§ 4.26 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT (LORD SANDFORD)
My Lords, with the permission of the House I should like to intervene now to repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Construction. The Statement is as follows:—
"As the House knows, the Report of the Committee under Mr. Hugh Francis was published last week.
"The terms of reference of this Committee were to report on the operation of rent regulation under the Rent Act 1965, especially in large centres of population where accommodation is scarce, and to review the relationship between the codes governing furnished and unfurnished dwellings.
"My right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales and I wish first of all to pay tribute to the Chairman and all members of this Committee. They were appointed by the previous Government in October, 1969, and have since discharged a very important task with impressive expedition.
"The Francis Report will be of great help to the Government in considering the next steps to take in what is an extremely complex and, indeed, controversial field. The Committee were not unanimous on all points, and the House will want to study both the Majority Report and Miss Evans' dissenting view with great care.
"The Government's aim is to foster conditions which are fair to both landlords and tenants; and it is encouraging to learn from the Committee that by and large the system of rent regulation, introduced by the last Government, works well. The Committee, however, have made a number of recommendations for improving the system. Some of these would require legislation and the Government are giving them careful consideration. I will accordingly not attempt to comment on them in detail to-day. Indeed, we would rather have the benefit of 92 the, discussions to which the Report will give rise before tabling firm proposals. There is, however, evidence that harassment and illegal eviction still occur in certain areas. We accept the Committee's view that the penalties for these offences are inadequate and need to be strengthened.
"I turn to the question of security for tenants of furnished accommodation. The Government have studied carefully both the Majority Report and Miss Evans' views on this question. The whole Committee agree that full security should not be extended to the large number of smaller premises shared with landlords. The problem, therefore, is confined to a part only of furnished tenancies, possibly two-thirds of the whole.
"Here we have been impressed by the solemn warning given by Mr. Francis and three of his colleagues that to extend full security could well cause the supply of furnished accommodation to dry up. This would clearly be to the grave disadvantage of those now needing such accommodation and, of course, of future tenants. The Government have accordingly decided not to extend 'permanent' or 'unfurnished' security to furnished tenancies.
"I have thought it right to make this announcement to-day since any uncertainty could well have an unsettling effect on the rental market, and even lead to the renewal of leases being refused. I also want to do all I can to encourage the many thousands of householders in Greater London who have rooms to spare to consider letting them to others in need.
"The Report recommends, Miss Evans dissenting, that the rateable value ceilings for the protection of tenancies should be lowered to £300 in Greater London and £150 elsewhere. We do not think that the balance of argument favours making such a reduction, and intend in present circumstances to leave the ceilings unchanged.
"There are other recommendations in the Report to which effect could be given without legislation. I welcome particularly the Committee's recommendations regarding the appointment of tenancy relations officers in the stress areas. Much can be done in 93 these areas by local authorities under existing powers if they will act with vigour and determination. I have accordingly written to-day inviting the Inner London Borough Councils—the area of greatest housing stress—to meet me to discuss what action can be taken now in the light of the Francis Report so that no time should be lost in improving conditions for both tenants and landlords in those areas where the shortage of housing is worst. I will keep the House informed of the progress of these talks."
My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.
§ LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSENDALE
My Lords, I should like first to associate noble Lords on this side of the House with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in thanking Mr. Francis and all his colleagues for the vast amount of hard work they have put into preparing this Report, and for the voluminous amount of information they have produced. I am bound to say, however, that we on this side of the House regret a number of the recommendations that Mr. Francis and his colleagues have made, and we are more in sympathy with the Minority Report of Miss Evans, particularly in respect of her views on furnished lettings.
Having said that, I should like to express my appreciation of the fact that the Government have decided to accept Miss Evans's view that the rateable value ceilings for the protection of tenancies should not be lowered to £300 in Greater London, and to £150 elsewhere. I believe that to have accepted the view of the majority would have been a very grave mistake, and I am glad that the Government have avoided that pitfall. This is an extremely complicated sphere of human activity. We shall certainly wish to have many discussions with interested parties and individuals who are working in the housing field, and perhaps at some time we may have an opportunity of debating in this House this most important social problem.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, I should like to join in paying tribute to Mr. Francis and his Committee, and also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for repeating the Statement. This is certainly a massive Report, and one that 94 will have to be studied carefully. I welcome the decision to increase the penalties for harassment, and the, decision to leave the rateable value ceilings unchanged.
Would the noble Lord agree that in regard to the housing shortage there are very great variations throughout the country, so that it is extremely difficult to devise any legislation that is equally appropriate for every part of the country, but that the introduction of the rent regulation procedure in 1965 was a step towards as fair and sensible a method of dealing with this problem as could be devised? If that be so, may I ask whether the Government have made up their mind on the proposal that newly erected dwelling accommodation should be taken out of the regulation procedure altogether? It must be remembered, after all, that houses do not remain new for ever, and if this proposal is accepted it would seem to me that tae whole regulation procedure will gradually be phased out and much of the other discussion will become academic.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, for his response to this Statement, and for his suggestion that it is a matter which certainly deserves a very thorough debate in due course when we have had time to read, mark and inwardly digest what is in the Report. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, may I say that it is just because; the state of housing h so variable in the country that the Government particularly welcome the emphasis in the Report on the special measures that can be taken in the stress areas, and the suggestion that they should be so designated. In regard to his question about newly erected houses, I can only say that at this stage I have nothing more to add.
My Lords, in view of the extremely serious position twat exists in relation to the housing problem, can the noble Lord indicate when we are likely to have a debate on this very important Report? Is he aware that, apart from the issues raised in this Report, it is essential, on the question of harassment, to look even beyond the scope of this particular inquiry? I refer to the harassment which is taking place in 95 respect of the Leasehold Reform Act, for example, where tenants are being subjected to very lengthy proceedings in consequence of the divergences in the position which exist at present.
May I also ask the noble Lord not only to consider the importance of making no reduction in the rateable values, but also to keep in mind, in view of the rateable values that exist at the present time, that it may be advisable to consider having a higher rateable value for the purpose of protecting tenants who are being subjected to very severe and unfortunate conditions? I hope that we shall have a debate on this fairly soon because, as I say, the situation is an extremely grave one.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his remarks. It is not for me, of course, to say when we should have a debate on this or any other topic, but my noble friend the Leader of the House is sitting beside me and will no doubt take note of what the noble Lord has said. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, went on to ask a further question about harassment. I should like to point out that this is one of the four particular points on which the Government have already taken a decision; namely, that the penalties should be increased. As to the last point, all I am able to say at this stage is that this is a matter that we will bear in mind.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, may I join in congratulating the Francis Committee, who appear to me to have produced, in a very short time, as able and powerful a Report on housing as the Milner Holland Committee did four or five years ago? May I support the noble Lord, Lord Janner, in his request for an early debate? May I also ask my noble friend whether he sees a possibility of early legislation on those matters which required legislation—next Session, for example?
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I think that all I can say in response to the question about the date of legislation is that the fact that the Government have already announced their intentions on certain specific matters confirms that it is our desire to legislate early. But beyond that I cannot say any more.