Lords amendment: No. 37 in page 25, line 50, after "court" insert
considered that, in the circumstances, the grant of an assured tenancy would not afford the required security and, accordingly".
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Mr. Ridley.]
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment (a), in line 2, leave out?would not afford the required security'and insert'shall not be treated as affording the required security by reason only of the fact that the tenancy is an assured tenancy within the meaning of the Housing Act 1988'.These amendments relate to clause 34, which is the first clause in chapter V of part I of the Bill.
§ Mr. Ridley
Lords amendments Nos. 37 and 42 deal with cases in which a landlord is seeking possession of his property on one of the grounds involving the provision of suitable alternative accommodation and the court directs that the tenancy of that alternative accommodation will be a protected or a secure tenancy, as appropriate. The amendments make it clear that in directing that the new tenancy will be a protected or a secure tenancy the court does so because it does not believe that an assured tenancy would offer the required security. The amendments thus clarify the position and guide the court in coming to a decision.
Amendment (a) is presumably based on the argument that the Lords amendments do not go far enough to meet the commitment that was indeed given in another place that the issue would be clarified, but we are entirely satisfied that our amendments meet the stated objective. It is true that they do not replicate the wording of the comparable provision in the Housing and Planning Act 1986. The wording of the 1986 Act was part of a consequential amendment to schedule 15 of the Rent Act. The wording of this Bill is part of a description of the types of tenancies which can be protected tenancies after commencement. In both cases, although the wording is different, the effect is that the court is not automatically to assume that an assured tenancy gives the required protection.
I can assure the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), despite the length, depth and breadth of feeling, that the provision as it now stands achieves what is needed, and his amendment is unnecessary.
§ Mr. Battle
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his response. It is true that the concession for which we pressed in Committee received that response in the other place where it was reported in column 1457 of the House of Lords Hansard that the Minister said that the Government "accept the principle" behind the Opposition amendments seeking this change. On Third Reading, the Minister said that he had been advised that the Government amendments would meet our concerns. However I wish to press the Minister to ask him a forthright and open question. Will it still be open to a county court to decide that an assured tenancy per se is equivalent in terms of security of tenure to a Rent Act tenancy, regardless of the contractual terms drawn up 413 between the tenant and the landlord? It would seem that the court is free to fuse the two, but in fusing the two, tenants' rights will be weakened.
If I may refer to other amendments in this group, it seems that the Government consistently have rejected an appeal for a housing association tenancy. That proposition was lost by a mere 18 votes in the other place. However, there are differences between a secure tenancy and an assured tenancy which should not be blurred at this stage. The blurring of those differences means that some tenants will lose out. The issue particularly affects all new housing associations tenants, including any who may transfer under housing association trusts that are set up by the Government, or any public sector tenancies that are transferred to housing associations, as their security may be diminished when someone moves.
I urge the Minister to spell out that that will not be the case and give the courts clear guidance to ensure that the distinction is not fused. Otherwise, when the Bill is enacted, this section will be tested by case law and inevitably tenants will have to go through the courts to prove the difference between a secure tenancy and an assured tenancy.
I hope that, even at this eleventh hour, the Minister will reconsider the case for allowing a housing association tenancy. Housing associations have made it plain that they do not want to be considered simply as existing in the private sector. They are between the private sector and the public sector, and tenants of registered housing associations currently enjoy security of tenure and the package of rights that has become known as the tenants' charter. Those rights were introduced by this Government in the Housing Act 1980 and further Acts including the Building Act 1984 have received support from housing associations, local authorities and institutes of housing. Housing association tenants need to be clear that their rights will not be diminished, particularly with the prospect of public sector tenants moving to housing associations. Those rights include their right of tenure, their right of exchange, their right to take in lodgers, their right to sublet part of their house, their right to repair and improve their dwelling and their right to information about their tenancies.
I hope that the Government will reconsider the proposition that there should be a distinct and separate housing association tenancy. The amendments should not leave a fudge in the Bill so that tenants are unclear as to their rights and have to resort to the courts for definitions to find out the terms of their tenancies.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The title of clause 35—Removal of special regimes for tenancies of housing associations etc."—shows that we are entering important territory. I shall not repeat the points made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), with which I agreed. When it comes to a vote, I and my hon. Friends will support the Labour party's amendment to the Lords amendment, which raises several matters that the Secretary of State did not deal with.
As is clear from the Bill, Government policy has now broken the consensus about the role of housing associations. That has created enormous uncertainty in the 414 housing association movement. The Secretary of State will know of the long debates we had in Committee about the status of these associations. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) tried at first to claim that they were public sector bodies: they are not. Labour Members—and all other hon. Members—agreed that they were not. [Interruption.] They are not public sector bodies, and the sooner the Labour party realises that, the better.
The then Minister for Housing tried to imply that housing associations were private sector bodies. Eventually, I got him to agree that they were not that, either. Nevertheless, they are being forced into a private sector regime. The housing association movement is unhappy about that. It has always seen its role as providing social housing for people who, according to the evidence of the latest survey, are on incomes just above social security levels and are in need of such housing.
I understand that the Prime Minister is now giving some encouragement to the idea of housing associations being perceived as private sector. I understand that she no longer wants the phrase "social housing" to be used; she wants this sector to be known as "subsidised housing". She is not in favour of housing associations being thought of as providing social housing. She wants it clearly stated that housing associations will be subsidised by housing association grant, and hence by Housing Corporation money—hence by public, taxpayers' money. If all that is true, and the Minister confirms it, it is very worrying and will be the first admission of such a state of affairs by the Government. Will this new terminology be heard after the Bill becomes law?
If what I understand is correct, it is a reflection of the Government's main motive in housing matters: gradually to reduce subsidy, without which the housing association movement cannot prosper.
This is Catch-22: the Secretary of State and his junior Minister have said that they need housing associations for their plans for the demunicipalisation of local government housing to succeed. I concede that more grant was allocated to the Housing Corporation in last week's Autumn Statement. If the corporation receives substantially more money in coming years to cope with the expected massively increased demands that will be placed on it, it should in theory be possible for that money to filter down to fund the growth of housing associations. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome that, as they regard housing associations as having a good record and representing a worthy third component in the provision of rented housing in Britain.
The housing associations are clearly saying that they do not want to be dragged up market. They want to continue to provide for their traditional client groups—mainly people at the bottom of the income scale. They will not be able to expand under the policies that the Government are forcing them to adopt without abandoning many of those groups. They are in a dilemma. They are being told that they must expand, yet at the same time subsidy is being reduced and private sector money is being encouraged to come in. I do not object to private sector involvement in itself, but without sufficient subsidy—in London that means 75 or 80 per cent., if not 100 per cent.—most housing associations will not expand. They will certainly not be able to expand to pick up the increasing number of people on low incomes who will need rented housing and who will not find it in the private sector. In theory, those 415 on housing benefit should be able to find it, because housing benefit should cover the rents, but we know from previous debates that that will not happen in practice.
If the housing association movement does not get the subsidy that it needs, it will not expand its operations but will prefer to continue on its present scale, housing the same people as it houses now. It will not fulfil the role that the Government have repeatedly said they wish it to fulfil.
After a year of debate, the Government still have not accepted the legitimate and reasonable wishes of the housing association movement or heeded the experienced voices of those in that movement. If they continue to fail to heed them—I say this more in sorrow than in anger—plans to expand the housing association movement may fail.
Those who have worked in the housing association movement know what they are talking about. They know which client group they want to serve and the criteria that have to be met if they are to do so. By their intransigence the Government will ensure that their policies for what most of us are not unhappy to call "social housing" will fail. I believe that there should be social housing; I am also happy for it to be called partnership housing. We need housing, provided in part with public funds, to meet the need of a particular client group. It would alleviate the housing associations' fears to some extent and reassure their tenants and prospective tenants if the Secretary of State—at the eleventh hour both literally and constitutionally—would give them greater encouragement.
I propose to press the Secretary of State once more on the question of what will constitute an affordable rent. On the basis of public assurances given by the Government so far, there seems to be absolutely no reason why they should not accept that affordable rents should be built into the regime that they are planning. The Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues have come up with wording that suggests that they will impose on the Housing Corporation a duty to impose on housing associations a rent regime limiting rents in that sector to amounts that people in reasonable and low-paid employment can manage.
We need a statement from the Secretary of State to the effect that there will be sensible and affordable rents, as was orginally suggested in the consultation paper. In Committee, on Report, in the tenants' guarantee, in the Housing Corporation document about criteria for tenants' choice landlords and in the other place it has been implied that rents will be affordable. That was never defined and a year later we still do not know what it means.
Will the Secretary of State define, at today's prices, what an affordable rent for those on low pay would be? Would it be 20, 30 or 40 per cent. of the average manual wage in a given region? Without a figure, the phraseology is almost meaningless. I hope that the Secretary of State will give us a definition today. If not, will he give an undertaking that the concept of affordable rents will be defined in good time for the Housing Corporation and housing associations to understand what it means? The Housing Corporation also needs to know so that it can calculate the amount of income coming in and advise associations accordingly.
As the Secretary of State knows, the housing associations have made it clear that they want explicit provisions as to what rents are affordable, but the Government have so far resisted that request. At this late stage, we ask the Government to answer the question put 416 to them by reputable housing professionals who know the low incomes of their clientele, the cause that the associations were set up to serve, and the massive pressure for affordable housing that there will be in the weeks and months ahead. Can we not have a guarantee on the face of the legislation that substance will be given to oral assurances about what exactly an affordable rent is?
The housing association movement began its consideration of the Government's proposals both troubled and anxious. The Government made various promises about tenants' guarantees and then resiled from them, so the guarantees are now less substantial than the housing associations were led to believe. The shape of the Bill has changed before their—and our—very eyes. I make this request to the Secretary of State because I am prepared to accept that he wants an expansion of housing associations and that that would be a good thing for the country. Now is the time to give the housing associations the reassurance that they seek and, if he can, to state that it is untrue that the Prime Minister and the Government wish to see an end to the defined concept of social housing. Can he assure us that the Government are willing to continue to use the term and to give people in such housing the same respect and status as anyone else, and that they do not intend to start defining housing associations as part of the private sector and social housing as subsidised housing and thus seek to go down the slippery slope which eventually leads to less and less grant, higher and higher rents and less and less ability to meet real housing need?
§ Mr. Winnick
I support the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) who, I believe, described himself earlier as a Liberal.
§ Mr. Winnick
We always admire those who do not seek to hide their true political feelings and affiliations. One of the hon. Gentleman's two hon. Friends who also describe themselves as Liberals—the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—was an unsuccessful candidate for the leadership of his party. I am sorry about that, but I was not given a vote.
§ Mr. Winnick
Yes, we shall be coming to that in due course, but on future occasions we shall certainly know the party colours and affiliations of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.
I support what the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said not just because he told us earlier that he was a Liberal but because of the need for affordable rents to which he referred in his speech.
One danger is that, because of the Government's allocation of grant, housing associations will have to charge rents that are virtually market rents—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members want to talk, they should go to the Tea Room. Alternatively, they should be silent and take part in the debate later. This is a crucial issue. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I find it disquieting that Conservative Members are not taking part in the debate. It is almost as though they were in Committee. Do they not have constituents who are concerned about these matters? Three Conservative Members are still engaged in private conversation. One is the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). He is 417 not paying any attention to the debate or to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is engaged in some intrigue within the Tory party—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. Conversations are taking place in different parts of the Chamber. We must get back to the amendment.
§ Mr. Winnick
I was pleased to hear you say that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I should be only too pleased to return to the amendment. Conservative Members are—
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us are interested in the view of the Conservative party on these matters. If there is any chance that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) is discussing them and the relevant amendment, we should be most interested to hear what he has to say. If any of his colleagues choose to enlighten the House—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Let us first hear what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has to say.
§ Mr. Ridley
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you tell me when we were actually discussing the amendment? It has not been mentioned yet.
§ Mr. Winnick
I do not think that such reflections on the Chair really help our proceedings. It is rather unfortunate that the Secretary of State wants to make some cheap debating points. We are inviting contributions from Conservative Members on the issues before us.
What the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said is of crucial importance because the housing associations take responsibility for housing those in need. A survey in 1988 by the National Federation of Housing Associations showed that the four most common reasons for rehousing were overcrowding, ill health, leaving temporary accommodation and poor housing conditions. Those accounted for 46 per cent. of all the reasons for rehousing.
If the housing associations are fulfilling a role—to a large extent because the local authorities cannot carry out their usual traditional housing responsibilities—we must be concerned, and I hope that it concerns the Secretary of State, if the changes in the grant allocation mean that housing associations will have to charge rents that people in need, those whom they are trying to help, cannot pay.
§ Mr. Ridley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The amendments are mainly technical, dealing with various matters arising from the transition of an existing Rent Act regime to the new assured tenancy regime to be established under the Bill. Can you explain to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how a wide-ranging debate on housing associations can be relevant to the amendments?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I must admit that this is all rather confusing. I have been trying hard to relate the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the amendments and it is difficult to do so. I hope that he and other hon. Members will now address their remarks to the amendments before the House.
§ Mr. Soley
Further to that point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. I accept that nobody wants hon. Members to 418 stray out of order, but the Secretary of State is wholly wrong in saying that these are mainly technical amendments. They are not. They are deep and wide ranging, and have implications for rent levels. I would think that so long as the debate is about that it will be in order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I found it hard to relate the earlier remarks to these amendments and I hope that the hon. Member for Walsall, North will now relate his remarks directly to them.
§ Mr. Winnick
Obviously, I abide by whatever you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I would have thought that security matters relate to the level of rent, as do housing associations which must decide on rent in the light of their grant allocation. As my remarks are in line with those of previous speakers, I trust that they are in order. [Interruption.] It is all very well for Ministers to make those sounds. If they want to sleep they can go elsewhere.
I listed the group of people that housing associations have been assisting. We must consider the level of rents and how it will be possible for those in need to be assisted in the way that those in need are being helped by housing associations now. It is extremely important that the security given to a tenant is the same as that provided by the Rent Act 1977. That is not the case at present. Any form of insecurity causes anxiety.
We are trying first and foremost to establish the level of security and the way that courts will decide. I hope that when the Minister replies he will respond to our points about housing associations because they raise important matters for those who will seek to be rehoused by housing associations. As local authorities are no longer able to assist people because no building is taking place, it is all the more reason why some protection should be given to those who cannot afford market rents.
The crux of the argument which seems to puzzle Conservative Members is simply: what will the Government do for those who cannot afford a mortgage or market rents, who do not stand a chance of being rehoused by a local authority and who are likely no longer to be assisted by a housing association because of the level of rents which they will be forced to charge? Surely those are legitimate points which must concern us, even if, unfortunately, they do not concern Conservative Members. I am sure that I am supported in that by my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Boateng
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is to be congratulated. He has driven the Secretary of State from the Chamber. The fox has gone to ground, leaving his rather bedraggled pup to mind the lair, and by the time we have finished with him tonight, he will look even more bedraggled.
§ Mr. Patnick
The hon. Gentleman should get the zoological species correct. Foxes have cubs, not pups.
§ Mr. Morgan
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) forgets that we are dealing with the Housing Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) at least got the lair right.
§ Mr. Boateng
Whether it be cub or pup, we are dealing with an animal that has four legs and is looking increasingly bedraggled and uncertain without the intrusive presence of the Secretary of State. At 11.25 pm 419 we should not be debating the species to which the Under-Secretary belongs. He is all too revealing in the shape that he takes before us, and we do not want to enter into a semantic argument about whether he is a cub or a pup. He is at bay, which is all that matters.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) would not wish to mislead anyone reading the record of this debate. He may have conveyed the impression that the Secretary of State, having graced our proceedings throughout the night, had just left the Chamber. He looked in for only a comparatively short time.
§ Mr. Boateng
My right hon. and learned Friend is, once again, right. The record should show the extent of the Secretary of State's appearances in the debate. The record should show that Ministers, recumbent on the Front Bench, have from time to time been heard to mutter and mumble comments about relevance and sticking to the amendment. Among those Ministers, a particularly spirited response—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Perhaps I may mumble something about sticking to the amendment. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for a little over three minutes, but has not referred to the amendment. I hope that he will do so quickly.
§ Mr. Boateng
I am suitably chastened. I was trying to set the context of the amendment.
The drafting of amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 44 is simple enough. We wish to insert the word "secure." What could be less threatening? Amendment No. 44 has received a warm welcome from Labour Members. It adds to the circumstances in which a housing association can grant a secure tenancy with a fair rent. That is a good in itself, because the Bill seeks destructively to undermine the true role of housing associations in the provision of houses for those who need them. Amendment (a) seeks to redress the balance.
The former Minister for Housing and Planning used to visit hon. Members' constituencies—
§ Mr. Boateng
The Minister seldom managed to convince his audiences, but he suggested to the housing association movement that when the Bill was passed it would have a new role to play. That is why the amendment is so important. For a moment, we feared that it might be possible for him to separate the housing association movement from the local authorities and communities which they were set up to serve. That was the purpose. The Minister was not out whipping up apathy for the fun of it or simply seeking to establish a reputation as an industrious Minister of State. If his intention was to retain that position, he failed because he did not survive the Bill, just as a number of us predicted. Perhaps the current incumbent is not much longer for the portfolio either, but we will not speculate. We shall return to the amendment and see why it is so important.
The amendment preserves the traditional and historic role of the housing association movement. It should not be used to undermine local authorities or the public provision of housing, secured through the ratepayers and taxpayers. It should complement the local authorities. That was 420 recognised by the housing association movement. That is why the Minister failed in his primary objective to disengage the housing association movement from the local authorities and communities which they serve.
To make sure that that does not happen, even after the passage of the Bill, we have proposed the amendment, which provides that, where a housing association purchases a property containing a tenant with a statutory or protected tenancy, the association can grant that tenant a secure tenancy with a fair rent. The amendment seeks to extend this so that, where an association takes over a property with a secure tenant, it will also be able to grant that tenant a secure tenancy at a fair rent. That is a modest enough proposal, but one to which Conservative Members may be resistant because it contains a particularly unpalatable truth for them. It underpins the need to recognise the special roles of housing associations as bodies to meet special needs.
A number of groups will benefit from the amendment, including those who are disabled and require properties that are specially adapted and those who at a particular stage in their lives, whether through old age or youth, require special housing provision in terms of the management of their household or the kind of units available. Our vision is not of a society in which a person is fixed into one form of occupancy. One sees from one's constituency cases that old people find it particularly hard to maintain homes which are sometimes too big for them.
§ Mrs. Mahon
I hope that I can flush the Minister out of his hole and get him to reply to a question which I have tabled and which I asked him earlier tonight. Why have the Government seen fit to sabotage the excellent scheme proposed by the Stoneham housing association for deprived young people? That housing association and my local authority would have provided 30 places in what is now an empty tower block. They would have helped to restore and bring that tower block back into use for housing. Because of the inadequacies of housing grants, we have not been able to repair that tower block. It is sad that that group of clients has been left virtually homeless.
§ Mr. Boateng
Halifax is remarkable, not only by reference to the quality of its representation in the House but by reference to its capacity to produce an example for every aspect of the Bill. Whenever there is an amendment, there is always an example readily to hand from my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). It must be a truly remarkable place in which to live, with its diverse problems and the breadth of its need for housing.
I see that Brer Fox has returned to the lair. If he will pay attention for one moment, he will hear that what we are particularly concerned about in this amendment is that the sort of scheme that has been referred to in Halifax should be able to grow and develop. Our vision of housing provision is that people should be able to move into and out of appropriate housing throughout their lives. When they are young and making the transition from home into the private or public rented sector or even into owner-occupancy, guidance should be provided for them. As they grow too—
§ Mr. Boateng
Then I shall return to it. There is a stage in a person's life when Lords amendment No. 44 becomes 421 particularly relevant on account of the change in the nature of the tenancy because of the age of the tenant, his financial position or his health and general family circumstances. Such people may wish to move into housing association property. Lords amendment No. 44 should therefore be written into the Bill so that housing associations are able to make the necessary provisions for them. Without the amendment, housing associations will not be on hand and will be unable to meet their special needs.
We know that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State have received an overwhelming number of representations from the National Federation of Housing Associations. That has been a word of warning to them. The federation has asked the Government to enable the movement to grow in order to take advantage of the opportunities that the Government say they seek to provide by means of the Housing Corporation. Without the amendment, it will be unable to take advantage of those opportunities, which we believe ought to be provided. We ask the Government truly to liberate the housing association movement and allow it to play its role alongside local authorities in providing for the needs of our people.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having been caught short on amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 37. One lives and learns. I shall not be caught out on Lords amendment No. 76 and amendment (a) to it, but I shall give the Secretary of State his due on that one.
The Secretary of State said that these are technical amendments. Some of them appear to be very technical and we need to ask questions about them. Lords amendment No. 40 attempts to ensure that protected shorthold tenants who have been granted tenancies before the Bill becomes law under the current arrangements for creating protected shorthold tenancies do not become assured tenancies or protected tenancies by virtue of the arrangements in this part of the Bill. That includes cases where the landlord does not serve the correct notices for creating a new style of assured shorthold tenancy.
It is clear from these so-called technical amendments that the Government are prepared to create the most absurdly complicated sections and subsections to preserve the insecurity of protected shorthold tenancies.
We shall not oppose amendments Nos. 38, 39 and 40, but we believe that they demonstrate how much the Government are the party of the landlord and how they are prepared to frame legislation to ensure that landlords have a free hand. That has always been the philosophy behind the Bill. Although the Secretary of State may say that they are merely technical amendments, the philosophy behind them and the fact that the legislation becomes more complicated reveal the attitude and approach of the Government of the landlord.
Amendments Nos. 41 and 43 deal with housing association tenancies and with fairly complicated hypothetical problems that may occur at some time if a secure tenant becomes a housing association tenant under the provisions of part IV. A council tenant who is at present secure under the provisions of the Housing Act 422 1985 may be bought up by a housing association under the provisions of the pick-a-landlord proposals. At that point, the tenant would become an assured tenant.
But one must hesitate at that point. The Government are so anxious to preserve the right to buy that should the tenant exercise the right to buy his home at a discount and discover subsequently that his house was built to a defective design—perhaps the Bison system—the housing association can buy back the flat so that the owner-occupier does not have the headache of a useless asset on his hands. Under these provisions, that tenant then becomes a secure tenant—unlike his neighbours, who were not so foolish as to exercise the right to buy and who are merely assured tenants.
The dice are always loaded, certainly with regard to the right to buy. The Government may say that they are just technical amendments, but when one understands the thought that went into them they reveal the hand of the Secretary of State. Amendments Nos. 41 and 43 are absurd.
But perhaps the Secretary of State will tell me that my timing is wrong. Perhaps it is only when a tenant has exercised the right to buy before the estate or block is taken over by the new landlord that he can become a secure tenant when he sells his property back to his landlord. I should be most grateful if the Minister would answer that question and explain the amendments so that I may know whether my interpretation is correct. If it is wrong, the Secretary of State has a great body of experts round him who can tell us, through him, exactly what the amendments mean.
To get a better understanding of these technical amendments, I thought that the best thing would be to turn to the debate in the other place. But when I read the Lords Hansard I saw no evidence that the Earl of Caithness understood the amendment. It was moved formally and there was no debate. So we still do not know precisely what the amendments are about and must struggle to interpret the amendments ourselves.
Lords amendment No. 44 relates to clause 35, which falls in chapter V of part I. Chapter V is a complicated but crucial part of the Bill. It is the mechanism by which the Government intend to destroy current arrangements for the protection of tenants, so that the new regimes of the market place—the assured tenancy and the assured shorthold tenancy—can take over.
Chapter V is entitled:Phasing out of Rents Acts and other Transitional Provisions.Clause 35 states that a tenancy cannot be a housing association tenancy unless it falls into one of several exceptions, which include where the tenancy was granted as part of a contract formed before the Act became law, where it is granted to the same person who before the grant was already a protected tenant of substantially the same accommodation, and where the new tenancy arises from the tenant having to move as a result of a court order which states that the new tenancy is equivalent to "suitable alternative accommodation".
Lords amendment No. 44 sets out another exception to the number of new housing association secure tenancies that can be granted. When a housing association buys a property in the private sector which already has protected 423 tenants—the so-called sitting tenants—in it, the tenants are permitted to become secure tenants under the Housing Act 1985 rather than new style assured tenants.
I am obviously in favour of the amendment. It seems eminently sensible and fair. We all know that housing associations do a great deal of good when they intervene in the wholly inadequate private sector, buy privately rented property, improve it, convert it and let it to people in need of low-cost rented housing. The Government want to make all publicly provided accommodation housing association accommodation, and to take it all away from local authorities. We heard some interesting exchanges on that subject between my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and the Under-Secretary of State.
We do not want to hinder housing associations that want to take up property in the private sector and improve it.
§ Mr. Winnick
Does my hon. Friend know that the survey conducted by the National Federation of Housing Associations, which I quoted earlier, shows that the average net weekly household income of people who were given accommodation by housing associations was £77.50, compared with average national earnings of £224? The average net weekly income for households with nobody in work is £58.99 and the average for households with one person in work is £115. Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures illustrate the type of problem we are dealing with? Perhaps the Secretary of State does not realise its seriousness. People now being assisted by housing associations are in the main, though not exclusively, on small incomes. To the extent that housing associations will be forced to charge something near the market rent, the people I have described cannot be helped.
§ Mr. Banks
I agree. One of the insidious things about the Bill is the way in which the role of housing associations is being changed. It is clear from the submissions that the Government received from housing associations that the associations do not like that.
There are times when I do not understand Conservative Members. Either they have no knowledge of what it is like in the bottom league or they have not attempted to find out or—worse—they know but do not care. We all have decent homes. None of us can be compared with the people who will be caught out by the Bill. All Conservative Members are fairly comfortable, and some are living in the lap of luxury. Good luck to them, I suppose.
§ Mr. Banks
I am trying to be as generous as I can. Conservative Members do not have to experience housing difficulties and they do not understand what they are all about. When they move their amendments without being aware of the impact that they will have on those who are in the poorest sections of our society, it is not suprising that we become angry and embittered towards the Government. To be frank, we do not believe a word that they say. I wish that they would make more attempts directly to learn for themselves how badly off some people are in the private sector and in many parts of the public sector.
When considering Lords amendment No. 44, we must remember that housing associations are seeking to buy and improve privately owned property so that they can provide 424 some decent housing. As always, I turned to Newham to ascertain the state of houses in the privately rented sector, and I can report that it is appalling. The 1985 house condition survey on properties in Newham has demonstrated that the fabric of our private sector housing stock is becoming unfit at a faster rate than it is being repaired.
Most of the 45,000 dwellings that make up the private sector stock in Newham are pre-1919 properties. They are coming to the end of their useful life unless major renovation is carried out in the near future. It seems that 57 per cent. of private sector dwellings in the borough are unsatisfactory, which equates to 26,000 dwellings. The results of the survey told us that 83 per cent. of private rented dwellings were unsatisfactory and that 52 per cent. of owner-occupied dwellings were unsatisfactory. Unsatisfactory means unfit and/or lacking basic amenities and/or in serious disrepair. No Member of this place has to live in such housing.
Disrepair is becoming worse in Newham. In 1981, a total of 37 per cent. of private rented dwellings were unfit—
§ Mr. Banks
I am directing myself to Lords amendment No. 44 and the role of housing associations within the terms of the amendment. The associations buy inadequate private sector property, or inadequate privately rented property, and improve it. That is within the terms of the amendment. I must accept what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am trying only to demonstrate the enormity of the associations' task under the amendment and of their role generally. They have a major problem to deal with in Newham.
I hope that the Government will accept Lords amendment No. 44. If they fail to do so, the role of the housing associations could be undermined.
It is fairly common practice for associations to buy tenanted properties, especially in a period of rising property prices which lead to increasing difficulties for associations that wish to buy properties and improve them within the cost constraints set by the Housing Corporation. Tenanted properties sell at cheaper prices. Indeed, some would sell for about half their vacant possession value. This means that they are attractive to property speculators. They buy them, winkle out the tenants and sell them with vacant possession.
It is important that housing associations should be encouraged to buy in this market. The properties can be bought at reasonable prices and converted to achieve a housing gain for the housing association movement. For example, a house in multiple occupation with one sitting tenant can be converted into three flats, which means that there is a housing gain. Housing that is sold with sitting tenants is usually run down, badly managed, with inadequate repairs and fire precautions. The tenants, as I know from my own experience, are often old and vulnerable people who have been unable, for one reason or another, to get a foothold in the owner-occupation market. It requires the sensitive handling of the housing association to achieve that repair and improvement without too much distress or disruption to the vulnerable tenant.
425 If Lords amendment No. 44 is accepted, the home of a private protected tenant which is bought by a housing association can become a secure tenancy. If it is not accepted, that tenancy will become an assured tenancy under the new rules set out in part I.
One might ask what is the difference between a secure tenancy, a protected tenancy and an assured tenancy. It is a difficult question. Many people in my borough are asking those questions all the time. I wonder how many Members of this House or the other place know.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
Is this debate relevant to properties owned by the London and Quadrant housing association in areas of my hon. Friend's constituency such as Disraeli road, where I happen to know properties are being developed and put on the market? Is it important to people living in such property?
§ Mr. Banks
It certainly is. I think that my hon. Friend knows that that housing association is located in my constituency. My hon. Friend should perhaps admit a certain interest. However, I shall pass over that. It is not the sort of interest that would infringe his right to speak in this place. I think that my hon. Friends know what that interest is and we must congratulate him on having such an intelligent member of his family working for that housing association and living in that area.
Let me return to the differences between a secure tenancy, a protected tenancy and an assured tenancy. They always sound alike. Why should not a tenant in the situation that I described become an assured tenant rather than a secure tenant?
§ Mr. Winnick
Could it be that the lack of interventions from Conservative Members—not one Conservative Member has spoken since the proceedings began—is related to the fact that quite a number of them have substantial property interests and simply do not want to reveal them because many of them will gain as a result of the Bill becoming law?
§ Mr. Banks
That may well be the case. It would be useful if Conservative Members could join in the debate. It is supposed to be a debate. It is not, of course, and nor was it in Committee. That is one reason why I desperately want to have this place televised. I want people to see exactly what goes on in this place. I know that Conservative Members are just sitting around waiting for the next Division, hoping that it will be sooner rather than later.
§ Mr. Faulds
I do not want to follow my hon. Friend into any irrelevance, but is it not likely that if we were to have the disastrous intrusion of the cameras into this place, the political affiliations of most of the people who own the television companies involved in that would, like the popular press, try to defend all the interests of Conservative Members? The television companies will take the greatest trouble—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. None of that has anything to do with Lords amendment No. 44. Can we get back to secure or assured tenancies?
§ Mr. Battle
It may be that we do not see the televising of the House of Commons in terms of censorship, but I am certain that many housing associations have lobbied Conservative Members on this issue and they will have to answer to their constituents for not being able to assure them that the housing associations will not be prejudiced by the Bill.
§ Mr. Banks
My hon. Friend makes another good point, for, in speaking to Lords amendment No. 44, one realises what is happening in this place and with this Bill, against the interests of those who are desperately in search of housing.
Many of these amendments are so complicated and confusing that it is hardly surprising that many outside the House find it difficult to establish their rights. One begins to get cynical, and I resist that as much as I can, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know. None the less, one reaches a point where such obfuscation appears to be deliberate, to ensure that people desperately in need of housing can never find out what are their real rights.
§ 12 midnight
§ Mr. Cryer
My hon. Friend refers to the differences between an assured and a secure tenancy, and comments that perhaps Conservative Members are voting for this legislation because they have property and wish to see a change in the nature of tenancies in order to exploit their own tenants more. Will my hon. Friend comment on the obligation that is placed on all right hon. and hon. Members, under a requirement of "Erskine May", not to vote for any legislation that will give them a financial advantage? It may be that we shall see a diminution in the numbers voting against the amendment.
§ Mr. Banks
The passage of time will lead to a diminution in the number of Conservative Members voting on the amendment. Nevertheless, I know that I can count on my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) to point out to any recalcitrant Conservative Members what are their obligations and responsibilities, for I know that he is a keen student of the pecuniary interest register. He probably has the mark of every Conservative Member currently sitting on the Government Benches.
I return to the differences between protected, secure and assured tenancies. They all sound as though they are good things, but it is here that the Bill is deceitful. There are many similarities between a protected and a secure tenancy. It will not do an individual any harm changing from a protected to a secure tenancy, but there is a huge difference between a protected or secure tenancy and an assured tenancy, but that is what the Government intended all the way along.
The rents of protected tenants are set by the rent officer at fair levels that disregard the scarcity of accommodation. Under the present housing association arrangements, the same regime of the rent officer setting fair rents applies. However, if there is a change to an assured tenancy, the rent will be fixed by the rent assessment committee at market levels.
§ Mr. Cryer
Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that the fair rent regime, which is being undermined by Lords amendment No. 44, does not provide that much protection? If a tenant improves a property owned by his landlord, the fair rent officer must take any such improvement into account when fixing the rent.
§ The Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not see how any of those points can be raised under the amendments now before the House.
§ Mr. Banks
I was about to say that I disagree with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I cannot disagree, I do not disagree, and I never shall disagree with you—though on this occasion I believe that I do.
In the case of a protected tenant, there are a number of grounds on which a landlord can obtain possession. They are broadly similar to those shown in the Housing Act 1985 as grounds for possession against a secure tenant. One important element is that if a landlord wishes to seek possession on the grounds of a fault, where it is claimed by the landlord that the tenant is at fault in some way—for example, in not paying the rent—such grounds are discretionary and the landlord must show not only that the tenant is at fault but that it is reasonable that the court should make a possession order.
Should the tenancy be changed to an assured tenancy, however, the position will be different. For the first time, under the Bill, one of the so-called "fault" grounds becomes a mandatory ground for possession. If a tenant is three months in arrears with his or her rent—even if the arrears are not the tenants's fault—the court has no choice but to make an order for possession. Being an assured rather than a secure tenant would make a considerable difference to the person concerned.
As a protected tenant, a tenant in the private sector can currently pass on his or her tenancy twice, first to a spouse and then to a member of his or her family. Of course, the Government are proposing to change the rules, even for existing tenants, so that, although spouses can inherit a tenancy, members of the family can only do so—and it will be an assured tenancy—if they have lived in the accommodation for at least two years at the time of the tenant's death.
The important issue is that succession rights can be passed on to members of the family as well as to the spouse. If a private tenant's home is then bought by a housing association—which is the subject of the Lords amendment—that tenant will become secure. Secure tenants have similar, although not identical, rights in regard to succession. They can pass on their tenancy only once, although it can be to a spouse or, if there is no spouse, to another member of the family who has been living in the accommodation for at least 12 months at the time of succession.
Should the tenancy become an assured tenancy at the time of purchase, rather than a secure tenancy as suggested by the Lords amendment, there can be only one succession on death—and that to the spouse only. That is particularly hard on carers who move in to look after an elderly relative. Once the tenant dies, the carer, who may have devoted a good part of his or her life and attention to that relative, finds that as a reward for his labours at the same time as having to face up to a bereavement he must face the prospect of losing his home.
§ Mrs. Mahon
The carer will often have also lost out on any kind of career, finding himself years later on a much reduced income. That is an added anxiety, which is making people stop to think, "Shall I do this, or do what I least want to do and throw an elderly or sick person on to the state?"
§ Mr. Banks
That is an important point. The Government have talked about people being turned out of long-stay hospital beds and being looked after in the community. It sounds fine, but the Bill could penalise their carers, and that strikes me as disgraceful.
I do not know whether the Under-Secretary is fully aware of that implication. We explained it in some detail in Committee, but of course he was not there at the time. He has a very tenuous grip on his present job. This is a bit of a graveyard for aspiring Conservative politicians. I do not wish the Minister any ill, because it is not in my heart to wish any Conservative Members ill. That is why I still hope that somewhere within their breasts beat hearts that may still be turned by our pleas. The Secretary of State, in particular, looks at me with that stony, skull-like look that almost belies the thought that he even has a heart. But I do not give up hope even for him at this stage.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He referred to graveyards. Another graveyard with which we have become familiar during the past 12 months is the graveyard where the Government put reports when they do not know what to do with them. The Griffiths report made exactly the same point as my hon. Friend. It recommended extremely strongly that a far better variety of care would be provided by close relatives within the family. However, this legislation is making it far more difficult for relatives who have to give up their jobs to look after sick parents or children. I have an extremely difficult case in my constituency where a young lady in her mid-20s is being evicted from her home, having given up her career to look after first her mother and then her father over something like a 10-year period. She has never worked, other than looking after her elderly relatives. That is the reward that such people will get if this measure becomes law.
§ Mr. Banks
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and demonstrates the internal inconsistencies between the Government's stated intentions and the legislation that they bring before the House. That is why it is difficult for us to accept at face value almost anything that is said by Conservative Members.
For the three reasons that I have already mentioned—rent, security and succession—we support the Lords amendments. The Government may not accept the argument, but not only is it better for tenants that they should become secure rather than assured tenants, but the loss of security faced by the tenant may undermine the potential relationship between the housing associations and their future tenants at the time of purchase.
When housing associations are proposing to buy a property, they visit it, they take stock, measure it up, value it and talk to the tenants—unlike many private landlords who buy property in portfolios without ever talking to the people for whom it represents a home. One of the first questions that a tenant will ask a housing association is, "What will it mean for me?" If the housing association can reply, "You will become a secure tenant and, as a housing association tenant, you will have most of your rights that 429 you have now, together with some additional ones such as the right to information and consultation, the right to assign and the right to exchange", it is quite likely that that tenant will be keen to become a housing association tenant. [Interruption.] Shut up. I do not mind interventions from Conservative Members, but I find sedentary interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) who is sitting 3 ft away from me to my left, to be rather disconcerting. [Interruption.] I beg your pardon, did a Conservative Member actually speak or was that a death rattle?
If a housing association has to say to a prospective tenant, "You will become an assured tenant and we can charge you a market rent which may mean that your rent will go up by a factor of four and there are more ways in which we can get you out" it would be quite understandable if the tenants showed a degree of reluctance to have their homes taken over by the housing association. That is why I put it to the Secretary of State that it might well undermine the work of the housing associations in buying into the private rented sector and carrying out their excellent improvement work to the fabric of our deteriorating private rented stock if the Lords amendment were not allowed to stand.
§ Mr. Cryer
I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it would be a strange irony if the Government were not prepared to allow the Lords amendment to stand. They have supported housing associations as being a source of assistance from the private sector, as members of housing associations administer them often without any fee, simply as part of a voluntary contribution to society—the Lady Bountiful image that the Tories like to propound. If the Government do not allow the amendment to stand, they will be pushing aside the voluntary private sector and handing everything over to the private sector. Is that the general gist of my hon. Friend's remarks?
§ Mr. Banks
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was not a pretty sight. [Laughter.] I am finding it difficult to continue, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I turn now to amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 44. Much as we like the Lords amendment, it can stand much improvement. Our amendment attempts to include among tenancies which can remain secure, and are granted after the Act comes into force tenants who become housing association tenants—[Interruption.] I think you should send for the nurse, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East seems to be in need of her.
§ Mr. Faulds
My hon. Friend is such a comic that he must occasionally give the audience time to enjoy his quips. The more response he gets, the happier I should have thought he would be. I do not need a nurse now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I may in a little while.
§ Mr. Banks
I know that this is often referred to as political theatre, but I had not realised that my hon. Friend had descended from the high dramatic roles he used to play to become a low comedy actor.
As I was saying, our amendment includes among tenancies granted after the Act which can remain secure any tenants who become housing association tenants when a housing association buys a property with them as sitting tenants—this time not as sitting tenants in the private sector but as sitting tenants in the public sector. Our amendment relates to the provisions of part IV of the Bill which are the tenants' choice proposals.
When the then Minister of State was selling us the proposals in part IV, he persuasively told us that no nasty, private developer-type landlords would prowl around trying to make a quick killing out of the proposals. We were prepared to take him at his word. We thought that he might represent the acceptable face of Tory extremism. But he gave so many undertakings and was so reasonable that he could not remain in the job. That is why he was sent to the Foreign Office. I am sure he is relieved to be far from the thorny problem which the Under-Secretary of State now finds himself facing. The hon. Gentleman's move to the Foreign Office was also a demonstration of how the Government treat Conservative Members who still have residues of heart, feelings and compassion: they move them on.
§ Mr. Winnick
Is my hon. Friend aware that if the former Minister had remained at the Department of the Environment he could have overridden some of the Secretary of State's objections, rendering our arguments unnecessary? It seems likely that the Secretary of State had a word with the Prime Minister to get the Minister transferred to another Department because there was a clear difference of opinion.
§ Mr. Banks
My hon. Friend made the point that I made earlier. When we discussed this part of the Bill before, the Minister said that only nice, respectable, friendly housing associations would be out to buy under these proposals. He did not know then that the Charity Commissioners might take a dim view of this sort of activity when carried out by bodies that were registered as charities, excluding at a stroke many housing associations from buying under this legislation. But we expect the Government to change the charity rule at any moment, to suit their needs. That is how they behave every time they find an obstacle in their path. That is the new Conservative party. Any opposition—from its Back Benchers, from the Labour party or from society in general—gets kicked.
Under part IV, a housing association may end up with a number of properties acquired from a local authority. As we have been told, some local authorities are already negotiating with housing associations to that end. In the amendment, we seek to ensure that if tenants end up as 431 housing association tenants they enjoy security of tenure at least equivalent to that which they had as secure tenants when the property was owned by the local authority.
Housing associations broadly support the rights that secure tenants have under the tenants' charter. It is obvious that tenants would prefer to have more rights, rather than fewer; one hardly needs a PhD to work that out. The landlords want such a provision and the tenants want it, so why on earth are the Government refusing to allow tenants to keep rights that they have enjoyed as part of their contract since they first moved in, just because the landlord changes? No such dramatic change accompanies a change of landlord in the private sector. If one private landlord sells to another, the tenant keeps the rights that he has had since he first became a tenant of the property. Why should not the same arrangement occur in the public sector? When one public sector landlord sells to another—in this case a housing association—the tenant should keep the same rights.
If the Government are not prepared to accept our amendment, it will be clearly revealed that they would like to destroy all public sector tenancies and move everyone into the hands of private landlords. I suspect that that is what they would like to do. Thank God they have not been able to do it so far, but if anyone were stupid enough to allow them back again, I fear that that is what would happen. I hope that the Government will accept our amendment.
§ Mr. Ridley
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall reply to those points relevant to the amendments before us. I congratulate Opposition Members on maintaining a filibuster of considerable standard—even, at times, of humour—wholly unrelated to the amendments. Opposition Members clearly showed a desire to remain here through the night, which cannot be justified by the content of the amendments.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) even went so far as to suggest that his constituency would benefit from a housing action trust, and talked about widespread dereliction and the poor condition of the housing stock. It was an interesting suggestion, which we shall consider.
§ Mr. Ridley
No. The hon. Gentleman has spoken for hours. I have only just started.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) got into a bit of a muddle. He seemed to demand continuing subsidy for housing associations. He will know from the public expenditure line to which he referred that that is our intention. With private finance coming in, that means a greatly expanded programme and, by definition, low rents. What else is the subsidy for? The very word "subsidy" would guarantee what the hon. Gentleman seeks.
The hon. Gentleman then seemed to suggest that such houses should not be called subsidised. He must make up his mind whether he wants the subsidy or not.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Gentleman has bored the House for hours already, but I shall nevertheless give way.
§ Mr. Hughes
I asked the Secretary of State two simple questions. First, is he changing the wording from "social housing" to "subsidised housing" as a matter of policy? Secondly, I asked at what figure rents would be set after the subsidy, so that the housing association movement and its tenants might know what sort of figure we were talking about.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Gentleman must not believe everything that he reads in the papers. He obviously picks up his information from gossip columns. He should really be a little more sophisticated than that. He said that now was the time when I should suddenly announce a new rents policy. I do not think that this is the time. I think that it is time to consider amendment No. 40, et alia, which are very limited, and well past the time when we should reach a conclusion on them.
With regard to the points of substance that were raised, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) asked whether the terms would be better or worse in the circumstances that he described. It will, of course, depend on the terms of the contract whether an assured tenancy is deemed by the court to offer equivalent security or not. All contracts will be different and it will be for the courts to interpret the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West asked what amendment No. 40 does. I shall tell him. It provides that where, on or after the commencement of the Bill, a landlord grants a new assured tenancy to someone who has hitherto been a tenant under a protected shorthold tenancy or a tenancy superseding such a tenancy, that new tenancy will automatically be an assured shorthold tenancy without the landlord having to serve notice to that effect. Whether the tremendous edifice of rhetoric that the hon. Gentleman built upon that simple and limited proposition is justified, I leave it to the House to decide.
The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) asked what was the Government's view of Opposition amendment (a) to amendment No. 44. It would have the effect of extending the provision to include any existing secure tenancy taken over by a housing association and would thus run counter to the Government's intention throughout the Bill that secure tenancies taken over by a housing association as part of a transfer of stock by a local authority should become new style assured tenancies. The Opposition amendment would destroy that change to the new type of tenancy and I ask the House to reject it.
§ Mr. Soley
The Secretary of State refers to a filibuster, but he does not know what he is talking about. I will tell him what a filibuster is—it is 273 Lords amendments. What does the Secretary of State think that he is doing coming to the House for the second time with about 300 amendments to one hell of a mess of a Bill? So far, he has sacked one Minister and pushed another out—the one sitting beside him now will not last much longer—but the person responsible for the whole mess is the Secretary of State himself. He brought it upon himself and he deserves every bit of it because he has caused more anguish, fear and anxiety to tenants in both the private and the public sector than any other Minister at the Department of the Environment ever has. People are terrified of what he is doing to them. Yet he comes here talking about a filibuster.
The Secretary of State has learnt nothing yet. So far he has learnt only that the House of Lords has given us 62 433 pages of serious amendments. We may occasionally drift into a moment of levity at this hour of the night, but the Secretary of State will see from Hansard that, apart from those brief moments of levity, there has been content to all our debates. The fact that he does not understand and does not care makes no odds because this wretched Bill will be a millstone around his and the Government's neck for years to come—and if he ever comes to the House with a Housing (Finance) Bill in anything like this kind of mess he will get exactly the same treatment and it will be equally well deserved.
It seems that, even now, the Secretary of State does not understand the full import of amendment No. 44 and our amendment (a) to it. I realise that he understands one point, although it has not really been mentioned in the debate. The reason why the Government do not like our amendment is that it will stop them fiddling the figures. If they managed to get enough public housing—whether from housing associations or local authorities—into some form of assured tenancy, they could then start describing those tenancies as private lets and try to claim that the number of private lets was on the increase. Yet we know that everything that the Secretary of State has said about reviving the private sector has been wrong so far. There are now 600,000 fewer homes available for rent in the private rented sector than there were eight years ago. That decline is now more steep than at any time since the 1957 abolition attempt.
The Secretary of State must deal with that failure. If he allows local authorities to keep properties, he cannot claim that the private sector is increasing. The rents of existing housing association tenants—and this is an important debate about rent levels—are set at fair rents determined by independent rent officers under the provisions of the Rent Act 1977. The Bill proposes that that regime should not apply to new housing association tenants, and in place of that protection future tenants will be part of the new deregulated system of assured tenancies at market rents that will apply to the private sector.
It is common ground between the Government and the voluntary housing movement that housing association rents should usually be lower than market rents. The Government have said that. They have also given public assurances—much as we may doubt their worth—that housing association rents should remain affordable for those in low-paid employment.
As my hon. Friends have said to great effect, the fact is that housing associations feel vulnerable. What the Government have managed to do—which no other Government, Tory or Labour, have achieved—is to divide the housing association movement. Some fear that their colleagues in other housing associations will be pressurised to move upmarket. In particular, the removal of Rent Act protection coincides with the introduction of a new financial regime for housing associations that will require them to raise money in the private market for new developments. With the present record level of house and land prices and the extremely high cost of borrowing, the National Federation of Housing Associations feels, probably rightly, that it is likely that housing associations will be under undue pressure to raise rents beyond the 434 reach of low-income households. Yet the Government say that we must increase the supply of low-cost rented accommodation.
That is the source of conflict between the Secretary of State and the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). The Secretary of State knows that more houses must be built for low-cost rent. The right hon. Member for Henley recognises that that means houses at the bottom of his garden. Yet neither of them is right. The problem is that the houses likely to be built in such circumstances are not likely to be for either low-cost rent or sale.
The NFHA has studied examples of housing association tenants in different sorts of accommodation. It has considered their actual income and the rents that they currently pay, set by the rent officer, and the rent that they would have to pay if the new mixed funding scheme was operating. It also considered how housing benefit would help. The results were quite frightening. They showed that tenants in low-paid work would be paying up to 41 per cent. of their low wages in rent, even after housing benefit. One of the examples that I gave not long ago at a press conference was of a nurse who, with the new pay rise, would lose about 40 per cent. of her salary in rent. That is what we are talking about tonight. That is why we are angry. In several cases housing benefit does not even begin to help until 40 per cent. of income disappears in rent. Housing benefit does not make rent affordable to low-income households.
The NFHA survey of new tenants—those who became housing association tenants this year—showed that their average weekly household income was £77.50. Where at least one person was in work, that rose to £115.64, just over half the national average of £224 a week. Housing association tenants overwhelmingly fall into the low-income category. Because of that, the NFHA argues that, on average, no more than one fifth of their income should be spent on rent. For a long time I have been arguing with many others that if an individual or family is paying more than one fifth of its income in rent or on a mortgage, it cannot do so for long without getting into serious economic trouble and other problems, including, in the worst examples, homelessness.
Housing charities need to be mindful of their charitable trusts which require them to provide for those in necessitous circumstances in terms appropriate to their means. For them, the purpose of their activities is not merely the provision of housing—private landlords do that—but the relief of poverty through the provision of affordable housing. That is what united the Labour and Tory parties in 1974 when we set up the housing associations. It is this Secretary of State who is dividing the House on that issue.
We should remember that 80 per cent. of housing associations are charities. Let us also remember that the Charity Commissioners are saying that it would not be a charitable act for housing associations to take over tenanted properties. Much as the DOE is leaning on them and trying to get them to change the ruling, every housing association knows that it must ask itself this question: if in the judgment of the Charity Commissioners it is not a charitable act to take over tenanted properties, why is it doing so? If the answer is that some bad management needs to be dealt with and the tenants want it, that is the only acceptable reason. Anything else smacks of financial opportunism and building a financial base, leading to the 435 sort of situation that exists with companies where one large organisation bids for a smaller one to expand its financial or geographical base. That is what housing associations are worried about and why small associations fear the large predator companies.
There is no statutory backing for the Government's intention that rents should be affordable. The Bill abolishes the present statutory limitation to fair rent levels for new housing association tenants and puts nothing in its place, except the so-called tenants' guarantee, policed by the Housing Corporation. The guarantee's provisions are non-statutory and it is woefully weak on rent levels. It states of rents:Where accommodation has been provided with the assistance of a public subsidy, or purchased from a public body, such as a local authority or New Town, housing associations are expected to set and maintain their rents at levels wit hin the reach of those in low-paid employment. This will often entail setting rents below market levels. Associations should not discriminate in their rent setting between tenants in receipt of housing benefit and others on below average incomes…In addition they are expected to take account of the size, amenities, situation and condition of the accommodation; and the need to cover the costs after subsidy, of loan charges, and management and maintenance including the requirement to make prudent provision for future repairs.Those two requirements will conflict and, in certain areas, can lead to the assured tenancy rents being higher than market rents.
We have sought by previous amendments to strengthen the position of tenants. We want the Government to come up with some definition of affordability and to consult housing associations before doing so. They cannot go on passing the buck on rents back to housing associations when the grant levels they are offering imply massive rent rises.
The Secretary of State once said to me that he recognised that he had a problem in the south of England because of the high market rents. I said that, if he paid housing benefit that would enable people on lower incomes to pay market rents in the south, the bill would come to billions of pounds. That still would not solve the problem because of the tapers and cut-offs in housing benefit, and the Secretary of State knows that. That is why the Government have gone back on their assumption that they can increase housing benefit. They realised that if they did they would cost themselves billions of pounds without even beginning to address the problem in the south of England. That is the mess that they have got themselves into, but it pales into insignificance compared with the mess of the people who have to pay that bill.
That is why I have often said that we shall reintroduce rents set independently of the landlord, which means controls on rents. Not only would a Labour Government do that, but so will a future Tory Government because it will be impossible to use market rents without increasing housing benefit to the extent that the subsidy on housing benefit exceeds that of the subsidy to the person who is buying a house with mortgage interest tax relief. At present, the figure for that is about £5 billion. I do not believe that the Government will allow a £1 billion increase, let alone one of £5 billion. If that is right, the only course open to them is again to impose rent controls. The alternative would be rents that nobody could afford.
Housing association tenants include some of the poorest households in the country, as the National Federation of Housing Associations survey shows. It 436 cannot be right to expect them to pay 30 or 40 per cent. in rent—in some cases more—from their already low incomes when they will have to pay rates, water charges and the poll tax. There must be some guidelines of affordability. This is an important matter and we shall divide the House on the amendment.
§ Question put, That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made:—
§ The House proceeded to a Division——
§ Mrs. Mahon
(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was on my feet and wanted to speak before you called the Division. Labour Members saw that. I have been waiting to speak in the debate.
§ The House having divided: Ayes 68, Noes 169.437
|Division No. 482]||[12.40 am|
|Alton, David||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Livsey, Richard|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||McCartney, Ian|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Barron, Kevin||Meale, Alan|
|Battle, John||Michael, Alun|
|Beith, A. J.||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Boateng, Paul||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Bradley, Keith||Morley, Elliott|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Nellist, Dave|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Parry, Robert|
|Clay, Bob||Pike, Peter L.|
|Clelland, David||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Cohen, Harry||Redmond, Martin|
|Crowther, Stan||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Cryer, Bob||Rogers, Allan|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Ruddock, Joan|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Dixon, Don||Soley, Clive|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Fatchett, Derek||Vaz, Keith|
|Faulds, Andrew||Wall, Pat|
|Fearn, Ronald||Wallace, James|
|Flynn, Paul||Walley, Joan|
|Fraser, John||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Home Robertson, John||Winnick, David|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Mr. Frank Cook.|
|Alexander, Richard||Boswell, Tim|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Bottomley, Peter|
|Allason, Rupert||Bottomley, Mrs Virginia|
|Amos, Alan||Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Bowis, John|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Brazier, Julian|
|Ashby, David||Bright, Graham|
|Atkins, Robert||Brittan, Rt Hon Leon|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Brooke, Rt Hon Peter|
|Baldry, Tony||Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Burns, Simon|
|Bellingham, Henry||Burt, Alistair|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Butler, Chris|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Butterfill, John|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Carlisle, John, (Luton N)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Carrington, Matthew|
|Carttiss, Michael||Marland, Paul|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Cran, James||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Mills, Iain|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Durant, Tony||Morris, M (N'hampton S)|
|Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas||Moss, Malcolm|
|Fallon, Michael||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Nelson, Anthony|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Neubert, Michael|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Gow, Ian||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)||Page, Richard|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Paice, James|
|Gregory, Conal||Patnick, Irvine|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Pawsey, James|
|Grist, Ian||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Price, Sir David|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Raffan, Keith|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Harris, David||Riddick, Graham|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Hayward, Robert||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Heddle, John||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Hill, James||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hind, Kenneth||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Holt, Richard||Sims, Roger|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Stanley, Rt Hon John|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Stevens, Lewis|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Irvine, Michael||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Jack, Michael||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Janman, Tim||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Jessel, Toby||Thurnham, Peter|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Trippier, David|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Viggers, Peter|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Walden, George|
|Knapman, Roger||Waller, Gary|
|Knowles, Michael||Ward, John|
|Latham, Michael||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Warren, Kenneth|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Watts, John|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Wells, Bowen|
|Lilley, Peter||Wheeler, John|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Lord, Michael||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Wood, Timothy|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Woodcock, Mike|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Tellers for the Noes:|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and|
|Mans, Keith||Mr Tom Sackville.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr.Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)
On a point of order, Mr.Deputy Speaker.I wish to ask you a question about procedure during our deliberations on Lords amendments. On the previous batch of amendments there was a substantial and, I thoutht, reasoned debate setting 438 out the position of the Opposition and of the Government. The Secretary of State intervend in the debate—no doubt he has the right to choose when to speak—and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) responded.
The crucial rights in the House are not those of Front-Bench Members but those of Back-Bench Members,who must be able to defend the interests of their constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon),who has been here for a long time—[Interruption.] She has certainly been here for far longer than the Conservative Members who are criticising her now. My hon. Friend got to her feet and tried to catch your eye, My.Deputy Speaker,because she wished to defend,as a Back-Bench Member should, the interests of her constituents.
I do not criticisr you, Mr.Deputy Speaker, but at that stage you decided to call the Division. Surely it is your job to protect the rights of Back-Bench Members—
Order.It is not for any hon. Member to lecture me about my job. As the hon. Gentleman fairly conceded,we had a thorough debate on that it is not for right hon. and hon. Members to decide when they take part in a debate. Members take part in a debate when they are called to do so by the Chair.
When the Secretary of State rose, no other hon. Member was trying to catch my eye. Therefor, I called the Secretary of State. Equally, when he sat down, only the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman was trying to catch my eye. Therefore, I called the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). It seemed to me to be following the conventions of the House that, after adequate dabate, the two Front-Bench spokesmen were winding up the debate. Therefore, at the conclusion of their remarks, I put the Question, consistent with the normal practices of the House.
I add that the question of who is called to speak in a debate is a matter for thediscretion of the Chair.
Further to that point of order, Mr.Deputy Speaker. You will recall that last night, during the debate on the private Bill, you were standing outside the Chamber watching the proceedings. A Conservative Member walked into the Chamber and was immediately called to speak by the—
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Now that you have called your Member of Parliament, perhaps you will allow me to help. There was a fairly lengthy debate on the previous group of important amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) is relatively new to the House and, as a member of a minority—[HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] She is one of the few women Members of the House. Since no women Members spoke in the debate, and since we were discussing housing, I should have thought that it would have been a good idea to give someone who is relatively new and who stood up after the two Front-Bench spokesmen a chance to put her views on housing in Halifax. I hope that in future discussions on the Bill you will keep an eye out for my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax and call her to speak.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman will know reasonable comment. I share his regret that the hon. Lady that that was not a point of order, but it was a perfectly