Mrs. Thatcher (Finchley)
I shall try to be brief, because a number [column 1182]of my hon. Friends wish to speak in this debate. I echo the sentiment of the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) that it is the job of all of us to try to make the Bill work. I accept absolutely the objective that a fair rent ought to be the rent chargeable. I think that the Minister will agree that some of our efforts have been directed not towards confounding that objective, but making sure that it will work properly.
When we reach this stage on a Bill of this kind we are a little apt to think that all the problems have been solved and that there will not be any difficulties in future. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if a fair rent is decided there will, of course, be many social problems still arising and many retired people who cannot afford that rent. These problems will have to be dealt with outside this Bill. It is our task to try to see that a fair rent is the rent that shall be charged.
Throughout the debate we have had various comments made about landlords and tenants. I make it clear at the outset that all the good is not on one side and all the bad on the other. There are good landlords. There must be good landlords, because the right hon. Gentleman is himself a landlord. There are good tenants and bad tenants. When we debate landlord and tenant relationships we tend to think of all landlords as big ones and many of them as bad, but that is not so.
I know many who are very anxious indeed to try to help retired people living in rented property.
I know one landlord who is herself retired, aged 70. Her only income—from two rent-controlled properties—is very small indeed and she is responsible for all the repairs. She wrote to me asking about the Bill and I was bound to tell her that I thought that it would be some time before rents would increase in the London area under the provisions of the Bill.
I suspect that what will happen is that a good deal of political play will be made of the fact that the Bill will bring a large number of rents down, and I believe that it will. But there is also provision in the Bill to enable a large number of rents to be put up, because many rents at present being charged are below the designation of “fair rent” . I think that we shall see some rents go down before Richard Crossmanthe Minister [column 1183]gives any permission for rents to go up and it would not surprise me if there were a General Election between the coming down and the going up processes.
I hope, however, that we shall not see a repetition of what happened with the National Health Service prescription charges. The last Labour Government got the machinery ready and passed an Act enabling prescription charges to come into operation. After the 1951 election, the Labour Party disowned that Measure completely. Let us be quite certain what this Bill does. As well as enabling rents to come down, it enables them to go up, because its objective is that fair rents shall be chargeable—and if there is an election in between, which we win, let us see that right hon. and hon. Members opposite do not disown this Bill as they disowned the Act to impose prescription charges.
I was bound to tell my constituent that I thought that it would be two or three years before she could charge a fair rent for her property.
And before the election?
I admit that the lady said, “I know that you are all working very hard to defeat this terrible Labour Government” , but she also wrote:
“I wish to thank you for your kind letter and am shocked to hear that I will not be able to raise my two rents for 2 to 3 years. This controlling of rents is the cause of much bad feeling between landlord and tenants. Tenants take advantage knowing the landlord is not able even to go to a tribunal for fair play, there is no justice”
Perhaps I have laid emphasis a little too much on this, but the point is that equity is not divisible between landlord and tenant but is something which should apply to all.
Surely, in view of the hon. Lady's Ministerial experience, it was also her duty to convey to this old lady that she did not accept it as socially desirable that an old lady of 70 should have to depend for her income on the rents of old properties that she could not maintain or repair.
This lady has looked after her property most conscientiously. [column 1184]Everything that can be done under existing social security has already been done.
Another point about which I am rather worried arises from an interview case which I had last Friday. I wish that it had arisen on the Friday before, when something could have been done about it. Throughout our period of office, deserted wives had security of tenure. The Minister, therefore, cannot complain that we were lacking in that respect. Through no fault of the present Government, deserted wives at the moment have not got security of tenure. I have looked very carefully at the transitional provisions in Clause 19, but I fear that they will not be covered and that we may have missed an opportunity under the Bill to see that their rights are restored.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will undertake to join this to the other matters which he will refer to their Lordships in another place. In the meantime, these women have no protection whatever and may well be thrown out unless they are protected under Clause 19. I am worried about what may happen between now and the passage of a new Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman must have weighed up very carefully the advantages and disadvantages of a Bill of this kind. I know full well the problems of deciding what is a fair rent. Indeed, I was reminded of the comment in “Tom Brown's Schooldays” :
“He never wants anything but what's right and fair; only when you come to settle what's right and fair it's everything that he wants and nothing that you want. And that's his idea of a compromise.”
There will, therefore, be considerable difficulty over what is a fair rent. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd -Carpenter) said, it will be difficult to get the Bill launched. The fact that we want the Bill should not blind us to these difficulties. I am sure that there will be one considerable disadvantage to the Bill. It will undoubtedly lead to a greater shortage of accommodation.
I know many old people who would let part of their houses, but are now afraid to do so because, although they would get more income if they did, the price might be domestic friction—and there is nothing worse than domestic friction. Although I have no personal interest in [column 1185]the Bill, I fear that the right hon. Gentleman has made it easier for me to have a flat in central London as well as a house in the country. Indeed I shall perhaps follow the right hon. Gentleman in that.
I see that the right hon. Gentleman looks rather puzzled. If the Bill works, rents in central London will come down and that means I shall be able to afford to have a house or flat there and relieve myself of the fatiguing job of driving home very late at night. Of course, I shall thereby relieve the transport problem, but I shall be taking up two accommodation units instead of one.
Earlier, I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) when he urged me to try to arrange for hardworking people like himself and the hon. Lady to have accommodation in central London.
The right hon. Gentleman is not listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell). He is listening to me.
I have made my criticism of the Bill, but, nevertheless, I hope that the major objective of achieving fair rents will be well and speedily achieved.