New Clause 4
Certain new lettings of residential accommodation not to be protected
‘A tenancy granted after the commencement of this Act in respect of a dwellinghouse which has not been let on a residential tenancy within a period of seven years prior to the commencement of this Act shall not be a protected tenancy for the purposes of the Rent Act’.—[Mr. Rossi.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The clause relates to certain new lettings of residential accommodation not to be protected. It seems from the arguments which we tried to put forward on new Clause 3, on which we have just voted. The overriding anxiety of the Opposition is to try to achieve a situation whereby the maximum amount of accommodation possible comes forward to provide homes for the people. Faced with the situation of growing homelessness in the cities, faced also with countless people who live in unsatisfactory and overcrowded conditions in multioccupation, we believe that it is vital to use every possible resource to help citizens who find themselves in those conditions.
We discussed this matter in Committee and said that we could not contemplate a situation—a situation apparently contemplated by the Government—where people either were council tenants or owner occupiers because there was little else to be made available for them. In Committee we had the benefit of a survey carried out by Shelter in Islington. It was shown that in an area of extreme housing stress, with several hundred families living at a ratio of more than one and a half people per room, there were still a large number of rooms not used for housing purposes which could be so used. The survey also showed that, out of the total accommodation, there were 2,000 persons in the area and 2,400 rooms. In other words, in an area regarded by the local authority as one of extreme housing stress there was still a very large proportion of unused rooms which, if used, would have reduced the overcrowding considerably.
Hon. Members have only to look round the districts of London and the cities out[column 596]side London to see that there is a great deal of accommodation, for example, over shops, which is unused for housing accommodation and which would be used for housing accommodation given certain circumstances. The owners of these shops are quite prepared to allow the rooms above them to be used for storage purposes or to dump a lot of rubbish that they do not need because they feel that, if and when the time comes that they wish to sell their businesses, they want to be able to sell with accommodation which the new proprietors of those shops can live in and therefore make the transactions far more attractive or again use for office, storage purposes, and so on.
If the owner of such a shop knew that he could let that accommodation and have it back relatively easily, he would be encouraged to let it. At the moment, there is every disincentive in his way.
Similarly, up and down the country there is a considerable amount of accommodation owned by elderly people. There are countless numbers of houses belonging to people whose families have grown up and left. Rooms and in some cases whole floors have become vacant. Again, that accommodation is not used for families looking desparately for somewhere to live because the elderly house owners fear the consequences of controls and that, if they let and they find themselves with objectionable tenants, they will not be able to get rid of them without a great legal process or that the rents which they might command would not make it sufficiently worth while to go to the trouble of allowing people into their homes.
We feel that if a new clause of this kind were accepted by the House, there would be an encouragement to the kind of people that I have in mind to make available the accommodation that I have mentioned.
The clause speaks of new lettings—that is, lettings taking place after the passing of the Bill. It also seeks as far as possible to define accommodation which has not been let before. The objective of the clause is to bring within the general pool of housing accommodation flats and rooms which would not otherwise be let. However, it is somewhat difficult to define accommodation that has not been let before. For example, how far back does one have to go historically to show that [column 597]accommodation has never been let before? What legal proofs are available to show that never since a house was built has it or part of it been let?
Faced with the difficulty of legal definition of that kind, we have hit upon a period of time which we believe to be fair and reasonable to the people concerned but long enough to prevent any abuse arising. We have suggested a period of seven years. In other words, the accommodation which we propose to bring within the provisions of the clause must be accommodation that has not been let for a period of at least seven years prior to the commencement of the Bill, and then the first letting takes place after the passing of the Bill.
We cannot believe that there is anyone who has deliberately been keeping property empty and not letting it for seven years purely in anticipation of the Opposition coming forward on 30th July 1974 to propose this clause. We feel that a period of as long as seven years is bound to avoid any possibility of abuse. What is more, the lack of any letting for at least seven years indicates a desire not to let.
It is people with the desire not to let whom we wish to encourage to bring forward their accommodation on to the market and to remove all disincentives against them so doing. We feel that the only way that that can be done is by providing that any tenancies that are created where these circumstances arise shall not be protected by the Act. That is the only way that this vast pool of untapped accommodation can be brought forward to provide desperately needed housing for the homeless and those living in conditions of overcrowding and multioccupation.
I know that this concept does not recommend itself immediately to the Government, because it is within their philosophy to bring all privately rented property into public ownership. therefore, anything that encourages the provision of private rented accommodation they are automatically opposed to. They also believe that the provision of rented accommodation must be made by the public sector. But I doubt whether, even with the best will in the world, the Government, through the public sector, will be able to deal with the urgent housing problems which exist in this country now. [column 598]
I recall reading in my evening paper, I think today—it may have been yesterday—that the Greater London Council is now five years in arrears with its housing programme and has no opportunity of catching up because of problems concerned with the acquisition of land—the cost factor, the delays in obtaining approval of plans through the various departments, the delays in then getting the building started, and all the rest of it.
Local authority housing is a very slow creature at the best of times. We cannot afford to wait for that provision to provide for those who are in need now.
Apart from that, there is the burden on public expenditure. We know from figures that we have already discussed that a £10,000 newly constructed council house costs the ratepayer and the taxpayer about £900 to £1,000 per annum in subsidy. In London the average cost of new construction and of acquisition under the municipalisation scheme is in the region of £15,000. Therefore, the moment that we start to consider making total provision out of the public sector for all the homeless and all people living in bad housing conditions, we are faced with an economic burden that the taxpayer and ratepayer, groaning as he is at the moment, will not be prepared to undertake.
Therefore, it is absolutely necessary, if we wish to make immediate provision that does not impose intolerable burdens upon the taxpayer and the ratepayer, to look as far as we can to the private sector and to encourage the bringing forward of unused accommodation which is begging to be used, begging to be rented, if the owners had removed from them the disincentive which up till now has prevented them making that accommodation available.
The speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) was remarkable even by the standards that we have come to expect of him in advancing his case on the Bill. He repeated what he has said before, that he does not believe that the public sector can cope with the housing problem. He now adds to that the remarkable concept that he does not believe that the taxpayer is ready to make available the necessary revenue to deal with the housing problem.[column 599]
Nor the ratepayer.
I accept that; I include the ratepayer.
That is an extraordinary statement. If events continue as some commentators say they may, I must warn the hon. Gentleman that I shall be ready to use the statement that he has made in the campaign which we may shortly be conducting, so that this party can continue its unimpeded progress towards majority rule——
Use the figures.
I shall certainly use the figures.
We accept that to provide decent houses for our citizens will cost considerable sums, but the hon. Gentleman's alternative, that we should rely on some notional pool of furnished accommodation for which he can supply no statistics or for which none is available, is unacceptable to us.
If we are to debate alternative housing programmes, with the Labour Party maintaining that the housing problem must be solved partly by making rented accommodation available in the public sector and partly by providing sufficient facilities for people to own their own houses and the Conservative Party saying that we should solve the problem by removing protection from tenants so that landlords will make such accommodation available, that is a controversy on which I am ready to confront the hon. Gentleman and his party at any time.
The Minister must not put words into my mouth. I did not speak of removing protection from tenants. I am speaking of accommodation which is not let and never will be let unless some incentive is given. That is an entirely different proposition. Those tenants not merely are irrelevant to the protection question: they will not have a home at all unless something is done to help them.
I apologise. The hon. Gentleman was, of course, saying that the way to solve the housing problem is by adding to the rented stock accommodation for tenants who would have no protection. I do not think that I am now misrepresenting him, and I am still perfectly satisfied with the difference between our case and his. [column 600]
The hon. Gentleman was fair. He said that we believed that the rented sector should be dealt with by what we like to call the “social landlord” —that is, mainly by local authorities but also by the voluntary housing associations. This, of course, excludes—this saving is explicitly included in the Bill—those people who share accommodation with a resident landlord. We have made a specific saving and have indeed extended it to the unfurnished tenant.
The hon. Gentleman aptly told the House that his arguments had been rehearsed before. They were rehearsed earlier this evening and at considerable length in Committee. Hon. Members opposite used to groan with the tedium of it when I told them that these were matters of principle, even of ideology, on which we had to differ from them. They will have to groan again, because I have to tell them that our arguments on similar amendments and new clauses of theirs are arguments which it is necessary for me to repeat now. Even if it were true—there is no real reason to believe that it is true—that the kinds of exceptions from protection of the Bill were to prove a sufficient incentive to those who are not currently letting property, which to my mind is very doubtful, we on the Government side of the House insist that the incentive could be given only by leaving the tenants affected entirely at the mercy of landlords with regard to rent and security.
This would be quite contrary to the principle of the Bill. It would be contrary to the philosophy held by the Government side of the House. I must tell the hon. Gentleman, therefore, that his proposal is not acceptable to the Government.
This new clause is another attempt to ensure that there will be a supply of furnished accommodation. Gerald KaufmanThe Under-Secretary and his hon. Friends cannot possibly solve the housing problem in the absence of a supply of houses. A supply of furnished accommodation is a part of the market.
The only possible personal interest that I have in the Bill, not being a land owner or a letter—unlike some hon. Members on the Government side of the House—is to ensure that my two children, when they leave home to take up their training [column 601]in other towns, are able to get furnished accommodation. Like many other young people, that is the only source available to them for getting living accommodation away from home.
At present the scales are balanced against the landlord who wishes to provide that accommodation. The new clause will not affect existing tenancies. It will only serve to bring on to the market tenancies which would not otherwise come on to the market. It may serve to encourage people to do conversions especially for furnished letting and to build for furnished letting. All that it can do is to increase the supply of accommodation. [column 602]
The Under-Secretary said that people would be at the mercy of the landlord. But he knows that it would be quite possible to provide for term tenancies for a specific number of years, in which everyone knows where he stands at the outset, but he refuses to do it. We think that he and his hon. Friends have a blind spot about ensuring a supply, and we shall take our opposition to his viewpoint into the Lobby and vote in favour of the new clause.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 222, Noes 257.