HC Deb 10 November 1971 vol 825 cc985-6
8. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will introduce legislation to limit the amount of increase in rents which may be imposed by rent assessment tribunals; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Younger

Rent assessment committees must remain free to fix what in their judgment are fair rents. This was provided for in the Rent Act, 1965, introduced by the previous Administration. Under the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, published today, tenants who cannot afford to pay the full fair rent will be assisted by rent allowances, and rent increases will be phased in certain circumstances.

Mr. Dempsey

Is the Under-Secretary aware that the rent officer at Coatbridgc has agreed to a rent increase from £18 to £110 for a two-room-and-kitchen tenement occupied by retirement pensioners? That is an increase of more than 600 per cent. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that landlords are cockahoop because the rents of similar houses were stepped up by £100 by a rent tribunal? Is it not time that rent tribunals were told to enforce fair and not extortionate rents, because the 1969 Act was never intended to be a lawyers' paradise?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern, but I think he will agree that rent assessment committees are essentially the type of body which must be left independent of interference from governments of any kind. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be improper to interfere with the normal working of these committees. If the new Bill is enacted, tenants will be able for the first time to get rent allowances to help them, if the rent is too much for their needs.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Is my hon. Friend aware that many tenants, particularly elderly ones, are not aware that if they appeal against a rent officer's decision to an assessment tribunal the figure can be substantially increased and not just reduced? As assessment committees have been in the main fixing rents higher than those fixed by rent officers, is there some way in which people can be made aware of the facts and of their rights?

Mr. Younger

I agree that it is important that people should be aware of the facts. Appeals do not always result in increases. For example, in 1970 in 32 per cent. of cases rent assessment committees reduced the rent and in 28 per cent. left the rent unchanged. Therefore, appeals do not always work to the detriment of tenants.

Mr. Ross

Will the Government undertake to review the proceedings of these committees, because there may well be a greatly changed situation when there is a recognition that, no matter what the rent is, somebody else will pay. The landlords will be the ones who will benefit and the public will have to pay these rents, many of which could be extortionate for the type of property involved.

Mr. Younger

I do not entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It all depends upon the independence of judgment of the rent assessment committees. I have no reason to think that they are acting improperly in any way.

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