HC Deb 06 August 1980 vol 990 cc597-601

Lords amendment: No. 2, in page 4, line 8, leave out "Part of this Act" and insert "Chapter".

Mr. Stanley

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)

With this amendment we may take the following Lords amendments:

Nos. 50 to 53, 57 to 63, 141, 142, 142A, 232 and 233.

Mr. Stanley

These amendments set out the provisions for commencement of the various parts of the Bill. Their result will be that the right-to-buy provisiions in chapter I of Part I will come into operation eight weeks after Royal Assent. The tenants' charter provisions of chapter II will also come into force eight weeks after Royal Assent unless it proves practicable to get the necessary regulations laid more quickly, in which case they will be brought in without waiting for the expiry of eight weeks.

Part V amending part V of the Housing Act 1957 and part VI which introduces the new housing subsidy system will come into operation on enactment of the Bill. The following provisions will also come into effect on enactment—the improvement for sale scheme for local authorities in clause 103, the vesting powers of local authorities on mortgage default in clauses 107 and 108, clause 114 which provides for an increase in the Housing Corporation borrowing limit, the provisions giving housing associations the power to sell whether outright or by shared ownership and also to improve for sale, and also provisions laying down accounting requirements and providing for the establishment of grant redemption funds for registered housing associations in clauses 116 to 121, 123, and 124.

The lifting of the existing restriction on working balances held in the housing revenue account and other matters related to housing accounts in clauses 127 and 128 will also be brought into effect on enactment, as will new clause H, introduced in another place to restrict local authorities' powers to make certain disposals, and clauses 130 to 132, which include the provisions to exclude shared ownership tenancies from the Leasehold Reform Act 1967.

In addition, the interpretive clauses 124 and 139, the regulation and order making provisions of clause 140, subsection (2) of clause 141 and clauses 142 to 144 will all have effect from enhancement.

The remaining provisions of parts VII, VIII, and IX, covering amongst other items improvement and repair grants, service charges and the new provisions relating to houses in multiple occupation, will be brought into force by appointed day order. So also will those dealing with the new shorthold and assured tenancies and other provisions relating to the Rent Acts, part II.

The new rights for public and private sector tenants to make improvements with their landlords' consent—part III—and the amendments relating to jurisdiction and procedure in part IV are all provisions that depend upon the making of regulations or orders or the restriction on form of notices and so on, where it is desirable that those affected should first be able to obtain copies of the Act. The appointed day procedure is clearly the appropriate procedure to use in those circumstances.

Mr. Kaufman

I should be grateful if the Minister could give us some idea when he intends the new shorthold tenures to commence. I put down a question about the matter and he was not then able to clarify the position. It would be of help to many people to know that.

Secondly, I welcome the Government's decision to bring forward the security of tenure for local authority tenants in so far as that is administratively possible—as I understand is their intention—with eight weeks from Royal Assent being the latest possible day but it being permitted within the Bill for that to be earlier. Although I understand the difficulties, it would be of assistance to many local authorities if at this stage, with the Bill approaching Royal Assent so soon, the Minister could give some idea whether he believes it will be possible to bring about the security of tenure before the end of the eight-week period and, if so, how much before.

I should like to take this opportunity to ask the hon. Gentleman to reiterate as emphatically as he can, and if possible to give it somewhat more fully than the Under-Secretary was able to do in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate, the commitment with regard to the wish of Wandsworth borough council to sell certain properties. In that debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) drew attention to the pernicious fact that the authority was seeking to evade the provisions of the Bill—a Conservative authority seeking to circumvent a Conservative Government's measure—by selling off those properties before the security of tenure bestowed upon the tenants would prevent that sale. It seems to us, as I am sure it would to all fair-minded people, that it would be entirely wrong for those properties to be sold in anticipation of, and in spite of, a statute that will come into effect within a few weeks.

We very much welcome the Under-Secretary's commitment that while the matter is being examined the Secretary of State's consent for disposal of the properties is being withheld. It would be of great assistance to the House and to the people of Wandsworth if the Minister said that that consent would not be given before the security of tenure provisions came into force, so that the will of Parliament, which on this issue is a united will, cannot be thwarted by a hasty and furtive act by a local authority. I very much hope that the Minister will be kind enough to give us that commitment.

Mr. Stanley

The right hon. Gentleman asked me first about the date of coming into effect of the shorthold provisions. It is the Government's wish to bring all the provisions of the Bill, including that one, into effect as rapidly as possible. For reasons that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, in view of the secondary legislation involved in some parts of the private rented sector, it is administratively easiest to make the bulk of the provisions to do with that sector commence on the same date. I cannot say today when we shall be able to make an appointed day order, but we hope by October-November to have all the salient provisions of the Bill in operation.

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right about one of the effects of the amendments being to give us the flexibility to bring into effect the tenants' charter provisions, and in particular the security of tenure provision to which he specificially referred, earlier than the maximum period of eight weeks. I emphasise that it is a maximum period. Because of the need to carry out a considerable volume of administrative work so that that chapter of the Bill can be brought in properly by local authorities, I cannot say whether we shall be able to improve on the eight-week time scale. Certainly, if we took the view that for policy reasons it was important to do that, we should make every effort to bring that date forward.

On the right hon. Gentleman's specific point about Wandsworth, I cannot add to, and I do not wish to subtract from, what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said in the debate earlier this week.

Mr. Kaufman

May I put to the Minister again a point that I think is important? He will want to think about it, and I appreciate that he may well not be able to give me an instantaneous reply.

It would be deplorable if, with security of tenure for tenants coming no later than 2 October and possibly sooner, a short gap before the bringing into force of that provision enabled a local authority to act in clear defiance of what the Act will state when that part of it is brought into operation. Therefore, now that the Under-Secretary has said, and the Minister has reinforced his statement, that consent for disposal is being withheld while the matter is being looked at—a very proper response and one that I welcome—I very much hope that the Minister will not give his consent. I hope that it will continue to be withheld until the security of tenure provisions come into operation, so that those tenants, like all other tenants, will be able to profit from them and will not have their security taken from them what might well be a matter of days before that security would have been given.

I do not ask the Minister for a response now, but I shall be grateful if he will consider the matter and write to me and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North, who is the Member for the constituency involved.

Mr. Stanley

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I shall be glad, with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, to look into the details of the case and to write to the right hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

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