Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1974 Jul 30 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

HC S Report [Rent Bill (Lords)] (Thatcher and other Amendments)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Speech
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [878/655-77]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Around 2341-0052. MT spoke at cc655-58, 666, and 676-77. The whole of the brief debate on these amendments is included on the disc.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 7589
Themes: Higher & further education, Housing
[column 655]

Clause 2

CERTAIN TENANCIES NOT TO BE PROTECTED

Mrs. Thatcher

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 33, after ‘persons’, insert:

‘or by an individual or individuals of a dwelling house approved by a specified educational institution’
.

This amendment concerns students and their accommodation. R. FreesonThe Minister knows that this has been the subject of important debates in the other place, and I know that this cause was pleaded with clarity and cogency in Committee. It is a measure of the importance which we attach to the subject that once again we return to it. As I understand it, without this amendment the only accommodation exempted from the Bill is that provided by educational institutions for their students, with an extension for specified institutions and bodies of persons. With the amendment incorporated in the Bill the accommodation at present available [column 656]for students in the form of houses, flats or bed-sitters in the university and polytechnic towns would likewise escape protection and therefore continue to be available for the student world.

For years, every late September or October, I have been on the receiving end of complaints from the university towns that there was insufficient accommodation available for students. At the begining of the Michaelmas term we were always worried that that would turn out to be true, because the universities and polytechnics provide only a minority of the residential places for the students under their care. With a university it might be one-third, with a university it might be one-third, with a polytechnic considerable less. The rest is provided by the ordinary accommodation in the town.

A lot of such accommodation these days is in the form of flats or houses, because that is the way students like to live these days. They do not want to go to the old-fashioned landlady to the extent that we did 20 or more years ago. They want to take their own accommodation and share it and rent it. It is usually rented furnished. A number of landlords and landladies provide that kind of accommodation and it is recognised that it is for students.

If the Bill goes through unamended in this way our fear is that a good deal of that accommodation will not be available, because a number of existing students will become protected tenants and may hold over and not release the accommodation for the new generation of students. Consider towns which have universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. I can think of a number, like Oxford, Brighton, Leeds, Birmingham and Exeter. A number of big cities have a considerable number of educational institutions. Each year the number of students increases.

I know that we used to say that in percentage terms we tried to keep the percentage of accommodation provided by the universities in terms of halls of residence constant in relation to the total numbers. But percentages can be misleading. When there is an expansion in universities and higher education the number who go to these places annually increases, so that the actual number of those who have to find accommodation increases. [column 657]

Our great fear is that this September or October, when one has protection for the first time, if our amendment is not accepted there will be a shortage on a scale never before experienced, which will continue into successive years. I know that the National Union of Students thinks the Government's position is all right. I have had conversations with its vice-president on this matter. If accommodation is not there, there is no way of providing it rapidly. One cannot in the circumstances rapidly put up prefab accommodation. The only way is to see that the accommodation which would normally be released continues to be released.

I understand that in future years a register of approved accommodation will be provided so that landlords who provide houses, flatlets or bed-sitters can apply to the bursar for approval. They would then become “approved accommodation” and would be exempt from protection.

However, as I look at the clause, it does not seem to me that the regulation-making powers under subsection (2) would, as at present drafted, enable the Government to do that. Let us examine subsection (1). Accommodation which is exempt from the Bill is accommodation

“provided by a specified educational institution … or body of persons.”

Then we go to the next provision to see what is meant by “specified” , and it says that it means

“specified, or of a class specified … for the purpose of that paragraph by regulations made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument.”

It is accommodation provided by another specified institution or by a class of specified institution. It looks to me as though that refers not to a miscellaneous group of individuals but to the kind of institution that provides halls of residence—which is not the institution authorised by the university as such. For example, churches may well provide halls of residence for some of their own people who are at university. One might specify a class of accommodation provided by the churches for those attending university or polytechnic. Sometimes, voluntary bodies will provide accommodation for those going to university. But it looks to me [column 658]as though in that case “specify” does not mean a group of individuals in any way. The only other group it covers is a body of persons. I doubt whether a miscellaneous group of individuals is a body of persons. I shall ask the Minister whether what he proposes to do is within the regulation-making power of subsection (2), because I do not believe it is. Perhaps P. Archerthe Solicitor-General will look into the situation while I am talking.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

It does not ultimately depend on what the Minister is good enough to tell us tonight; it depends, in part, whether the Statutory Instruments Committee of this House reports whether such a statutory instrument is or is not ultra vires in terms of the Bill. If the Minister believes that the Bill can cover landladies and the Statutory Instruments Committee takes the view that it is ultra vires, his intention in the statutory instrument would be nullified. We would then have to have amending legislation which could not possibly be done within the time sequence. My right hon. Friend was rightly drawing that situation to the attention of the House.

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope that we have now made the point. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It makes it even more important to get it right now and for the Government to consider accepting our Amendment if the position is to be covered this year and in future years without introducing new legislation for the purpose.

As I understand it, only accommodation that is provided by the institution or a particular class of institution or a body of persons, in the sense of a group of trustees or an unincorporated society, is exempted from the protection provided in the Bill. If that is so, the position which may reign in Oxford, Birmingham, Leeds, Exeter, Hove, and so on, may be very serious. That is why we think it wise to pursue the amendment. Unless we can obtain rigid assurance from the Minister that what he wants to do is covered, I hope that he will consider accepting the amendment.

Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)

I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), because my constituency is likely to be one of those severely affected by the Clause if the amendment is not carried. [column 659]

If the amendment is not carried, the sufferers from the consequences of the Bill will not be the landlords. They will be the students, and others in a like position—for example, nurses in training at hospitals or apprentices in industry on industrial training courses, to name only two examples which would also arise in Oxford.

As my right hon. Friend has asked some penetrating questions about the exast significance of the clause as it is drafted, I wish to seek clarification from the Minister about the exact meaning of the Bill as drafted and as understood by the Government. In order to do that I must first explain my understanding of the meaning of the clause, and I shall then ask the Minister for a categorical confirmation of or disagreement with my interpretation.

It appears that the Bill as drafted takes care of the interests of the educational institutions themselves when they provide hostels or similar accommodation. This appears clear from subsection (1)(bb).

Secondly, from what she said I am not entirely sure whether my right hon. Friend was in agreement with my interpretation, but it appears to me that the Bill will also take care of the interests of landladies or landlords who let rooms to students in houses which they themselves occupy. This appears to arise from Schedule 2, paragraph 1. I ask the Minister for a categorical confirmation of those two points or for reasons for disagreeing.

In other words, I understand that students who are tenants of either educational institutions or of landlords or landladies resident in the houses in which they let rooms are excluded from protection by the Bill. This appears to be perfectly right, but I do not see why, if the educational institution is taken care of by the Bill, the private landlord who lets a furnished flat or house of which he is not an occupant should not be put in the same position as the educational institution, since he is providing exactly the same service on the same terms to the same students. Why should he not have the same right as the educational institution to recover his property in order to let it again to future students, as student generations go on? [column 660]

If the amendment is carried the landlord will have that right; if not, it appears to me that what will happen will be the same as has already happened with unfurnished accommodation, to which the same principles have been applied in the past—namely, that landlords will simply take such accommodation off the market and it will no longer be available for letting to students.

I see at least one hon. Gentleman shake his head but I have already heard from owners of property in Oxford that that is what they intend to do. That will have very severe consequences for young students, especially those who, as my right hon. Friend said, prefer to live alone or in groups rather than to take bed-sitters in a house with a landlady or a landlord.

In a town like Oxford—admittedly, there is no town exactly like Oxford, but in a town where there is, for example, a university, a polytechnic, a college of further education, a teacher training college, a teaching hospital, a very large engineering industry with a large number of apprentices, many secretarial colleges, crammers, and so on, serving many thousands of students, of whom increasing numbers want to live in groups or alone—the consequences of the Bill, without the amendment, will be very grave.

It is no use the Minister's saying, if he intends to do so, that such students, apprentices, or nurses can go to hostels or boarding houses, because that is precisely what independent young people do not want to do, and, in any case, there will not be enough. Neither is it any use the Minister's saying, if he intends to do so, that most of them will leave anyway when their courses finish, so that their landlords will have no real problem. Most of them will leave, but it is the minority who will not that alarms the landlords.

Unfortunately, we have begun to breed in this country what the Russians used to call perpetual students, admittedly in small numbers—but even small numbers are sufficient to create an alarming situation. Even now, I sometimes get requests for help in obtaining grants from students in their late 'thirties who have been living for years on the taxpayer by means of educational grants. Lest I be misunderstood, because I am speaking of Oxford, let me make it quite [column 661]clear that I am not talking of Ruskin College where different conditions apply. But this is happening, and the consequence is that landlords will not take the risk of being encumbered with these perpetual students, even though they are a minority, when they have no legal means of recovering possession of their property. They will therefore withdraw their property from the market and the sufferers will be the students of future generations.

It is, therefore—here I agree with my right hon. Friend—essential that an amendment on these lines is incorporated into the Bill. I repeat that this is necessary in the interests not of the landlords who will be well able to take care of themselves, but of future generations of students.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

There is a further conundrum upon which I should welcome advice. Particularly in the city so ably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), many of the landladies are not freeholders of their properties, but have a limited lease. If we produce a situation in which their sub-tenants have a security that extends beyond that of the landlady herself, what will be the position?

Under the terms of her lease, she is bound on a certain date to give up the property with vacant possession. If the landlady cannot do that because she has sub-let—not in breach of the lease but in a manner that was in accordance with the lease when she sub-let but which has been overtaken by the degree of security that is prohibited by the lease—what will happen? She will have broken the lease, in effect, by retrospective legislation. I am not a lawyer, and I shall be grateful it somebody will explain the position.

Mr. Woodhouse

I put a question on this to the Minister, and I am glad to have this opportunity of re-emphasising it because, if my understanding is correct, the landlady who lets rooms in a house in which she is herself an occupant has her interests taken care of under the Bill. In other words, those to whom she lets rooms are excluded from the Bill by the terms of paragraph 1 of Schedule 2. I may be wrong about this, but that is the point on which I asked the Minister to inform the House.

[column 662]

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

We are faced with the phenomenon of an increasing number of married students. They need a different type of accommodation from that needed by single students, and in response to that need quite a lot of accommodation for letting in university cities has been divided into flats. What was originally a house with landlady who let four or five bedrooms to four or five students now, to meet the needs of married students, has been divided into flats, with the landlady living in one of the flats.

I am not a lawyer, but I think that in law the landlady in such a case comes outside the protection afforded to somebody living in the house. Again we get this conundrum of people acquiring a security for reasons that the Government do not intend.

Mr. Allason

I do not know whether my hon. Friend has studied Clause 10 and the case where there is a separate flat in the house. If the landlady is living in the house, I think that my hon. Friend is perfectly correct. But supposing the landlady wishes to retire. I think that the matter is taken care of in Clause 10. She gracefully disappears and the landlord is saddled with responsibility for tenants. What we do not know is who is responsible for providing them with furniture if their letting is furnished.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

All this shows that we could unwittingly get into a position in which what was intended to be student accommodation ceases to be student accommodation. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) represents a university city which probably has the highest proportion of in-house accommodation—the colleges accommodating students—and the smallest proportion of undergraduates being out in digs, cottages, or accommodation of other kinds.

Cities such as Exeter, with newer universities, do not have the same tradition of accommodation to let for students. They have expanded fairly rapidly. Therefore, this problem can become particularly acute for them. Moreover, in cities such as Exeter, which is in the centre of a holiday area, the low rents charged to students are made possible because in [column 663]the Summer Recess the same accommodation is let to holiday visitors. If, however, this security of tenure is given, that whole system may be destroyed. The result would be that students would have to be charged much higher rents, because the landlady would be unable to rely on letting the accommodation. This is not generally done on an ad hoc basis. It is advertised in advance. If the landlady does not know whether the accommodation will be free when the recess comes, we are in danger of changing the whole pattern of student accommodation in a manner that will be extremely harmful to our student population. It will be beyond the capacity of anyone, including the universities or local authorities, to remedy this situation in a matter of two or three years once the Bill reaches the statute book.

I ask the Minister to give serious reconsideration to altering so radically the system of student accommodation with the serious risk of results which I am sure he does not intend. We do not intend them, and if none of us intends them let us not pass legislation which may have those consequences.

Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)

I should like to make one or two points on behalf of the smaller university such as Reading University. Unless the amendment is adopted there may easily be a considerable shortage of accommodation. About two-thirds of students at Reading University are accommodated in hall and about one-third outside the university.

Reading is at present a boom town. A tremendous amount of new office accommodation is being brought in. Landladies and those letting furnished accommodation will obviously tend to prefer to offer this on short-term loan to companies coming to the area. They know that, as tenants, the executives or the office workers who have moved from London are preferable to students, where there is some risk of their not moving out. They know that the executives and office workers are mostly married, living in limited accommodation for only a short time and will wish to move to other accommodation. This will obviously lead to the accommodation being let to executives and typists, and will tend to dry up a necessary reserve of accom[column 664]modation for the one-third of university students in small towns such as Reading. I therefore support the amendment.

Mr. Freeson

I accept that there has been a change in the pattern of accommodation in university towns such as Reading, where there has been an expansion in certain types of employment. In inner London, one of the greatest pressure areas is small households, especially in respect of accommodation for single people. We must come to terms with these changing patterns in our housing policy.

The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) expressed an understanding of the situation in relation to students. Many resident landlords still take in students. We do not know the pattern outside halls of residence. It would be useful if, in due time, we could establish the pattern.

Students who stay in residence with landlords or landladies are in exactly the same position as that of any other tenant with a resident landlord or landlady—they stay within the ambit of Part VI of the 1968 Act and do not come within the statutory security that is provided in the Bill for furnished tenants. Subject to what we have to say about students, this will apply only to tenants of non-resident landlord properties. This is also subject to other exceptions which we have discussed. I hope that that is perfectly clear. The security provisions do not affect the position of tenants of resident landladies and landlords, including students.

The power introduced by subsection (2)—this is, in effect, the new Section 2(4) of the 1968 Act—does not allow the Secretary of State to describe the registration scheme by statutory instrument. That is for future legislation, as I sought to make clear in Committee.

The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) asked whether the clause did not need amendment to make the regulation-making power work in the context of the registration scheme. It is not necessary to have the clause so drafted, because it is not meant to provide for this. This will be done by separate legislation. Although I have stated it briefly, I think this covers the point which she sought to illustrate. [column 665]

As for the position this year, I said in the closing stages of our Committee discussions that I would make yet further inquiries, in readiness for the Report stage, in order to get up-to-date information about the position with regard to the Department of Education and Science. The Department has had no evidence submitted to it of any shortfall being expected this coming September. It has made inquiries, and there is no evidence to suggest that there is any substance in the fears expressed in Committee and restated tonight. It is, of course, right that hon. Members, particularly those representing constituencies where the problem could arise, should express these fears, so that we may investigate them. I have been in touch with the Department of Education and Science, and understand that there is no evidence to suggest that the introduction of this Bill and its prospective enactment and implementation will produce the kind of situation about which hon. Members have expressed fears.

Mr. Tyler

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had discussions also with the National Union of Students. I met the president of the union and he took the same view, that there is no cause for alarm at present.

Mr. Freeson

I have not had personal contact with Mr. Randall; I have had correspondence from him, and I have had representations which were the basis of some of our discussion in Committee. I based many of my remarks in Committee on those representations from the National Union of Students, and because of the queries raised by hon. Members opposite I explained that we had been in touch with the Department of Education and Science and that I would be in touch with the Department again. It is fair to say that although the NUS has expressed certain views, it does not necessarily follow that different evidence has not been presented to the Department of Education and Science. All I can say is that we have had no such evidence passed on to us. I repeat what I said in Committee, that if such evidence is forthcoming, we shall clearly have to reconsider taking some kind of temporary action if it is possible and if it is necessary. We do not think it will be necessary. We think that the move towards the registration scheme [column 666]about which we want to have consultations will be in time for the subsequent terms in the following year, and no evidence of the anxieties and fears which have been expressed has come from the university areas.

Mr. Woodhouse

If the Minister is talking about the fear of furnished accommodation for students in university lodgings being withdrawn from the market, he appeared to me to say that there was no evidence that this had happened yet. The point we are making relates to the future; the fear is that this will happen as soon as the Bill becomes law.

Mr. Freeson

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman did not pay sufficiently close attention to my words. I was not referring to the past. I was not referring to the prospects. Understandably, fears were expressed by Opposition Members at some length in Committee to the effect that the introduction of this Bill and the fact that it would soon become law would noticeably reduce the nonresident landlord accommodation available to university students. I have been in touch with the Department of Education and Science. We are in touch regularly. I made a point of having a further check done between the end of the Committee stage and the Report stage here in the House to see whether there was yet any evidence. There is no evidence for the future—that is, the future this coming September. I am speaking now about the future.

As for the position thereafter, on the basis of the consultations referred to in Committee, on Second Reading and again tonight, we shall be drawing up a registration scheme for subsequent years in order to exclude certain kinds of registered accommodation, in the terms indicated in the Bill and in our debates, from the normal security provisions under the Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

With all due respect, the Department of Education and Science would not know what the position is likely to be now. That is why it phrased its reply so carefully— “We have no evidence” . Of course, it has no evidence, at just about the end of term. That is the sort of meaningless reply one sometimes gives to questions simply because one is being jolly careful not to commit oneself.

[column 667]

Mr. Freeson

The right hon. Lady is being less than fair. It was not I who suggested to the Department of Education and Science that there was a risk, or that there was evidence of a drying up. There have been genuine fears expressed to hon. Members opposite, even without firm evidence—that is not a criticism—fears expressed from certain quarters in education, and I undertook to ask that inquiries be made. There was no question of my asking just for a message from the back of a desk in the Department of Education and Science. The Department has been making inquiries, and those inquiries have produced no evidence.

We have been asked to take some sort of temporary step to meet a situation as described by Opposition Members on the basis of what had been put to them. I can only agree to that if the temporary step, whatever it be, is taken to deal with a situation of the existence of which there is some evidence. Inquiries have been made—it was not, as I say, just a desk answer—and nothing has been received. The Department has been in touch, and there is no evidence to support the fears understandably expressed by hon. Members in Committee and today.

Mr. Rossi

Let us have the matter clear. The hon. Gentleman speaks of fears expressed to Opposition Members. They were direct representations made to us by those responsible in the universities for providing accommodation for their students. That takes it a little further than the hon. Gentleman has done. This is staff of universities anxious for the provision of accommodation for their students. I should have thought that that was direct evidence. The House must draw its own conclusions.

Mr. Freeson

I take this matter as seriously as the hon. Gentleman does. Of course, we take it seriously, otherwise, we should not be building into the Bill the beginnings of the scheme we have in mind. I have accepted that there were those representations and those fears. What we have sought from the Department of Education and Science, in order that we might come to a view on the matter, is information, not just representations about fears. I do not say that in any offhand way. If representatives of [column 668]institutions come to the hon. Gentleman, to me or to any other hon. Member and say, “We are concerned about the Bill, and we fear that it will do this or that to the student letting market” , in order to come to a conclusion on the matter, to come to a policy decision and, if need be, to legislate, one must go back to them and say, “You have expressed certain fears. Will you give me evidence now, or as soon as you can, showing that your fears are real and that this is actually happening?” .

It has been my task to try to establish that. We have been in touch with the DES, which in turn has made inquiries. I have not tried to brush the thing aside, and I am not trying to do so now. But what I am saying is that, as a basis for decision making, we have no evidence to suggest that there will be the kind of reduction in accommodation about which hon. Members opposite have expressed fears and about which the institutions have expressed fears to them. If we get that information we shall certainly look at the matter again. As I indicated in Committee, in the meantime we cannot act upon something upon which we have no information.

Mr. Rees-Davies

There has been no consultation between the Government, the University Grants Committee and the other bodies which are in a position to provide information which the Government want. Because of the desperate rush over the Bill they have not been able to obtain that information. There has been no consultation. That is why we are in this difficulty.

Mr. Freeson

The DES made inquiries at our request. No evidence has been submitted to it from the educational institutions. That does not mean that this event will not happen; it means that there is no evidence of its happening. If we get the evidence we can take action, but in the meantime we shall proceed along the lines set out in the Bill.

Mr. Durant

The Minister says that he does not have evidence from the National Union of Students that students are anxious about this. I have here a magazine provided by the union at Reading University, which highlights in [column 669]a full-blown article the tremendous anxiety there is for the coming term.

Mr. Freeson

I do not question that anxiety exists. We saw the article in Standing Committee. I do not wish to push the issue aside. When the information about the coming term arrives—if it arrives—we shall see what we can do to help.

Perhaps I may now deal with the amendment instead of constantly being interrupted.

Mr. Rossi

What puzzles us is to know how, with the best will in the world, the Minister will be able to deal with the situation in September. The evidence that he is looking for will not arrive until September. Unless the Minister has power under the Bill to take steps he will find that in September the students will not have the accommodation available. Without the amendment there is nothing that the hon. Gentleman will be able to do by regulation.

Mr. Freeson

I must reply bluntly to the hon. Member. The kind of statements he has been making from time to time in Committee have raised unnecessary anxieties on this score, and it is not good enough every time I stand here asking for the information for hon. Members to pursue their arguments and yet not provide it. If action is required, we can consider it, but no evidence has been provided.

The amendment seems to be an attempt to anticipate the measures we have promised for a registration scheme for private lettings to students. It has been argued that the risk to the supply of lettings for the new academic year this coming autumn necessitates some form of action now, but despite inquiries we have had no suggestion of the threat of loss to which hon. Members and various institutions have referred.

The amendment is unsuitable for its purpose. It would grant specified institutions an almost untrammeled power to exclude tenancies from protection. It would be a power limited only by the fact that the tenancies are, or are to be, granted to their students, and exercisable without any other limit as to numbers, any criteria relevant to the accommodation, the landlord or anything else, or any [column 670]reference to the local housing authority, which might be placed in considerable difficulty by uncontrolled pre-emption of available private lettings for students.

All these are among the matters that must be studied with representatives of all concerned in producing the kind of registration scheme we wish to devise as soon as possible. An uncontrolled provision for educational institutions to exclude tenancies from protection by approval cannot be a substitute, even temporarily, for the kind of system it is necessary to produce to meet the problems with which we are here concerned.

We intend to have consultations with the Department of Education and Science, the institutions and local authorities concerned, and their associations, to produce the right kind of registration system. That is the sensible and most productive way of going about this. We do not see the need to push ahead with an inadequate temporary provision that will produce the threats I have indicated. That would not be the right way of going about it.

We should have consultations and after proposals have come from them proceed as the Government have indicated they wish to proceed.

Mr. Graham Page

Is the Minister saying that the Bill enables him to carry out a form of registration? If so, is it through the words “body of persons” ?

Mr. Freeson

I have said that there will be a need for legislation to deal with the registration scheme. This will follow the consultations that I have indicated it is our intention to embark upon.

Mr. Graham Page

rose——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Minister has sat down.

Mr. Sainsbury

rose——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Has the hon. Gentleman already spoken on this amendment?

Mr. Sainsbury

I have not spoken on this matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to say a few words in summary of what was has been said so far.

The Minister is not now unaware of the concern in the House about the matter. A great deal of time has been spent on [column 671]discussing the point in another place and in Committee. The Minister has repeatedly said that there is no evidence. I suggest that it is very unlikely that there would be any evidence at this time.

I wish to speak of the University of Sussex, which is the principal but by no means only source of student lettings in the area I represent. Only about 50 per cent. of the students at the university are accommodated either on the campus or in halls of residence elsewhere owned by the university. Half the students have to find their accommodation elsewhere.

Risks and problems can arise in lettings to students. In the Brighton and Hove area, there has been a great deal of correspondence in the local papers and discussion of the difficulties of student lettings. Some of the students have complained of the absence of unfurnished accommodation. It may seem surprising that they should seek unfurnished accommodation, but many married students, for example would like it. Its absence is not surprising following previous legislation. These students much prefer houses, flats and bed-sitting rooms, in that order, to the traditional sort of university accommodation—the lodging with a landlady who provides board. I have it on the authority of Sussex University that such accommodation is much avoided by the student body.

Much of the accommodation that the students prefer, we suspect—although we do not know—is provided in dwellings which are not any part of a building where the landlord already lives. At this time of year, only impending first-year students are having their accommodation dealt with by the university. The second and third-year and post-graduate students are dealing with their own accommodation problems. The tendency has been in previous years for the first Sunday of term to be the day when a number of students go to the accommodation officer and complain about their inability to find accommodation. It does not arise until that moment.

We are confirmed in our fear that the problem which the Minister is avoiding solving will come up too late to solve—when term has started and it will no longer be possible to take temporary [column 672]action. What temporary action does the hon. Gentleman think he can take when term has started?

We have heard that there is no evidence. It is impossible for there to be any. The hon. Gentleman has admitted that despite the absence of evidence, as he puts it, he is prepared to legislate, yet we do not even know what the pattern is outside the halls of residence. The hon. Gentleman admits something which those of us representing areas where there are universities admit—that we do not know how much of the student accommodation is found in dwellings which are not in a building in which the landlord also lives and which would therefore be brought into protection for the first time by the Bill. We do not know and he does not know, yet he is prepared to legislate in the absence of vital information. The hon. Gentleman says that one cannot act on something on which one has no information, but if he had listened to the debate properly he might have been in a position to take action.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about unnecessary anxiety being introduced into this situation by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi). The anxiety that exists now and that will be considerably increased is entirely of the Minister's own making. He has been warned enough in another place, in Committee and in the House.

The amendment has much to commend it for one special reason—it would encourage the compilation of a register, an idea that has been welcomed on both sides of the House. The Minister talks of a registration scheme for future legislation, but what help will that be for next year's students or, by the time the change has been made, for future students?

The warning has been clearly sounded. There is anxiety, and it is not surprising, because it will be impossible to take the action necessary to correct the damage that the Bill may cause when the evidence to which the Minister has constantly referred becomes available. He condemns the amendment as an inadequate and temporary provision, but even an inadequate provision would be better than no provision at all.

Amendment negatived.

[column 673]

Clause 3

RECOVERY OF POSSESSION OF DWELLING HOUSES LET ON CERTAIN TENANCIES

Mr. Kaufman

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 3, line 24, leave out ‘lets’ and insert ‘let’.

I suggest that with this we discuss Amendment No. 7.

The credit for seeing the need for these amendments must go to the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) who, with his habitual thoroughness, spotted the fact that the verb was in the wrong tense in the retirement home case. I should like to express the Government's thanks to him for such an admirable piece of proof reading and repeat the offer that I made to him in Standing Committee of a job in the Department at any time he chooses to leave this place.

By exchanging “let” for “lets” we make absolutely clear that this case may apply to a letting created before the Bill comes into operation as well as to a letting created after that date. Coupled with moving the amendment, I offer a vote of thanks to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Graham Page

I rise only to thank the hon. Member for that sarcastic bouquet.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Allason

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 3, line 37, leave out:

‘has retired from regular employment and’
.

In this Clause, which introduces a new Case 10A, the Government appear to have provided satisfactorily for the case of the retirement home. Many people are required by the nature of their employment to live in tied accommodation or somewhere where they do not have to live after retirement. Consequently, they seek to provide for their retirement by buying a home somewhere else. They want to start while they are earning the money to do so, when they can begin to pay off the mortgage. Large numbers are affected. One thinks of police officers and bank managers. They need somewhere to live following retirement. People retire from their principal jobs and they then need the new accommodation. Unfortunately, however, in the clause the [column 674]Government require a test of total retirement. This we seek to amend.

It cannot be satisfactory public policy to require that someone retiring from his principal job—say, a police officer at the age of 55 or a bank manager at 60—should go into permanent, complete retirement, yet he is required to do this by the terms of the clause. Surely it must be sensible to say that if a man retires from the job which has held him away from the place in which he wants to live on his retirement, that should be the moment when he can take the house that he has provided for his retirement. So far it has all been simple—he has let the house furnished and he knows that he can get it back—but he knows that in future he will not get it back unless he is within the narrow terms of Case 10A. Case 10A is too narrow.

Case 10A requires a series of tests. First, the man must have bought the house with the intention of retiring to it. Secondly, he has to give notice to his tenant that that will happen and that he will come back to the house when he wants it. Thirdly, he must not let it on a protected tenancy. Fourthly, we get the objectionable part that the court has to be satisfied that the owner has retired from regular employment and requires the dwelling-house.

If we leave out the requirement that he has retired from regular employment we are left with the tests, first, that the house is required for the purposes of retirement; secondly, that there has been notice in writing; thirdly, that there has not been a protected tenancy; and, fourthly, that the owner requires the dwelling-house, but not that he has permanently retired because the likelihood is that many people who leave their principal employment will take on something else.

It is ludicrous to expect people to cease all employment at a quite early age. Officers of the Services come very much into this category. Perhaps I should declare not an interest but an experience. Having retired from the Services I received retirement pay, but I undertook another job, which I have carried on very satisfactorily for the last 15 years. I needed to change my residence. [column 675]

It seems to me, therefore, that there is no need for these words. They will do an immense amount of harm. The court would have to judge. It would be able to weed out the unsatisfactory cases which, no doubt, the Minister will talk about, the bogus cases in which somebody gets round the entire matter by saying “I have bought this place for retirement and, therefore, I want to be able to get the tenant out of the house at any time I like.” The court must be satisfied that the house was bought for retirement.

I therefore regard our amendment as necessary. If it is not passed, some very hard cases will be caused.

Mr. Freeson

The effect of the amendment would be to allow a landlord who retired from regular employment and who had purchased a house for his residence to claim possession of it if the court was satisfied that he required the house as a residence at another time.

It may be that the intention behind the amendment is to widen Case 10A, which is built into the Bill to deal with retirement homes—this was the Government's specific intention—so as to give a landlord an absolute right to possession of a dwelling-house for his own use. The amendment would no achieve this effect, whatever its intention might be. It would apply only where the landlord had intended, when he purchased it, to occupy the house on his retirement. It might be designed to do just this—to offer some relief to the landlord who wishes to move into his retirement home before retirement, whenever that might be, whenever such application might be made to the court for it to decide upon.

On the other hand—and this remains the point at issue—it was the subject of discussion in Committee—to do this without trying to define as closely as possible the question of retirement from regular employment, which we also discussed in Committee, would open the case to abuse, or possible abuse, by landlords who might claim that they had the intention of occupying the house on retirement when they bought it, when they did not intend any such thing. The Government have accepted from the start, without any pressure—it was on their own initiative—that there was a need to preserve the rights of people who genuinely buy a home in [column 676]advance of retirement and who let it until such time as they retire.

At the same time, it is essential to guard against possible exploitation of the Case by the unscrupulous minority. Those landlords who have not retired and who cannot therefore claim possession under Case 10A are still able to apply to the court under Case 8 if they reasonably require the dwelling-house for their own use. This seems to the Government to give such people adequate rights without prejudicing the security of tenants.

As I argued on this and other matters in Committee, we are seeking to establish a reasonable balance between the two interests. There are existing homes to take account of—people who have brought up their families and lived in the dwelling-house for some years. This has to be weighed in the scales, too. If a person has indicated from the outset, through the procedure set out in the Bill, that the property is a retirement home, such a person is covered, subject to the discretion of the court—a discretion provided in the Bill before the end of Committee stage. If such a person has not notified the tenant, the court has a discretion to waive that fact when considering the application.

The home will be returned to the owner for retirement purposes, for which purpose he had declared his intention of buying the house in the first place. In the meantime, while it is let as a dwelling-house, subject to that, the tenant also has a right, in law, to protection, both as an unfurnished and furnished tenant. We think we have the right balance. Whatever may be the motivation of the hon. Gentleman, to do what he suggests would open the door to possible exploitation when that is not necessary. If we are people who have purchased homes specifically to retire to, which is the object of the case written into the Bill, our procedure covers that and there is no need for the amendment.

Mrs. Thatcher

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) made our intention very clear and put the case extremely plainly. We believe that we were justified in pursuing the case he put forward, and we think that the Minister's attitude is quite wrong. Since, however, it is likely to be a period of three months before we can take positive action to put our beliefs into action, [column 677]we shall not detain the House on the amendment any further tonight. Amendment negatived.