HC Deb 06 June 1972 vol 838 cc304-13

Within one year of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State shall by order lay before both Houses of Parliament for their approval a scheme to bring furnished dwellings within the registered rents arrangements; and to afford to the tenants of such furnished dwellings the rent allowances set out in section 16 of this Act.—[Mr. Ewing.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

During discussion of a similar Clause in Committee all hon. Members agreed on the need for such a Clause to be inserted in the Bill. Many hon. Members, particularly those on this side, considered it to be unfortunate that the hon. Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) saw fit to withdraw their new Clause.

It is important to remember the guarantees and undertakings which formed the background against which those hon. Members withdrew their Clause. The Under-Secretary said that if their new Clause were to be accepted it would slow down the progress being made by a working party which was studying the problem to which the Clause was addressed. The Under-Secretary expressed the hope that he would be able to make a statement to the House in time for Report, but that statement has not been forthcoming.

The Bill will presumably come into force on 1st October. The Clause seeks to provide within one year from that date the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a scheme to bring furnished dwellings within the registered rents arrangements". In Committee the report of the Francis Committee was quoted extensively. I will call in aid that report once again and point out that, contrary to the beliefs held by many people, the tenants of furnished dwellings are not the tenants who are in high income brackets; they are tenants who are in relatively low income brackets and who cannot afford to rent more expensive accommodation.

In replying to the debate in Committee the Under-Secretary said that there were great difficulties about accepting the principle which we seek to write into the Bill. Is it too much to hope that the thinking power which is undoubtedly present in the Civil Service in Scotland can think up a way of overcoming the difficulties and assisting these tenants?

There are about 20,000 tenants of furnished accommodation. That number includes students. My constituency includes the university town of Stirling which has a fairly large number of students. It is the lot of many hon. Members to have university towns in their constituency in which a fairly large number of students rent furnished accommodation. We seek to protect that section of the public.

There was no great division of opinion between the two sides of the Standing Committee. We were all agreed on the need to write this provision into the Bill. Despite what the Under-Secretary said in Committee, there is concern among many people that if this provision is not written into the Bill at this stage the whole thing will be forgotten and those who will suffer will be the section of the community to which I have referred.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

The purpose of the Clause apparently is to extend the fair rent formula to furnished tenancies and also to extend the rent allowance scheme to furnished tenants.

The question of the assimilation of the furnished and the unfurnished codes, which is the purpose of the Clause, was fully examined by the Francis Committee in Chapter 32 of its report, but after consideration of the arguments for and against assimilation the committee concluded that the complete assimilation of the codes in the manner proposed would in all probability result in a serious reduction in the supply of furnished accommodation for letting. That is a situation which neither side would wish. This view was accepted by the Government.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Would the Secretary of State care to refer also to page 235 of the report? In the minority report Miss Lyndal Evans expressed an entirely contrary view, namely, that it would make no difference to the availability of furnished accommodation. Why did the Secretary of State accept one part of the report and not another?

Mr. Gordon Campbell

This is history. The hon. Gentleman knows this, because we were both here at the time that the announcement was made by the Minister for Housing and Construction on behalf of the housing Ministers about the result of the Francis Committee's report. The majority reported as I have said, and the Government accepted the majority recommendation. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides would not wish to risk a reduction in the supply of furnished accommodation for letting.

However, the committee recommended that there should be a partial assimilation including the application of Section 46 of the Rent Act, 1968—the corresponding Scottish provision is Section 42 of the Rent (Scotland) Act, 1971; that is the consolidating Act—to furnished contracts as regards the accommodation but not the furnishings, and that rent officers should fix the rent for furnished contracts. These recommendations along with many other recommendations are at present the subject of a detailed study by the Government and any new legislation will be introduced in due course.

The second purpose of the new Clause—the extension of rent allowances to furnished tenants—was debated at considerable length in Committee. A number of my hon. Friends as well as hon. Members opposite urged us to extend rent allowances to tenants of furnished accommodation. As stated at the time, we had already taken the first steps towards this desirable objective by setting up an informal working party at official level to look into the practicability of extending the rent allowance scheme as suggested. This is clearly something which the House recognises is a desirable objective but it is not something that can be done easily without a great deal of consideration.

I can now report that subsequently the working party's examination of the problem suggested that such a scheme, while containing considerable administrative difficulties, would be unlikely to raise insuperable obstacles of principle or implementation, particularly if it were to be introduced in the light of experience of the rent allowance scheme at present provided for in the Bill for private tenants in unfurnished accommodation.

In the circumstances, therefore, it seemed right to pursue the examination further, and I have arranged for formal consultations with representatives of the local authority associations in Scotland in the working party which has been considering all matters of concern to local authorities in the preparation of the Bill and its eventual implementation.

I believe that there is virtual unanimity of view on both sides of the House that legislation should, if possible, be introduced on this subject; but the Government naturally place considerable emphasis on the need to be sure that it is indeed possible to prepare workable legislation before being committed to bringing in a Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) was the first to table a new Clause on this subject in Committee. It is accepted that this has not been and is not a party matter. As a result of the consultations now in progress, the Government hope that it will be possible to devise an effective scheme and, therefore, to bring forward legislation.

From this it can be concluded that we do not think that the passing of the Clause today is the appropriate way of eventually doing what both sides believe to be right. We are pursuing the goal which both sides wish for, which is to be able to produce legislation in due course which will carry out the purpose enshrined in this part of the Clause. But I cannot commend the new Clause to the House.

Mr. Buchan

I should like to take up the phrase "in due course" which the right hon. Gentleman used. What time scale has he in mind? Presumably, if the scheme is now being worked on, it will not take long to produce. Either it will succeed or it will not. Can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that we shall see it in the current year?

Mr. Campbell

If as a result of the consultations and consideration it is found, as I trust, that legislation can be produced, I hope we shall be able to introduce it soon. But the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that there is a great deal of legislation before the House and impending. It is not for me to predict precisely when legislation will be introduced. I can assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that it is my wish that it should be introduced as soon as it is found possible to introduce it. I cannot say more than that. Competing Bills must be taken into account. This is something which we wish to deal with but not in the way proposed in the new Clause.

Mr. Ronald King Murray

The Secretary of State has not sought to discredit the new Clause on the basis of its drafting or any technical deficiency. His argument is that the Government may do something about these important issues in due course. I accept that this is not primarily a party issue. The two sides of the House are divided rather on the question of emphasis and the question of the timetable.

The first part of the new Clause recommends to the House the substantial assimilation of furnished rented dwellings with the code for unfurnished dwellings. The Secretary of State founded his argument upon the Francis Report. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes) that even if one rejects the minority report one must take into account the considerable volume of experience lying behind it.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I wonder whether my hon. and learned Friend would ask the Secretary of State why, having accepted the Francis Report and having stressed in Committee what an important committee it was, the Government now accept the findings of the working party which apparently agrees with Miss Evans in her minority report.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

I have pointed out that there are enormous administrative difficulties about this matter but that the working party reported, I am glad to say—and I am sure that the whole House will welcome this—that the obstacles were not insuperable. However, the majority members of the Francis Committee were aware of the risk of a reduction in furnished accommodation. They made that clear, and the Government had to take it into consideration.

Mr. Murray

In addition to the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North made, with which I agree, I wish to press the point which I made in Committee that the assumption on which the majority of the Francis Committee proceeded was an unproved assumption. They did not say that they were satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that there would be a reduction of furnished lettings if the furnished code was assimilated with the unfurnished

code; they said that they feared there might be a reduction. We stress that that fear must be tested by a practical investigation, and the sooner that is under way the soon we can hope to achieve the objective which both sides of the House accept, namely, assimilation of this part of the housing code to the wider code of regulated tenancies.

I turn to the question of rent allowances. The Government said that a working party would look into the practicability of applying rent allowances to the occupants of furnished tenancies. It is not altogether surprising that we have had an interim report to the effect that it would be practicable but that experience would be desirable. This might have been said from the beginning. One would have thought that it was practicable and that there was no insuperable difficulty. We suggested in Committee that no insuperable difficulty would be involved. But we are now presented with the argument that it is desirable to have experience of this matter.

Surely the important thing is to get relevant experience, and the experience will be that bit more relevant if a scheme is tried. The virtue of the new Clause is that, if accepted, it would bring the relevant experience into force. The Clause may be imperfect, but is it not better to go ahead and eliminate injustice with a mechanism which can be improved as a result of experience? If the Clause is inserted in the Bill the experience will be relevant and the House will be able to make any corrections experience shows to be necessary. I commend new Clause 5.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 229, Noes 252.

Division No. 200.] AYES [6.40 p.m.
Abse, Leo Booth, Albert Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Clark, David (Colne Valley)
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Bradley, Tom Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)
Ashley, Jack Broughton, Sir Alfred Cohen, Stanley
Ashton, Joe Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Concannon, J. D.
Atkinson, Norman Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Corbet, Mrs. Freda
Barnes, Michael Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Buchan, Norman Crawshaw, Richard
Baxter, William Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Cronin, John
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard
Bidwell, Sydney Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)
Bishop, E. S. Cant, R. B. Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Carmichael, Neil Dalyell, Tam
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham, S.) Perry, Ernest G.
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Deakins, Eric Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Prescott, John
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Kaufman, Gerald Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Kelley, Richard Price, William (Rugby)
Dempsey, James Lambie, David Probert, Arthur
Doig, Peter Lamborn, Harry Rankin, John
Dormand, J. D. Lamond, James Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lawson, George Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Driberg, Tom Leadbitter, Ted Rhodes, Geoffrey
Dunn, James A. Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Roberts,Rt.Hn.Goronwy(Caernarvon)
Eadie, Alex Leonard, Dick Robertson, John (Paisley)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lestor, Miss Joan Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Roper, John
Ellis, Tom Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Rose, Paul B.
English, Michael Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Evans, Fred Lomas, Kenneth Rowlands, Ted
Ewing, Harry Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Sandelson, Neville
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Shore, Rt Hn Peter (Stepney)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Short,Rt.Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McBride, Neil Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton,N.E.)
Foot, Michael McCartney, Hugh Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Ford, Ben McElhone, Frank Silkin Hn S. C. (Dulwich)
Forrester, John McGuire, Michael Sillars, James
Fraser, John (Norwood) Mackenzie, Gregor Silverman, Julius
Freeson, Reginald Mackintosh, John P. Skinner, Dennis
Galpern, Sir Myer Maclennan Robert Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Garrett, W. E. McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Spearing, Nigel
Gilbert, Dr. John Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Spriggs, Leslie
Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Steel, David
Gourlay, Harry Marks, Kenneth Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Marsden, F. Stonehouse Rt. Hn. John
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Marshall, Dr. Edmund Strang, Gavin
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Swain, Thomas
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Mayhew, Christopher Thomas,Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff,W.)
Hamling, William Meacher, Michael Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Hardy, Peter Mendelson, John Tinn, James
Harper, Joseph Mikardo, Ian Torney, Tom
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Millan, Bruce Urwin, T. W.
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Miller, Dr. M. S. Varley Eric G
Hattersley, Roy Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Wainwright, Edwin
Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Walden Brian (B'm'ham All Saints)
Hilton, W. S. Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Horam, John Moyle, Roland Wallace, George
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Murray, Ronald King Watkins, David
Huckfield, Leslie Ogden, Eric Weitzman, David
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) O'Halloran, Michael Wellbeloved, James
Hughes, Mark (Durham) O'Malley, Brian Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Oram, Bert White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Orbach,Maurice Whitehead, Phillip
Hunter, Adam Oswald, Thomas Whitlock, William
Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Aurthur(Edge Hill) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Janner, Greville Padley, Walter Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Paget, R. T. Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Jeger, Mrs. Lena Palmer, Arthur Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Pardoe, John Woof, Robert
John, Brynmor Parker, John (Dagenham)
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Pavitt, Laurie Mr. Ernest Armstrong and Mr. James Hamilton.
Johnston, Russel (Inverness) Pendry, Tom
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Pentland, Norman
Adley, Robert Biggs-Davison, John Campbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray&Nairn)
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Blaker, Peter Carlisle, Mark
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Body, Richard Chapman, Sydney
Astor, John Boscawen, Hn. Robert Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher
Atkins, Humphrey Bossom, Sir Clive Chichester-Clark, R.
Awdry, Daniel Bowden, Andrew Churchill, W. S.
Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord Bray, Ronald Clark, William (Surrey, E.)
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Brewis, John Clegg, Walter
Batsford, Brian Brinton, Sir Tatton Cockeram, Eric
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Cooke, Robert
Bell, Ronald Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Coombs, Derek
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Bruce-Gardyne, J. Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Bryan, Sir Paul Cormack, Patrick
Benyon, W. Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus,N&M) Costain, A. P.
Berry, Hn. Anthony Buck, Antony Crouch, David
Biffen, John Burden, F. A. Crowder, F. P.
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Kaberry, Sir Donald Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Kershaw, Anthony Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Petet
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen.James Kilfedder James Redmond, Robert
Dean, Paul Kimball, Marcus Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Rees, Peter (Dover)
Dixon, Piers King, Tom (Bridgwater) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Drayson, G. B. Kinsey, J. R. Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Kirk, Peter Ridsdale, Julian
Dykes, Hugh Kitson, Timothy Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Knight, Mrs. Jill Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Emery, Peter. Knox, David Rost, Peter
Eyre, Reginald Lambton, Lord Russell, Sir Ronald
Farr, John Lamont, Norman St. John-Stevas, Norman
Fell, Anthony Lane, David Scott, Nicholas
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Langford-Holt, Sir John Sharples, Richard
Fidler, Michael Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Le Marchant, Spencer Shelton, William (Clapham)
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Simeons, Charles
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey(Sut'nC'field) Sinclair, Sir George
Fookes, Miss Janet Longden, Sir Gilbert Skeet, T. H. H.
Fortescue, Tim Loveridge, John Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Fowler, Norman Luce, R. N. Soref, Harold
Fox, Marcus MacArthur, Ian Speed, Keith
Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone) McLaren, Martin Spence John
Fry, Peter Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Sproat, Ian
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. McMaster, Stanley Stainton, Keith
Gardner, Edward Macmillan,Rt.Hn.Maurice (Farnham) Stanbrook, Ivor
Gibson-Watt, David McNair-Wilson, Michael Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Stokes, John
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Maddan, Martin Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Goodhart, Philip Madel, David Sutcliffe, John
Goodhew, Victor Marten, Neil Tapsell, Peter
Gorst, John Mather, Carol Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Gower, Raymond Maude, Angus Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Green, Alan Mawby, Ray Tebbit, Norman
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Grylls, Michael Meyer, Sir Anthony Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Gummer, J. Selwyn Mills, Peter (Torrington) Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Gurden, Harold Mitchell,Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire,W) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Tilney, John
Hall, John (Wycombe) Moate, Roger Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Molyneaux, James Trew, Peter
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Monks, Mrs. Connie Tugendhat, Christopher
Hannam, John (Exeter) Monro, Hector Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Montgomery, Fergus Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Haselhurst, Alan Morrison, Charles Waddington, David
Havers, Michael Murton, Oscar Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Hawkins, Paul Nabarro, Sir Gerald Ward, Dame Irene
Hayhoe, Barney Neave, Airey Warren, Kenneth
Hicks, Robert Nicholls, Sir Harmar Weatherill, Bernard
Higgins, Terence L. Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Wells John (Maidstone)
Hiley, Joseph Nott, John White, Roger (Gravesend)
Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Onslow, Cranley Wiggin, Jerry
Holland, Philip Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Wilkinson, John
Holt, Miss Mary Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Winterton, Nicholas
Hordern, Peter Page, John (Harrow, W.) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Hornby, Richard Parkinson, Cecil Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Hornsby-Smith, Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia Percival, Ian Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Peyton, Rt. Hn. John Woodnutt, Mark
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Pike, Miss Mervyn Worsley, Marcus
Hunt, John Pink, R. Bonner Wylie, Rt, Hn. N. R.
Hutchison, Michael Clark Powall, Rt. Hn. Enoch Younger, Hn. George
Iremonger, T. L. Price, David (Eastleigh)
James, David Proudfoot, Wilfred TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Mr Kenneth Clarke and Mr. Hamish Gray.
Jessel, Toby Ouennell, Miss J. M.
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Raison, Timothy
Jopling, Michael

Question accordingly negatived.

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