HC Deb 25 June 1974 vol 875 cc1276-93

(1)There shall be a form of lease to be known as "shorthold".

(2) A shorthold may be created only in respect of a property which is a dwelling separately assessable for rates.

(3) A shorthold may be created for any period of not less than three or more than seven years.

(4) The shorthold tenant, to be known as "the shortholder", shall enjoy security of tenure during the whole period of the shorthold, unless he fails to comply with the terms of the agreement creating the shorthold, but he shall give vacant possession at the expiry of the shorthold unless a new shorthold is created by agreement between the parties.

(5) If at the expiration of a shorthold of any property the landlord wishes to create a new shorthold for that property, he shall first offer the new shorthold to the sitting shortholder.

(6) The price of a shorthold shall be not more than the total sum which would be payable by the shortholder to the landlord if the shortholder held the premises for the period of the shorthold on payment of a fair rent determined at the beginning of the shorthold as described in the Housing Finance Act 1972.

(7) Payment in respect of a shorthold shall be made as follows:

  1. (a) in part on entry as an initial capital sum, which shall not be more than half the total price, and
  2. (b) the remainder in instalments, at such intervals as may be agreed by the parties.

(8) Responsibility for repairs to and maintenance of premises held by shorthold shall be:

  1. (a) as regards the exterior of the premises with the landlord, and
  2. (b) as regards the interior of the premises with the shortholder.—[Sir B. Rhys-Williams.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.45 p.m.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

It will be convenient to discuss at the same time new Clause 7—(Eligibility of the shortholder for benefits and allowances); new Clause 8—(Building for shorthold); new Clause 9—(Deposit on shorthold); and new Clause 16—(Approval of shorthold lease).

Sir B. Rhys Williams

It would be proper for me to declare an interest, in that I am the owner of a freehold property which, if the clauses were accepted, might be let partly on shorthold. The same applies to many freehold owners, so it is a commonplace point, but it is proper that I should make it.

The idea embodied in this series of clauses is not new by any means. I first suggested it in correspondence with the Minister's predecessor in August last year. I also published virtually the full particulars that appear in the clauses in an article that I was invited to write for the Sunday Times Business News in February. I mentioned it briefly on Second Reading and I have discussed the matter in considerable detail with the Building Societies Association and a number of experts in building and housing matters.

Nevertheless, I recognise that the term "shorthold"—which is not an invention of mine—and the concept require some consideration before all the ramifications can be appreciated. I trust that I shall not bore the House if I go briefly through the particulars incorporated in the new clauses, explaining why I have made these recommendations.

The proposal will, I hope, be seen to be non-partisan. I am seeking to benefit tenants looking for accommodation just as much as freeholders who may wish to let accommodation but feel frustrated under the existing law. The problems which the proposal is aimed to meet are numerous and widespread. They are not confined to inner London, although it was experience of conditions there which prompted me to get down to work on these proposals.

Many people, particularly with inflation and interest rates as they are, find that setting out to buy a house is a heavy burden. In trying to borrow the money and acquire a freehold over a term of years a couple are not only making arrangements to pay for their accommodation but are also acquiring an inflation-proof asset. This is what makes house purchase a heavy commitment.

Schemes have been considered to meet this point by means of shared purchase with building societies, so that, at the end of 10 or 20 years, say, the building society is part-owner or even half-owner of the premises and the occupants have had to scale only half the obstacle provided by the necessity to save money at the rate involved in acquiring a valuable asset.

The shorthold concept approaches the same problem slightly differently. It aims to provide people seeking accommodation with the sort of accommodation they want and the security they feel required to negotiate for, without putting them to the additional expense of acquiring an inflation-proof investment at the same time. It would make it possible for people seeking accommodation outside municipal accommodation, controlled or regulated tenancies, furnished lettings or the other means of obtaining accommodation—which many people find unsatisfactory—to have an alternative which is considerably cheaper than setting out to acquire a freehold.

Another of the problems that this proposal is designed to meet is the fact that so much of our accommodation is under-used. The census figures show that there were 675,880 empty dwellings in this country in 1971. That figure overstates the problem, in that many second homer will be included in the number which would not come on to the market even if the shorthold facility were available. Some of those 675,000 empty houses belong to people who are away on holiday or who, for one reason or another, have made arrangements to sell their houses and the new occupants have not moved in.

The figure also understates the problem, however, because there is so much room for further conversion of existing properties to make them suitable for smaller families. Much of our accommodation in central London—indeed, this applies all over the country—was built at a time when family units were larger than they are now. In Kensington, particularly, we have a large number of houses which were designed for family units but which exceed the requirements of the normal-sized family today. So we have inherited many hundreds of thousands of houses in our old housing stock which require adaptation.

Some large houses and some large flats have been converted extremely satisfactorily and could be regarded as almost palatial in some parts of London. In other cases conversion has been adequate and there has been a good deal of stimulus to this by the application of conversion grants. But others, I am sorry to say, have been converted in a way that has turned them into appalling slums. That is a particular problem with which the Bill is designed to deal. But there still remain a very large number of properties which could be separated or divided better than they are now to help meet the shortage of accommodation.

One thinks, for instance, of the upper floors above a shop, which the shopkeeper dare not let because if at any time he had to sell up and realise the value of his freehold, the fact that he had let that upper part to a tenant with security of tenure would damage the value of his asset too much. So those other rooms tend to be used in a desolutory way for storage, or for nothing much. All over London one also sees basements not yet converted into satisfactory alternative rooms, and one can certainly think of rambling houses which could be divided more advantageously; or properties which are not used at all for long periods of time but which the owners dare not let because they are afraid they would be unable to get vacant possession again should they need to do so at some time in the future.

I estimate that there might well be a million units of accommodation waiting for a reform of housing law of the kind I am proposing in these new clauses. The Government have taken a decision, rightly or wrongly, to introduce a Bill to enfranchise furnished tenants. I understand this is under discussion in another place and no doubt we shall have an opportunity of talking about its principles quite soon. This afternoon I do not want to discuss whether the Government are right or wrong in their thinking on the recommendations of the Francis Report, but I believe the Minister would agree that the Francis Committee was not wholy wrong in finding that if furnished tenants were enfranchised it might tend to restrict the availability of property for people looking for short-term lettings. So it behoves the Government, if they grasp that fact—as they surely must—to welcome any suggestion which would have the effect of widening the choice and making more rooms available, particularly in the form of small units.

We have to recognise as a national problem that the housing market can be crucial to people who have to leave one type of accommodation, where they have been subsidised by the local authority, the taxpayer or their landlord, and go out into the open market to try to find accommodation in the limited pool available. One has seen the very strong continuing agitation for a special London allowance to enable teachers and other categories of essential workers in the metropolis to compete with market forces for accommodation in inner London. But we have to recognise that although the arguments that are advanced are in many cases almost irrefutable, simply offering people more money with which to compete for the existing stock of accommodation is not a solution. It is only transferring the burden elsewhere. So if the Government are thinking, as I am sure they are, of raising London allowances substantially in the near future in order to help people to compete for accommodation, they must tell the House and the country how they are to provide the extra accommodation simultaneously. I do not think the problem can be solved "at a stroke" by the kind of proposal that I am making, but I am confident it would be a substantial help.

The Housing Finance Act's benefits, in the private sector, for people who have to leave family freehold accommodation or local authority acommodation are generous, but the take-up has been disappointingly low. In due course one might expect that housing allowances would be paid virtually automatically, as part of the tax-credit system; but that is in the future and the need is to do something now. We have to help people who may not be ready to start buying a house but are looking for some reasonably settled form of accommodation where they can be sure where they stand and what their commitments are likely to be in the form of rent and so on.

I will now pick up points on which the House might reasonably ask me for an explanation, looking at the four clauses I have tabled. The object in the first subsection of new Clause 6 is to create a form of lease which will be halfway between one of the existing forms of short lease and a freehold tenure. It may well he said—I would not try to deny it—that to some extent the shorthold concept puts back the clock to Victorian times, when landlords were in a position of being able to work out with their tenants whatever arrangements they liked, without the interference of housing legislation. But I do not think politicians should ever use the word "back", and therefore I hope it will be seen by the House that we are here moving forward to devise something which, in effect, is entirely fresh.

Subsection (2) lays down that a short-hold property should be separately assessable for rates. I suggest this makes it easily definable under established practice—and local authorities would also be able to investigate what was going on, because they would be required to look at the property before the shorthold was created in order to make an assessment. I trust, therefore, that the definition I have adopted will commend itself.

In subsection (3) I have hit on the concept that the period of shorthold should be not less than three years and not more than seven. These are figures without any fundamental or final relevance, but I believe they make a practical basis for the proposal. If shortholds could be created for periods of less than three years people might be tempted to enter into them lightheartedly, and the cost of setting up a mortgage is a factor to be taken into account. If a mortgage is required, a minimum three years' period is really quite proper.

The suggestion that the upper limit should be seven years merely takes note of the fact that landlords probably would not be ready to commit themselves for longer, and if longer leases were available tax problems might arise under another clause, to which I shall come later. Under subsection (4) I have emphasised that the shorthold tenant must give vacant possession at the expiry of the term. This is the most fundamental element in the proposal. I listened, as did the House, with the greatest interest when the Minister told us that the Government are initiating a study of the whole question of tenure and of the enfranchisement of tenants. This will be a valuable and interesting study, and I hope that the results will soon be put before the House.

The shorthold concept would largely collapse if the Government were to say, after shortholds had been created in any number, that they would seek to introduce legislation to change the character of the agreements so that a tenant would be able to claim permanency of tenure. That would have the effect of drying up the supply because, to the landlords, the advantage of certainty of obtaining vacancy at the end of the period would be lost. The whole scheme would fall in such circumstances. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman is not already leaping ahead and thinking of the sort of speech he might make on the enfranchisement of shortholders. That would be self-defeating.

The object is to create a form of tenure akin to a freehold for a span of time agreed in advance between the parties. It would be proper, of course, that the sitting shortholder would be able to expect first refusal on the same property if the landlord decided to renew the shorthold after the end of the agreed period. That would put the shortholder on the same basis as a shopkeeper or a man who rents an office. The renewal procedure for commercial premises is established and satisfactory, and can be copied, I submit, in the case of a short-hold tenancy.

In subsection (6) I suggest that the basis of the rent payable should be a fair rent. Much mud has been thrown at the fair rent system, and some of it has stuck. I may have thrown some myself. But the system has been established long enough to be understood, and including it in my bundle of suggestions would mean avoiding any risk that the new form of tenure would be exploited because it is unfamiliar, or because landlords are too fast for the tenants, or in any other way. If the arrangement were linked to the established fair rent procedures it would be a valuable safeguard against abuse.

In subsection (7) I refer to the need for a part payment to be made on entry in the form of an initial capital sum which should not be more than half the total price. This is partly because I am pursuing the idea of creating a new form of tenure half way between leasehold and freehold and a freehold depends on an initial capital sum.

But there are better reasons why the landlords should be entitled to treat the initial down payment as a capital sum. One is to provide landlords with an incentive to enter into agreements of this kind. Much of the wasted accommodation we have could be brought on to the market if the landlords were given serious encouragement to do so. The fair rent is lower than the market rate and therefore would not in itself provide enough incentive.

Secondly, this proposal would cost nothing to the Treasury. The property at which the clause is aimed is not now yielding anything to revenue, because it is not being used and is not creating rent. Therefore even if the landlords got away with half the fair rent in the form of a capital sum, the Inland Revenue would not be losing but gaining, although not as much as it might.

In order to turn a lot of the property available into property which could be separately assessed for rates, there would be initial conversion costs, which I assume would be assisted by grants because the object is to prepare property for letting and not for sale. Not all landlords are in a position to finance conversion costs, and others are afraid to embark on hacking their property about, even in a small way, because they do not know what the bill will amount to in the end. Therefore, there needs to be an incentive, and I have tried to devise a principle which is simply and readily comprehensible but other alternatives might well be better.

It is necessary to recognise that, in giving a shorthold of even four, five or seven years at a rent fixed at the start, in the inflationary conditions of today the landlord would be making a commitment and would need compensation. If half the payment were made in the form of a capital sum at the start, the landlord could take steps to protect himself to a certain extent from the effects of inflation. This would provide the necessary cover for granting a lease at a fixed rent for the whole period without the possibility of the rent being reviewed. We also have to recognise that the building societies must play a part if the scheme is to succeed. Their initial advance is of a capital nature, and it is right that that principle should be preserved right through the scheme, as far as possible.

Subsection (8) covers responsibility for repairs. It might be regarded as superfluous, because it would be possible for the parties to come to another agreement on different lines from what I propose in subsection (8). But a shorthold agreement should be easily recognisable as a standard form, and we want to avoid any misunderstanding in the negotiations as far as reasonably possible. I suggest, therefore, that the division of responsibility in subsection (8) could well be part of the total package.

I turn now to new Clause 7, dealing with the eligibility of shortholders for benefits and allowances. This is highly relevant. I am sure that my suggestion will be appreciated and welcomed by the House, because one of the objects of the proposal is to extend to tenants competing in the open market the benefits of the housing subsidies which they may be losing in changing their address.

The formula I have adopted includes provision that where the capital element is borrowed the interest will be part of the cost. The cost will end un in most cases as a weekly outlay, and even where the capital element is put up by the tenant himself he should be encouraged to save it up again. I think it is perfectly proper that the whole of the rent should be taken into account in any calculations for the purposes of social security benefit and the allowances under the Housing Finance Act.

New Clause 8 concerns building for shorthold. It is a great pity, particularly for inner London, that builders are not getting on with the business of putting up flats for rent for regular letting as they did in the past. I would like to encourage them to do so, by giving them depreciation allowances of the same sort as they obtain when they put up commercial properties and by giving them regular break clauses in their leases, so that rent can be reassessed from time to time.

The fair rent is unlikely to be sufficient incentive to builders to put up blocks of flats to rent in the present circumstances, but I believe that the shorthold concept would encourage a number of builders to re-enter this market and so provide a sufficient supply of accommodation for rent of the sort that we scarcely see at all at the present time.

Finally, in new Clause 9, I deal with the question of deposit on shortholds. This is not an afterthought, because I have felt all along that we would have to include in the scheme some incentive to the tenant to give vacant possession at the expiry of the shorthold and not simply encourage him to fold his arms and say "I am staying here. What do you intend to do?" thereby over-running the period of the lease for a certain length of time.

The concept of a deposit also provides a safeguard to ensure compliance with the clauses of the shorthold, for instance, in regard to keeping the premises in reasonable condition. It also has openings for the provision of incentive schemes for subsequent house purchase. I should like to see tax concessions for the deposit so that it could grow rapidly with changes in the value of money, possibly by providing that it could be invested in specially favourable housing bonds, or be protected by some system of indexation. Then, at the end of the shorthold, a couple who had complied with their lease might find that they had some hundreds of pounds with which to move ahead and put down a deposit for a freehold house.

The question inevitably will arise of what will happen in the event of default during the term. For the landlord, the position is covered by the fact that a proportion of the rent would have been paid in advance in the form of the capital sum at the start, and the property, if vacated, would presumably be re-lettable, at least at the fair rent. Also, it would be possible in the event of the tenant getting into unexpected difficulties to commute the balance of the lump sum as rent and shorten the term of the agreement. There are tax implications in that which could readily be dealt with but would need attention.

Concerning the building society, if the society has put up the initial capital sum and the tenant then defaults on his payments, the commitment would not be more than half the total sum involved even at the start; and it would diminish with the passage of time. The surrender of the property would have a real value, and the system includes provision for payment of a deposit which, possibly by agreement between the building society and the freeholder, might become available to cover the building society's loss in the event of a default. The rights over the remaining period of the shorthold would be negotiable with the landlord, and the building society would certainly not find itself in a weak position in the majority of cases.

Finally, one might ask whether default is likely to be a frequent occurrence. I do not think that it would be, because the tenant would be eligible for social security benefits and allowances—and over the full cost and not only over the amount required by the building society; if the tenants' income were to fall suddenly, he would be eligible for more help. But where a tenant is paying a fair rent and, perhaps, loses his job, in the majority of cases I believe it would be possible for him to get his rent fully covered by an application for supplementary benefit. I hope, therefore, that default would not become a major problem.

There are a number of side effects on which I should prefer to touch only if other hon. Members raise them rather than risk boring the House now. But one point that one must recognise is that the introduction of the shorthold principle might tend to increase the price of houses which are seen to be convertible. I myself do not feel that this would be disastrous. Large houses have a certain market now, and even the institutional types of building, or former hotels, have their prices and can, after all, be converted into long leaseholds at present.

The innovation that I am suggesting may seem an untried experiment or, to some hon. Members, it may seem so obvious that it is a perfectly natural development out of existing housing law. I believe that an innovation on these lines will have to come. I have drawn up the recommendations so that they should seem to grow organically out of the present housing law and the financial provisions affecting house purchase and house subsidies. But the details are certainly open to amendment and further study. What I am hoping is that the Minister will give the idea a welcome, and in sufficiently cordial terms for me to be able to stimulate further professional interest on the part of building societies, housing experts, accountants and others concerned with the problem.

The problem must be solved. If the Minister is willing to help this idea along, he will be doing something in the public interest. If, indeed, he chooses to take the idea under his wing and make it his own. I wish him all possible success and I will give him as much help as I can.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. David James (Dorset, North)

I have noted that the debate so far has tended to be substantially urban in character. The Minister has been referring to urban stress areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) has also been speaking largely about urban situations. However, quite a large number of the million units of accommodation to be made available would be made in the country.

I do not mind telling the Minister that there would be many in Dorset, and I will tell him why. I am not now talking about the second house or the seaside cot-age, or anything emotive. Dorset is an agreeable part of the country in which to retire. A great number of serving officers come to Blandford, or Bulford, or one of the other Dorset camps, and decide to buy houses there for their old age. Schoolmasters may decide that is where they want to retire. A great many of them do. There are parsons who decide that when they give up large livings they will move to small livings in Dorset. Businessmen with overseas appointments also come to this area. These people all have perfectly reputable reasons why they should have houses against their old age.

The trouble is that such people who acquire this type of property, furnished or unfurnished, are becoming increasingly reluctant to let it. To the extent that these properties remain empty, they deteriorate and others are done out of a house. I hope that the Minister will regard this as a bona fide proposal, as applicable to the country as it is to the urban situation, whereby very large numbers of people could be helped.

I can conclude my speech quickly by quoting a letter which I received only a couple of days ago. It is dated 12th June. The Minister could reasonably have expected me in courtesy to have sent him a copy of it previously, but he will know that the postal service is very bad at present. The letter has only just come to hand. The Minister will have a photostat of it tomorrow. I shall omit some names and one or two insults to the Labour Party, because they are irrelevant to the argument. The letter states: Dear Mr. James, For the last two and a half years I have been living with my two small children in a rented furnished cottage in a village in your constituency. This cottage is intended to be a retirement home for the present owner who is at the minute a parson in Weymouth, a very charming person who has been most kind to me. He tells me that he has no intention of wanting to come to live here himself for probably another five years. So far he has renewed the tenancy each year, but in the most recent renewal, although the agreement lets the house to me for one year, it contains a clause stating that after six months he can, if he wishes, give me one month's notice. When I queried this I was told that although they have no desire whatever to give me notice, they will be forced to do so if the proposed Socialist legislation on rented furnished accommodation becomes law. The cottage will then remain empty. I am at my wits' end as to what I shall be able to do to find further accommodation if this happens. It seems to me that other people who let furnished accommodation will act in the same way and I shall, therefore, be unable to find anywhere to live as there will be no more furnished accommodation available. The situation seems to be quite ludicrous, and the Bill will cause a lot of misery. It may have some application to large blocks of flats in industrial areas, owned by professional landlords"—

Mr. Freeson

Before the hon. Gentleman concludes his quotation, and before my lion. Friend the Under-Secretary adds further comments when commenting on the proposal that has been the main subject of discussion so far, let me make it perfectly clear, in the light of the letter being quoted, that the Rent Bill now going through another place and due to come to this House shortly, dealing with furnished tenancies, specifically excludes owner-occupied houses, and a number of other exemptions are made. It also specifically excludes properties purchased for retirement purposes.

Mr. James

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether that would include unfurnished premises as well?

Mr. Freeson

I have stated the general proposition, as the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter, which is more appropriate to another Bill, but in order to prevent any undue anxiety persisting and spreading around we must make it perfectly clear that we are not, in that Bill, including retirement homes and owner-occupied houses.

Mr. James

I am most indebted to the Minister. What he says will obviously enable me to ease my constituent's anxiety, but it does not seem to affect the validity of the letter as being an argument in support of the general proposition put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington.

New Clause 16, which stands in my name, is designed to provide an extra safeguard. It merely states that no short-hold lease would be valid without the prior approval of the county court. Owing to our peculiar printing arrangements, there is at the end of the clause a question mark which should be deleted. For the record, I believe that the "Mr. Barnes" who is alleged, according to the Order Paper, to be supporting new Clause 9 is myself, because there is no Member of that name in the House.

Mr. Emery

The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) for bringing forward in considerable detail what would normally be considered a fairly new concept in housing matters. To say that it is entirely new would be to go too far, but it certainly presents a new approach to problems which have been created by certain legislation, rent control and security of tenure. My hon. Friend has a reputation for floating ideas. He and I have crossed swords on matters of audit boards for companies, but I hope that this proposal has greater success than certain of his other presentations to the House.

I am not certain that this is the appropriate Bill in which to bring forward this proposal, but I do not wish to be discouraging. The manner in which he put it before the House, saying that here were a number of ideas which were worthy of considerable further discussion between professional bodies and by the Government, amounted to a sensible and reasonable approach. I hope that the Government will treat it in that spirit and welcome it, as I have.

Dorset, North (Mr. James) in replying to

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Member for the intervention by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction indicated the underlying principle of the proposal before us. He and I are on good terms, and I trust that he will not take it ill when I say that what he was annunciating, whether he was aware of it or not, was a wariness about the concept of security of tenure and its limiting effect upon the provision of tenancies. That is the principle which has come from the Opposition. One hon. Member, for example, was anxious to increase the supply of tenanted accommodation. For the Government, however, the clause has one irremediable flaw for anyone living in property which is not his own—the effect it has upon security of tenure.

Mr. James

I accept what the Minister says in the best possible spirit, but, in farming parlance, there is all the difference in the world between an agricultural tenancy, which has always rightly had security of tenure, and a grazing tenancy, which is merely an arrangement of convenience between friends. I do not see that one breaches the principle of the other.

Mr. Kaufman

The subject of a grazing tenancy leads me to pastures on to which I ought not stray in this debate.

I owe it to the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) to comment seriously on what he put forward. I say with a certain amount of regret that not only the clauses but the purposes behind them are unacceptable to the Government, not simply in detail but in principle. I say that with regret because everyone has his brain-child which he has nursed very carefully, and the detail into which the hon. Member went indicated that this was a concept that was dear to him. It is not acceptable to the Government.

It is the policy of the Government to bring the privately rented sector into social ownership as and when the funds to do so become available. Until then it is our policy to strengthen and extend the rights of tenants, as we are doing, for example, in the Rent Bill which is shortly to come before the House. We would not consider any measure which allowed landlords to contract out of the security of tenure provisions of rent legislation which under the hon. Member's proposal they would be able to do. Nor do we consider that additional subsidies, whether by grant or by tax concession, should go to property developers and private landlords.

It is the Government's policy, as shown in the Bill, to extend generous financial assistance to local authorities and to the voluntary housing movement. It is to them and not to the private developer that we look for more rented accommodation. Apart from those broad and fundamental objections in principle to what the hon. Member proposes, there are good reasons to doubt whether his scheme would have the effect he seeks. Under the law as it now stands—although I am glad to say that the situation will shortly change—it has been open to anyone to provide furnished rented accommodation for which a market rent or premium far in excess of what a capitalised fair rent would be can be charged. It has been possible to let this sort of accommodation on a short, fixed-term lease at the end of which there is no security and no access to the furnished rent tribunal. The financial position of the developer under such circumstances would be at least as favourable as his financial position under the scheme advanced by the hon. Member.

Figures provided by both Front Benches bear out that there have been no signs of the widespread provision of such accommodation with the liberty available under what has so far been the law. The rented sector continues to decline and we therefore do not believe that what the hon. Member suggests would work in practice. I should be less than frank if I were to pretend that even if we thought it would work we would find it acceptable in principle. We believe this is not the way forward and I must ask the House not to accept the hon. Member's concept and the clauses which embody it

Sir B. Rhys Williams

I am naturally disappointed that the Minister has not gone into the matter in greater detail because the rouse might have expected him to do so since the proposal has been before the Department for some time and was raise( by me on Second Reading. If the only objection of a practical kind which the Minister could put before us was that it has always been possible to let, as furnished accommodation, the properties which would be made available on shorthold tenure, the objection in practical terms is not very formidable.

I do not know whether the Minister has had experience of letting furnished accommodation, but it is by no means the sort of thing that everyone would wish to go in far. The evidence is before us. Anyone who canvasses extensively knows of the amount of property in all parts of the country which is not fully used. Therefore the objection that it might have been let unfurnished but that furnished sector lettings are in decline has little force. The Minister might well ask why it is that I landlords do not choose to go into furnished letting. If he were to do so, I think that he would come up with recommendations not dissimilar to mine.

What is most disappointing is that once again the Labour Party has taken a doctrinaire stand. It seems that it is not interested in potential tenants. It seems that it does not care about people looking for accommodation. All that it wants to do is to get people into municipal housing. It does not care about the interests of landlords because it regards them as the enemy in any event. It does not like any suggestion which might be of benefit to landlords, yet those who are hostile to landlords are hostile to better housing.

In turning down without further consideration the recommendation which I have made, the Labour Party has taken a step which is against the public interest and which will be very unpopular. However, as I made it known to the Minister from the start that my object in putting the new clause before the House was to obtain a reaction—I hoped that it would encourage a constructive reaction—and not to force a Division, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion on this occasion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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