HC Deb 09 November 1988 vol 140 cc369-76

Lords amendment: No. 11, in page 13, line 11, at end insert or (c) he became entitled to the tenancy as mentioned in section 39(5) below.

Mr. Trippier

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that clause 17 establishes the right of succession to an assured tenancy for the spouse or common law spouse of a deceased assured tenant. The Bill in its original form did not provide a right of succession to an assured tenancy, but after strong representations from Opposition Members we agreed to provide a right of succession for the spouse of an assured tenant, as for someone who was living with the assured tenant as man and wife. However, it is a single right of succession for the spouse alone.

This amendment blocks a small loophole in the succession provision. Most new tenancies granted after commencement will be new assured tenancies—the results of new tenancy agreements. However, some tenants will become assured tenants by succession. They will be family members who have succeeded to a Rent Act tenancy. When a Rent Act tenant dies, his spouse will have the right to succeed to his Rent Act tenancy, and when that spouse dies, a family member who has fulfilled the residence qualification will have the right to succeed to an assured tenancy. That family member could then marry and, without this amendment, her or his husband or wife could succeed to the tenancy. So the property would have seen three successions in which the landlord had no say.

If the landlord is willing to grant an assured tenancy voluntarily to the spouse of the family member, that is an entirely different matter. However, we do not want to perpetuate successions over which the landlord has no control. This is a small amendment to ensure consistency in our succession provisions, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Simon Hughes

This may be a small amendment, and one that closes a loophole, but the Minister will be aware that this provision was the subject of controversy in Committee. This clause deals with succession rights, and closing the loophole will take away a right that currently exists. It will be of harm specifically to single and elderly single people. There was opposition from all parts of the Committee upstairs to reducing succession rights. This amendment is a backward step, and I greatly regret that the Minister is asking us to agree with the Lords amendment.

The noble Earl who introduced this amendment in another place made it clear that he had heard it argued strongly that tenants would not automatically negotiate joint tenancies for a husband and wife, and therefore that great hardship would be caused to widows if there was no automatic succession.

I shall give the Minister a simple and obvious example of the way in which this change will remove the assurance of security. It is the example of an elderly mother of 85 living with her son, aged 60, and daughter-in-law, aged 55, who move in to the mother's home specifically to look after her. When the mother, as a Rent Act tenant, dies, the son could succeed to the assured tenancy, but when he dies his wife cannot do so. By that time, the wife might be elderly and well past pensionable age, yet she will be prevented from succeeding to the tenancy by this amendment.

The arguments are known to the Government; they put the arguments themselves in another place. It is an unsatisfactory element of this Bill that succession will be denied to those who are vulnerable and need the security of their homes.

The Government take the philosophical view that three successive tenancies are bad. They are not. I can think of many constituents, as can other right hon. and hon. Members, who will suffer greatly from this amendment. My hon. Friends and I tabled an amendment asking the House to disapprove of it, but it has not been taken. However, I give notice that we shall oppose Lords amendment No. 11 if it is put to the House later this evening.

Mr. Allan Roberts

We share the view of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that this is not just a small, technical amendment, as described by the Minister. It touches on a major point of principle that was debated at great length in Committee and that divided this House on a number of occasions during earlier stages of the Bill.

The Minister says that the Government do not want three successions without the landlord having any control. That is an insult to the tenants of private landlords. Under this amendment, the relative of a tenant who dies will not be allowed to continue living in what has become home. That is what we are talking about.

Mr. Trippier

No, we are not.

7.45 pm
Mr. Roberts

The Minister, from a sedentary position, contradicts me; let us consider the facts. Under this amendment, when a person succeeds to a Rent Act tenancy, the spouse will have no right of succession—even though clause 17 gives a right of succession to spouses of assured tenants. If someone has lived somewhere for longer than two years, I would call that his home. Thus, for a relative to be unable to succeed in such circumstances is to deny to him the right to continue living in his own home.

It used to be the case that relatives entitled to succeed needed a six-month residential qualification. Under the Housing Act 1985, the qualification period was reduced to one year, but under this legislation, there will be a two-year residential qualification. Is the Minister saying that, if a person has lived somewhere for two years, that still cannot be deemed to be his home? I say that it certainly is.

In establishing the concept of the assured tenancy—in the past, we have made it clear that the only assured thing about these tenancies, unlike those of the 1980 Act, is that there is nothing assured about them and that they are very insecure—the Government go on to take away what limited rights relatives and spouses have. The whole idea behind this legislation and of destroying security of tenure among the tenants of private landlords, is that private landlords will more easily be able to get vacant possession of their property. That is what the Government argue.

That in itself will be a major factor in increasing homelessness. I do not want another debate on that aspect because we dealt with the matter of homelessness in the first group of amendments. Nevertheless, it is wrong for Conservative Members to claim that the main cause of homelessness in Britain is the same as in every other country in the western world, that it is a problem that will never go away, and that it has nothing to do with housing policies but is a social problem. This is an example of Government legislation that could, by taking away security of tenure, increase the number of people presenting themselves as homeless.

Under Lords amendment No. 11, if an assured tenant dies, the relatives living in the same house can be made homeless. If relatives are not allowed to succeed to the tenancy, the individuals or families will have to go to the local authority and present themselves as homeless. They will not have been made so intentionally but will have been put in that dilemma by the Government's legislation. Let not the Minister say that we are simply blocking a small loophole. This is a major issue of principle relating directly to our debates on succession. We believe that anyone who lives for a reasonable time in the tenancy of a private landlord should have succession when the tenant dies.

There was such a case some time ago in my constituency. Two elderly sisters had lived together for most of their lives in a terraced property, renting from a private landlord. The sister who died first was the tenant. The other sister, who had been there for 40 or 50 years, was going to be refused the right of succession. Only when we invited Granada Television to come along and interview the sisters did the landlord decide to change his mind—or her mind; it was difficult to ascertain exactly who the landlord was, although we knew the identity of the agents.

It would have destroyed that elderly person to have to accept that the house that had been her home for 30 or 40 years would be taken away, and this little "technical" amendment will result in many such cases.

Mr. Heddle

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, particularly as I was not in the Chamber for all his speech. I am sure that he has no wish to mislead the House now any more than he did when he cited similar examples in Committee. But he has just reminded the House that the two sisters had lived together for 30 or 40 years—he said 50 years first and then amended that. He will acknowledge from his experience of housing law that those two sisters would have been controlled and then regulated tenants, with all the security of the courts. The younger sister, being a direct relation of the deceased, would have succeeded to the tenancy.

Mr. Roberts

They did not have that kind of tenancy. If they had, we would have succeeded when we put the lawyers on to the case, without having to involve Granada Television.

What the Minister describes as the right of relatives to inherit tenancies was the reasonably fair position berore the present legislation was presented. The Government must admit that their avowed purpose is to make it more difficult for tenants to remain if landlords want to evict them. The Government argue as a matter of principle that one of the reasons for the lack of an adequate supply of private rented accommodation is that landlords cannot get rid of tenants easily enough, and cannot obtain vacant possession when they want it.

The amendment is intended to enable landlords to obtain vacant possession when someone dies who has succeeded to an assured tenancy following the death of a spouse who was a Rent Act tenant. All relatives from that time would cease to have tenancy rights. The Minister admitted that he would make the third succession and any beyond it illegal if the landlord did not want to grant succession.

We think that that is wrong, and that people should have security of tenure whether they are tenants or not, as long as it is clear that the accommodation has been their main home for a reasonable period. We thought that six months was reasonable. We thought that a year, under the 1985 Act, was reasonable. Now the period is two years, and even so the Government in their miserable amendment are trying to take away tenants' rights and to increase the possibility of homelessness. The Minister says that they are trying to close a loophole. We say that they are trying to destroy the major principle of security of tenure.

Mr. Trippier


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Has the Minister the leave of the House to speak again?

Hon. Members


Mr. Trippier

I ask the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) very seriously to read Hansard tomorrow. When he came out with his example, I was convinced that the person to whom he referred could succeed to the tenancy. I subsequently received advice from the Box that confirmed that I was right. As I understood it, the wife in his example was the tenant. The son who succeeded to the Rent Act tenancy would he the first successor. The hon. Gentleman said that the daughter-in-law could not succeed to the tenancy. I am saying to the hon. Gentleman that that person could succeed as a second successor.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Minister may well be right. It depends on the status of the original tenant. If the mother had inherited the tenancy from her husband, for example, her carers who moved in might find themselves without succession rights.

Mr. Trippier

I shall not delay the House for much longer, and I have no doubt that there will be an exchange of correspondence between the hon. Gentleman and myself.

This is the point that I wished to make to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts). If there had been two successions to a Rent Act tenancy—which is what the hon. Gentleman was talking about; he was talking about depriving people of rights that they already had—and the second successor was a family member, the family member's spouse would have no automatic right of succession. There has never been such a right. It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to give the House the impression that we are taking away rights that already exist.

Mr. Allan Roberts

I assure the Minister that I would not suggest that any rights were being given that did not already exist, and I am sure that what he says is correct. But let us clarify the matter, because there was some confusion in the Minister's exchanges with the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). When a wife or husband succeeds to an assured tenancy from a Rent Act tenant who dies, the next of kin—even if there has been a remarriage and there is another spouse—will not inherit that tenancy under the amendment.

Mr. Trippier

I could not have made this clearer than I did in my opening remarks. I gave my own example—we have had several since. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey wishes to divide the House, but I seriously ask whether he knows on what he is dividing it. We are not depleting the current legislation or removing tenants' rights.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Minister must remember what his colleagues said in the Lords—that the amendment was to close a loophole because it was not Government policy to allow three people to succeed in a row. Loopholes have been closed elsewhere, but not in this context. At present there is a guarantee of security where the tenant was protected under the Rent Act. We want to sustain that, and the Minister wants to take it away. That is a very good reason for dividing, if the Minister persists in his aim.

Mr. Trippier

We do not want to take the right away. I suggest that it does not exist, but the hon. Gentleman is right to divide the House if that is what he believes. We are not prepared to extend the legislation to cover a third succession.

Mr. Roberts

Does clause 17 give the right of succession for spouses of assured tenancies, except where it is the third succession? Is that the case or not?

Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 226, Noes 185.

Division No. 480] [7.59 pm
Alexander, Richard Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Allason, Rupert Ashby, David
Amos, Alan Aspinwall, Jack
Arbuthnot, James Atkins, Robert
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Baldry, Tony Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Batiste, Spencer Hunter, Andrew
Bellingham, Henry Irvine, Michael
Bendall, Vivian Irving, Charles
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Jack, Michael
Bevan, David Gilroy Jackson, Robert
Body, Sir Richard Janman, Tim
Boscawen, Hon Robert Jessel, Toby
Boswell, Tim Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Bowis, John Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Brazier, Julian Key, Robert
Bright, Graham Kilfedder, James
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Kirkhope, Timothy
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Knapman, Roger
Burns, Simon Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Burt, Alistair Knowles, Michael
Butcher, John Lang, Ian
Butler, Chris Latham, Michael
Butterfill, John Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Carrington, Matthew Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Carttiss, Michael Lilley, Peter
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Colvin, Michael Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Lord, Michael
Cope, Rt Hon John Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Couchman, James Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Cran, James Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Currie, Mrs Edwina MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Davis, David (Boothferry) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Dorrell, Stephen McLoughlin, Patrick
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Durant, Tony McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Madel, David
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Malins, Humfrey
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Mans, Keith
Fookes, Miss Janet Maples, John
Garel-Jones, Tristan Marland, Paul
Glyn, Dr Alan Marlow, Tony
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gorst, John Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gow, Ian Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Gower, Sir Raymond Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mellor, David
Gregory, Conal Meyer, Sir Anthony
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Mills, Iain
Grist, Ian Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Ground, Patrick Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Moate, Roger
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hampson, Dr Keith Morrison, Sir Charles
Hannam, John Moss, Malcolm
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Moynihan, Hon Colin
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Neale, Gerrard
Harris, David Needham, Richard
Haselhurst, Alan Neubert, Michael
Hayes, Jerry Nicholls, Patrick
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hayward, Robert Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Oppenheim, Phillip
Heddle, John Page, Richard
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Paice, James
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Patnick, Irvine
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Patten, John (Oxford W)
Hill, James Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hind, Kenneth Pawsey, James
Holt, Richard Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hordern, Sir Peter Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Howard, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Portillo, Michael
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Powell, William (Corby)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Price, Sir David
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Raffan, Keith
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Riddick, Graham Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Temple-Morris, Peter
Roe, Mrs Marion Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Rossi, Sir Hugh Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rost, Peter Thurnham, Peter
Rowe, Andrew Trippier, David
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Trotter, Neville
Sackville, Hon Tom Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, David (Dover) Viggers, Peter
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Waller, Gary
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Ward, John
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Watts, John
Shersby, Michael Wells, Bowen
Sims, Roger Wheeler, John
Skeet, Sir Trevor Whitney, Ray
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Widdecombe, Ann
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Wiggin, Jerry
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wilshire, David
Squire, Robin Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stanbrook, Ivor Winterton, Nicholas
Steen, Anthony Wood, Timothy
Stevens, Lewis Woodcock, Mike
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Yeo, Tim
Stokes, Sir John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Sumberg, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Mr. David Maclean and
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Mr. Michael Fallon.
Abbott, Ms Diane Darling, Alistair
Anderson, Donald Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Armstrong, Hilary Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)
Ashdown, Paddy Dewar, Donald
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dixon, Don
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dobson, Frank
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Doran, Frank
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Duffy, A. E. P.
Barron, Kevin Eastham, Ken
Battle, John Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Beckett, Margaret Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Beggs, Roy Fearn, Ronald
Beith, A. J. Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bell, Stuart Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Fisher, Mark
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Flannery, Martin
Bermingham, Gerald Flynn, Paul
Bidwell, Sydney Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Blunkett, David Foster, Derek
Boateng, Paul Foulkes, George
Bradley, Keith Fraser, John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fyfe, Maria
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Buchan, Norman Golding, Mrs Llin
Buckley, George J. Gordon, Mildred
Caborn, Richard Gould, Bryan
Callaghan, Jim Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Grocott, Bruce
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hardy, Peter
Clay, Bob Haynes, Frank
Clelland, David Heffer, Eric S.
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hinchliffe, David
Cohen, Harry Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Coleman, Donald Holland, Stuart
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Home Robertson, John
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Corbett, Robin Howells, Geraint
Cox, Tom Hoyle, Doug
Crowther, Stan Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cryer, Bob Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cummings, John Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Cunningham, Dr John Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Dalyell, Tam Illsley, Eric
John, Brynmor Quin, Ms Joyce
Johnston, Sir Russell Radice, Giles
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Randall, Stuart
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Redmond, Martin
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Richardson, Jo
Kennedy, Charles Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Robertson, George
Kirkwood, Archy Rogers, Allan
Lamond, James Rooker, Jeff
Leadbitter, Ted Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Leighton, Ron Rowlands, Ted
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Ruddock, Joan
Lewis, Terry Sedgemore, Brian
Litherland, Robert Sheerman, Barry
Livsey, Richard Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Short, Clare
Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
McCartney, Ian Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McLeish, Henry Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Maclennan, Robert Snape, Peter
McNamara, Kevin Soley, Clive
Madden, Max Spearing, Nigel
Mahon, Mrs Alice Steinberg, Gerry
Marek, Dr John Stott, Roger
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Straw, Jack
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Meale, Alan Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Michael, Alun Turner, Dennis
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Vaz, Keith
Moonie, Dr Lewis Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Morgan, Rhodri Wall, Pat
Morley, Elliott Wallace, James
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Walley, Joan
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mowlam, Marjorie Wareing, Robert N.
Mullin, Chris Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Murphy, Paul Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Nellist, Dave Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wilson, Brian
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Winnick, David
Parry, Robert Wise, Mrs Audrey
Patchett, Terry Young, David (Bolton SE)
Pendry, Tom
Pike, Peter L. Tellers for the Noes:
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Mr. Malcolm Bruce and
Prescott, John Mrs. Ray Michie.
Primarolo, Dawn

Question accordingly agreed to.

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