HL Deb 25 February 1975 vol 357 cc675-8

[Nos. 3 and 4]

Clause 10, page 8, line 1, leave out Clause 10.

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

Because it is wrong that a tenancy should cease to be controlled by reference only to rateable value.

4.36 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I beg to move that the House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 3, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason No. 4: Because it is wrong that a tenancy should cease to be controlled by reference only to rateable value ". With the leave of the House, I will speak now to all of the remaining Amendments. These will reinstate the provisions to bring to an end the programme of general decontrol under the Housing Finance Act 1972. The main Amendment is Amendment No. 3; Amendments Nos. 5 to 11 are consequential and technical.

In the course of our discussions on this Bill, we have examined and re-examined the arguments for and against general decontrol, and I do not propose to go over the whole of this ground again. However, I should remind noble Lords that the arguments turn on a question of principle, the principle that tenants should not be faced with rent increases of several hundred per cent. in respect of dwellings which do not have standard amenities and are in a poor state of repair. The Government are determined to protect tenants until we achieve the complete social ownership of rented dwellings which is, of course, our eventual aim. Tenants of controlled dwellings are in special need of protection, not just because of the sub-standard quality of so many of their houses, but because so often they are precisely those tenants— the old and the poor—who are least well able to help themselves.

Noble Lords opposite have argued that the termination of general decontrol will lead to the greater decay of this part of the private sector. The Government share their concern, since we agree that it is of no benefit to tenants or anybody else that controlled property should be allowed to decay. I think some noble Lords, however, have underestimated how much we are doing in this Bill to encourage the carrying out of repairs.

Termination of general decontrol does not mean that controlled properties can never move into regulation and the fanrents system. The tenancy can, of course, be converted to regulation if a landlord improves the dwelling to the qualifying standard— that is, with the standard amenities and in a good state of repair. We recognise that some landlords will not or cannot undertake this work, and we have provided additional incentives to maintain those properties in good repair.

Clause 11 goes further than any previous Government have gone in making it possible for those landlords who repair controlled dwellings—as well as those who improve them—to get a return on their expenditure. We have accepted, partly as a result of Opposition representations, that where landlords have in the past been keeping dwellings in repair out of their own pockets or have already put their property in a better state of repair because they expected general decontrol, they should be able to get some benefit by way of increased rent. Otherwise they would be in a worse position than landlords who have neglected repair until their properties were automatically decontrolled, when they would get higher rents. The Amendment to Clause 11 which we introduced into this House made a significant concession in backdating the provision to cover repairs carried out since 6th April 1973.

As I have said the point at issue, in our view, is that the automatic change for a sitting tenant from rent control to rent regulation on the basis of rateable value, regardless of the state of repair of the dwelling and the amenities provided, is indefensible. On other occasions I have drawn the attention of the House to what is meant by the standard amenities, and there can be few people who would argue that such amenities should not be basic to every home. The termination of general decontrol is in response to the problem of tenants, and it is right that Government policy should be so directed. The needs of tenants living in controlled property deserve special attention for the reasons I have explained.

I hope that noble Lords opposite will realise that this is not just a tenants' Bill; it genuinely tries to take account of the difficulties, both financial and otherwise, that landlords face in trying to help their tenants by carrying out repairs. We are convinced that the Bill will improve the prospects that more controlled properties will be improved and repaired. I am sure the House will appreciate that, believing as we do, we cannot accept automatic decontrol. I beg to move that this House doth not insist on Amendment No. 3 to which the Commons have disagreed.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on Amendment No. 3 to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Baroness Birk.)

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, once again it is a matter of regret to us on this side of the House that, for purely ideological reasons and against all the evidence of the facts, the Government have re-inserted Clause 10. As I said on Second Reading and also at the Committee stage, I think the practical con- sequences of this will not be as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and that in fact we shall see more property remaining slum property and not being improved, as we all want to see.

Of course I am glad to welcome the provisions in Clause 11, which for the first time do something to help the landlord to repair the property, but it is somewhat misleading to the House to suggest that the principle involved here is that tenants should not pay a 100 per cent. increase in rent. Any controlled tenancy that becomes a regulated tenancy will be subject to the rent officer, who will of course take into account the condition of the property, and the condition of the properties that we are speaking about is bad. I accept that fact, and also that the rent of them is very low, often as little as £40 a year.

But unless something is done to encourage the improvement of these properties and to give a reasonable return on what the landlord could do for them over a period of time, we will not see them repaired and they will simply continue as they are until they become ruins. I should have thought that to allow them to become regulated tenancies, subject to the rent officer and taking into account the condition of the house, was a reasonable proposition, not only because this seems to be a matter of common sense but also because it has the support of the Francis Committee which looked into rented accommodation and was set up by the last Labour Government, and which tried to do something about this difficult and intractable problem. As I have said, we on this side of the House regret that nothing is to be done, but we accept that there is nothing further we can do at this stage.

On Question, Motion agreed to.