HC Deb 14 June 1978 vol 951 cc982-4
4. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he anticipates publishing his review of the Rent Acts before the Summer Adjournment.

23. Mr. Body

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to publish the results of the Government's review of the operation of the Rent Acts.

Mr. Shore

I have not yet reached conclusions on this review. I shall, of course, report to the House as soon as I can do so.

Mr. Ross

The Secretary of State will be well aware that that is a profoundly disappointing answer. Is he aware of the situation in the provinces, where there is urgent need to experiment in loosening some of the controls of the Rent Acts to bring some of the property now standing empty into beneficial use? Contrary to that, is he aware of the position in Inner London, where statutory tenants and long-leaseholders are facing equal difficulty, and where there may be some need for increased control? Surely these matters cannot be left any longer, especially now that the right hon. Gentleman has decided to carry out rating revaluation on a rental basis.

Mr. Shore

As the hon. Gentleman knows—I have had the opportunity of exchanges with him—this is an especially complex matter. I agree that there are different situations in different types of private rented property, and even in different areas. We have received a large number of responses to the major questionnaire that we issued. There are many differences of view in the submissions, which we shall have to think through and of which we shall have to take account.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the major strategy of the Rent Acts is nearly right, a number of minor defects have appeared, many of them being virtually drafting defects? I refer to the second fixed term letting anomaly, in terms of private residential tenants and the abuse of licences and holiday lettings by many landlords, which have greatly reduced the beneficial effects of the Acts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that regardless of the full review minimum measures should be taken to remedy the minor defects and to introduce minor changes? Will he at least consider whether discussions should be held with important and interested parties to decide what changes may be made quickly?

Mr. Shore

As my hon. Friend well knows from his experience in these matters, these are extremely technical and complex areas. The number of loopholes, or whatever term one might use, to which my hon. Friend referred are extremely difficult to put right unless it is done within the framework of a general review. However, I accept his welcome opening remark that the major strategy of the Rent Acts is a correct one and should be sustained.

Mr. Rossi

Will the Secretary of State give the House a firm date, preferably before the House rises for the Summer Recess, for the announcement of his conclusions? Is he aware of the considerable hardship that has been caused and is being caused owing to the drying up of the supply of rented accommodation because of the Rent Acts? Is it his intention to ensure the death of the private rented sector, as was the Labour Party's evidence in connection with the rent review? As a consequence, does he feel that the longer he delays taking remedial action the more likely he is to bring about the end of the private rented sector?

Mr. Shore

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a firm date but I shall take into account what he says about the 'Summer Recess, as I have tried to take account of that factor in the questions that others have put to me. I think that the House will agree, on looking back over a long period, that it is easy to get Rent Act legislation wrong. I remind (the hon. Gentleman that the largest and, in a sense, the most wrong of all Rent Acts was the 1957 Act. It was designed to sustain the private rented sector but it accelerated its decline on a massive scale. That was the effect as people moved into owner-occupation, quite apart from the effects on tenants.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is it not a fact that the number of families made homeless through eviction since the Act has fallen sharply? Secondly, far from emasculating the Act as most Conservative Members want, should it not be greatly strengthened to block the loophole recently brought to light in a most exceptional legal case, where security of tenure and rent control were avoided by a trick in a lease in which the landlord required the right to sleep alongside his tenant in a one-room flat?

Mr. Shore

My earlier replies were addressed to the whole complex of Rent Acts. My hon. Friend rightly reminds the House of the most recent Rent Act, the 1974 Act. There is no doubt that the number of evictions of those previously in furnished tenancies has greatly diminished. To that extent, that effect is greatly to be welcomed. However, we have to try to get the balance right. There is the legitimate and proper interest of tenants, which the House, as in the past, has to safeguard and defend. We must also consider the workings of the Act and how we can achieve a better balance between landlord and tenant. We should try to achieve that.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are running very slowly today.