HC Deb 09 December 1970 vol 808 cc405-6
28. Mr. George Cunningham

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will introduce legislation to increase the penalties for harassment of tenants.

Mr. Channon

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) on 25th November.—[Vol. 807, c. 127–8].

Mr. Cunningham

Has the hon. Gentleman noticed the very low level of fines imposed in the courts for this offence, which are out of line with both the gravity of the offence and the profits to be made from it? Will not he introduce legislation to increase the penalties for this very serious social offence?

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to comment on what penalties the courts actually impose. That is a matter for the courts. As he knows, my right hon. Friend has asked the Francis Committee to consider carefully penalties for this offence. We are awaiting its report, which we expect to receive quickly.

Mr. Richard

But would the hon. Gentleman recognise that it is necessary not only to consider penalties for the offence but also to consider extending the scope of the offence itself, since a great deal of harassment is going on, particularly in the urban areas like London, which is not caught by the present law as it should be?

Mr. Channon

The Francis Committee has been set up to review the whole working of the Act, and we are waiting its report.

Mr. Leonard

Would the hon. Gentleman pass on to the Francis Committee the Greve Report on homeless families in London, which is reliably described as showing that the level of harassment has increased in recent years?

Mr. Channon

My right hon. Friend has already instructed a copy of the Greve Report to be sent to the Francis Committee.

Mr. Freeson

Would the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that a great deal of this harassment arises indirectly, but to the knowledge of local authorities, as a result of their actions, that some local authorities are imposing purchase orders on properties, requiring that they be sold with vacant possession, which results in harassment of the tenants concerned by the prospective sellers? Would he remember the need to pursue local authorities on this matter to stop this kind of conduct?

Mr. Channon

I should like to examine what the hon. Gentleman says. I will ensure that the Francis Committee notes all the suggestions made at Question Time today.