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Rent Act 1974 (Amendment)

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 10 May 1977

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3.38 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Rent Act 1974.
Many of us will deeply regret that the Labour Party's Home Policy Committee has decided to continue its vendetta against private landlords. What a stupid and short-sighted decision! Let me say straight away that the purpose of my Bill is to encourage the private landlord to provide accommodation for letting and thus to ease the problem of the young, the single, the homeless and the newly married, who traditionally use private rented accommodation but who are now finding it harder and harder to obtain.

It has been estimated that in 1975 there was a loss of at least 90,000 dwellings from the private rented sector. During the same year over 51,000 applications by homeless families for accommodation were recorded by councils in England. This compares with 28,000 in 1972, namely, approximately a doubling in three years. There must be some correlation between the tragic and rapid rise in homelessness and the continuing and sharp decline in the private rented sector.

Never, I believe, has there been such a perverse act as the Rent Act 1974. It reminds me of the Chinese saying describing the behaviour of fools:
"Lifting a rock only to drop it on one's own feet".
The Act aimed to provide greater security of tenure for the tenant, but how can there be greater security when there is no flat or house for the tenant to tenant? That is the greatest insecurity of them all. Equally, the Act purported to give the resident landlord a greater possibility to let accommodation in his own house while at the same time granting security of tenure to the tenant. But the Act is so convoluted and difficult to understand, and there are so many exemptions and exclusions within it, that the landlord does not know where he stands. Where his own home is involved he prefers to leave accommodation empty to letting part of the house to a tenant whom the landlord subsequently finds he cannot remove and whose presence considerably diminishes the capital value of the house.

Let me give one example of the complexity and convolution in the Act. Suppose that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were to be invited by Mr. Speaker to share a few rooms in the Speaker's House—because Mr. Speaker might feel somewhat lonely in that large building—and you were to agree to go for a trial period until the end of the Session. Suppose also that after that time you found that you enjoyed talking politics together at breakfast and that Mr. Speaker suggested renewing the agreement until the end of the next Session. The fact is that he could not get rid of you at the end of that time. You would be there as a protected tenant by virtue of having had two fixed-term tenancies. You would have been given the status of irremovability. I would congratulate you upon that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it would certainly not have been Mr. Speaker's intention that you should remain in that house when he first invited you to stay.

That is precisely the sort of booby trap which exists within the 1974 Act. That is why resident landlords are so chary of letting and why those in search of private rented accommodation find it increasingly difficult to obtain it.

I have thought it right, therefore, to bring forward this short Bill. It has the support of many of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). It has as its main purpose to simplify the position of the resident land-lord and thus to encourage him to put more accommodation on the market.

The Bill will provide that three months after it has been enacted, all new tenancies where a resident landlord is letting accommodation in his own house will be exempted from the constraints of the Rent Acts unless both landlord and tenant agree in writing that the provisions of the Acts are to apply. This means that from that time a resident landlord will let to new tenants accommodation in his own home for fixed periods of time that may or may not be renewed, or for an unspecified period, at market rent and without creating security of tenure. The minimum period of notice to be given to such non-protected tenants will be 90 days.

I shall also seek to amend the 1974 Act so that a non-resident landlord with a genuine need to possess and occupy at a certain future date should, with the agreement of his prospective tenant, be able to grant a fixed-term tenancy without granting security of tenure. This could be implemented in two ways. First, there could be a mutually agreed fixed-term lease, operating within the existing fair rent arrangements. Here I would be following closely the pattern already suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams).

The second possibility is that in exceptional cases a higher than fair rent could be justified, for example, where a landlord had to discharge mortgage repayments. In such a case the parties should be able to agree both a fixed term and a rent higher than that registerable generally. These agreements would be concluded in the presence of a rent officer who would thus be able to advise the parties on the implications and terms of the proposed agreement.

I am reminded of a tragic comment made in The Economist which read:
"People complain that housing policy has become so complicated that they no longer understand it. But imagine their complaints if they had understood it."
My suggestions would utilise a good deal of property that is currently empty because possession cannot be guaranteed at a given future date. Even if local authorities were required to rehouse tenants after the end of the fixed term, an advantage would have been gained by delaying the time when this has to happen and the maximum possible use would have been made meanwhile of the housing stock at a time when new flats and houses are not being built in sufficient numbers.

It is imperative that we help those who need private rented accommodation. I believe that my Bill would go some way to doing that.

3.45 p.m.

I rise to oppose the Bill. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) began with a piece of completely false logic. He said that since there had been an increase in the number of empty properties and in difficulties of homelessness since the 1974 Act was passed, there must be a correlation. I dispute that. The process of which he complains started long before 1974. I certainly know, on behalf of my constituents, that a great deal of unhappiness and misery has been saved as a consequence of the Government extending security of tenure to tenants of furnished accommodation.

It is true that fewer furnished dwellings are being advertised in the newspapers. Clearly, more vacancies will be advertised if the complete licence to evict, which existed for landlords of furnished accommodation hitherto, is reinstated. Similarly, since before 1974 the security granted to unfurnished tenancies did not extend to furnished tenancies, there was a motivation for landlords to transfer unfurnished accommodation into furnished by putting in a few sticks of furniture. This denied the tenants their security. When that device was prohibited it was clear that there would be less furnished accommodation arising from that source.

It is true that there is some misunderstanding among resident landlords. That, frankly, is less a consequence of the legislation and more a consequence of Tory propaganda, which has sought to use the private resident landlord as an excuse for urging greater freedom for landlords of the Freshwater and Stern variety, which are rife in my constituency and in many others.

If the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex is concerned about the number of empty properties, he would have done far better to be in the House when my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) sought to introduce a Bill dealing with the requisitioning of empty properties. That would have dealt with the bulk of the problem, with the kind of landlord—not the resident landlord—who finds it

Division No. 127]

AYES

[3.50 p.m.

Adley, RobertBudgen, NickFairgrieve, Russell
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBurden, F. A.Fell, Anthony
Arnold, TomButler, Adam (Bosworth)Finsberg, Geoffrey
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Chalker, Mrs LyndaFletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)
Bain, Mrs MargaretClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Fookes, Miss Janet
Belth, A. J.Clegg, WalterForman, Nigel
Bell, RonaldCope, JohnFowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)
Benyon, W.Costain, A. P.Freud, Clement
Berry, Hon AnthonyCrawlord, DouglasFry, Peter
Biggs-Davison, JohnCrouch, DavidGardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Blaker, PeterDavies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham)
Body, RichardDean, Paul (N Somerset)Goodhart, Philip
Boscawen, Hon RobertDouglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesGoodhew, Victor
Bottomley, PeterDrayson, BurnabyGoodlad, Alastair
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Durant, TonyGow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Braine, Sir BernardElliott, Sir WilliamGray, Hamish
Brocklebank-Fowler, C.Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Brooke, PeterEyre, ReglnaldGrist, Ian
Buchanan-Smith, AlickFairbairn, NicholasGryils, Michael

more profitable to leave one or two flats empty in a multi-storey block with a view to selling it and enhancing its value. That Bill would have helped people who are in dire need of accommodation by providing these premises at a reasonable rent.

This Bill should be opposed because it gives a completely false impression of the nature of homelessness and of the reasons for empty properties. If the House were to pass the Bill it would strike a chill fear into the tenants of furnished accommodation who were granted security in 1974.

One of the constant problems from which furnished tenancies suffered was that formerly tenants could not use the provisions of other Rent Acts to have rents reduced or to have unsatisfactory conditions remedied by the landlord, because if they had asserted their rights, eviction would have followed as sure as day follows night. Following from that situation, other safeguards which were not available to furnished tenants until 1974 have now become available to them.

I hope that the House will have the good sense to throw the Bill out and to wait for a more worthwhile measure to be introduced by the Government, making any adjustments that are necessary and, most particularly, introducing powers to allow empty properties to be requisitioned.

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

The House divided: Ayes 175, Noes 199.

Hall, Sir JohnMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Shersby, Michael
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Moate, RogerSims, Roger
Hannam, JohnMolyneaux, JamesSinclair, Sir George
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)Monro, HectorSkeet, T.H.H.
Hicks, RobertMontgomery, FergusSmith, Dudley (Warwick)
Higgins, Terence L.More, Jasper (Ludlow)Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Holland, PhilipMorgan, GeraintSpence, John
Hordern, PeterMorgan-Giles, Rear-AdmiralSpicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Stenbrook, Ivor
Howell, David (Guildford)Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)Stanley, John
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Mudd, DavidSteel, Rt Hon David
Hunt, David (Wirral)Neave, AireySteen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Hunt, John (Bromley)Nelson, AnthonyStewart, Rt Hon Donald
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Neubert, MichaelStokes, John
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)Newton, TonyStradling Thomas, J.
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)Nott, JohnTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Oppenheim, Mrs SallyTebbit, Norman
Jopling, MichaelPage, John (Harrow West)Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Kaberry, Sir DonaldPage, Rt Hon R, Graham (Crosby)Thompson, George
Kershaw, AnthonyPage, Richard (Workington)Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Knight, Mrs JillPardoe, JohnTownsend, Cyril D.
Lamont, NormanParkinson, CecilWakeham, John
Latham, Michael (Melton)Pattie, GeoffreyWall, Patrick
Lawson, NigelPenhaligon, DavidWalters, Dennis
Le Marchant, SpencerPercival, IanWeatherill, Bernard
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Peyton, Rt Hon JohnWells, John
Lloyd, IanPowell, Rt Hon J. EnochWelsh, Andrew
Luce, RichardPrice, David (Eastleigh)Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
McAdden, Sir StephenPym, Rt Hon FrancisWiggin, Jerry
Macfarlane, NeilRenton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)Wigley, Dafydd
MacGregor, JohnRenton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Mackay, Andrew JamesRhodes James, R.Winterton, Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Ridley, Hon NicholasWood, Rt Hon Richard
Marten, NeilRifkind, Malcolmyoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Mather, CarolRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Younger, Hon George
Maudling, Rt Hon ReginaldRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Mawby, RayRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)

TELLERS FOR THE AYES:

Mayhew, PatrickRost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)Mr. Michael Marshall and
Meyer, Sir AnthonyShaw, Giles (Pudsay)Mr. Michael Morris.
Mills, PeterShepherd, Colin

NOES

Archer, PeterDean, Joseph (Leeds West)Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Armstrong, ErnestDempsey, JamesJay, Rt Hon Douglas
Ashley, JackDoig, PeterJenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Ashton, JoeDunn, James A.John, Brynmor
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Eadie, AlexJohnson, James (Hull West)
Atkinson, NormanEdge, GeoffJohnson, Walter (Derby S)
Bates, AlfEllis, John (Brigg & Scun)Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Bidwell, SydneyEnglish, MichaelJones, Barry (East Flint)
Bishop, E. S.Ennals, DavidKaufman, Gerald
Blenkinsop, ArthurEvans, Ioan (Aberdare)Kelley, Richard
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertEwing, Harry (Stirling)Kerr, Russell
Boothroyd, Miss BettyFaulds, AndrewKilroy-Silk, Robert
Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurFitch, Alan (Wigan)Kinnock, Neil
Bradley, TomFlannery, MartinLambie, David
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Lamborn, Harry
Buchan, NormanFoot, Rt Hon MichaelLamond, James
Buchanan, RichardFraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Freeson, ReginaldLestor, Miss Joan (Eton and Slough
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Garrett, John (Norwich S)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Campbell, IanGeorge, BruceLipton, Marcus
Canavan, DennisGinsburg, DavidLoyden, Eddie
Cant, R. B.Golding, JohnLyon, Alexander (York)
Carmichael, NeilGould, BryanMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Carter-Jones, LewisGraham, TedMcCartney, Hugh
Cartwright, JohnGrant, George (Morpeth)McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Castle, Rt Hon BarbaraGrant, John (Islington C)McElhone, Frank
Clemitson, IvorHamilton, James (Bothwell)MacFarquhar, Roderick
Cocks, Rt Hon MichaelHarper, JosephMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Cohen, StanleyHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)McNamara, Kevin
Coleman, DonaldHatton, FrankMadden, Max
Colquhoun, Ms MaureenHealey, Rt Hon DenisMagee, Bryan
Conlan, BernardHeffer, Eric S.Mahon, Simon
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Hooley, FrankMallalieu, J.P.W.
Corbett, RobinHoram, JohnMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cowans, HarryHoyle, Doug (Nelson)Maynard, Miss Joan
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Huckfield, LesMendelson, John
Crawshaw, RichardHughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Mikardo, Ian
Crowther, Stan (Rothetham)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cryer, BobHughes, Roy (Newport)Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)Hunter, AdamMitchell, Austin Vernon (Grimsby)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)Molloy, William
Deakins, EricIrving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Moonman, Eric

Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Rom, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)Torney, Tom
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Rowlands, TedTuck, Raphael
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Sandelson, NevilleVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Moyle, RolandSedgemore, BrianWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Mulley, Rt Hon FrederickSelby, HarryWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Murray, Rt Hon Ronald KingShaw, Arnold (Ilford South)Ward, Michael
Newens, StanleySheldon, Rt Hon RobertWatkins, David
Noble, MikeShort, Mrs Renee (Wolv NE)Watkinson, John
O'Halloran, MichaelSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)Weitzman, David
Orbach, MauriceSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)White, James (Pollok)
Orme, Rt Hon StanleySilverman, JuliusWhitlock, William
Padley, WalterSkinner, DennisWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Park, GeorgeSmall, WilliamWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Pavitt, LaurieSmith, John (N Lanarkshire)Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Pendry, TomSpearing, NigelWilliams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Perry, ErnestSpriggs, LesileWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Radice, GilesStallard, A. W.Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Richardson, Miss JoStoddart, DavidWoodall, Alec
Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.Woof, Robert
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)Summerskill, Hon Dr ShirleyYoung, David (Bolton E)
Robinson, GeoffreyTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Roderick, CaerwynThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)

TELLERS FOR THE NOES:

Rodgers, George (Chorley)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)Mr. Ron Thomas and
Rooker, J. W.Thorne, Stan (Preston South)Mr. Frank Allaun.
Rose, Paul B.Tinn, James

Question accordingly negativated