HC Deb 10 June 1980 vol 986 cc379-84

'In the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971, section 2(1)(bbb), and section 85(4) shall cease to have effect.'.—[Air. Maxton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

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

First, may I apologise to the House for walking into the Chamber and moving the clause without having been present for the earlier part of the debate. The Minister will be aware that I have been debating another Scottish Bill in Committee for the past two and a half hours.

The purpose of the clause is to repeal two sections of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971. The two sections deal with absolving from the regulated rent sector and controlled rents houses that are let for holiday purposes.

In 1971, and again in 1974 when there was amending legislation, it seemed the correct procedure that someone in a holiday resort, or in an area in the country or by the seaside that others like to visit when on holiday, who let his house for holiday purposes should not have holiday-makers claiming residence and arguing that they were tenants in the normal sense of the word.

Unscrupulous landlords have used the absolving provisions for their own devious purposes. There are certain landlords in Glasgow and Edinburgh—I accept that there are not very many of them—who let their houses or flats on what may turn out to be a holiday let when it is no such thing. These houses or flats are often let to students who want to rent for a full year. They are let on a holiday basis, which absolves the landlord from the controls to which he would have been subject if he had let under other terms and removes the protection that the person paying the rent would otherwise have.

That is unscrupulous and vicious. It often leads to the tenant suffering a great deal of harm that should not befall him.

There are other abuses, including the rent and board arrangement. There are landlords in Glasgow who offer bed and breakfast facilities when the breakfast can be taken only three miles away in another block of flats. There is an hour's hike in the morning to get breakfast if the tenant wishes to take advantage of the arrangement. The fact that breakfast is available in the terms of the lease gets the landlord round the Rent Acts and allows him to have tenants who are essentially unprotected by the Rent Acts and other legislation.

The Minister may argue that if we remove the two sections from the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971 the person who genuinely offers his house for holiday lets will have no protection. In my view, and in that of my hon. Friends, that is not so. Holiday lets have always been excluded from the Rent Acts. Judicial decisions have consistently accepted that exclusion. Therefore, the person who is genuinely letting his house for a holiday will not be affected by the clause.

The clause will get rid of landlords who abuse every piece of housing legislation for their own pecuniary benefit and for profit and profit only, and who exploit their tenants in whatever way they can. It will be those landlords whom the clause will hit, and not those who genuinely let their house to holidaymakers.

Mr. Rifkind

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said. I acknowledge that there have been one or two instances where unscrupulous landlords have abused the existing provisions in the manner that the hon. Gentleman has indicated. There is no evidence that the abuse to which he has referred is at all widespread.

The basic problem with the hon. Gentleman's clause is that if it were accepted by the House it would dry up completely the supply of holiday homes. That is because the protection that is presently provided for a person offering his holiday home for rent would no longer be available.

I cannot accept the suggestion on which the hon. Gentleman did not expand and for which he provided no evidence-namely, that the removal of the protection would make no difference to the genuine holiday home. The two sections at which the clause is aimed protect the person who is genuinely seeking to provide a holiday home and nothing more. If we remove that protection, we are losing the beneficial consequences as well as the harmful ones which the hon. Gentleman has described.

There is a remedy available to a tenant on whom a landlord is seeking to apply an order of eviction on the ground of a spurious holiday let. Under section 122 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971, it is open to either the landlord or the tenant to apply to the court for a determination of whether the tenancy comes within the appropriate part of the Act. If, notwithstanding the formal words that have been used, the tenant disputes the reality of the let when the landlord seeks to evict him, and if, despite the words that may have been used in the original agreement, it is obvious to the court that what was arranged was not intended to be a holiday let, the court already has power under the Act to take action.

There is a good prospect that with the short tenancies provided elsewhere in the Bill there will be no need for a landlord to abuse the existing provisions as he has described. It will be possible for the first time for persons considering making property available to specify a period that is acceptable to both parties.

There is provision for a tenant who believes that his rights are being abused by his landlord to use section 122 of the 1971 Act to allow the court to investigate the matter. The courts are used to looking behind the formal words used and to the reality of a situation. Therefore, this power exists in theory and could be used by a tenant who might otherwise suffer as a consequence of abuse by the landlord in question.

7 pm

Mr. George Robertson

I had not intended to take part in this short debate—indeed, dialogue—until I heard the Minister explaining that this abuse might become a precedent or a past circumstance the moment the short tenancies came in. There might be some validity in what the Minister said. One might agree with him. Later we shall come to the subject of the short tenancies.

What the Minister said fulfilled some of the prophecies made by the Opposition in Committee, that short tenancies would start to be the norm. The Government are about to institutionalise the loopholes and abuses that are possible under the existing law. By making this new form of tenure the commonest form, the prospect of insecurity for all tenants—never mind the small, persecuted minority who are already on holiday lets—will be a reality, and not simply an hypothesis.

I hope, even in this short debate, that Government supporters, who poured scorn on our words, will listen carefully to the Minister. The fact is that he has now put clothes on the skeleton of the worries that existed in the minds of the Opposition when we debated the matter in Committee.

Mr. Maxton

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) dealt adequately with a point that I should have raised.

The Minister referred to the legal recourse there already is under section 122 of the 1971 Act. That may well be true. I accept his word. However, we are all aware that for many people—especially students, the young and inexperienced—recourse to the law is not an easy process. They find it difficult. Therefore, they tend to be exploited simply because they are not capable of handling the legal procedures.

The second major point was that there would be a drying up of holiday lets. I should be very much against that as I let a house in the summer months for my holiday—and a genuine holiday let it is. [HON. MEMBERS : "Which way?"] I rent the house. I took a holiday let. Let me be quite clear on that. I rent a house for the summer. I should not like to see that source drying up, as I should not be able to take my holiday.

At the same time, I am still concerned that abuse will take place—and is taking place. I should like time in which to consider what the Minister said and see whether perhaps there is some other manner in which this loophole can be closed against landlords who exploit tenants in this way. Therefore, I am happy to seek to withdraw the clause at this point. I shall perhaps ask my noble Friends in another place to consider whether another recourse is open to us.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to