HC Deb 11 June 1980 vol 986 cc716-20
Mr. Younger

I beg to move amendment No. 137, in page 30, line 41, after ' dwelling-house ', insert ', except where he was then a tenant under a short tenancy or a statutory tenant following on the expiry of a short tenancy ;'. Before dealing with the amendment, I should point out that there is a misprint. The figure "2" in line 2 of page 31 should be "5". That will be put right. The amendment is necessary to enable a further short tenancy to be granted to a sitting tenant under a short tenancy. A Government amendment to clause 33(1) (a) was introduced in Committee to prevent the grant of a short tenancy to existing protected or statutory tenants which would thus deprive them of their unlimited security of tenure. That amendment had additional unintended effects regarding short tenancies which the present amendment corrects. I think that both sides of the House will support this amendment, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Millan

It is interesting to know that there is a misprint in line 2 of page 31. As the Bill stands, it is incompatible with the words at the foot of the page. I tabled an amendment to deal with that. This amendment has saved us from debating my amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move amendment No. 139, in page 31, leave out lines 18 to 22 and insert— '(ii) the landlord has applied for and been granted a certificate of fair rent under section 41 of the 1971 Act and has, within 14 days after the commencement of the tenancy, made an application for that fair rent to be registered under subsection (4) of that section.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it is convenient to take Government amendment No. 141 and amendment No. 142, in page 31, line 25, at end insert 'and the rent registered for the dwelling-house shall take effect from the commencement of the tenancy'.

Mr. Younger

For the convenience of the House, I do not propose to move amendment No. 141. Amendment No. 142 is more effective than amendment No. 141. All the amendments arise from the desire of both sides of the Committee to ensure that a fair rent, registration of which is one condition that must be satisfied for a short tenancy, takes effect from the commencement of the tenancy. I hope that the amendment is acceptable to all parties.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made : No. 142, in page 31, line 25, at end insert 'and the rent registered for the dwelling-house shall take effect from the commencement of the tenancy'.—[Mr. Millan.]

Mr. Gordon Wilson

I beg to move amendment No. 144, in page 31, line 30, at end insert 'if he is satisfied with respect to every part of that area that the number of persons seeking to become tenants there of the dwelling-houses exceeding a specified rateable value, or of any class or description of dwelling-houses exceeding a specified rateable value, is not substantially greater than the number of such dwelling-houses in that part.'. The purpose of the amendment is to prevent the ending of compulsory rent registration by statutory instrument unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that a supply of certain types of houses, or houses above a certain rateable value, exceeds demand. It seeks to restrict the ending of rent registration to that category of property. That follows section 117 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1971, which permits the Secretary of State to end rent registration by statutory instrument in any area of highly rated houses or houses of a certain type. If compulsory rent registration is to be ended in any area for short tenancies, those criteria should set the limits for such a decision.

Mr. Younger

I cannot advise the House to accept the amendment. It attempts to circumscribe the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can exercise his order-making power to dispense with the requirement that a fair rent must be registered for a dwelling let on a short tenancy. This topic exercised the Committee. My hon. Friend agreed to consider whether it was possible to prescribe the circumstances in which the Secretary of State could use his power. I think that he said that it might be unfortunately and unintentionally restrictive to do that. Having thought about the issue since then, I am bound to reaffirm that view.

This must be seen as a reserve power, but one that is, none the less, necessary. I do not envisage its use being contemplated until we all have a great deal of experience of the operation of short tenancies and are in a position to appreciate their implications. We can safely rely on the workings of the annulment procedure which is written into the Bill. That procedure can be invoked if there are any misgivings about the future use of these powers.

I appreciate the hon. Member's point, but I am afraid that his amendment is unduly restrictive, and therefore I ask him to withdraw it, having made a useful point.

Mr. George Robertson

After our fairly lengthy discussions in Committee, the Secretary of State now gives as his reason for not accepting the amendment the fact that it would circumscribe his actions. Most of the Secretary of State's actions in every field that one would care to mention should be subject to circumscription. Therefore, I do not think that there is any great strength in his argument.

We are trying to lay down guidelines so that people will know about these reserve powers that the Secretary of State is keeping to himself. This is yet another of the secondary legislation powers that will be reserved to the Secretary of State as a result of the Bill.

We all know that the Secretary of State for Scotland is a reasonable and moderate man in Cabinet terms—[Interruption.] Even if my generosity is being questioned by some of my hon. Friends, I still think that they will be willing to accept that this is a reserve power that is unlikely to be used in relation to the present incumbent of the job. But there is no guarantee that the Prime Minister will not change the Secretary of State overnight. If any of us were willing to give this Secretary of State the benefit of the doubt, there are a number of his colleagues to whom we would give no benefit at all.

There is a case for saying that there should be a circumscription on the actions of the Secretary of State. Those people who will be affected by short tenancies should at least have the right to know that the one feeble protection given to them in the Bill might be removed from them. I agree that this is likely to be a reserve power, but we are not content to leave the position and allow the Secretary of State to remove this protection for short-term tenancies.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

I do not have the same faith in the negative procedure as the Secretary of State because it is very rare that it can be properly invoked. The whole object of the amendment was to circumscribe the powers. I agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) that we need proper guidelines. There is a parallel in earlier legislation.

However, in the absence of any assertion from the hon. Member for Hamilton that he would wish to me to press the amendment, I shall beg to ask leave to withdraw it, even though I do not agree in any way with what the Secretary of State has said.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

I beg to move amendment No. 145, in page 31, line 31, leave out subsection (4) and insert— '(4) A notice will not be valid for the purposes of subsection (1)(c) above unless it com- plies in form with the requirements of regulations which the Secretary of State may by order make by statutory instrument.'. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that a prescribed form is laid down for notifying tenants that a tenancy is to be a short one. The Bill merely empowers the Secretary of State to prescribe a form but does not compel him to do so.

Such a prescribed form could ensure uniformity in explaining to new tenants of short tenancies the details of this form of tenure. It could be drawn up in similar form to statutory instrument 1976 No. 46 S. 3, which obliges private landlords giving notice to quit to inform the tenants of their legal rights. It should inform tenants of their rights and obligations under the short tenancy, giving details of all conditions of tenancy, their rights to rent books, return of deposits, rent registration, an explanation of how the tenancy can be terminated, notice to quit regulations, rent allowances and so forth.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. However, the amendment has the same effect as the words that it proposes to replace. Clause 33(4) empowers the Secretary of State to make an order by statutory instrument, prescribing the form of notice that a landlord is required to serve on a tenant informing him that his tenancy is a short tenancy. It is implicit in that—and the statutory instrument may be expected to make it explicit—that any notice that does not comply with the prescribed form is invalid.

10.30 pm

The hon. Gentleman points out that the Secretary of State is empowered but not obliged to prescribe the form. That is true. However, the amendment has the same defect, if it is a defect. It says that the Secretary of State may by order make by statutory instrument", and so on.

Mr. Wilson

I am partially reassured. I should prefer the context to be explicit rather than implicit. When matters are implied, there is always a danger. However, the significance will not be fully appreciated by tenants involved in the great adventure of the new short tenancies, and, in those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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