HC Deb 05 May 1987 vol 115 cc607-12
Mr. John Fraser

I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 29, line 26, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 11, in page 29, line 35, leave out from beginning to end of line 16 on page 30 and insert— '(b) the conditions in section 28 are complied with'.

Mr. Fraser

Amendment No. 10 would give leaseholders of flats the absolute right to purchase the freehold irrespective of whether the landlord had fallen down on his obligations. The way in which the Bill is structured at present means that tenants have the right in some circumstances to apply to the courts to appoint a manager. If a manager has been appointed, or if there are other reasons to show that the landlord has failed in his obligations, tenants have the right to go to court to ask for a compulsory purchase order to collectively acquire the freehold. That is a discretionary remedy in the hands of the tenants and that remedy turns upon the landlord neglecting his responsibilities.

There is a widespread view that the tenants should have the right to buy the freehold irrespective of the nature of the landlord's performance. If a landlord has behaved badly, the tenants would want to exercise that right. There is a general opinion that tenants should have the right to enfranchise collectively, whatever the circumstances. That point was beyond the remit of the Nugee report. However, that right is partly supported in the Minister's comments about the Law Commission and the need for a new system of common law. That suggested that there should be a collective right to the reversion of ownership of flats.

I have received a letter from the Consumers Association which supports that proposition. We especially welcome the recognition of the leaseholders' right to buy, but think that the Government should take this principle further still. We would like to see more comprehenive rights for leasehold flat owners to buy their freehold if a clear majority wish to. We will be looking more closely at the right to buy provisions in the Bill when it reaches Committee. The Bill has now left Committee and I want to assert the suggestion made by the Consumers Association. That suggestion is not novel and I have proposed it frequently. It should be recognised, and it would shorten many of the procedures if tenants had an unfettered right to buy the freehold at a market value. Because there is a wide consensus on this matter among reputable bodies, I want to press the amendment.

Mr. Alton

The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has touched on the politics of this legislation, which involves how far the Government want to go beyond striking a balance between landlord and tenant and really extending the opportunities for people to become owner-occupiers. I would have thought that the amendment might commend itself to the Government as the Conservative party claims to believe in the principle of a property-owning democracy. People living in properties should have the maximum number of opportunities to purchase the property by themselves or as a co-operative. I know that the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction has great sympathy for the housing cooperative movement. When people live in groups of flats, there are particular opportunities for properties to be assigned to housing co-operatives.

Although the Minister will not be able to accept the amendment today, I hope that he will assure the House that the Government will return to these matters of extending the rights of people living in private property and allow them the same rights as those given to people living in council property in their opportunities to become owner-occupiers. Property should not simply involve the profit motive or speculation. If someone lives in a property—whether that person is a private or a public tenant—he should have the right to move into personal or co-operative ownership.

Mr. John Patten

I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) for his kind words about my interest in housing co-operatives. I shall continue to do all that I possibly can to promote the interests of the co-operative movement in its rapidly developing and varied forms. I can say that I have put my money — or rather the taxpayers' money — where my mouth is with regard to one or two developments in Liverpool to help people who wanted to run their own lives. I wish those people well in their arrangements.

We are in danger of widening the debate. It is not for me to judge whether it should be widened too far; that is a matter for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, so far on Second Reading and in Committee we have kept out eyes very much on the issue that led the Government to set up the Nugee committee in the first place. We set up the committee to tackle the problems of people faced with bad management by a minority of bad landlords. The committee was not concerned with wider issues of owner-occupation, leasehold reform — which we have already discussed earlier—or many other issues.

We must be very cautious before we attempt, as I hope we will not do in the declining moments of this important legislation, to bolt on ill-thought-out bits and pieces—ill thought out by both sides of the House, including by me, through lack of time—to bring about leasehold reform and extensions of leasehold. That would be a serious mistake. We must remember that the Bill was brought into existence following the Nugee committee report. My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for the Environment announced his approval for the measure in April 1986. We have moved with the speed of light when compared with the standards of previous Governments in introducing this Bill and reaching this stage. We have achieved that thanks to the co-operation of Her Majesty's official Opposition and the Liberal party spokesman in Standing Committee.

Having said that, I want to allow myself one sentence which may stray into the wider issues raised by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill. I may include a semi-colon or two in this sentence if you allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and if Hansard allows semi-colons. I can never remember whether Hansard allows them. However, the Government believe that the right to buy and home ownership are very important; we have come to believe more and more that the right to rent is equally important and we wish to provide a greater variety of rented housing just as we wish to provide greater opportunities for people to own their own homes. I leave the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill with that thought.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and I made it clear that we regard the provisions of part III dealing with the grant of an acquisition order as a matter of last resort. We believed it would occur only when every other attempt to install a manager to run a block of flats had failed. Then, only as a very unusual circumstance would an acquisition order go to court.

We want to encourage and reassure good landlords. We want more good landlords — private landlords, institutional landlords and those landlords from building societies and pension funds working with housing associations and the housing co-operative movement acting as good landlords. I am certainly not seeking to facilitate the wholesale transfer of blocks of flats out of the hands of responsible owners by the provisions contained in the Bill.

The Bill makes careful provision for the circumstances in which an acquisition offer can be made. It leaves the matter essentially to the discretion of the courts, and quite right too. I do not want to do anything in the Bill to undermine the relationship between landlord and tenant or to discourage freeholders from the proper management of blocks in which they have the reversionary interest. Many freeholders, in London and in provincial cities, carry out their duties well.

Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will wish to withdraw it.

5.30 pm
Mr. John Fraser

I do not intend to withdraw it.

I must quarrel with the Minister for a moment about the phrase "the right to rent", which he introduces from time to time. I described it the other day as a fantasy in his mind, and a phrase which was stolen from the Labour housing group. I do not know where the right to rent exists. However, I can think of two examples of it. First, there was the right to rent that the Opposition tried to give prospective council tenants, so that if a property had been empty for more than six months, prospective tenants would have the right to rent that accommodation by giving notice in writing to the landlord. That amendment was voted down by the Government.

Secondly, another successful example of the right to rent, which I strongly supported, was called "do-it-yourself shared ownership". It was so successful as a right to rent that the Government had to abort it. Apart from those two occasions, I do not know of any circumstances in which the Government have done anything, realistically, to establish such a right to rent. I wish that the Minister would stop using that phrase unless he intends to do something about it.

All of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was out of order. However, it would be in order for me to press this matter to a Division.

Mr. John Patten

The hon. Gentleman need not be too impatient for too long about more substance for the fine phrase that I have used. Whatever else the Government want to do, we want to see variety in relation to this pair of amendments and a variety of provision for rented homes. There is still a place for the traditional relationship of lessor and lessees in blocks of flats. We want that relationship to continue and to do what we can to promote good landlords, of whom there are many.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 141, Noes 192.

Division No. 153] [5.35 pm
Abse, Leo Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Fisher, Mark
Alton, David Flannery, Martin
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Ashdown, Paddy Foster, Derek
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Foulkes, George
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Barnes, Mrs Rosemary George, Bruce
Barron, Kevin Golding, Mrs Llin
Beith, A. J. Gould, Bryan
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Bidwell, Sydney Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)
Blair, Anthony Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Boyes, Roland Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bray, Dr Jeremy Haynes, Frank
Brown, Gordon (D'f''mline E) Heffer, Eric S.
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Home Robertson, John
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Hoyle, Douglas
Caborn, Richard Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Janner, Hon Greville
Campbell-Savours, Dale Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Canavan, Dennis John, Brynmor
Carter-Jones, Lewis Kirkwood, Archy
Cartwright, John Lamond, James
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Clarke, Thomas Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Clay, Robert Litherland, Robert
Clelland, David Gordon Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McCartney, Hugh
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Conlan, Bernard McGuire, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) McKelvey, William
Corbyn, Jeremy MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Craigen, J. M. McTaggart, Robert
Crowther, Stan McWilliam, John
Cunningham, Dr John Marek, Dr John
Dalyell, Tarn Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Martin, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Deakins, Eric Maxton, John
Dixon, Donald Maynard, Miss Joan
Dobson, Frank Meacher, Michael
Dormand, Jack Mikardo, Ian
Douglas, Dick Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Dubs, Alfred Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Duffy, A. E. P. O'Brien, William
Eastham, Ken O'Neill, Martin
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fatchett, Derek Park, George
Patchett, Terry Soley, Clive
Pendry, Tom Spearing, Nigel
Pike, Peter Steel, Rt Hon David
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Stott, Roger
Prescott, John Strang, Gavin
Radice, Giles Straw, Jack
Randall, Stuart Taylor, Matthew
Redmond, Martin Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S) Tinn, James
Richardson, Ms Jo Wainwright, R.
Rogers, Allan Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Rooker, J. W. Wareing, Robert
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W) Weetch, Ken
Sedgemore, Brian Welsh, Michael
Sheldon, Rt Hon R. Williams, Rt Hon A.
Shields, Mrs Elizabeth Winnick, David
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wrigglesworth, Ian
Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Skinner, Dennis Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury) Mr. Ron Davies and Mr. Sean Hughes.
Snape, Peter
Adley, Robert Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Alexander, Richard Forth, Eric
Ashby, David Fox, Sir Marcus
Aspinwall, Jack Gale, Roger
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Galley, Roy
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Baldry, Tony Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bendall, Vivian Goodhart, Sir Philip
Benyon, William Gow, Ian
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Gower, Sir Raymond
Blackburn, John Greenway, Harry
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gregory, Conal
Body, Sir Richard Griffiths, Sir Eldon
Boscawen, Hon Robert Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Ground, Patrick
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Grylls, Michael
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hampson, Dr Keith
Bright, Graham Hanley, Jeremy
Brinton, Tim Hannam, John
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Harris, David
Brooke, Hon Peter Haselhurst, Alan
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Hayes, J.
Bruinvels, Peter Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Hayward, Robert
Buck, Sir Antony Heathcoat-Amory, David
Budgen, Nick Heddle, John
Bulmer, Esmond Henderson, Barry
Burt, Alistair Hickmet, Richard
Butcher, John Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Butterfill, John Hind, Kenneth
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hirst, Michael
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Howard, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Chope, Christopher Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Churchill, W. S. Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hunter, Andrew
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Irving, Charles
Clegg, Sir Walter Jackson, Robert
Colvin, Michael Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Conway, Derek Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Coombs, Simon Jones, Robert (Herts W)
Cope, John Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Couchman, James Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Dorrell, Stephen Key, Robert
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Durant, Tony Knowles, Michael
Evennett, David Knox, David
Eyre, Sir Reginald Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fallon, Michael Latham, Michael
Farr, Sir John Lawrence, Ivan
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lee, John (Pendle)
Fletcher, Sir Alexander Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Forman, Nigel Lester, Jim
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf''d) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lightbown, David Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lilley, Peter Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Roe, Mrs Marion
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lord, Michael Rowe, Andrew
Lyell, Nicholas Ryder, Richard
McCurley, Mrs Anna Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Macfarlane, Neil Shersby, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Sims, Roger
Maclean, David John Skeet, Sir Trevor
Major, John Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Malone, Gerald Speed, Keith
Mates, Michael Spencer, Derek
Mather, Sir Carol Squire, Robin
Maude, Hon Francis Stanbrook, Ivor
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stern, Michael
Meyer, Sir Anthony Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Mills, lain (Meriden) Sumberg, David
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Temple-Morris, Peter
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Moynihan, Hon C. Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Mudd, David Thurnham, Peter
Neubert, Michael Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Nicholls, Patrick van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Ottaway, Richard Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Warren, Kenneth
Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn) Watts, John
Pawsey, James Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Pollock, Alexander Whitfield, John
Porter, Barry Winterton, Nicholas
Powell, William (Corby) Wolfson, Mark
Price, Sir David Wood, Timothy
Proctor, K. Harvey Young, Sir George (Acton)
Raffan, Keith
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Tellers for the Noes:
Rathbone, Tim Mr. Michael Portillo and Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Rhodes James, Robert

Question accordingly negatived.

Forward to