huddersfield Road, Barnsley, that you have agreed to take a tenancy of the above property for a period of one year subject to Contract. Nowhere does it say who the landlord is. It goes on to give the terms of the agreement, as follows: The weekly rent is thirty-five pounds. The commencement date is 30th January 1987. Many of these miners have, over the years, enjoyed low rents, in accordance with their agreements with the Coal Board. Apart from that, many of the sitting tenants have had a fair rent fixed for their properties. That is about £21 a week, including rates. This agreement is offering the property to these tenants at £35 a week plus general rate and water rate.

The letter goes on: The agreement to be used is a 'Protected Shorthold Tenancy'. Under its terms your Landlord is committed to granting you a tenancy of the property for one year. At the end of the year it may be terminated by Landlord and possession of the property can be recovered. You can give one month's notice of termination at any time. We have heard from Conservative Members, quite rightly, that there is a right to apply to have a fair rent fixed. In accordance with law that is right, but in practice these people who have a roof over their heads for the short period of 12 months will be frightened to death to go and ask for a fair rent to be fixed because they believe the landlord may then turn them out at the end of the 12 months. That is what will happen.

The letter continues: Payments you must make. This is over and above the £35 a week plus the general rate and water rate. It states: When you sign the Tenancy Agreement you will have to make the following payments: four weeks rent in advance, £140: breakage deposit, £150; legal fees, £63·50. Total amount required, £353·50 . In the area that I represent we call that key money, and if someone cannot pay it he does not get the key.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth

The sums to which my hon. Friend has referred are substantial, and perhaps more substantial to him than to Conservative Members. Will he estimate the price that the company paid for the houses and the profit that is being made?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

I do not have the exact figures, but the houses have been available in the area for £2,500 to £3,000. We are talking about landlords who are moving into these markets and recouping their money within two years. If that can be considered as fair within the context of shortterm tenancy agreements, what cannot? If that is the type of landlord that we are being asked to sustain, who else are we to support'? We have heard about Christian gentlemen who put their money into housing because they want to provide homes for others, and I do not deny that they are to be found, but there are landlords who take a different view.

There are areas where people are desperate for homes. Some of my constituents who are anxious for a tenancy have, through no fault of their own, never held a job since they left school. They are desperate for a home and they will take almost anything that is available. If someone in that position is able to find £350 and he obtains a tenancy, he may qualify for a rent rebate, but that will mean that the state will be sustaining racketeer landlords who are charging excessive rents.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

If the local authority does not agree that the rent is fair, it is not required to meet all the costs of the rent in housing benefit.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

I appreciate that.

Unfortunately, there are those who take on the agreements that I have described who find that they cannot meet their commitments. When that happens, they are out on the street in two months' time in the lap of the social services department and the local authority.

So-called landlords—they are racketeers—have gone to auctions and purchased tenancies for knock-down prices in an attempt to cash in on the unfortunates who have no option but to accept their terms. If that is the case for short-term tenancies, I do not want it, and I do not think that many Conservative Members do. Youngsters who are desperate for homes are willing to put their signatures to the agreements that I have described because they have no option but to do so. They want somewhere to live. They want somewhere to take their babies or small children. They want to move away from their in-laws. They are desperate, and they are being forced into accepting the conditions of racketeers. If the orders are paving the way for the actions of these so-called landlords to be made legal, they should be slung out.

Photo of Mr Michael Woodcock Mr Michael Woodcock , Ellesmere Port and Neston 10:55 pm, 4th February 1987

I am not sure how the speech of the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) was related to the orders before the House.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

I was talking about short-term tenancies.

Photo of Mr Michael Woodcock Mr Michael Woodcock , Ellesmere Port and Neston

I understand the problems that the hon. Gentleman was discussing, but the orders bear no relation to those problems.

I welcome the improvements to the working of the Rent Act 1977, although they are fairly minor. If owners of properties have waited two years for a review of rent, why should they wait a further year to collect the rent that has been determined at today's values? Whatever the situation in the housing market there is no justice in that delay. Bringing London's protected shorthold tenancies into line with those in the rest of the country will increase the supply of housing accommodation in the capital.

Although I offer my hon. Friend the Minister mild congratulations on introducing these minor orders, I must remind him that since the Government have been in power the national stock of private rented accommodation has decreased by 25 per cent. from 2 million units to 1·5 million. At the same time, vast numbers of people desperately need to rent accommodation. They may need temporary accommodation. They may be moving between homes, the victims of broken homes, new households or many others.

Local authorities and housing associations cannot always meet those needs. There is no reason why they should. The law should bring together people who need accommodation and those who are prepared to invest in housing. All to often it has kept the two groups apart.

Tonight's orders are sensible, but the Minister needs to go much further to rejuvenate the private rented sector. The Minister should also consider the basis on which rent officers determine fair rents. They may be called fair rents, but there they are not economic rents. If they were economic more people would be moving into the private sector rather than out of it.

It is in everyone's interests to have more investment in housing. I should like the Minister to introduce an order to allow a rent registration that is determined within a protected shorthold tenancy to die with that tenancy. The present rules prohibit that. An application for the registration of a fair rent cannot be made within two years. That has resulted in vast numbers of properties in London and elsewhere remaining empty until the end of two years. The Minister should consider applying that sensible reform on the cessation of any tenancy or in any circumstance where both landlord and tenant jointly apply for the cancellation of a registered rent. The present rules leave properties standing empty.

The Minister should also consider ending the provision whereby local authorities can apply for the registration of a fair rent even when both landlord and tenant do not wish that to happen. That provision is being used by some leftwing authorities to help to destroy what is left of the private rented sector.

The orders are sensible, but they are relatively minimal. I urge my hon. Friend to go further and allow the private rented sector to play as important a part in meeting housing needs as already happens in many countries in western Europe and the United States.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes 10:58 pm, 4th February 1987

I apologise for my absence during the first few minutes of the debate, but I was in Manchester on parliamentary business until 7 o'clock. The fact that I was able to return especially for the debate is thanks to the efficiency of British Rail and my wife's excellent driving.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

No, but I have no doubt that she would he as good at that as she is at driving a car.

I speak tonight with a heavy heart. My hon. Friend the Minister is one of the most sensitive Housing Ministers for many years. He has shown great sensitivity in dealing with the problems of the former and existing council estates in Castelnau in my constituency. In fact, his concentration on the particular problems of the Booth PRC estate there has won him many friends.

However, in exactly the same ward the private tenants—and there are many of them in my constituency— cause me great concern. They have missed out on the vast increase in house prices, which has been particularly exaggerated in my constituency. Many of them have fixed or very low incomes. Indeed, many of them have lost housing benefit.

The Minister has said on many occasions that we need another 1 million housing units, but on each occasion, and whenever he has mentioned reforms of the Rent Acts, he has said that existing tenants would be protected. I have passed on letters from him to my constituents when they have been whipped up by scares from Labour or Liberal politicians claiming that the Rent Acts will cause great problems to private tenants.

However, one of the orders we are considering does affect existing tenants. I know that all rights cannot remain enshrined for all time, but in this matter many of my private tenants are gravely affected. Many have written to me, and one of them said: In the last two rent reviews of my flat, the Richmond rent officer has leaned heavily on the side of the landlord, specifically to increase the landlord's return on investment. We have been told that this will continue until these rents equal those on the open, uncontrolled market … Furthermore, the rent officer's latest award to the landlord of our flat was a rent increase totalling 98 per cent. It would have created considerable hardship to have to pay this at once instead of in two phases. For those on fixed incomes—like a great many in the estate where I live—or those whose wages or salaries do not increase anything remotely approaching 98 per cent. over a two-year period, the hardship would be most severe. That was one of 25 letters that I have received only this week.

During our conversations over the past two days, when I drew attention to this grave matter, the Minister said that he had not received anything like that sort of representation from any other part of the country. All that I can say is that the people in my constituency tend to be extremely well informed and well ahead of public opinion trends. I can assure the Minister that, after tonight, many more people will have heard of it.

Another constituent wrote saying: The complex of flats in which I live—for 18 years—were relatively recently acquired by a company … Following an external face lift and decoration of the common parts my rent, from 28th May 1986, was increased from £1,340 to £2,740—a 103 per cent. increase … Complexes such as ours acquired by large, and often foreign, organisations, make a mockery of such a proposition. Another wrote saying: My husband and I are both pensioners and we have been private tenants here for the last 20 years. That is not 20 years clocking up discounts to buy their own property; that is not 20 years clocking up the right to buy. They cannot move and take their rights with them. They have lived there for 20 years because they could not afford to live anywhere else. Even if they could have put themselves on to the council housing list, they were probably either too proud or too generous to this country to do so. One is 68 and the other 71, and in addition the wife has to have a part-time job to help pay the rent. They receive a rate rebate of £13 per fortnight, but, as the wife says: The rents went up last year, so I managed to do another five hours a week to compensate, and the council immediately knocked at least a pound off the allowance. You see we are borderline cases— ex-service personnel (as if that meant a thing these days). Yet another constituent wrote: The elimination of the phased increases in Fair Rents over two years may well force many tenants to seek support or alternative accommodation from the Local Authorities, thus increasing the demands on rates and taxes. As a resident in a purpose built block of flats"—[Interruption.] This is a very serious matter, and only Liberals would laugh at it. The letter continued: I have to inform you that when the flats … become vacant they are not relet but sold to long leaseholders, thereby giving the Landlord the opportunity to make a quick and exorbitant profit followed by equally exorbitant service charges. Another constituent has written and this lady might be of interest to the Government. She writes: Since your Government came into office you have already reduced the period of re-registration of rents from 3 years to two years.I would like to point out, and there are many more people in a situation like myself, who have landlords whose only aim is money, money and more money, and who demand high rent increases at each re-registration, that if it were not for the protection of the Rent Officer, we would all be out on the streets without a home…I would also point out to you that where I live, the number of people voting Tory is very high indeed, but I for one will not be voting for you again and I have had others say this to me. That constituent is a private secretary to a member of the Cabinet. She is changing her loyalties because she believes that she has been badly treated.

She continues: I am told that Mr. Patten is proposing this 'in line with inflation which is now down to 3%'…Only last week we are told the Water Rate is going up by 5½% —and, she says, that the Liberal council will increase her rates by 16 per cent.

Those increases will fall very hard on the private tenants and I suspect that none of them will have faced a rent increase of as little as the present rate of inflation.

I could quote from many other letters, but time precludes that. However, I shall mention one from an old-age pensioner, whose rent increased from £1,085 in February 1985 to £1,760. Thanks to the two-year phasing it went from £1,085, to £1,462 to £1,760.

I am afraid that it is no comfort to my constituents that that last bit of generosity to tenants will be taken away tonight. Why change that generosity and hurt many of those who have supported the Government in the past and who have also supported the nation fearlessly? Why do that just to support landlords, many of whom are corporations and many of whom are based abroad?

As I have said to my hon. Friend the Minister in conversations during the past few days, many people in my constituency are well-informed and they will make sacrifices to help the Government. That is the sort of person who has made sacrifices for us in the past, and if, by voting against this order tonight, I shall be sacrificing my future, I hope that that will be for the many who have, as I have said, sacrificed their past to help all of our futures.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood 11:07 pm, 4th February 1987

At Question Time today we had an admission of the record number of those who were rendered homeless last year. The figure was over 100,000. If one considers the area of greatest housing stress, Greater London, one sees from the figures published only a few months ago by the Association of London Authorities that in the 16 stress Labour authorities in London the number of people in bed and breakfast accommodation was forecast to rise from about 6,600 in the first quarter of this year to about 12,000 in two year's time, in the first quarter of 1989. That is another sign of the growing and extraordinary crisis facing those who are less well-off in the capital city and elsewhere too.

The first question that one has to ask oneself is whether the two orders will make any contribution to solving the extraordinary housing crisis, especially in our urban conurbations. The answer must be that the orders will make no contribution whatever in that direction. In fact, the order that deals with shorthold tenancies will contribute to the growing queue of homelessness in the same way as the statistics that were garnered by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) show the number of owner-occupiers who are now joining the homeless queue. Therefore, these orders will do nothing to address the major renting crisis.

It is argued that private landlords have a contribution to make towards providing housing, but no evidence has emerged from the debate that that is so. Generally speaking, private landlords fall into two categories. There are the private landlords who are not in the business for gain, of whom there are not many and often they are not competent to look after such a large capital asset as a home for someone else. I do not say that maliciously. The cause of much deterioration in our private housing is partly that rents are not sufficient to meet repair costs, and everybody recognises that.

The second type of private landlord may have the competence to look after one or two houses, but he has no interest in doing it. He is the commercial private landlord, who is simply in the business to extract as much gain as possible. Both parties have a great deal of experience, going back to the Rent Acts, but nothing that has happened in the past 30 years gives the slightest indication that relaxations or changes in rent control will contribute to additional private sector housing provision.

The right way to proceed is to encourage local authorities to build and rent—over the past eight years their programmes have been savaged — housing associations to build and rent, and responsible, licensed professional landlords to provide housing under assured tenancy schemes. A contribution to the condition of privately rented accommodation can be made by giving private tenants the right to buy in the same way as public sector tenants have that right.

The relief from phasing order has no effect on the supply of accommodation. We were given various figures about rent rises recorded by rent officers. The figures provided in parliamentary questions show a rent rise of about 9 per cent. per annum, which is more or less standard across the country. The evidence garnered by private tenants' organisations shows an average rent rise imposed by rent officers of about 17 per cent. The evidence that we have heard in a courageous speech from the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) shows rent rises of up to 98 per cent. In my constituency there may be isolated examples of private tenants' rent increases of about 60 per cent. They are not unimportant to the tenants concerned.

All those rent rises seem to affect the group of people who fall outside the housing benefit safety net. They have probably saved or contributed towards an occupational pension, and they have the most to lose. They lost from the withdrawal of the electricity scheme introduced by the Labour Government and they are shattered to receive a rate rise of up to 70 per cent. They come to my advice bureau and say, "I do not know how I can continue the sort of life that I have led with this sort of rent rise."

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene and for his compliment. However, I am afraid that in one letter which time precluded me from reading out a constituent said that the real fear of removing the phasing of tenancies was caused by the remote possibility of a Labour Government being elected and taking us back to the high levels of inflation that we experienced in the time scale that caused phasing originally. That, coupled with the inflation rates that we experienced during the Lib-Lab pact, is a serious fear for those people.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

The hon. Gentleman has partly lost the admiration that he earned for his courageous speech.

The order relating to ending the obligation to register a rent for protected shorthold tenancies will create the risk of a larger number of people eventually coming into the homeless queue. There is a gross abuse of Rent Act accommodation by private landlords throughout much of Greater London. Very few shorthold tenances are created, partly because there is the requirement to register the rent, and partly because the provisions about notice are regarded by most landlords as being difficult to comply with.

The central reason why private landlords do not go in for granting shorthold tenancies is that the attention of the tenant is drawn to the obligation to register the rent. Therefore, they engage in a whole series of other strategies to get high, uncontrolled rents. Sometimes they use the advice of the company let, and sometimes they trade on the ignorance of tenants who believe that furnished tenancies—they provide a minimum of furniture—are not subject to control. In many cases they do not rely upon any loophole in the law. They used to rely upon licences, but that has been brought to an end by the House of Lords case in Street and Montford. However, they have relied on the sheer ignorance of the tenants. Many landlords exploit the shortage of housing to rent in central London and demand very high rents from tenants.

After a time the tenants find that they are not able to keep up with the high rents. They often do not qualify for housing benefit at the full rate, and eventually they find that they are in debt and cannot keep up the payments. They have then to look to the private sector or the homeless queue for their next tranche of accommodation.

There is the risk that if tenants are properly advised they will go to the rent officer and get a registered rent. If they take legal advice from a law centre, or a solicitor, or whatever, they can establish a protected tenancy and the landlord is defeated. However, very few people do that. The removal of registration of rents from shorthold tenancies in central London will give those landlords a legal cover that was not previously available. They will have the advantage of the unregistered rent and the advantage of the absence of security of tenure. Therefore, although it will not add to the supply of accommodation, it will add to the supply of people going on to the homeless list. That is why I believe that the last order that I mentioned runs counter to any assistance that could be given to the relief of homelessness and the shortage of housing.

If the Government were serious about these matters, they would not dip their toes in the pool of decontrol. They would be addressing their minds much more seriously to the central problems of homelessness and the shortage of housing to rent in the capital.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon 11:18 pm, 4th February 1987

This has been an extremely interesting debate, almost without exception. There have been some thought-provoking contributions. I have been given pause for thought by several things that have been said, and perhaps we will get a chance to air them in a debate in the not too distant future.

It was clear from the characteristically forceful and thoughtful contribution of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) that he wants the Rent Act strengthened and that he wants to see the end of the private sector in Britain. Britain is currently losing 70,000 private rented tenancies a year. The sector is vanishing and it will be gone by the year 2000. That is what the Labour party and the hon. Member for Perry Barr want to see, but with some important exceptions, which he acknowledged and which I should like to reinforce.

The hon. Member once more asserted his support and the support of his party for shared ownership and assured tenancies. I welcome that. It is important that those messages continue to be given to the housing association movement and investing institutions that wish to become involved in those forms of tenure. He also gave a fairly unqualified welcome for the thought, under certain conditions, of building societies and pension funds investing in this sort of tenure. That is important. His hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) talked about the need for licensed professional landlords. That is an area of agreement between the Labour party and the Conservative party upon which we can build in the future. I welcome that consensus, although we fundamentally disagree about the private rented sector as a whole.

The hon. Member for Perry Barr asked about the statistics of rent increases in recent years in the private rented sector. I think that he based his ideas mainly on the interesting brief circulated by Shelter on behalf of 10 local associations representing people in the private rented sector. In particular, the hon. Gentleman quoted a 17 per cent. rent rise in the first half of 1986. That statistic is based upon the kind of calculation that Ministers are normally accused of trying to get away with. That figure actually relates to rent for the previous two years. The rents were really rising at the rate of 8 . 5 per cent. a year. Sometimes the Government are criticised for misusing statistics. I shall have to speak to my friend Sheila Mckechnie the next time I meet her and ensure that in future we have a common understanding about the basis of statistics, such as that quoted by the hon. Member for Perry Barr.

The most important point is that private rents rose by 340 per cent. between 1970 and 1986. That must be compared to the rise in the retail prices index during the same period of 417 per cent. Local authority rents increased by more during that time, by 581 per cent., and average earnings increased by 579 per cent. That is the true picture over 16 years, and that shows the true scale of the rise in private rents. That rise is set in context when those figures are considered together.

It is also very important to recognise that the average unfurnished weekly tenancy in England and Wales is let at £19·63and the average for a furnished let is £28. The figures for London are £24·92 and £35·94 respectively. Some of the figures—

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I shall consider the points made by the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) in a moment. He raised some very important and disturbing points, which I shall try to address shortly.

The hon. Member for Perry Barr asked how many people in private rented tenancies enjoyed housing benefit. The exact number is 626,000. That is nearly one third of all private sector tenants. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) are correct, in that we do not have up-to-date figures of the number of shortholds. We have the figures relating to 1981, when shorthold records were kept in the fair rent registrations for the country, and there were about 5,000 such tenancies then. We have not kept the figures since then, although the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys in its examination of new lettings for the Department in 1986, showed that shorthold is a widely understood and appreciated form of tenure in the country outside London.

The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford caused me considerable concern. I know that in recent weeks there have been discussions with British Coal about the sale and disposal of ex-Coal Board houses. I understand that under the new approach auction will be a matter only of last resort, and that will be welcomed.

The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford produced some disturbing pieces of evidence in the letter that he read out. I would be extremely grateful if the hon. Gentleman would pass that correspondence to me, in the same way as his hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) has passed me correspondence across the Dispatch Box, so that I can examine that information and reply as soon as possible.

The contribution on these matters from the Liberal Benches came from the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft), and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new role as the housing spokesman for the alliance. He made a remarkable contribution, which was widely appreciated on the Conservative Benches, although having made his remarkable contribution he finished by saying that he would vote against the two orders. None the less, the first seven eighths of the hon. Gentleman's speech was splendid stuff and we were about to offer him a job on the basis of his comments.

The hon. Gentleman shot holes through the Labour Front Bench argument about the immorality of making profits from renting. Any of my hon. Friends who were not in the Chamber when he made his speech should look in tomorrow's Hansard at his argument. What he said is important, because we want respectable and responsible landlordism, as much in the public and in the private sector. Again, there is a wide agreement across the Chamber that that is what we want to see.

Just as it is important that we welcome the limited concessions from the Labour party about shared tenancies and shared ownership, and the possibility of building society and pension fund investment in the private rented sector, so I welcome what seemed to be implicit in the hon. Gentleman's speech—that it is not alliance policy to be completely against the private sector, and in certain circumstances the alliance would be prepared to look again at this. I am not seeking to get the hon. Gentleman into a corner and make pledges that we can use in the general election. If he is called in the debate on Tuesday, he can make his views known then. However, he has made the important statement that the alliance is not against the private rented sector.

Some important messages are going out from the speeches made by the hon. Members for Perry Barr and for Leeds, West to investing institutions, such as the pension funds and the building societies, which are queueing up to invest in rented housing as responsible landlords. We all wish to see that.

It was marvellous to hear the critical analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) of the two orders. He was right about the importance of phasing. I was interested to hear his remarks about shortholds, because he was one of the architects of the shorthold idea in the early 1980s. He asked me specifically whether new forms on shortholds will say that it will be open to the tenant or the landlord to get a fair rent registered. The answer to that is a clear and unequivocal yes, and I hope that he will forgive me if I write to him soon about the detailed point raised by his friends about housing associations.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I apologise— my hon. Friend's non-friends.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock) all made substantial contributions. They recognised that if we can find ways of getting some consensus between the parties about some parts of private renting, it will be possible to house the homeless, those seeking jobs in new areas, and young people at the end of housing queues. We need greater investment in housing and more diversity of sources into different forms of tenure. I welcome that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) made a thoughtful and brave speech in the interests of his constituents. 1 regret that he has decided that he will vote against us. Perhaps in the last two minutes he will reconsider his position. I have sympathy with his views and with the position of the tenants concerned. However, the case in question is not typical, and the rent increases that he quoted at least in part reflect substantial expenditure on the properties to which he referred. The average rent of an unfurnished property in London is £25 a week. Increases above the rate of inflation are often the direct consequence of rent control. Rent rises were held down in the 1970s, with the result that a catching-up period was, alas, inevitable.

I hope that the House recognises the case for making these orders. They will encourage the provision of more homes for rent in our capital and in Britain as a whole. I think that they will also help to fill some empty homes. That is our main consideration, and I ask the House to support these modest but worthwhile measures.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 155, Noes 92.

Division No. 81][11.30 pm
Baldry, TonyDurant, Tony
Bevan, David GilroyFinsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Boscawen, Hon RobertForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinForth, Eric
Bruinvels, PeterFranks, Cecil
Bulmer. EsmondFraser, Peter (Angus East)
Burt, AlistairFreeman, Roger
Butterfill, JohnGalley, Roy
Cockeram, EricGarel-Jones, Tristan
Colvin, MichaelGow, Ian
Cope, JohnGregory, Conal
Griffiths, Sir EldonPage, Sir John (Harrow W)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Ground, PatrickPatten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Gummer, Rt Hon John SPawsey, James
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Pollock, Alexander
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Powell, William (Corby)
Hannam, JohnPowley, John
Hargreaves, KennethProctor, K. Harvey
Harris, DavidRaffan, Keith
Harvey, RobertRathbone, Tim
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)Rhodes James, Robert
Hayes, J.Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Heddle, JohnRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hind, KennethRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hirst, MichaelRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Roe, Mrs Marion
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Rowe, Andrew
Holt, RichardSackville, Hon Thomas
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Sayeed, Jonathan
Hubbard-Miles, PeterShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb)
Jackson, RobertShelton, William (Streatham)
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickSilvester, Fred
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey:Sims, Roger
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Jones, Robert (Herts W)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Key, RobertSoames, Hon Nicholas
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Speller, Tony
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Spencer, Derek
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Knowles, MichaelSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lang, IanStanbrook, Ivor
Latham, MichaelSteen, Anthony
Lawler, GeoffreyStern, Michael
Lee, John (Pendle)Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lightbown, DavidStradling Thomas, Sir John
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Taylor, John (Solihull)
Lord, MichaelTemple-Morris, Peter
Luce, Rt Hon RichardTerlezki, Stefan
Lyell, NicholasThomas, Rt Hon Peter
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnThompson, Donald (Calder V)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Maclean, David JohnThurnham, Peter
McLoughlin, PatrickTownend, John (Bridlington)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)Trotter, Neville
Major, JohnTwinn, Dr Ian
Malone, GeraldWaddington, Rt Hon David
Marland, PaulWakeham, Rt Hon John
Mather, Sir CarolWalden, George
Maude, Hon FrancisWaller, Gary
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinWard, John
Mayhew, Sir PatrickWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Merchant, PiersWarren, Kenneth
Meyer, Sir AnthonyWatts, John
Miller, Hal (B'grove)Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Wheeler, John
Moate, RogerWhitfield, John
Morris, M. (N'hampton S)Wilkinson, John
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Nelson, AnthonyWinterton, Nicholas
Neubert, MichaelWood, Timothy
Newton, TonyWoodcock, Michael
Nicholls, Patrick
Norris, StevenTellers for the Ayes:
Onslow, CranleyMr. Richard Ryder and
Oppenheim, PhillipMr. Michael Portillo.
Osborn, Sir John
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)
Alton, DavidCaborn, Richard
Beith, A. J.Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyClark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bermingham, GeraldClarke, Thomas
Boyes, RolandClay, Robert
Bray, Dr JeremyClwyd, Mrs Ann
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)
Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cunliffe, LawrenceMcWilliam, John
Cunningham, Dr JohnMadden, Max
Dalyell, TamMarek, Dr John
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Martin, Michael
Deakins, EricMaxton, John
Dixon, DonaldMeadowcroft, Michael
Dormand, JackMichie, William
Dubs, AlfredMilian, Rt Hon Bruce
Duffy, A. E. P.Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Eadie, AlexNellist, David
Evans, John (St. Helens N)O'Neill, Martin
Fatchett, DerekParry, Robert
Faulds, AndrewPatchett, Terry
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Pendry, Tom
Foster, DerekPike, Peter
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Freud, ClementPrescott, John
George, BruceRaynsford, Nick
Golding, Mrs LlinRedmond, Martin
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Hanley, JeremyRogers, Allan
Hardy, PeterRooker, J. W.
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Howarth, George (Knowsley, N)Rowlands, Ted
Howells, GeraintShore, Rt Hon Peter
Hoyle, DouglasSkinner, Dennis
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Soley, Clive
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Steel, Rt Hon David
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Strang, Gavin
Kirkwood, ArchyWallace, James
Lamond, JamesWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Leighton, RonaldWelsh, Michael
Livsey, RichardWinnick, David
Lloyd. Tony (Stretford)
Lofthouse, GeoffreyTellers for the Noes:
Loyden, EdwardMr. Frank Haynes and
McDonald, Dr OonaghMr. Chris Smith.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Rent (Relief from Phasing) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 13th January, be approved.