HC Deb 19 March 1986 vol 94 cc279-81
5. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will introduce legislation to free all new residential tenancies from the provisions of the Rent Acts; and if he will make a statement.

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

The Government have no proposals for any major reform of the Rent Acts in the lifetime of this Parliament. However, it remains our wish to encourage the supply of more homes to let in the private rented sector, in order to provide greater scope for responsible landlords approved by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to invest in rented accommodation. Yesterday I tabled amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill to extend the assured tenancy scheme to improved property.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Is my hon. Friend aware that a great deal of residential property in and around my constituency could be brought into use? I accept what my hon. Friend has just said, but does he agree that an extension of the shorthold tenancy arrangements would encourage labour mobility and create new accommodation in areas of shortage?

Mr. Patten

We think that the kind of extension of the assured tenancy scheme that has been proposed will help those who need accommodation. Above all, we need to promote respectable and responsible landlordism in both the private and public sectors. That is what we intend to do.

Mr. Cartwright

I very much welcome the Minister's commitment to extend the assured tenancy scheme, but does he accept that if we are to get additional private investment in the new forms of rented housing that we desperately need the Government will have to provide attractive financial incentives for potential investors and help to ensure that rent levels bring the accommodation within the grasp of potential tenants? When will we see progress being made in those two directions?

Mr. Patten

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman welcomes our plans to extend the assured tenancy scheme. As for financial incentives to responsible landlords—building societies, insurance companies and pension funds—as well as to private individuals, unfortunatley that is a bit late for yesterday's Budget. However, I shall certainly draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for next year's Budget.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

What possible real political significance can now be attached to the phrase "a property owning democracy" when the distinction between ownership and occupation has virtually been destroyed by this ill-conceived, ill-judged and damaging legislation? When will the Government grasp this nettle?

Mr. Patten

As I said earlier, we intend to move forward on this issue after the next general election. En the meantime, we intend to extend the assured tenancy scheme. As for owner-occupation and a property-owning democracy, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will welcome the reduction in interest and mortgage rates, which will greatly help home owners.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not clear that what Tory Members of Parliament want is another Rent Act 1957, which produced Rachmanism and the rest? The Opposition have a duty to warn private tenants that, in the unlikely event of this Government being re-elected, the same kind of Rent Act will be passed as was passed in 1957. Why do the Government not give private tenants the right to buy instead of wishing to take away their existing security?

Mr. Patten

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is talking absolute rubbish. He is going over arguments long dead. He should be looking to the future and trying to find ways in which we can bring back into use, in order to help the homeless, the young and those who are seeking jobs, property which is now empty. That is what we are bent on doing.

Mr. Lyell

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an enormous advantage in encouraging the private sector to provide new accommodation for rental without rent restriction? Will he consider carefully going down that route as soon as possible?

Mr. Patten

As I have announced, we are to extend the assured tenancy scheme. I can give an unequivocal assurance to my hon. and learned Friend and to all other hon. Members that we have no intention, now or in future, of doing anything that will affect the security of tenants in the private rented sector. Any leaflets that are going around Fulham, for example, stating the opposite are completely and utterly without foundation.

Mr. Rooker

In respect of acceptable landlordism and Fulham, both of which have been mentioned by the Minister, will the hon. Gentleman condemn the proposed private meeting at 7 o'clock tonight of Conservative and Liberal councillors who are members of the housing committee to dispose of much-needed rented accommodation at Fulham Court? Is that consistent with Government policy?

Mr. Patten

That is the first that I have heard of that or of any other meeting that will be held in Fulham tonight. I condemn the tactics of the London Labour party in putting around in Fulham and elsewhere scaremongering leaflets that have no foundation.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

I welcome my hon. Friend's answer to this question and his anticipated answer to my question, which is No. 51, about the extension of assured tenancies. Will he tell Labour Members that there are 600,000 empty houses and that the building of houses for owner-occupation does not meet the needs of the single mobile who want accommodation to rent? Will he please introduce proposals as soon as possible that will meet these needs?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is right, and I shall continue to tell Opposition Members what he suggests. Happily, some Opposition Members, such as the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), recognise what my hon. Friend and the Government are saying. I believe that a good number of Labour Members recognise that and are doing so in increasing numbers.