HC Deb 25 July 1974 vol 877 cc1961-8
Mr. Freeson

I beg to move, That the House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendments Nos. 81 to 112.

Mr. George Cunningham

I disagreed a moment ago with the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) when he paid tribute to those who are responsible for producing the documents. I did not do so to pour criticism on the Government or the Leader of the House, as most hon. Mem bers have done in the last few days. When there is a failure in the normal processes for producing the printed documents of the House, it is up to the House authorities, not the Government, to get this right, and the House authorities come under Mr. Speaker's authority. Far too much criticism has been directed to the Government, when the failure is a failure of the House authorities. I shall not proceed with that in case I should be out of order. We must take note of this for the future. We cannot have this kind of nonsense again. This is no way to pass legislation in anything except a banana republic.

I should like to mention the amendments which deal with the identity of landlords. I refer to Amendments Nos. 85, 86, 87 and 1:38. I wish to thank the Minister for the changes introduced following the discussion in Committee. So far as one can follow them from the documentation we have before us, they appear to meet the points which I raised on that occasion.

Secondly, Amendment No. 84, which deals with notices to quit, will provide that in future such notices must be in writing. It came as a surprise to me to know that one could have a notice to quit that was not in writing. We should surely for the future ensure that there is a statement to the recipient that the notice to quit is not immediately enforceable. Many tenants receiving notices to quit still believe that they must get out when the notice to quit expires. They should be told what is the law—namely, that they do not have to get out until a court gives an order for possession. It would be a natural thing for the notice to quit to contain a statement to that effect. If the recipient of the notice to quit is aware of his rights it does not matter, but many single people—for example, elderly women living on their own—need this measure of protection. We do not have notices to quit these days. We have notices of the beginning of a legal process. We should change the title and provide for this information to be attached to the notice to quit.

Mr. Rossi

It might help the hon. Gentleman to know that in the concluding stages of the Rent Bill Committee this morning my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) moved an amendment precisely for the purposes mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). It asked for the notice to quit to be called a "Notice for variation of terms of tenancy". That was felt to be more consistent with the objective of those notices. That would have gone part of the way to meet the hon. Gentleman's point. But regrettably, like so many other useful amendments moved in Committee, that amendment did not find favour with Labour Members.

Mr. George Cunningham

People who receive a document calling itself a notice to quit at least know what those words mean, although now legally they are not a requirement to quit the premises. If people were served with a document calling itself a "Notice for variation of terms of tenancy", I do not think they would have the least idea what it was intended to mean. That does not go anywhere near as far as I suggest.

Mr. Cormack

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A few moments ago, when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, I raised a point of order arising from the confusion earlier on the printing of Parliamentary papers. In my point of order there was a sedentary interruption from the Government Front Bench to the effect that the problem was all settled. I understand, from inquiries outside the Chamber, that the problem is not settled and that we are still in the same position. I would ask you, Sir, to try to arrange through Mr. Speaker for the matter to be clarified fairly soon.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is a matter for another occasion. I think we should proceed with the business in hand.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

Before there is any criticism of my speech this morning, may I at least ask Labour Members to read it. If they do so, they will be moved to tears by the point I made.

Mr. Freeson

Having had experience of the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) in Committee on more than one Bill, I have from time to time been moved to tears—though perhaps not for the same reasons as he just expressed.

11.0 p.m.

May I first express the Government's appreciation for the thanks which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) expressed for seeking to meet the points which he raised in Committee? We accept their validity.

As for the further point which my hon. Friend has just made, I agree entirely. I hope that it may be possible, though I foresee difficulties, to formulate a model notice to quit at some time in the future which will ensure that the basic information about legal rights is indicated on the notice or the papers which have to be submitted in writing to the tenant concerned.

I do not want to give any commitment at this stage. I want to examine my hon. Friend's suggestion a good deal further before doing that. However, my hon. Friend will see from the clause that subsection (2) in page 74 says that the term "prescribed", which refers to the form in which the notice to quit must be issued in writing in the future, means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument. I hope that, in examining the way in which a notice to quit shall be prescribed by regulations in the future, we shall be able to consider going along the road which my hon. Friend has suggested.

I do not say this categorically. I want to think about it. My hon. Friend has raised a most important point. We all know of many tenants who have acted upon notices to quit when they had no need to and, as a consequence, have lost their homes. If there is any way in which we can dissuade tenants from moving out when there is no need for them to do so until the full legal process has been followed, the whole House will wish to take action to meet that objective.

Mr. Tyler

I wish to make three references to the schedules. The first of them is in page 216. Unfortunately, there is no number. Perhaps I might say in passing, to rebut the suggestion of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) that the state of the Amendment Paper is somehow the fault of the Officers of the House, that the Officers of the House could not possibly have put the amendments into decent form between the end of the Bill's stages in the other place at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. when we were asked to consider them—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I think that he is outside the group of amendments that we are considering. The hon. Gentleman is dealing with Amendment No. 117 in page 216. At the moment, we are going only as far as Amendment No. 112, in page 214.

Mr. Tyler

This is headed "After Schedule 3". I take it that it comes between Schedules 3 and 4, which is one schedule to which the Minister referred just now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Minister asked that Amendments Nos. 81 to 112 be considered. That is the group which we are considering at the moment. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) will have his chance very shortly.

Mr. Graham Page

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The pages in my Amendment Paper bear four numbers on each. The page which I have open bears the number "93", which is stamped with a machine. Then there is the number "216" in ink in the right-hand corner. Below that, there is the number "57" which is obviously continental, since the "7" is crossed. Then below that, there is the number "117". This is the page to which the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) is referring, and I think that it is within the group which we are considering.

Mr. Tyler

I am tempted to sit beside the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). He seems to have two more numbers on every page than I do. However, I think this is within the group that we are considering.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am abiding by what the Minister said. I do not want to lean too heavily on him. Perhaps he will clarify the position.

Mr. Freeson

That is very kind of you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I assure you that, in view of the state that I am in over this Bill, if you lean heavily on me I may disappear through the floor.

So far as I am aware, the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Tyler) is in order in raising this matter, although I, too, am in difficulty with the numbering of the pages.

Mr. Tyler

I rise with some trepidation. The question which I wish to raise on this page is that the final words of the new Schedule disappear off the bottom of it. There are three or four lines of which I cannot have knowledge. Perhaps the Minister will indicate what I am missing.

The other two matters I wish to raise are, perhaps, more serious. In page 219 there are two new clauses. I do not understand where they fall in the Bill. They follow page 118, which says simply, "Leave out Schedule 4", but they do not seem to follow page 217.

The other matter arises in page 231, and it is of some substance the main heading is "After Schedule 8". Crossed out, I can just make out the words "By the Lord Garnsworthy and the Lord Hughes". The amendment is to insert a new schedule which is headed, "Rehabilitation Orders".

This is an important new principle. It is being introduced into this House for the first time. I believe that there were sparse references to the subject in Committee, but I am not sure whether an undertaking was given in Committee that such a schedule would be introduced, since I did not serve on the Committee.

As I understand it, rehabilitation orders are a new concept in housing law. I hope that the Minister will satisfy us that these new ideas fit into the overall strategy for rehabilitation. I shall be grateful for some indication of the policy behind this new schedule on rehabilitation orders.

Mr. Freeson

I have given some thought to the new situation which will emerge as a result of the introduction of a housing action area type of approach to deal with properties which until now have always been dealt with by slum clearance orders or by making good. Probably under past legislation as many slums each year were made good as were cleared.

For that reason, we should not say that in practice it is new, although until now we have not spoken in the terms of the schedule. As I say, over a number of years in the past as many slums were made good as were demolished.

The thinking behind this is that, with the idea of housing action area treatment for small pockets of property which in the past would have been conventionally treated purely for slum clearance, we are now deciding to treat by rehabilitation—full or partial.

There is a case for saying that, just as in the past there were powers to insist upon a property being closed as a slum, in future there should be powers to insist that where it is not to be demolished or closed it should be made good. We are moving into a position in which, instead of having slum clearance only or slum demolition only we shall have flexible powers for a greater variety of techniques for treating bad properties. If we are to have long-stop powers to compel certain action, we must have the right to insist that rehabilitation is undertaken of what would otherwise be property that in the past would have been demolished. Broadly speaking, that is the concept behind this fresh idea.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

Is not this responding very generously to our new clause, in respect of which the Minister gave an undertaking to try to put something in the Bill?

Mr. Freeson

I do not want to pursue that. I think that the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) is raising something that was akin to this measure but not identical. We were already thinking about introducing a measure to enable a local authority, which before the introduction of the Bill had embarked upon a slum clearance CPO, to backpedal out. With the introduction of the Bill an authority could adopt an alternative approach. That is something rather different from this particular point, but there is a kinship.

Mr. Graham Page

Does this mean that there can be an order on the owners to rehabilitate property, or provision for the local authority to go in and carry out the rehabilitation, or both?

Mr. Freeson

The answer is both. As the right hon. Gentlemen will be aware, even with the introduction of this new concept there are the default powers that local authorities possess. Both powers will be available to local authorities in this new situation.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.

Forward to