Fixing of Terms of Statutory Assured Tenancy

Part of Clause 17 – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 26th October 1988.

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Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian 4:15 pm, 26th October 1988

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friends, together with the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), took the opportunity afforded by the previous amendment to have a fairly wide-ranging debate on the principles of the Bill. Lords amendment No. 5 is concerned with rents—another fundamental aspect of the Bill.

In response to my intervention in his earlier speech, the Minister candidly confirmed that Lords amendment No. 4 means simply that the widow of a successor tenant will be exposed to the threat of summary eviction. That is one of the things that the Government are proposing to do to encourage the private sector, private speculation and private landlordism.

The entire Bill concerns increasing rents and reducing tenants' security in the private sector. I suspect that that is in the vain hope that there will be a rebirth of private landlordism in Scotland. The Labour party does not want that.

Lords amendments Nos. 5 and 10 deal with the procedures for a tenant to refer the terms and rent of a new statutory assured tenancy to the rent assessment committee. According to the amendment, the application to the committee must be in a prescribed form. The fact that it will be in a prescribed form according to a prescribed procedure and timetable will be another obstacle to tenants who want to secure their rights under the Bill—given the limited rights that will be left to them.

It would be helpful if the Minister could say something about the interesting concept of an "affordable rent". The Government say that they want market rents so that private landlords can make a profit. On the other hand, the Government say that they will ensure that those rents are affordable and that there will be sufficient back-up to ensure that. Housing associations, Shelter and others have expressed grave concern about that.

Have the Government had any further thoughts about the concept of affordable rent? How on earth do they propose to ensure that tenants can afford the rents that are likely to be charged, given that a sellers' market already exists in Scotland? There is a gross shortage of housing in Scotland. Any hon. Member or councillor in Scotland who comes face to face with his or her constituents must be aware that an intolerable number of people are living in overcrowded accommodation. An intolerable number are stuck on housing waiting lists or in bad housing.

Because of the present housing crisis there is a sellers' market in Scotland. Given a free market, landlords will be able to charge high rents. What protection will be given to tenants? I shall return to this matter when discussing Lords amendment No. 17, which would ensure that tenants have the information that they need to assert what is left of their limited rights.

Given that the Minister was candid enough to come clean and admit that he is quite happy at the prospect of widows being evicted in Scotland, will he now come clean about the future high rents?