Amendment made: No. 15, in page 51, line 8, leave out from 'transitional' to end of line 9 and insert
', incidental, supplemental or consequential provision or saving as the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient in connection with the coming into force or any provision of this Act or the operation of any enactment which is repealed or amended by a provision of this Act during any period when the repeal of amendment is not wholly in force.'.
§ Mr. John Patten
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The principles underlying the Bill, happily, have commanded all-party support, which we value. There is general recognition throughout the House of the need to strengthen the rights of those who are living in privately owned blocks of flats, and of the relevance of the Nugee committee and its excellent findings in that context.
The Nugee committee struck the right balance between measures to improve the tenants' position and the need to safeguard the interests of landlords and their agents. We wish to encourage good landlords; we want to see more of them, not fewer. That balance has been maintained in Standing Committee and on Report and I should like to thank hon. Members who have made some weighty 617 contributions during the passage of the Bill, which is of such importance for those who are living in privately owned blocks of flats, which have led to the improvement of the Bill.
§ Mr. John Fraser
I promised not this year but last that when the Bill came forward the Opposition would facilitate its passage even though we wanted it to go further in two respects. The Minister will agree that I have kept my promise. I am glad to see the Bill speeding on its way. I think it is the right point at which to congratulate further the Nugee committee on the excellent work which it did.
The Bill affects private rights between landlord and tenant. It is extremely important that, once the Bill leaves this House with all-party support, it is dispatched to another place as quickly as possible. Since rumour has it that we are likely to have a general election soon, I hope that the Bill will become law before a general election takes place.
§ Mr. Alton
This is one of those rare but pleasant occasions on which there is all-party support in the House for a piece of legislation. Like the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), I hope that not only will the Bill receive its Third Reading today and rapidly go through its stages in another place but that, if there is to be a general election, it will not be one of the Bills which is lost in indecent haste after the local elections on Thursday.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) welcomed the Bill on Second Reading, he said that it could have a civilising influence in the jungle of property speculation. Since then many useful amendments have been made in Committee, especially that service charge contributions should be held in trust. However, we still need to be vigilant about ensuring that loopholes are not exploited by landlords and that the rights of private tenants to high standards of repair and maintenance are maintained.
The Minister has talked much this afternoon about achieving the right balance between the rights of tenants and the rights of landlords. Surely all of us recognise that there has been an unfortunate growth in the exploitation of tenants in the last few years. Shelter estimates that there are some 80,000 homeless people, many of them sleeping rough on park benches or in cardboard city. It is 618 important that we provide them with places to live. If private landlords are to play a part in that process, it must be with adequate safeguards.
Homelessness has become a growth industry and frequently we have seen how housing benefits can be abused and misused by private landlords as a licence to print money. On a previous occasion I put before the House the example of one landlord who is taking £140,000 a year from the collection of private rents for one property in my constituency through abuse of the housing benefit system. Clearly that is an example of the balance between the rights of tenants and the rights of the landlord getting out of skew and of the landlord using the system purely to create profit and not to provide for a need.
We will have to return to such issues and to the role of the rent officer in safeguarding the rights of private tenants. We will have to consider further leasehold reform. We will have to examine again the right to buy for private tenants and, indeed, the right to co-operate. Most important, it is vital that, whenever loopholes are seen to be exploited by bad landlords, this House must act vigorously in protecting those tenants who can often be so badly used.
With those caveats and conditions, I very much welcome the Bill and hope that we shall swiftly give it a Third Reading.
§ 6.2 pm
§ Mr. John Patten
By leave of the House, if I may, I should like to thank the hon. Members for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) for their warm welcome for the Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Norwood that he has more than fully carried out his undertaking, given on behalf of the official Opposition some time ago, to facilitate the passage of the Bill through the House.
The Bill is much improved and is now ready to go to another place. I share entirely the hope of both hon. Gentlemen that it will speedily be passed through another place. May I suggest to them that they speak to their noble Friends to make sure that the Bill is welcomed warmly in the interests of getting it into law purely to help those whom we all in this House decided needed help, namely the tenants of badly managed blocks of flats?
This is an important piece of consumer legislation aimed at helping those who have a minority of bad landlords. I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.