§ 6.6 p.m.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am introducing a short debate on only a very small part of a much wider subject, that of student housing. I do so for two reasons: first, because I consider student housing to be an important subject in itself, and not least because housing has a major effect on a person's life; and, clearly, if a student is living not only in uncomfortable, but quite possibly squalid, surroundings it is bound to affect his work and life. Secondly, I believe it is right to have something about this important issue on the record before the start of the next academic year.
§ It would, of course, be far more satisfactory to have a debate on the whole question of student housing, but time does not allow this today. But the background to this debate must be the fact that the number of students as a whole will increase considerably over the next few years going up to 1981 (which is as far ahead as I have seen figures) even though the total number is not so large as was originally expected. I think I am right in saying that the figures indicate that there will be an increase from 516,000 students in the year 1974–75, to 640,000 students expected in the year 1980–81. It is true that this is a reduction of 110,000 on the original target, and that therefore there ought to be much less of a problem of accommodation. Nevertheless, the problem is still there.
§ Of all students, I believe that about 38 per cent. at universities live in halls of residence, and that about 30 per cent. of students in polytechnics do so. The rest must therefore look for accommodation in flats and "digs", though of course a small proportion will live at home. I am concerned today only with those who will be looking for accommodation in flats and "digs". One of the great changes since I was an undergraduate is that students often prefer—at least, after their first year—to live in flats. They want to get away from what is described as the paternalism of a hall of residence. But, as I have already indicated, a very large 1325 number will, in any case, have to find accommodation privately. Nor is the problem confined simply to those studying at universities and polytechnics. A great many others—I have no estimate at all of the figures—will also be studying: student nurses, physiotherapists, apprentices, those doing secretarial and commercial courses of all kinds and, I have no doubt, many others. We are therefore talking about a large number of people. My short Question today is exclusively concerned with the effect of the Rent Act 1974 on this situation. That Act came into force in August 1974 and gave security of tenure to almost everyone in furnished accommodation. There are a few exceptions, among these being students living in university halls of residence.
§ Last summer, when we were debating the Rent Act, I moved an Amendment to the Bill, as it then was, which would have excluded from its provisions students and a number of other young people who were studying. It was carried in your Lordships' House but was lost in another place. I moved my Amendment, first, because I thought it would help students and that landlords would be encouraged to let to them if they felt that they could regain possession of their property. I moved it, secondly, because there is a basic inconsistency it the Act. A student in a university or college-owned building has no security of tenure for the very good reason, given by the Government when the Bill was going through this House, that a university needs to use the buildings time and again for different lots of students. A landlord or landlady who may wish to do the same cannot regain possession of his or her flat at the end of the tenancy when a student has completed his studies, and re-let to more students. There is thus a basic inconsistency which I think ought to he put right.
§ It will, I suppose, be said that the case of the resident landlord means that a student is all right in "digs". I believe that it was the original intention of the Government to draw a distinction in the Rent Act 1974 between a resident and non-resident landlord, where previously the distinction had been drawn between furnished and unfurnished 1326 accommodation. It was thought that where a landlord was resident he would have a right to regain possession of part of his own house at the end of a tenancy. However, when the Bill came to another place it was amended so that security of tenure is given to a tenant on a second fixed term letting, even when the landlord is resident. Some people may have doubts about the effect of this, and I will illustrate what I mean.
§ For most students who are in "digs" this means that the student is living in one room in somebody's house. If that person lets the room for the academic year, the student stays there for the year, the arrangement works well and the landlord or landlady says to the student, "I would like to let you my room for a second academic year ". On this second fixed term letting, that student has permanent security of tenure in that person's house. It seems to me that this cannot really have been the intention of the Bill and it has the effect of discouraging from doing so many people who would be only too glad to let a room in their house to a student. I have already asked the Government whether they would amend that provision in order to encourage people to let rooms in their houses, and get over what I believe to be a very real problem today—that of under-occupation—and I raise it again today in this short debate.
§ The consequence of all this is that there has been less accommodation to let. No one knows, except the Government, how much less accommodation there is, but everyone knows that it is increasingly difficult for students and others to find furnished accommodation of any kind at all; and at the same time there is increasing evidence of large numbers of empty properties. At the time of the passing of the Rent Act, the Government promised that they would look again at the student question and I was therefore pleased to see a copy of the Consultation Document issued jointly by the Department of Education and Science and the Department of the Environment in April this year. A document is not, of course, the same as a Bill, but I welcome the proposal contained in it for a registration scheme and the suggestion, if I have understood it aright, that students in registered accommodation should come under Part VI of the Rent Act 1968.1327
§ This seems to me a sensible solution and one well worth pursuing. It would put the position of students back to what it was before the passing of the Rent Act, it would encourage landlords to let and it would help students, not only those at universities and polytechnics but other young people, because I was glad to read in the Consultation Document that it was intended that it should apply to students pursuing a full course in other institutions besides universities and polytechnics.
§ It is disappointing, although perhaps not altogether unexpected, that the scheme was not welcomed by the National Union of Students. I believe they are mistaken in their attitude and, if I might suggest it to them, they should consider the reality of the situation, for how will students be housed? I should have thought it unlikely in the present economic situation that the Government would have more money for purpose-built halls of residence. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, will be able to comment on this and tell us how much new building the Government are proposing.
§ I think it very unlikely that local authorities will provide housing, although it is true that the one and two-person households are growing most rapidly, and I understand from circulars from the Department of the Environment that local authorities are being encouraged to build more of this type of accommodation. I suspect that priority will be given to the elderly for this type of accommodation, and it is not difficult to see why this should be so. Other forms of student housing are available, but as I said at the outset, time does not allow me to go into all the alternatives. We are, therefore, left with private accommodation and, in any event, any other form of accommodation will not be ready by this October and is hardly likely to be so a year later.
§ A student registration scheme seems to be practical, one that could be implemented quickly and one which would be able to help and give immediate relief before the next academic year. However, we have not seen anything of this scheme and the purpose of my Question is to discover whether the Government intend to bring it in and, if so, whether they can tell us when this will be. It would at 1328 the same time be helpful if the Government could give us any figures on the effect of the Rent Act on the student situation, and tell us whether, as a result of the evidence that they have, they have decided that it is unnecessary to bring in a student registration scheme. Perhaps I might ask once again whether the Government have been monitoring the effect of the Rent Act. I understand that perhaps this question should be addressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, but as this debate gives me an opportunity to raise the issue, I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, would give an answer, and I shall be perfectly happy with a written reply.
§ I have asked before whether the Government are to produce a simple explanatory leaflet on the working of the Rent Act, so that everbody letting accommodation will know what the position is. This has been promised, but so far I have not seen the leaflet nor heard anything about it. I believe that if they cannot bring in a student registration scheme, one constructive step which they could take would be to explain the Rent Act so that at least those who can let would be encouraged to do so.
§ The purpose of my Question today is to ask the Government whether they intend to legislate on the scheme that they have proposed. I am doing it in the most constrluctive spirit and I believe that it will help students and help in a very critical housing situation. I hope that the noble Lord will believe that in raising this matter I am not seeking to criticise; my object in all the questions I have asked on the Rent Act is to try to find a constructive way out of the terrible housing situation with which we are confronted this summer.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, before the noble Baroness resumes her seat, may I ask her to inform me whether, under the 1968 Act, students would have security of tenure until the end of their academic term? In certain holiday areas, one of the problems is that landladies will let at the beginning of June and then want to turn one out.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I think I am right in saying that under Part VI of the 1968 Rent Act, which covers exclusively furnished accommodation, there is no security of tenure except in 1329 one or two special instances. I was not prepared for the noble Baroness's question on the Rent Act, so I would have to look it up. But the intention—and the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, will no doubt explain this—would be to put the position of students back to what it was before the passage of the 1974 Act, which does give security of tenure. Whether landladies let in the summer is entirely a matter for them and, if they are letting furnished accommodation they are perfectly entitled, under the 1968 Act, to ask someone to leave at the end of June in order to relet in the holidays. Equally, they can ask the holiday people to leave and relet to a student at the beginning of the academic year.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord BALERNO
My Lords, in varying degrees, all the Scottish universities have problems in housing their students, and in some the position is extremely serious. That is why I am so glad my noble friend Lady Young has raised this Question. There is no doubt whatsoever that, in Scotland, there are far fewer flats available for letting this autumn, and that that is largely in consequence of the Rent Act 1974. Let me illustrate how drastic and immediate was the effect of the 1974 Rent Act. Last September in Edinburgh so many landlords sold their property that the result was that five housing agencies were temporarily closed, and this took place within three months of the passing of the Act. At that time, also, properties to let were attracting queues of 30 or 40 people. With the passing of the year, the situation seems to have become appreciably worse, despite the optimism which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, displayed in replying to a Question which I asked on 19th February last. I would add that there is also a substantial reduction in Scotland in the number of lodgings available, with or without board, for students.
The university authorities are very alive to the problem which faces them next October and they have been making preparations. For instance, the University of Edinburgh is showing tremendous ingenuity in getting round the 1974 Act. It is taking selected properties on lease for a fixed period and then subletting them to students, guaranteeing the payment of the rent to the owner. If the owner does not want to let directly to 1330 the university, he or she is offered a free management service which includes rent collection, property inspection, interviewing of tenants and checking of inventories. Alternatively, there is an agency service whereby the student accommodation service simply undertakes to find suitable tenants. Although the scheme has been in operation for only a matter of months, over 750 students have been housed in leased properties managed by the student accommodation service. That is in one university only.
Married students have been particularly badly hurt and that goes for junior staff as well. Even advertising specifically for married accommodation has in certain university towns had no response at all. Students coming from overseas have a particularly hard time, for they arrive with totally unrealistic expectations. Many come from countries where all the students are housed. To those who think of Britain as a rich country, the standard of student accommodation outside the official halls comes as a very great shock indeed. The Scottish universities were all late starters in providing halls of residence. For instance, the first hall at Aberdeen University—a university which is over 400 years old—was opened only 15 years ago. The change of policy by the University Grants Committee whereby the Government no longer give substantial help to the construction of student accommodation has struck the Scottish universities very hard. This applies in even greater measure to the new universities where the building of more residences has now stopped.
Much noise has been made over the proposition that student accommodation should be provided by the local authority. In the debate on the Second Reading of the Rent Bill on 10th June last year, Lord Garnsworthy, replying for the Government, said:The proper providers of dwellings to let are the social landlords—local authorities and housing associations. The Government are already taking steps to expand the supply … and to encourage the transfer of privately rented dwellings into social ownership."— [Official Report, 10/6/74; col. 288.]We were also informed that £50 million was being allotted for that purpose in the last financial year and that, by 1976, the rate would be doubled. The Government may, indeed, have done all this but, so far as Scottish students are concerned, 1331 only a very little has been achieved and it is not sufficient to have had any noticeable effect whatsoever. Inquiries of the new local authorities in Scotland yield virtually no hope. Undoubtedly, there are some students who would prefer to rent from the local authority rather than from the university, but even their agitations have been completely without avail. There is no universal type of accommodation for students; different students desire differing accommodation. Some are so immersed in their studies that they wish to board in a room and to have no domestic difficulties at all. Others seek a totally independent life, which they think they can get by living in a flat. However, one thing is beyond all doubt: unsatisfactory accommodation is likely to have a very detrimental effect on a student's academic progress.
At a time when the universities arc being forced to retrench, often by not filling vacant posts, they arc having to expand their administrative staff to cope with this problem. Moreover, justifiably discontented students demonstrate, and hold sit-ins against the university authorities, who most certainly are in no way to blame for the situation. All these and such necessities as crêches, kindergartens and the like can be achieved only at the expense of sound teaching and research. Having willed the increased number of students, the Government must not only make provision for them but must also stop enacting doctrinaire laws which considerably add to the difficulties of the university administration and staff and, more importantly perhaps, to the tribulations of the students themselves.
With all respect, I do not want to rub the nose of the noble Lord who is to reply into the mess that his Government have made. However, I should like this to he a word of warning to the Government not to pursue their Party's dogmatism against the interests of the individual and the welfare of the universities.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord ROBBINS
My Lords, I wish to say a few words before the noble Lord replies on behalf of the Government. I want to add my support to the request by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for 1332 a declaration of Government policy on this difficult and anxious question. A visitor from another planet confronted with the present situation would be left in a mood of some perplexity. There can be no doubt at all that the provisions of the 1974 Act were likely to increase the difficulties of the supply of residences for students, other than halls of residence. Experience differs in different parts of the country, and it is very early indeed to make far-reaching generalisations about what has happened. I have heard it said that, in some quarters at any rate, the proprietors of flats—if they have not gone out of business—look anxiously for foreign students whose term of residence in this country is likely to have a limit. I should not myself attach major importance to that; I throw it in merely by way of contributing to the pool of gossip.
I personally should be sceptical of the results of any overall survey of the effects of the first 12 months, because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, it is the second contract which is in danger, where the letting of "digs" is concerned. It might well be that for a little while the adverse effect would simply show itself in a greater turn-round of accommodation, rather than in a greater shortage. But I have no doubt—and I find it difficult to believe that any of your Lordships could have any doubt—that this measure of 1974 made the position of students in halls of residence, having no security of tenure other than the policy of the universities concerned, radically different from the position of students seeking other accommodation. I have no doubt that must tend to make the provision of accommodation of one sort or another for students more difficult than it otherwise would have been.
What then are we to conceive Government policy to be in this respect? I should be very surprised if the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, wished to increase the difficulty of provision of student residences. But I must confess that I should be extremely surprised if he were to say that from some invisible cornucopia he was to produce more funds for halls of residence, whether or not the halls of residence were any longer acceptable to the students for other reasons.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL
My Lords, I should like to intervene briefly. I apologise to the House and to the noble Lord for not putting my name on the list of speakers, but I was not sure whether I would be able to be present this evening. I wish to support my noble friend Lady Young for yet again displaying another weakness of the Rent Act 1974. The subject she has chosen this evening is a very important one, and I congratulate her on the clearness with which she described the problem and the anxiety. I believe that for someone who speaks so clearly on such complicated legislation, she should be awarded at least an honorary degree. I am sure that all who have spoken in the debate will agree that there is a real feeling of anxiety, not only in this House but outside, that private accommodation for students in the next academic year is rapidly drying up.
There are two questions I should like to ask the noble Lord to deal with in his reply. The first concerns the consultation document, which I understand was prepared jointly by the Department of Education and the Department of the Environment, and was published in April—three months ago. The document came down heavily in favour of doing something. It recognised the problem, it produced the anxieties which have been expressed this evening, and it recommended that a registration system should be introduced.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, asked my noble friend what would happen if a student came within Part VI of the Rent Act. So far as I am aware, a student would get limited security for at least six months, and he could apply to the courts. I am sure that, if the courts genuinely recognised the applicant as a student, they would allow the student to continue for another six months. Secondly, the student could apply to a rent tribunal for a fair rent. Therefore I do not think that the student would be losing a great deal if he came within the registration system recommended in the consultation document.
I turn to the second question I wish to put to the noble Lord. What consultations have been taking place with the college authorities? How closely are they working? I have another question for 1334 the noble Lord. What proportion of lodgings for students is at present made up by private accommodation? I believe this to be a very important figure, and I apologise for not having it myself. But I suspect that it is probably in the majority, and certainly it would be of a percentage that must cause all authorities which are having to provide accommodation for students, or which are making it available, to be very worried indeed. I sincerely hope that in his reply the noble Lord will have something helpful to say.
§ 6.37 p.m.
The Earl of BALFOUR
My Lords, I apologise for not putting my name on the list of speakers, and I intend to be brief. I wish to record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for putting down this Question, which I believe is a desperately important one. I should be very pleased if your Lordships were to get the opportunity to read an editorial in the Daily Telegraph on 24th June, under the heading "Cuckoo", which very well sums up the problems. It was stated towards the end of the article:The effect of the 1974 Rent Act has only succeeded in rendering homeless our students, our young marrieds, and all sorts of our compatriots who desperately need a small flat or a bed-sitter.Fear the man who promises you what you are not entitled to; he may deprive you even of your just deserts.As I have previously argued in your Lordships' House, I think that allowance should be made for a lease for a contracted period of time that must terminate at the end of that contracted period; or, in the case of students, allowance should be made for a lease to run for only such period of time as the student is registered on the roll of the college or university.
The whole problem of the Rent Acts is that either they give the tenant complete security of tenure, very often not only for himself but for his children as well, or give absolutely no security at all. I ask the Government to have another look at this problem. I should like the Government and your Lordships to bear in mind that a person occupying a local authority or a housing association house has no security of tenure whatever. What sometimes makes the position worse is that the local authorities write into the 1335 by-laws regulating the letting of those houses that they are not alllowed to be sublet; so that students, or particularly a young married couple, are in desperate straits. Many a landlord would like to have a house occupied, particularly in the country, with young children; but the landlord dare not let the house because of this lengthy time of security of tenure. I have spoken about this before and I will not bore your Lordships by repeating it. My noble friend Lord Balerno raised a very interesting and accurate point. It is that a university can become a landlord of property and sublet it and that property can be lent to the university for the period of the lease—be it 7 years or 21 years or whatever it may be; and when the lease runs out whoever occupies the house has no security of tenure and they are out.
I ask the noble Lord to consider making the Rent Act—and let us take advantage of the rent officer, who, after all, the Labour Government introduced—allow leases to be available for a contracted period of time. be it six months, one year, five years or 10 years; but do not make leases as they are at present under the Rent Act of such a long period of time that the house may continue to be in the hands of the occupiers' children long after the landlord has died. This is not fair to the landlord and it is not fair to the people who are looking for accommodation. I am sorry for speaking at this late hour, but I felt I wanted to put forward something of a constructive nature.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Crowther-Hunt)
My Lords, I recognise the constructive nature of the unstarred Question put by the noble Baroness, and the constructive way in which she and other noble Lords have put their points this evening. I have a great deal of sympathy with what has been said. I can say right away that we had intended to legislate this Session, and we had carried this intention to the point of drawing up specific proposals for a scheme for the exclusion of identified student lettings from the full protection of the Rent Acts.
We put these proposals, as the noble Baroness pointed out and as other noble Lords mentioned, to interested bodies out- 1336 side Government in order to obtain their views both on the need for such a measure and, if the need existed, on the suitability of the proposals that we had designed and devised. The proposals were designed, as I think many noble Lords will know, to amend the 1974 Rent Act so as to enable non-resident landlords to grant students in certain specified educational institutions tenancies which did not carry full security of tenure. Students would have been able to apply to a rent tribunal for the determination of a reasonable rent. The rationale behind our proposals was simply that those undergoing higher and further education have no need of the indefinite security of tenure afforded to protected tenants, since they require the accommodation for a limited period only, determined by the length of their courses.
I shall confine myself to the position of students, and I will not venture on to the wider field, about which the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, spoke, of short-term leases for tenants in general. We took this line in relation to students bearing in mind that if they were to exercise the right to indefinite security of tenure they would deprive the next student intake of somewhere to live. Here I agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, and the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, when all three emphasised that unsatisfactory accommodation is detrimental to the courses students are pursuing. If we do not provide proper opportunities for study and work then we might be thwarting the purpose of the higher education provision we are making.
The different needs of students were already recognised in the 1974 Rent Act which precluded students in accommodation provided by certain educational institutions from the provisions for indefinite security of tenure. The proposals in our discussion document extended that principle to lettings by absentee landlords in a voluntary way that would have left students free to opt instead for fully protected lettings.
These proposals were found broadly acceptable by most of those whom we consulted, though with one exception, the National Union of Students, as was mentioned and to which I will return later. The views as to need, while inclining (with the same exception of the NUS) 1337 to a consensus that a scheme of this kind would be beneficial, did not suggest a need so extreme as to justify top priority in an overburdened legislative programme. Hence, while in normal circumstances the Government certainly would have introduced a measure of this kind, the sacrifices necessitated by the exceptional current demands on Parliamentary time have had to include this proposal as one of the sacrifices. We shall therefore await further developments and fur-further evidence of the need for legislation during the next academic year before deciding whether or not to take up this matter again.
My Lords, I should now like to take your Lordships through the successive stages which led us to this conclusion at this time. Following the enactment of the 1974 Rent Act, my Department attempted to ascertain its effects on the availability of student accommodation at the beginning of the 1974–75 academic session. This was done by a survey conducted by the University Grants Committee for the universities, and through a survey by Her Majesty's Inspectorate for the polytechnics. In the university sector, a little over half the universities said that the Act had had little or no effect on the availability of student accommodation. In a few cases, we were told by the universities that the position of students had actually improved as a result of the Act. Overall, universities felt that the Act could not be singled out as the only or the main factor responsible for the shortage of privately-rented accommodation for students. It seemed on balance that the Act had had little effect on the provision of traditional lodgings, but as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins pointed out, one would not expect that for perhaps another year. I recognise that in view of the point about short-term lettings in that connection about which he and the noble Baroness spoke.
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
Yes, my Lords, they could be cumulative in that way. However, we were told that the supply of lodgings had increased in some areas. There was some evidence, nevertheless, that the Act was having an effect, which would increase in time, on the availability of flats, houses and self-con- 1338 tained accommodation generally, and this is what concerned us. Similar trends were reported in polytechnics.
My Lords, one fact emerges clearly from the UGC's survey. The well-reported incidence of student homelessness at the beginning of term and at the beginning of the last academic year is not only in the majority of cases short-lived, but it has also sometimes resulted from the exercise of student choice in favour of self-contained accommodation as against traditional lodgings. The trend away from traditional lodgings and in favour of self-contained accommodation is clearly demonstrated wherever you look. The background to this is that, so far as universities as a whole are concerned, hostel or hall of residence accommodation is now provided for some 45 per cent. of the students concerned. The figure is rather greater than the noble Baroness mentioned. That is the up-to-date figure.
I should like to quote some statistics in this respect. At Liverpool University, only 4.5 per cent. of students were in lodgings, as opposed to 42.3 per cent. in other forms of privately rented accommodation. That is the balance of preference shown there. At Bristol, the respective percentages were 2.5 per cent. and 46.7 per cent., very few students wanting to go into a traditional landlady type of accommodation. At Sheffield it was 9.1 per cent. and 40.2 per cent. In two or three instances we found that there were unfilled hall of residence places in universities because students preferred to live in self-contained flats.
There is thus no doubt that students prefer self-contained accommodation. We do not know what proportion of that accommodation is let by absentee landlords as opposed to resident landlords. However, one thing must be made clear. In deciding as we did, to put forward proposals for the registration of student lettings, our aim was to safeguard for the continuing use of students a pool of self-contained accommodation of the kind they preferred which was in this self-contained area. It was not our intention to encourage resident landlords to switch from letting at large to letting to students only. In practical terms, our proposals would not have affected resident landlords. They were aimed at those absentee 1339 landlords who might decide not to continue letting on terms carrying security of tenure. As we saw it, the choice for such a landlord might be not so much one between letting to a student or to some other tenant, as one between letting to a student or not letting at all. These lettings would have been covered by the provisions of Part VI of the 1968 Rent Act.
Under Part VI of the Act, students would have been able to apply to the rent tribunal for the determination of a reasonable rent, or for suspension of any notice to quit. Our initial proposals also involved the registration by educational institutions of lettings entered into by their students and notified to them by landlords. However, we were prepared to drop this requirement in order to lessen the administrative burden falling on the universities and colleges.
The educational bodies whose views we sought were—with the exception of the National Union of Students—generally content with the form of the proposed scheme, but were more reserved, as I have already said, about its necessity. They gave their support to the scheme, but that support was muted, lukewarm and half-hearted. I am not implying any blame or criticism in this respect. We were seeking their honest reaction, what they wanted us to do and how much urgency they attached to it. We were not asking for their unrestrained enthusiasm or condemnation. We were not asking them to take one line or another. We were consulting them, in March and April this year, when it was difficult to form a view about the effect the Rent Act was likely to have on the next intake of students.
There was no doubt, however, about the opposition of the NUS; their position was clear, although their arguments were a strange mixture of selfless social concern and avowed self-interest. They said on the one hand that they were concerned not to get more privately rented accommodation for students at the expense of the community (although maintaining the students' share, not extending it, was, as I have said, the purpose of the scheme). They emphasised this. And they said, on the other hand, that they were looking for a greater share of publicly-provided housing for students, which of course can be achieved only at the expense of other deserving sectors of the community. I do 1340 not know quite what to make of this contradictory approach, but if, as I do not doubt, the NUS were genuine in their concern for the deprived in the community then perhaps they might have taken a more constructive line on this. However, they were clear that they did not want this scheme at all.
It was not the view of the National Union of Students that that was the determining factor. In the light of the lukewarm support in the different quarters and, in particular, in the universities whom we had consulted in considerable detail, we concluded that, although there might still be a case for making special provision for lettings to students, the introduction of the legislation should be postponed. We felt that the case for action on student lettings was not strong enough to warrant the introduction of a Bill this Session when the Parliamentary timetable was under such pressure, given that legislation on this matter could probably be achieved only at the expense of legislation on other, more urgent matters.
My Lords, that is really the position. As regards the points the noble Baroness made about monitoring the effects of the Rent Act, and about an explanatory leaflet, I will draw the attention of my noble friend Lady Birk to those points. I have no doubt that she will bear them very much in mind. We were ready to go ahead, but in view of the lukewarm response and the congested timetable we postponed action in the way I have just described.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he go one stage further? He was saying that there was lukewarm support for the matter. Could he give an undertaking that the Government will bring in legislation during the next Session if this lukewarm support turned into full time support, particularly for those who feel a duty—whether or not the NUS agrees with this—to provide students with accommodation?
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, it is difficult to give an undertaking in that precise way. As the noble Earl will have recognised, I am very sympathetic towards this. If we can get the requisite evidence, and if there is a great pressure 1341 for us to do something, then obviously it will have a sympathetic ear from me.
§ Lord BALERNO
My Lords, could the noble Lord give me an answer to the question I asked regarding what happened to the £50 million to be spent in the last financial year by local authorities in providing further accommodation? It does not seem to have filtered through to Scotland. I admit that Lord Garns-worthy, who announced this at the time, specifically referred to the £50 million for England and Wales. Did Scotland get none of it?
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, my responsibilities do not extend to local authorities in Scotland. I will take note of the noble Lord's point and will try to get an answer for him.