HC Deb 08 December 1964 vol 703 cc1324-8
The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on leasehold enfranchisement.

This is a subject which is causing concern to many people. The Government have already announced their intention to introduce legislation to enable householders with an original lease of more than 21 years to purchase the reversion of their leasehold interest. By giving this matter priority in their legislative plans they have shown the importance they attach to it.

But the provisions required raise important issues of policy and also some complex problems of a technical nature. For these reasons, and because of the other demands on parliamentary time, it will necessarily be some time before a Bill can be introduced.

Meanwhile, anxiety has been expressed by those living in houses where a long lease is due to expire. They fear that they may lose the opportunity of purchasing the freehold of their homes if the lease expires before the new legislation comes into force.

The Government sympathise with the anxieties of those whose leases are due to expire shortly; and I can give an assurance that in framing the new legislation the Government will ensure that whatever enfranchisement rights are conferred on a leaseholder whose lease is still running will similarly be conferred on a leaseholder whose lease expires after 8th December, 1964, and is still in occupation, on whatever terms, when the legislation comes into force.

This assurance cannot apply, of course, to those who have lost possession of the property before the Bill comes into force. But most occupying lessees are already entitled to remain in possession when their leases expire. They cannot be displaced save on specified grounds which are examined by the county court. It is, therefore, likely that when the new Bill comes into effect, a leaseholder whose lease has expired will still be living in his old house, though the terms of his tenure will be different.

What I have said does not apply to Scotland, where the land law is very different. The Government are not aware of any anxiety in connection with house property held on long-term leases in Scotland. But Scottish interests will be kept in mind while legislation for England and Wales is being prepared.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is the Minister aware that we are grateful to him for having come to a decision and made a statement without having to be pushed into it, unlike some of his colleagues? Is he aware that the substance of his statement appears in this morning's Daily Express? If so, will he undertake to investigate how it is that that information became available to the Press before he made his statement?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this policy of government by statement, followed by a long interval for legislation, causes the maximum of difficulty for all concerned—[HoN. MEMBERS: "The landlords"] Why is it that, as this proposal featured prominently in the Labour Party's election manifesto, the Government had not prepared their ideas on how to implement it, but now have to spend a long time thinking out how it can be done?

Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman on some occasion seek to reconcile a decision to confer a right to freehold on people who have never previously had it with the policy of the Government, under the Development Commission proposal, to deprive the owners of new houses of freehold rights?

Mr. Crossman

I find that a little curmudgeonly. We are preparing legislation and in the meantime a great deal of anxiety has been expressed by people who own leases. I should have thought it reasonable to give this assurance to those people. Although the right hon. Member may not appreciate it, I think that leaseholders will.

On the subject of delay, I am a little baffled. We are undertaking a major reform of rent control and directly that is over we shall deal with leasehold enfranchisement.

Mr. Abse

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the statement he has made will be received with considerable relief and with thanks on the part of leaseholders in Wales? In particular, it will be received with thanks—despite the churlish reception by hon. Members opposite, who did nothing while they were in power—and with particular satisfaction by all leaseholders in Wales whose leases are falling in on Christmas Day.

Now that my right hon. Friend the Minister has made it clear that a leasehold Bill is to be brought in within a very short time, would it not be wiser for bad ground landlords to stop their present exploitation and to follow the example of good ground landlords by offering immediately reasonable and proper terms to tenants who will gladly accept them?

Mr. Crossman

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I also thank him for giving advice to landlords. I hope that they will take it.

Mr. Gower

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he anticipates that the promised legislation will be introduced in the present Session of Parliament?

Mr. Crossman

Yes, I do anticipate that. We have in our Department two major Measures, one on rent control and this, which I anticipate will be coming in as soon as we finish with the first one.

Mr. Alan Williams

Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether there will be any premises or leaseholders who will not benefit from this proposed legislation and how the proposed legislation will apply to flats?

Mr. Crossman

Yes, Sir. There will be certain leaseholders who will not benefit, but I make one thing clear. Those not still in occupation will not benefit, but I emphasise that there will be very few of them, because unless an order can be obtained by which they can be moved from their position they will still be in occupation when the law is passed.

The question of flats is a very difficult problem, one in which we have difficulties because of covenants to carry out repairs and the transfer of responsibility. This is one of the technical details which make it very difficult to draft an effective piece of law.

Mr. Grimond

While welcoming the Government's intention, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that there are genuine difficulties about the attempt to forestall legislation by statements which do not cover the whole field? What is to be the position of people who go to the county court and are, nevertheless, evicted on grounds which will disappear when the Government have introduced the legislation? I beg the Government to realise that, although this may be a small number, there will be a considerable feeling of unfairness over the matter. Will he give an assurance that not only will this legislation be introduced as quickly as possible, but that the Government will give as much attention as possible to this group?

Mr. Crossman

I am aware of the difficulty of giving complete reassurance. That is why I drafted the statement in very careful language and had to exclude particular classes, one of which the right hon. Member has mentioned.

Mr. Rhodes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be received with considerable gratitude by many leaseholders in the City of Newcastle-upon-Tyne who are being pressed by landlords at present to purchase the freehold reversions on their properties in the City at exorbitant prices, sometimes 50 to 100 times the, annual ground rent? Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what machinery he will establish to enable fair prices to be charged when the freehold reversions take place?

Mr. Crossman

I cannot possibly anticipate the legislation.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the first question I put to him, which he omitted to answer, namely, whether he will investigate the apparent leak of the subject matter of this statement and tell us how it happened?

Mr. Crossman

I am certainly prepared to answer. I did not see this leak. I am very surprised if the text of this careful statement was to be found intact in the Daily Express, which is not usually so careful to publish stories which lack any human interest and are so accurate.

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