HC Deb 23 April 1986 vol 96 cc282-3
3. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his proposals regarding long leaseholders in blocks of flats.

6. Dr. Twinn

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has to extend the rights of private sector tenants in mansion-block flats.

The Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction (Mr. John Patten)

My right hon. Friend announced in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) on 8 April that the Government have accepted the main thrust of the recommendations of the Nugee committee on the management of privately owned blocks of flats. We propose to go further by giving a right to consultation on the appointment of managing agents and a right in long leasehold blocks to buy out the landlord's interest if he or she persistently fails in his or her duties. We shall introduce legislation as soon as possible.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Minister aware that many leaseholders are desperate for early legislation? Does "as soon as possible" mean in the next Session? Is the Minister still seeking opinions on the structure of the legislation, or has that process finished?

Mr. Patten

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comment. I cannot, of course, anticipate the contents of the Queen's Speech of the next Session. Obviously we are seeking the earliest possible legislative opportunity. I remember listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's speech on his excellent ten-minute Bill. I would welcome any further observations from the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Members on the contents of our future legislation. I believe that there is cross-party agreement about the need to do something.

Dr. Twinn

I congratulate the Minister and my right hon. Friend on what they have done to extend choice to people who live in flats. Is the Minister aware of the initiative already taken by local Conservative councils which are acting to extend protection to private tenants? Is the Minister aware of the recent agreement made by the Westminster city council with private landlords?

Mr. Patten

Yes. I have just become aware of the agreement between Westminster city council, under its excellent chairman of housing, Councillor Patricia Kirwan, and a good number of private landlords who, on a voluntary code of guidance, anticipate many, if not most, of the things that we hope to indroduce in legislation. I hope that Westminster's lead will be followed by other boroughs and landlords.

Mr. Alan Roberts

Is the Minister aware that many people are at a loss to understand why he has not tabled amendments or new clauses to the Housing and Planning Bill, to implement the recommendations of the Nugee report? If the Minister really wants to do something for leaseholders in blocks of flats, why does he not accept the Opposition amendment? does he not realise that giving leasehold reform legislation to householders in 1965 helped Labour to a landslide victory in 1966?

Mr. Patten

I had completely forgotten that, if I ever knew it. The hon. Gentleman is aware, from his distinguished service on the Housing and Planning Bill in Committee, how many new clauses and amendments have been tabled. I am loth to table any more, especially on such a complex issue. I am unable to accept the Opposition's amendment because they would want us to change legislation by secondary legislation attached to the Housing and Planning Bill. The issue is far too complex for that. There are many legal ramifications. We must have separate legislation.

Mr. John Fraser

May I remind the Minister that the Opposition have offered to give their full co-operation to any legislation which implements the Nugee committee report? May I also remind him that it has been Labour party policy for many years to introduce leasehold enfranchisement on flats along the lines of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. The Labour party's view is now endorsed by the Building Societies Association, the National Consumer Protection Council, the Law Commission and many others. Why do the Government not announce that they are in principle in favour of leasehold enfranchisement for flats, as for houses?

Mr. Patten

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's generous comments about the official Opposition's willingness to collaborate and co-operate with us to ensure that the Nugee recommendations are carried forward into law as soon as possible. We are trying to get after bad, delinquent landlords. We do not want to take rights away from good landlords and good managing agents. There are excellent private landlords and managing agents and we do not want the private rented sector to dry up further. That is doing much harm to housing.