HC Deb 20 December 1972 vol 848 cc1323-5
28. Mr. Tugendhat

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he is aware that the Freshwater Group is offering new leases at increased rents during the period of the freeze; and if he will take action to prevent this.

Mr. Channon

The Freshwater Group has assured us that as soon as it knew of the contents of the order on rents, it took immediate steps to comply with it.

Mr. Tugendhat

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and I am grateful for the letter that he was kind enough to send me dealing with the problem. May I press him a little further? Since I tabled the Question, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has intervened in the gas dispute, and it is becoming clear that wage negotiations are not to be carried to the point of a specific offer. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is right, therefore, that rent increases should not be carried to the point of a specific offer? May I also ask my hon. Friend for an assurance as to both regulated and unregulated tenancies in phase two in the light of what has been said about wage negotiations?

Mr. Channon

My hon. Friend will not expect me to anticipate what will happen in stage two. That is a matter that my right hon. and hon. Friends will be considering. I shall note my hon. Friend's view.

As to what should take place in the standstill, I refer my hon. Friend to the terms of the Counter-Inflation (Rents) Order. This does not stop the machinery of the fair rents system because of the great confusion that it would cause and because of the tremendous pile-up of cases that would result. In my view the case to which my hon. Friend refers is analogous to that for regulated tenancies.

Mr. Frank Allaun

How can the Minister talk about counter-inflation and about curbing prices when next year he will have a deliberate and unnecessary rise in the rent of hundreds and thousands of working-class families?

Mr. Channon

This is a matter that we should and no doubt will debate. However it does not arise out of this Question.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

The Freshwater Group, having been told that it was morally offending the spirit if not the letter of the law, has now withdrawn an offer made to one of my constituents of £1,350 and has said that the rent will now be £2,000. What steps can my hon. Friend take to stop this gazumping of £650 in three weeks by the Freshwater Group?

Mr. Channon

I cannot comment on an individual case without having the details. I am assured by the Freshwater Group that it is complying in every way with the terms of the Counter-Inflation (Rents) Order and the legal obligations imposed upon it. If my hon. Friend has evidence to the contrary, I hope that he will produce it.

Mr. Crosland

It is not simply a matter of complying with the terms of the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Act. Will the hon. Gentleman recognise—what I thought we demonstrated clearly when discussing the Act—that by far the largest majority of private tenants are not covered by any provisions in the Act? They are in fact effectively outside the scope of the Act. Will he look at this matter again? While wages are coming under more and more severe pressure, private rents are substantially outside the Act.

Mr. Channon

I do not agree that private rents are substantially outside the Act. In the debate we gave a whole list of categories of people who are included. Naturally I will consider any representations that the right hon. Gentleman cares to make in both this and, indeed, any other context.