HC Deb 24 April 1986 vol 96 cc533-5
Mr. Simon Hughes

I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 24, line 8, at end insert—

'(3) In section 57(1) of the Housing Act 1980 after "section 56(4) of the Act, then" insert "(subject to subsection (2) below. (4) In section 57(2) of the Housing Act 1980, at end insert— "(b) the landlord under an assured tenancy has ceased to be an approved body by reason of unacceptability; and".'. This amendment relates to assured tenancies and to the need for there to be protection if the landlord ceases to be in the category of an approved landlord in the context of the relationship between the landlord and tenant under the approved tenancy scheme. If at the moment tenants remain under the assured tenure regime, in certain circumstances they lose, not by virtue of anything they do but by virtue of the change in the status of the landlord and the loss of approval given to the landlord. Tenants are thus in a new and vulnerable position instead of having any continuing protection.

The amendment seeks to continue that protection, because it changes the status of the tenant if the tenancy has ceased to be held under a landlord who is an approved body, that landlord having lost that approval by virtue of his unacceptability. Although I was not present in the Committee, I have read what was said and the Minister will remember that a considerable debate took place about the bounds of the assured tenancy scheme. One of the areas of concern about the assured tenancy scheme was the risk when the approved landlord did not continue to have that approval for various reasons.

I seek to give a slightly greater protection than presently exists as one of the ways of reflecting the general concern about the weaknesses in the assured tenancy scheme. From reading the evidence of the Committee, I understand that the Minister accepts that there are some weaknesses.

Mr. John Patten

I presume that the Liberal party accepts the idea of the assured tenancy scheme and its extension being a good thing, because that was said by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) during the Committee stage of the Bill.

Mr. Hughes

Our view is that with the right protection the assured tenancy scheme can be continued, but we did not say explicitly that as it presently stands we accept it. I have read what my hon. Friend said in Committee and he did not give other than a cautious and qualified welcome to the proposals the Government said they intended to bring forward. I ask the Minister to add to the protection of tenants when the landlord ceases to have the status of acceptability. The proposal puts a landlord into the specific and limited status of being a landlord under the assured tenenacy scheme. I hope the Minister will be sympathetic.

Mr. John Patten

Landlords who have their approval withdrawn are already prevented under the assured tenancy legislation from creating any further assured tenancies, as I am sure that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) knows. The effect of this amendment would be to deprive them of their existing assured tenancies, presumably by converting them into tenancies to which the Rent Acts would apply. That is my reading of the hon. Gentleman's mind, and he can say whether that is correct. We do not believe that it is right to penalise landlords in this way in respect of their existing assured tenancy lettings. The power of the Secretary of State to grant and withdraw approval is widely drawn.

The hon. Member for Woolwich has said that he looks to approved bodies such as building societies and other responsible institutions as being involved in this form of assured tenancy. The amendment could place doubt in the mind of an approved body about the position of an assured tenancy's lettings if the Government policy were to change. The hon. Member for Woolwich has recognised specifically the need for stability and the need not to put off responsible institutions. I believe that an approved body needs reasonable certainty. Having once created an assured tenancy that tenancy will be allowed to continue, otherwise the person involved has no protection for his investment and, in this case, almost always that person will actually be a large investing institution such as a building society, the Housing Corporation, and housing associations, which are also interested. If that certainty is put in doubt, as it would be by the amendment, the practical effect would be to discourage investment. That would be a great mistake. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Minister did not address my specific concern and, therefore, I am not assured or satisfied by his response. I am concerned when landlords lose their acceptable status. I do not seek to put off people from becoming landlords under the scheme, but there are circumstances in which the landlord does not come within the category or would lose his acceptable status. I hope that the Minister will think again. I am prepared at this stage to give him a chance to do so in the hope that the matter will be dealt with in the other place. In that hope, I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.

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