HC Deb 15 February 1973 vol 850 cc1463-7

4.12 p.m.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Paul Channon)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, leave out from 'Until' to: '(which' in line 13 and insert '29th April 1973 (on which date local authorities are required by paragraph 2 of Schedule I to this Act to bring into operation schemes varying or replacing their existing rent allowance schemes so as to take account of the amendments set out in that Schedule)— (a) nothing in this Act shall invalidate the existing allowance scheme of a local authority or cause the authority to be regarded as being in breach of section 20(1) of the Housing Finance Act 1972'.

Mr. Speaker

I take it that it will be for the convenience of the House if we discuss with this amendment the Government amendments Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 9.

Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)

On a point of order. I am sorry to delay the House, but I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether you would give us advice and guidance arising from the selection of amendments which I understand has taken place. Amendment No. 10 in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) other hon. Members and myself has not been selected. That amendment is in the following terms: In page 5, line 8, leave out from 'be' to end of line 13 and insert: such rent for the dwelling as shall be registered under section 74 of the Rent Act 1968 and the authority shall refer the contract to the Rent Tribunal for the purpose of registering a rent for the dwelling: Provided (a) that in any case where a contract is referred to a Rent Tribunal under the foregoing provisions section 77 of the Rent Act 1968 shall have effect as if for the words "before the expiry of that period" in the last line of section 77(1) there were sub- stituted the words "unless the rent tribunal shall so direct" and in section 77(2)(a) for the words "a shorter period shall be substituted for the period of six months specified in the subsection" there were substituted "such notice shall have effect after such period as the Tribunal shall specify having regard to the hardship that would be caused to the landlord or to the tenant by the notice having or not having effect "and in section 78(1) there were substituted for paragraphs (c) and (d) the words "(c) the rent tribunal has given a direction under section 77(2)(a) above" and section 77(4)(b) were repealed. (b) that until a rent is registered under the foregoing provisions the "rent which is eligible to be met by a rebate or allowance" shall be the rent exclusive of any part thereof attributable to rates'. I am not seeking, of course, to challenge your decision in any way, but I understand from what transpired earlier in Committee that a similar amendment was not accepted and the reason for it not being selected was that it would involve expenditure in the expansion of the work of rent tribunals, taking it outside the scope of the Money Resolution governing our consideration of this Bill.

I wonder whether I could have your advice? Might it be in order to propose a manuscript amendment making it possible in your view for us to consider the consequential amendment in the light of any such change? The reason I raise this —and I am doing my best not to raise any question of merit or demerit—is that the point covered by the amendment which has not been selected is one which, even though there may be disagreements in the House, it has been accepted is of central concern when dealing with this Bill. It covers a point of policy which was the subject of discussion in committee and on Second Reading—the question of security of tenure or insecurity of tenure. We would very much like to have the opportunity, if a suitable amendment could be devised, to pursue this matter, which is very relevant to the question of rent allowances to tenants.

If it is possible to present a manuscript amendment which would meet the point concerning the Money Resolution, would it then be possible to have this matter reconsidered by the Chair?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has put his point very fairly and very courteously. He has made clear that he is not challenging my selection. I thought however that he might raise this point of order and therefore I considered the matter beforehand and came equipped with a form of words to deal with the point.

To clarify the matter, I think it is just as well to explain quite clearly the position to the House. I have studied this amendment with care. The Bill as introduced and in its present form provides for tenants of furnished lettings to obtain an allowance towards their rent from local authorities, subject to certain qualifications. The Bill does not provide security of tenure for any tenant; nor are landlords in any way a party to transactions under the Bill. The amendment seeks to grant a measure of security to certain tenants, and therefore materially affects the position of the landlord. It must therefore be considered to be outside the scope of the Bill. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has restricted the operations of the amendment to those tenants qualified under the Bill, but this does not in my view bring the amendment into order. That is my attitude towards the amendment that has been tabled.

In regard to a further amendment, I certainly would not give a hypothetical ruling. If the hon. Member brings to me anything by way of a manuscript amendment, I shall certainly consider it.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Channon

You were kind enough, Mr. Speaker, to suggest that we might consider all the Government amendments together, if that is for the convenience of the House.

The purpose of these four amendments is to make the date of introduction of rent allowance schemes to include furnished tenants 29th April 1973 instead of not later than 1st April 1973.

I think there is no disagreement in any quarter of the House on the need to expedite the passage of this Bill in order to bring the help it contains to furnished tenants as soon as possible. There is, however, an important proviso and we are grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) for making this important point in Committee. The point raised by the hon. Member and others in Committee is perfectly fair.

We have decided to up-rate the needs allowances in the rebate and allowance schemes not only for furnished but for unfurnished, private and local authority tenants. This will necessitate the recalculation of all existing rebates and allowances in force when the up-rating is made. We have already announced our intention that this up-rating should take effect from 29th April after the end of the standstill period. So if the Bill is enacted as now drafted, with local authorities required to implement rent allowances for tenants of furnished lettings by 1st April, authorities will be faced with the not inconsiderable burden of calculating these new rent allowances on the existing scale of needs allowances from 1st April and then, four weeks later, recalculating them on the new scale of needs allowances. We do not wish to alter the date for the up-rating of the needs allowances as this deliberately coincides with the end of the standstill when rent increases in both the public and private sectors become payable by some tenants.

Since the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston raised the point we have consulted the local authority associations on the right course to take. The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) made a helpful point on this. We have decided to provide adequate time for authorities to implement the Bill and to avoid the double calculation due to the up-rating of the needs allowances by altering the date for introducing the provisions of the Bill from 1st to 29th April. However, as the hon. Member pointed out, none of us wishes that eligible furnished tenants should lose by this deferment. So we propose to provide in the regulations amending the needs allowances that, exceptionally, any rent allowances granted to tenants of furnished lettings who apply before 29th April will be backdated, on the new needs allowance scale, to the first rental period beginning after the date of the tenant's application, provided it is not earlier than 1st April 1973.

This is a reasonable course to take. It will help the local authorities, which are faced with a difficult and novel task in implementing the Bill. It meets the point about the difficulties arising from the changes in the needs allowances and at the same time does not harm the interests of any furnished tenants. It meets the points raised in Committee and seems to be a sensible compromise which will help both furnished tenants and local authorities.

I hope that the House will find the amendments acceptable.

Mr. Freeson

I thank the Minister for having considered the matter that was raised by my hon. Friends and myself in Committee. We appreciate the steps that have been taken to ensure that local authorities are able to administer the provisions of the Bill more effectively. Secondly, we appreciate that, in spite of the alteration in the date, payments may still be made retrospectively to persons who are eligible.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

I am grateful to the Minister for taking up this matter. This is a sensible arrangement; it saves work for the local authorities and entirely meets the point I raised. It is not a constituency matter, because it will not affect Birmingham—Birmingham's scheme is already in operation—but it will affect most other local authorities.

Amendment agreed to.

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