HL Deb 30 July 1980 vol 412 cc898-949

4.40 p.m.

Third Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, we have been able to confirm—though of course unofficially until Hansard, the record, is printed tomorrow—that the Minister for Housing in another place replied in the negative in answer to a supplementary question asked of him this afternoon as to whether the Government intended to retain the amendments in the Housing Bill. He went on to say that the Government would be considering pre-emption. Those were not the exact words he used. I paraphrase them.

After all the hard work that has been put into this Bill from all quarters of the House, I must categorically say that, as Leader of the House, I regret that this was said before the Bill left this House later today. I understand that this caused considerable dismay in your Lordships' House and it was natural that the matter should be raised as a genuine grievance, and I can but express my regret on behalf of the Government that this should have occurred.


May I thank the noble Lord for what he has said? We accept the generosity—

Several noble Lords

Use the microphone!


My Lords, I am sorry. May I thank the noble Lord for what he has said? We understand the difficulties, et cetera, and let us proceed. No argument about tittle-tattle, and withdraw "manoeuvre". I hope there is no manoeuvre on this. That is clear.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, the Leader of the House for what he has said, which I think was a perfectly adequate statement which the House should accept without difficulty at all.


My Lords, may I just ask the noble Lord a question? I understand that he paraphrased the Minister's statement. I do not quite understand why he did that. Did I misunderstand him? As he knows, Ministers' statements can be quoted in full in another Chamber.


Yes, my Lords; but not before publication in the Official Report.


My Lords, I ought to remind your Lordships that I had proposed to the House on the Motion of the Leader of the House that the Bill should now be read a Third time, after which there was a procedural motion, which was carried. We are now back here again. There was then a Statement. The Question which, as I understand it, is now before the House is that the said Bill be now read a third time. As many as are of that opinion will say "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". The "Contents" have it.

On Question, Bill read 3a with the amendments.

Clause 3 [Meaning of "house", "flat", "dwelling-house" and "relevant time"]:

Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 1: Page 4, line 13, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, for the convenience of the House, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 30, 31, 32, 68 and 69 with this amendment. The amendments to the commencement provisions for Chapter II of Part I will mean that, if it proves practicable to get the necessary regulations et cetera made quickly, we shall be able to bring in the security of tenure provisions without waiting for the expiry of eight weeks from the date of enactment. We are of course eager for tenants to be granted security of tenure at the earliest possible moment. The other amendments will mean that as much as practicable of the provisions of the Bill will come into operation immediately the Bill receives the Royal Assent.

The only provisions which will be left to be brought into operation by appointed day order are those which depend upon the making of regulations or orders or the prescription of the form of notices et cetera or where it is desirable that those affected should first be able to get copies of the Act. These amendments have been left to Third Reading when the Bill would be reaching its final form and the commencement provisions could be considered as a whole. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, this is an anti-climax after all that we have been through. I will take the Minister's word for this. I do not really follow every detail of it. I gather it is partly drafting, partly bridging and necessary to integrate the Bill. I think that would be correct.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 10 [Notice of purchase price and right to a mortgage]:

Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 2: Page 10, line 30, after ("7(2)") insert ("or (4)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment will ensure that a tenant will always be able to tell just how the price that his landlord quotes for his home has been worked out. Clause 10 deals with the notice which the landlord serves on the tenant, as soon as practicable after its initial response to his right to buy notice, giving details of the purchase price of his home. The intention is that the tenant should be able to tell from the notice exactly how the price has been worked out and what has affected it. It will tell him the market value of his home and the discount to which he is entitled, as well as the purchase price itself.

As well as value and discount, the cost floor provision in Clause 7(2) can also affect the price of a dwelling sold under the right to buy. If it has affected what a tenant must pay he must be told about it in the Clause 10 notice if he is to make proper sense of the price which his landlord is quoting. Clause 10 provides for this. But the price may also be affected by the maximum discount that the Secretary of State may prescribe by order under Clause 7(4). Where this happens, too, the tenant will obviously need details if he is to understand his landlord's Clause 10 notice fully. Clause 10 as drafted does not cover this point: this amendment puts that right. My Lords, this amendment is small, but it will avoid possible confusion and I respectfully suggest that it is well worthwhile. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, so far as I am concerned I find that amendment acceptable. It helps to clarify the Bill (which needs a lot of clarification) and it also helps people to understand what they are entitled to or concerned with.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment Nos. 3 to 11 en bloc:

Page 23, line 22, leave out ("this Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter II")

Page 23 line 23, leave out ("this Part") and insert ("Chapter II")

Page 23 line 33, leave out ("this Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter II").

Clause 38 [Reimbursement of cost of tenant's improvements]:

Page 29, line 19, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter").

Clause 41 [Provision of information about tenancies]:

Page 31, line 18, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter")

Page 31 line 39, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter")

Page 31 line 42, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter").

Clause 43 [Consultation with secure tenants]:

Page 32, line 44, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter").

Clause 45 [Exemption certificates]:

Page 34, line 37, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as I have already spoken to these amendments, I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

4.50 p.m.

Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 12: After Clause 46, insert the following new clause:

( "Restriction on residential requirements

—(1) In considering whether an applicant for local authority housing is entitled to be admitted to a housing list, a council shall take no account of the age of the applicant provided that he is over the age of 18 years.

(2) In the allocation of local authority housing, a council shall take no account of the length of time for which an applicant has resided in its area nor of the age of the applicant provided that he is over the age of 18 years, nor of the income of the applicant and his family.

(3) Where an applicant—

  1. (a) is employed in the area of the local authority; or
  2. (b) has been offered employment in the area of the local authority; or
  3. (c) is over 60 years of age and wishes to move into the area of the local authority to be near a younger relative; or
  4. (d) has special social or medical reasons for requiring to be housed within the area of the local authority,
admission to a housing list shall not depend on the fact that the applicant is resident in the area.

(4) Where a local authority has rules which give priority to applicants on its housing list it shall apply those rules to an applicant to whom subsection (3) above applies no less favourably than it applies them to a tenant of the local authority whose housing needs are similar to those of the applicant and who is seeking a transfer to another dwelling-house belonging to the local authority.

(5) In the allocation of local authority housing, a council shall not impose a requirement that an application must have remained in force for a minimum period before the applicant is eligible for the allocation of housing.

(6) In this section "housing list means a list of applicants for local authority housing which is kept by a council in connection with allocation of housing.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I said when withdrawing a somewhat similar amendment in Committee that I would probably come back at Report with a slightly different one. I did put one down but owing to pressure of time I did not move it, so I take the opportunity of doing so now. What I have done is remove two parts of my original amendment that were particularly criticised in Committee. One was the section giving someone seeking employment in an area the opportunity to go on the housing list of that area. I gave that up a little reluctantly. The other section that I have removed is the one that dealt with the eligibility of someone with arrears of rent being accepted on the list. That, as a separate amendment, was debated on Report and was in fact withdrawn, the Minister alleging that it was unnecessary. I hope he is right.

I find the Government's attitude curious, as it was the Government that introduced an identical amendment at the Committee stage in another place in the Tenants' Rights (Scotland) Bill and which now stands part of Clause 26 of that Bill. My present amendment is almost exactly the same as that Clause 26, of which part was in the original Bill and part (paragraphs 3 and 4 of my amendment) were Government amendments in Committee. So, my Lords, you will see that my amendment has a good provenance.

Forward-thinking people and reports have for a considerable time encouraged councils to make access to their housing lists easier. The Cullingworth Report in 1969 recommended that no one should be precluded from applying for or being considered for a council tenancy on any grounds whatsoever. They gave two main reasons: first, that only by open lists can an accurate assessment of relative needs be made, and it is very important nationally that this assessment can be made; and, secondly, that there is now—and let us remember this was written 11 years ago— a clear need for greater mobility in the public sector between councils. Our stock of council housing should be looked on as a national asset, to be used with a view to national as well as to local needs.

I mentioned in Committee the Centre for Environmental Studies article which showed that council house tenants have only half the chance of owner-occupiers of moving between authorities. It is understandable why the CBI (not exactly a leftist organisation) supports this doing away with residential requirements, as does the LBA, which is Conservative-controlled, which recommended to its members that they should abolish such requirements. Their mobility scheme is weakened if different periods of eligibility apply to different areas. This, of course, applies to the national mobility scheme too. Restrictive qualifications will remain for single people or owner-occupiers, and those groups will be ineligible for the mobility scheme. Far more mobility could be created by eliminating residential requirements which are still in force for one-third of all councils. We want this amendment to bring to all areas what is good practice in some areas, for the benefit of everyone—the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioned Hammersmith at the Committee stage. But without some statutory backing it will all take too long for the more backward councils to catch up.

It was 10 years after the Cullingworth Report that another Government report, Allocation of Council Housing, by the Housing Services Advisory Unit made exactly the same recommendation and admitted that little progress had been made in those 10 years. Still one-third of all councils have the same restrictive residential requirements in 1978 as in 1968, and one-fifth refuse to register single people under retirement age. I would ask your Lordships to remember that today over half of all households are made up of one or two people.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in answering me in Committee, begged the Committee to consider the desirability of trying to proceed by agreement and consent. I hope I have shown that, despite strong recommendations from highly respected people and reports—Culling-worth and the HSA Unit—there has been no progress that way. Why wait longer, when we have a Housing Bill going through Parliament? The needs of the nation are even more vital now. Industry desperately needs its workers, skilled and unskilled, to be mobile. I quoted the Prime Minister before when I moved an amendment on mobility; and she was asking for mobility. The CBI is urging it strongly, the unemployment situation demands it and Age Concern is pressing for it for other excellent reasons, which there is no need to dwell on. Could the Minister graciously give way and show that he can be flexible and forward-looking?

Although I am aware that there is a larger percentage of council houses in Scotland than in England and Wales, I still do not see why there should not be the same clause in both Bills. For instance, why should a single person in Scotland get on a housing list, yet be prevented in many parts of England? It must seem absurd and intolerable to them. I was very impressed, when reading a report of the Committee stage discussion on this clause in another place, by how reasoned and reasonable it was, how there was a very real effort to achieve the best result for people individually and for the needs of the nation. I am convinced that if the Government can be forthcoming and forward-looking today, and be willing to accept the amendment, real progress can be made and there will be the possibility of the greater mobility that we all want. I beg to move.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support this very important amendment. As the noble Baroness has made clear, it is a non-partisan and a non-party-political amendment. I think the noble Baroness deserves our thanks for drafting and moving the amendment to deal with a matter of very considerable public interest. She herself has pointed out how 13 years have gone by since the Cullingworth Report of 1967, which I have often quoted in your Lordships' House, and there has been very little progress indeed. No doubt the Government will say that we ought to give a chance to the voluntary scheme recently devised, and I would say this: by all means let us give it a trial, but let us have something in the Bill as a long-stop. Maybe this clause should not be put into operation for, say, three years or five years, but let us have it there—or something extremely like it—so that there is a target towards which the voluntary scheme will, we hope, lead us.


My Lords, I very warmly support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady David. During this present period of very high unemployment we hear a great deal from the Minister's right honourable friend the Prime Minister that people should be willing to move from where they live to find work in areas where there is work available. Your Lordships may have read recently in the newspapers—perhaps those circulating more in the North of England than in the London area—about a number of families from the Merseyside area, where there is endemic high unemployment, who took the Government at their word and went to areas where employment was available, and have now had to return to Merseyside extremely disillusioned, because not only was there no local authority housing available, or made available, for them, but they were not given any hope of getting accommodation in the future. In the case of one family—a man, his wife and four children—they had to live in a tent for some weeks. Considering the British summer, this is almost a greater hardship than being unemployed.

So I think this amendment is one to which the Government should be sympathetic because it complies with and supports their own policy of encouraging mobility. People should help themselves by going to seek employment where it lies. I hope the Government will give a favourable and optimistic reply.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, this new clause would in fact remove much of the freedom which local authorities enjoy to give a reasonable degree of preference to local people in the allocation of their housing. It would oblige them to take on to their lists people from outside their area who might meet some highly debatable criteria; for example, those wishing to move for some quite undefined—as the amendment states —"special social reason". I would not want to have to interpret that one to any housing committee of which I was ever a member. The result of the amendment would undermine the freedom which local authorities have to manage their housing stock. Yet this freedom is what enables local authorities to tailor their allocation policies to local needs and to give preference to local people where they think it is deserved. I can see no cause for this Bill to interfere with such matters; and I think the proposed new clause betrays a fundamental distrust of local authorities' ability to make sensitive and intelligent allocation decisions.

We do not even believe that the clause would have the effect noble Lords opposite intend, for the groups of people they have singled out. It will not, as I suspect they may be assuming, make it any more certain that such people moving into an authority's area will, in fact, be treated on a par with local applicants. They will be certain only of going on the list, and then being treated on a par with tenants seeking a transfer; indeed, the effect of the clause could rebound, if some authorities made their transfer policies more restrictive in an effort to keep outsiders away. The clause also presents some formidable problems of definition and interpretation, if disputes about it were to have to go to the courts.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to the Scottish Bill. There are substantial differences between conditions in England and Scotland which justify different treatment. For example, the proportion of public sector housing stock in Scotland is nearly double what it is in England and Wales. There are towns in Scotland, in fact, where the public sector has a virtual monopoly of rented accommodation, and it is nonsensical for the authority to impose more than a minimum of necessary rules about who can be admitted to the housing list. Nor are the Scottish local authorities planning to introduce a voluntary mobility scheme, although I hope very much that in due course they will become associated with the scheme in England and Wales.

My conclusion is that this clause as a whole is not well conceived, as well as being almost impossible to enforce. I do not believe that we should saddle local authorities with provisions of these kinds. Housing allocation policies are, and must be, a matter for locally-elected representatives, who are responsible for them to their electorate. The way to provide for people who need to move—and I say at once that we are, indeed, concerned about this—is through voluntary co-operation between one local authority and another. If we had some evidence to show that local authorities were either not acquiescing in that, or were not willing to consider it, then that might be one thing. But the fact is that this is precisely what the voluntary national mobility scheme, which is being promoted by the local authority associations themselves, with my right honourable friend's support, is going to provide. That is a far more satisfactory way than the heavy-handed intervention in local affairs which this clause represents.

I was involved in another capacity in discussions of the whole proposals, when they were in the form of a Green Paper which the previous Government put out. I was then very concerned, on the one hand, to be sure that we could make a contribution to mobility, because it was obvious even then that the need for extra mobility would increase, and would become something of far greater significance and importance nationally than it had perhaps been in the past.

But I was also very seized with the great concern which local authorities were expressing and, indeed, it was because of that, and their willingness to see something done, that they all agreed to get out together a voluntary national mobility scheme, which would, hopefully, show what could be achieved within the context of their individual local housing situation, and could make a very important contribution. I really believe that that is the way forward.

I am not unsympathetic to the basic objectives of the amendment—quite the contrary. They set out to achieve something which we recognise as being important. But we must give what is being done at the moment, and what is being planned to be done, a chance to work. I would far rather that we did it in that way, than that we imposed some statutory obligation, such as this amendment sets out to do, with some of its shortcomings that I have mentioned. That must be the better way forward.

5.5 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I found it not only rather sad and frustrating, but highly amusing that the Minister, in rejecting this amendment, used such phrases as, It would remove much of the freedom which local authorities enjoy and: The heavy-handed intervention in local affairs". One of the themes that is running through the whole of this Bill is exactly that—removing much of the freedom which local authorities enjoy, and heavy-handed intervention in local affairs.

But then we come on to an area where it is absolutely necessary for central Government to take some part. This is almost linked to the amendment on mobility moved on Report by my noble friend Lady David, which was turned down by the Government. It is all in aid of the Government's industrial employment policy, as they put it across, that there should be greater mobility. But there can be greater mobility only if people have somewhere to live. In all the papers on Saturday morning—certainly, it was in the Daily Mirror—there was a story about a man who twice moved 300 miles in order to get work, but could find nowhere to live so on each occasion he had to go back.

I absolutely agree that local authorities are put in a difficult situation. There are long waiting lists and the problems in some parts are more real than in others. This is where a local authority needs the help and support of central Government, and it can get this only if it is put into legislation. A local authority would then be under an obligation to find accommodation for an applicant who was employed in the area, or who had been offered employment in it.

As regards paragraph (c) of subsection (3) of the amendment, which states, is over 60 years of age and wishes to move into the area of the local authority to be near a younger relative…". I wonder whether the Minister appreciates that putting this duty on to local authorities would have the economic and social result of keeping a great many old people out of residential accommodation, because they would be able to live near their relatives. This is a tremendous problem, as all the voluntary bodies which are concerned with old people have pointed out. It seems to me, since the Government have turned down the mobility amendment, that there should be flexibility —certainly, one or the other should be in this Bill—to enable local authorities to allocate their housing in a way which would improve and increase the mobility of labour, and which would also have the various other social advantages on which my noble friend expanded.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might respond. I am pleased that I was able to amuse the noble Baroness. Perhaps that is something that one does not do what she says. The Bill, with the exception of the right to buy, which is fundamental to the Government's policy, as has been said so many times, gives more freedom to local government in housing than it has had in many directions. If the noble Baroness would like me to go through the whole list of those, no doubt we could debate them on this or on some other occasion.

The fact is that here is a classic instance where local authorities individually, and local authority associations as such, are most concerned that there should not be imposed upon them the kind of obligations which this amendment seeks to impose, and which I suggest would be counterproductive. As to the mobility argument, I thought I had made it fairly clear and, if I did not, I gladly take the chance to do so again—that the Government are most anxious to do something about this and want to see the maximum mobility. But what we are saying is that to impose statutory obligations such as this, which would only cause local authorities to resent them and to find ways of making things difficult, is not the way to do it. The way to do it is as we are doing; that is, to enourage the voluntary national mobility scheme which is now being worked through. I say that that is the way forward.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, before the Minister sits down may I say this?—I did not want to interrupt his flow. He said that, apart from the right to buy, this is the fundamental Conservative policy. But that does not detract from the fact that it is taking away all autonomy from local authorities. You cannot say, except for that, that local authorities have complete autonomy and flexibility. I do not expect the Minister to smile at that, but I think I have made him smile more often than he gives me credit for.


My Lords, may I support my noble friend. Many members of your Lordships' House spent many years in another place, and week after week dealt with local authority housing cases. It seems to me to be quite wrong that we should try to impose on local authorities an obligation to take anybody from anywhere, provided that they have a large enough family or other need. I am sure that my noble friend will agree that many local authorities already make provision for people who are coming into an area because of new employment opportunities which have been found for them. Provided that it is certified by the employer that people have been offered a job in that area and that they require accommodation, all forward-looking local authorities certainly endeavour to deal with problems of that nature. That deals with the mobility of labour point to which the noble Baroness referred.

There is still a great deal of community spirit. People take pride in having lived in their home town for many years. Local authorities throughout the country endeavour to keep a very strict and a very fair points system for those on their housing lists. Time and again young couples came to one and said, "We have now got 25 points. My pals have now got a house and they had 29 points, so we should get our house in another year". No local authority will be able to give any local person any idea of when they are going to be housed if anybody from anywhere, with no claim on the area and no job, is able to arrive and say, "Because I have a family of six or eight, I take priority over other people who have spent their whole life in the area".

I am sure that my noble friend is right in agreeing that local authorities should work together to build up a voluntary system, wherever it can be applied, because the differences between local authorities and the different problems which they face are known to every Member of this noble House. I feel that we should leave it to the local authorities. We should encourage them to extend, where they have not done so before, mobility of labour if people are coming to work for a firm and have accredited jobs. But we should not impose upon local authorities an obligation to ignore the needs of local residents—the affiliation, the family ties, the local ties and the time that they have spent in their own community—and override them. Those people must be considered. They must not be overridden by anybody from anywhere coming in and superseding their claims for accommodation.


My Lords, last week I spoke, I fear, rather roughly to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for pleading so often for flexibility and autonomy for local government and then for introducing amendments which took it away. I have to say, though very gently, that here she is doing it again. I certainly confirm that the Association of District Councils would much prefer to be left to get on with the development of a voluntary mobility scheme. Councils increasingly see the need for this, but to impose upon them a statutory scheme would be counterproductive.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, could have read my amendment. It does not ask that large families should be imposed on local authorities. Subsection (3) states very clearly which categories of people will have admission to the housing list and that their admission shall not depend on the fact that the applicant is resident in the area. It is definitely for certain categories—for people who have got work there, or who have been offered work. It is also for certain categories like the elderly who need to be near relatives and for others who have social or medical reasons. The Minister poured scorn on the social or medical reasons. But that phrase has been accepted by his Government in another Bill, so it seems strange that he should be so critical of it. As housing authorities are constantly having to make decisions about who, on medical reasons, is to have a council house it does not seem to me to be a very strange one.

Owner-occupiers already have the opportunity to move flexibly. The percentage of council house tenants who move is very small, compared with owner-occupiers. This amendment is trying to help council tenants to be a little more mobile. My noble friend has dealt with the point about freedom for local authorities which the Minister mentioned, so I shall not take it up again. However, it is quite extraordinary that the Minister can speak so confidently—I almost said arrogantly—and can ignore these very distinguished reports. I am not satisfied with the answers that the Minister has given and I shall press the amendment.

5.16 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 98; Not-Contents 115.

Airedale, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Oram, L.
Amherst, E. Gosford, E. Pargiter, L.
Ardwick, L. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Parry, L.
Aylestone, L. Gregson, L. Peart, L.
Bacon, B. Grey, E. Plant, L.
Baker, L. Hale, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L [Teller.]
Banks, L. Hampton, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hanworth, V. Raglan, L.
Beswick, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Birk, B. Hooson, L. Rhodes, L.
Blyton, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Hughes, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Bowden, L. Hylton, L. Rochester, L.
Brockway, L. Ingleby, V. Ross of Marnock, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Irving of Dartford, L. Seear, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jacques, L. Segal, L.
Caradon, L. Janner, L. Shackleton, L.
Clancarty, E. Jeger, B. Shinwell, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Kilmarnock, L. Simon, V.
Collison, L. Leatherland, L. Stedman, B.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Lee of Newton, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Crowther-Hunt, L. Leonard, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Stone, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Strabolgi, L.
Diamond, L. Longford, E. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. McCarthy, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. McNair, L. Underhill, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Maelor, L. Wall, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Melchett, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Gaitskell, B. Milford, L. Walston, L.
Galpern, L. Milverton, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
George-Brown, L. Mishcon, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Gladwyn, L. Northfield, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Abinger, L. Elliot of Harwood, B. McAlpine of Moffat, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Elton, L. McFadzean, L.
Ampthill, L. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Auckland, L. Faithfull, B. Macleod of Borve, B.
Avon, E. Fortescue, E. Malmesbury, E.
Balerno, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mancroft, L.
Barnby, L. Gainford, L. Mansfield, E.
Bellwin, L. Geddes, L. Margadale, L.
Belstead, L. Geoffrey-Lloyd, L. Marley, L.
Berkeley, B. Glendevon, L. Middleton, L.
Bessborough, E. Godber of Willington, L. Mottistone, L.
Bourne, L. Gormanston, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Gowrie, E. Moyne, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Gray, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Broadbridge, L. Gridley, L. Netherthorpe, L.
Caithness, E. Haig, E. Norfolk, D.
Caldecote, V. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Northchurch, B.
Clitheroe, L. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Orkney, E.
Cottesloe, L. Henley, L. Piercy, L.
Craigavon, V. Hertford, M. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Craigmyle, L. Hillingdon, L. Redmayne, L.
Cranbrook, E. Holderness, L. Rochdale, V.
Crathorne, L. Home of the Hirsel, L. St. Davids, V.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. Sandford, L.
Daventry, V. Hylton-Foster, B. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
de Clifford, L. Ilchester, E. Seafield, E.
De La Warr, E. Inglewood, L. Selkirk, E.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Killearn, L. Sempill, Ly.
Derwent, L. Kilmany, L. Sharples, B.
Digby, L. Kimberley, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Lauderdale, E. Soames, L. (L. President.)
Dulverton, L. Long, V. Strathclyde, L.
Dundee, E. Lonsdale, E. Strathspey, L.
Eccles, V. Luke, L. Sudeley, L.
Ellenborough, L. Lyell, L. Swansea, L.
Teviot, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Trenchard,V. Vickers, B. Westbury, L.
Vaizey, L. Vivian, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 47 [Application to existing tenancies]:

Clause 49 [Exclusion of certain housing associations from Chapter II]:

5.25 p.m.

Lord BELLWIN moved Amendments Nos. 13 and 14: Page 35, line 20, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter"). Page 36, line 9, leave out ("Part of this Act") and insert ("Chapter").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to these with Amendment No.1. I beg to move.

On Question amendments agreed to.

Clause 52 [Protected shorthold tenancies]:

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 15: Page 38, line 4, at end insert (", or any other dwelling-house in the same building.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment, which we have discussed in a slightly different context before, I think is familiarly known to us all now as the winkling amendment. When I moved it in Committee it was very much wider and referred to dwelling-houses not only in the same building but in the same area—indeed I think it went further afield as well and the Minister pointed out that it could be rather difficult if it was going to cover properties owned by the same landlord in other parts of the country. So, on this occasion, I have narrowed it to what I feel is an absolutely bare minimum, and I hope that on this occasion the Government will accept it.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the shorthold as it was proposed in the first version of the Government's Bill was that then there was nothing to protect a tenant who was fully protected from having an insecure shorthold tenancy foisted upon him. But, in another place, an amendment was introduced at the Committee stage which spells out that such a tenant who is fully protected will retain protection and that any shorthold agreement signed by the tenant will have no legal force. However, there is a snag even here because this safeguard only applies to the accommodation actually occupied, and we can see circumstances arising where the landlord offers to transfer a tenant into a bigger or better room or flat in the same multi-occupied house. Therefore, I think this safeguard should be widened to cover such an eventuality.

In the Commons Committee the Minister for Housing stated that the Government had carefully considered the issue raised here, yet had come down against it on the basis that there might well be occasions when the transfer from a fully-protected tenancy to a shorthold in the same building or an adjacent building would be advantageous to the tenant. We feel that such a circumstance, and the opportunity for exploitation created by not blocking this potential loophole, would be so rare that it far outweighs any consideration of potential loss of tenant opportunity.

I am particularly impressed by the press notice that was put out by the Conservative controlled Westminster Council as recently as last month, when Councillor David Weeks, who is chairman of the Westminster Housing Committee, said that he supported Sir Brandon Rhys Williams, MP, in the view that it was important to ensure that landlords should not be able to winkle out tenants from existing tenancies where they may be secure and into new ones which were less secure. He said that he would like to see the shorthold tenancy procedures tightened up considerably. This was not only from a Tory council, but a Tory housing committee, and somebody who also went on to say: On the points I have made I shall seek to publicise and support the good work of the Inner London Conservative Members of Parliament. We will certainly take all steps that we together feel are appropriate to pursue the interests of private rented tenants".

It was points like this, on the safeguard of tenants, that we wanted to see embodied in the shorthold provisions, which make all the difference between the attitude of the Opposition to this Bill and whether the shorthold provisions are found acceptable or not. A number of the safeguards which were in the original Rhys Williams Bill, and which have been put forward not only by the Opposition but also by Members of the Government's own Party, in fact do take away this terrible anxiety which is going to beset so many people. I think it was on this particular amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, spoke at Committee, and he said that from his experience as a solicitor working in this field he was aware of the tremendous suffering and anguish which goes with this feeling of insecurity. This is why it is essential, even if the Government feel this is a small loophole, that it should in fact be blocked. This amendment has narrowed it down very considerably, to any other dwelling-house in the same building. I hope on this occasion the Government will accept the amendment. I beg to move.


My Lords, as one who wishes the shorthold concept goodwill and a fair wind in principle, as I have said earlier in the discussions on this Bill, I do hope that the Government will accept this amendment. From my experience, both as a lawyer and as a councillor, this was the kind of loophole which was used by irresponsible and ruthless landlords under previous legislation, when attempts were made to persuade fairly innocent tenants to move around and lose the protection they thought they had. I fear there is always such an element, as I feel sure your Lordships on all sides will agree. I must say again that most landlords are perfectly reasonable, rational, fair-minded people, but there is a tiny minority of bad landlords, and one passes laws to protect the public against the bad and not against the good.

I cannot see why this very modest protection against trickery and chicanery, which will be employed by a very small minority of landlords, should not be agreed by the Government. If the Government want shorthold to work, if they want the private rented sector to come alive again and if they believe the short-hold tenancy is the way to do this, why not give it a chance and experiment with it, in spite of some of the threats that have been made in another place. If we really do want to give this new concept a chance why do we not accept the safe guards which Sir Brandon Rhys Williams, and others who were the authors of the proposal, originally suggested themselves? For those of us who have goodwill towards the concept, it would be a great comfort to know that the Government have made this concession in order to make the concept of shorthold work.


My Lords, I should like to support what my noble friend Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans, have said. Only last Sunday I happened to meet a lady—in fact I sat next to her at a luncheon party—an elderly lady, who has lived in a very small flat in the centre of London for 40 years. She told me that the building has recently been taken over by one of these big property companies and they are doing their utmost to persuade her to move from her flat, because they want to amalgamate it with a neighbouring flat and make a large penthouse, as I think they are called. They have offered her carpets, curtains and so on to move to a slightly larger flat for much about the same rent. What they said to her was,"Of course, you will have equal security. You are a regulated tenant at present, and when you move to your new flat you will still be a regulated tenant".

Of course, this is true at this moment in time, as they say on the radio; it is true this week, but it will not be true once this Bill has received the Royal Assent and becomes an Act. This lady, who is an elderly lady, had no idea that a Housing Bill is going through Parliament; she had never heard of it. She had simply no idea about shortholds and the inroads that the Government are trying to make, and will succeed in making, in security of tenure. I am happy to say I was able to warn her about what will happen, and warn her to stay in her present apartment and not listen to such blandishments or inducements to move with promises of free carpets and curtaining and so on. This is just the sort of thing which is going to go on if equal protection is not given to adjacent flats in the same building. Therefore, I support this amendment and I do hope the Government will take a realistic view.


My Lords, I find myself in something of a dilemma over this amendment and the two which follow. In principle I am against imposing yet further restrictions upon potential landlords. Apart from anything else, these are likely to be the last straw which makes them decide not to put their property on the market, to the great detriment of students, single people in their first jobs, young couples who have not yet saved enough money for a deposit on a house, and so on. On the other hand, it must be said that the Government themselves are contributing towards this state of affairs—by which I mean a sense of pessimism, despondency and cynicism among landlords—for example, by permitting tenants under Clause 53 of this Bill to give their landlords an unjustifiably short period of notice.

Perhaps the Opposition series of amendments will not make things much worse, apart from paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 16, which, if I have read it correctly, is a very strange paragraph indeed. If the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, when she comes to sum up on this amendment could give a guarantee that your Lordships' acceptance of Amendments Nos. 15 and 17 would mean that the official Opposition would reverse its hostility to the whole shorthold concept, and if she could also give a guarantee that the official Opposition would, as a quid pro quo for your Lordships' acceptance of these amendments, undertake not to modify the short-hold scheme, except possibly in the most minor ways, in the event of their returning to power, then I suggest to your Lordships that these amendments are worth accepting, in a spirit of compromise, in order to ensure that potential landlords will freely make their properties available to those who so desperately need short-term accommodation.


My Lords, I support this amendment, as I have done some others. After studying letters received from organisations such as Age Concern and this one from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, and having tried to grasp this Bill and tried to come to a fair decision in my mind, I would support this amendment, as I did the previous one. As the Government know, I have always supported them and I am not always going against them, but on certain subjects—this subject and social security—perhaps I am more with noble Lords opposite than with those on this side.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, I think we should make one or two things quite clear that would not be clear if one listened only to what has just been said. I made it clear in Committee that the Government of course recognise the validity of the concern that has been expressed, that existing statutory and protected tenants may be persuaded to sign away their security by agreeing to take a shorthold. That is precisely why the Bill makes it quite clear that an existing statutory or protected tenant cannot have his tenancy converted into shorthold. This shorthold proposal is basically about people who now do not have accommodation, who want to become tenants of accommodation which does not exist at all. There is great concern for what will happen to them.

The noble Baroness said as regards an earlier amendment that I had made her laugh. Some of these points make me laugh. How can they be so anxious about people who at the moment do not have accommodation? This is all about accommodation which at present is not available—it is not there at all. We have gone to the trouble of making it clear—because we recognise the kind of possibility to which this amendment refers that if one is at present a statutory or protected tenant, one's accommodation cannot be converted into shorthold. That is the first point and I think that it is pretty fundamental.

Our view is that it is right to restrict the prohibition on an existing tenant being given a shorthold to the dwelling in which he is already a statutory or protected tenant. So, taking my first point, I repeat: Yes, we say that one cannot have that converted into a shorthold and we think that that is right. We think that that is where the risk is greatest. As has been said, if someone were to try to persuade a tenant, under whatever blandishments—and I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, that there are some people who would try to do that—then he would be outside what the Bill does. That is where the risk is greatest.

But it might be to a tenant's advantage to move to a more convenient flat in the same building, even if his existing tenancy was fully protected whereas his new one was a shorthold. There seems to be no reason to prevent someone from doing this, provided we can be certain that he is fully aware of what he is doing. That really picks up the point which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, made when he expressed his concern, quite properly, about those who may not know what they are doing.

So we believe that we can be certain of this by ensuring that there is spelled out on the shorthold notice precisely what the shorthold is, and that it offers less security to an existing statutory or protected tenant, certainly less than his present tenancy.

During the Committee stage the noble Baroness asked if she could see a draft of the notice that would spell this out, that would be so categorical and so clear that it would at least, to some extent, satisfy her. I said then that I was not in a position at that time to produce such a draft, and nor indeed am I today. But I said then, and I repeat the assurance now as categorically as I am able, that it will make absolutely clear to an existing tenant that shorthold offers less security than his existing tenancy. That is absolutely fundamental and I accept the point.

Of course, I am concerned, and I accept my noble friend Lord Milverton's concern about the matter. But the fact is that the whole basis of shorthold is that it is an experiment. If it succeeds it will offer a great step forward in stopping the awful decline that there has been in the private rented sector. No one who has any interest in housing as such could doubt that something must be done. If it is not perfect, if it will not achieve all that we want and it will not achieve as much in view of what has been said by the Labour Party in another place; of course, it will frighten off some prospective landlords—we believe it right to continue to try to bring this kind of accommodation on to the market, and once and for all to stop that awful decline that has taken place. In doing that we also accept that we must be careful to ensure that those who will be affected, who might want to move, will know what it is exactly that they have taken on. So, all right, if it were not made absolutely crystal clear then there could be danger—I would not say otherwise. The fact is that we are restricting shorthold only to new accommodation; it cannot apply to existing tenancies. Moreover, we shall make it clear to anyone who wishes to change that we shall not take away from him the right so to change, should he so desire, in the knowledge of all that that means.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I listened very carefully to what the Minister said and a number of points struck me about this really quite small amendment. Apart from himself, nobody has taken the side of the Government as regards this amendment. The Government have had no support whatever. However, there has been support for the amendment from different parts of the House.

The Minister said—and I accept this sincerity—that he is very anxious that shorthold should work, that people should be treated fairly, and I believe that he means that. I think that he is an honest man who means what he says. Nevertheless, we and various other noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment believe that this amendment is necessary in order to ensure that. We are not talking about a Minister's good intentions: we are talking about a piece of legislation. Some of the points which the noble Lord made when replying to the amendment generally concerned short-hold, but they were not strictly related to this amendment.

Trying to get more accommodation on to the market so that people can rent and we can house more people is something with which I personally go along. I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Monson, a promise on behalf of a future Labour Government or of other people apart from myself. But there is no doubt that the more safeguards that could be put into the Bill and the less area for suffering and anxiety, the greater the support there will obviously be certainly from the Labour Party and certainly from the next Government.

The fact is that the Government are so rigid about this matter. Having narrowed this down to "dwelling-house in the same building" the Minister still says, no, he cannot accept this and we come back to the point about the notice. This is a matter of some importance. In Committee the Minister said that a notice would be drafted to make all clear. I am not saying at this stage that a notice would necessarily cover the point that I have been making in this amendment. However, we have had a Committee stage and a report Stage and the Minister still comes forward and says that he is unable to produce a notice. I think that it is quite wrong for this House to accept something which, quite frankly, with great respect, is on spec—we are being asked to take a type of speculative action. I am sure that the noble Lord's intentions are very good. But if it will take all that time to draft something, the main ingredient of which has to be simplicity and clarity, then I do not hold out much hope for it. But even if that were so, questions would still arise.

I thought that my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, with his personal example, put the situation extremely well. I wonder whether the lady to whom he was referring would really have been in a position to do what was in her own best interests if she had in fact had a copy of the notice. I rather doubt it. We have seen this all across the board. One of the reasons why the take-up of rent allowances is so low is that people do not understand that they are entitled to them or they do not even read about them. That, frankly, is not the way to legislate. If we want to shut that loophole, if we want to make absolutely certain that people will not be moved from a protected tenancy, and I say again "in the same building", to one that is unprotected like a shorthold, then we must put those few words into the legislation. We have had several debates on the subject and I do not propose to prolong the matter any further. I intend to press the amendment to a Division.


My Lords, I should like to make a few more comments before the amendment is pressed. First, as regards the notice, it really is not fair to say that because the notice is not here one is having difficulty in producing it. That is not the case at all. It is quite normal practice. I am advised that in situations such as this notices of this kind are, in fact, prepared when the legislation is there and before it is enacted. I think that that is something of a red herring. But what is much more important is that, if the amendment is passed, it means that no one will be able to take a shorthold tenancy within the same building in which he lives, whether or not he wants to. He will be excluded for all time from having that opportunity, if he so wishes. That must be absolutely clear; that is what the amendment says.

That is what we believe is wrong because, quickly to recap, we are saying that people must know, and will know, that they will not be allowed to have their existing tenancy converted—that will not be permitted. This amendment seeks to prevent a person ever being able to take a tenancy of a shorthold nature in the same building.


My Lords, it has been said more than once that this is a complicated Bill. I think that there will he general agreement on that. There are various courses that one can follow if one encounters a Bill of this character. One is to accept the party line, by which I mean that, if my noble friends on the Front Bench decide to press for a Division, one joins them in the appropriate Lobby. The other course is, because of one's ignorance of the subject—and I confess that I am in that unfortunate situation—to ask questions. I listened to the noble Minister when he replied to my noble friend. He made some remarks which appeared to me to be contradictory; at any rate, I confess that I failed to follow them. Let me state what they were.

First, he said that the primary purpose of the shorthold proposition is to make more accommodation available to people who need it. I follow that and, indeed, I agree with it; I think that my noble friend Lady David also averred. Then the Minister said that a person who is a tenant of a dwelling of some kind—it could be a house, a flat or a flat associated with a block of flats—could not obtain a shorthold agreement. I hope that the noble Lord will correct me if I have misunderstood what he said. He said that a tenant in that situation could not obtain a shorthold agreement. Then he said that anyone who managed to contrive a shorthold agreement would have less security than an existing tenant. I tried to follow that; I tried to make something of it.

Therefore, when is a tenant secure? Is a tenant secure as a regulated tenant who has been occupying premises under a regulated agreement? Is that tenant secure? If that tenant is approached by the landlord who suggests that he might buy the premises, but the tenant declines the proposition and says that he wishes to continue residence there, and applies for a shorthold agreement which he cannot get, what is his position? According to the Minister, it appears that he has more security than if he has a shorthold agreement. What is the provision, in legislation, in understanding or in some form which enables that existing tenant to remain where he is and be secure? Why do I ask that? I ask it because I may find myself in that situation and I want to know where I am. When I say that I want to know where I am, I am sure that I am not unlike hundreds of thousands of tenants, or would-be tenants, in the United Kingdom. I do not blame the Minister for that. In parenthesis, I would say that no one could endeavour—indeed with some success—to present his argument with greater clarification than the noble Lord the Minister. I make no complaint on that ground. But when he said what I have just ventured to repeat, I want to know where one stands.

I should like to raise one final point, and I am addressing myself now to my Front Bench colleagues. I am asked to vote and, if I may say so—I hope that this is not hearsay—I want to know the reason. There is nothing particularly wrong with that. I could, of course, do what frequently happens; that is, disappear and find another engagement. That is not unfamiliar in this Assembly. But I am here, and it would appear to be improper to disappear when a vote is about to be taken. If the Minister cannot satisfy me as to what a person in my situation is likely to encounter, perhaps my noble friend Lady Birk can. Her knowledge of the subject is unchallengeable, and she has presented the case for the Opposition in a fashion that is worthy of the utmost admiration. I mean what I say; I am not in the habit of indulging in compliments. I have always found it a bit of a bore because one has frequently had to change one's mind on that subject. Either the Minister will satisfy me, and perhaps satisfy a great many others, or my noble friend will do so. But, for heaven's sake, let us know exactly where we are and where we are likely to be.

While I am on my feet, I shall put a further point which has a bearing on this, although it is not implicit in the amendment or in what the amendment seeks to do. It concerns the question of rent. For example, if one cannot apply for a shorthold agreement—which I understand, if agreed, could continue for five years—and the landlord says that that person can stay where he is, that he is more secure where he is than if he had a shorthold agreement, but only on condition that he pays the rent that the landlord wants him to pay, that is where the trouble emerges. The landlord may receive many applications from would-be tenants, among them people who have come to the country recently, who are associated with the Diplomatic Corps or who are engaged in business, and whose rents are paid for them by an embassy or the Government that creates the embassy or by some business organisation. What is the position of that landlord?

People are inclinded to attack landlords, but I do not do that; I always introduce what might be described as motivation: why do people do this or that? It can be applied in many directions. So I do not criticise landlords. I can understand the landlord saying, "If I have to choose between someone who is prepared to pay me £100 a week rather than someone who is prepared to pay only what he originally paid, £75 a week, naturally I would prefer the £100 a week. "What is the answer to that? Is there an answer to that? Is there an answer from any quarter, either from the Government or my noble friends of the Opposition?

If there is no answer to that, then I am in for a rough time. I am going to be misinformed, misunderstood, frustrated, bamboozled, flabbergasted—indeed, I was going to say a metaphysical condition, but I do not think there is any metaphysics in it; it is more like physics than metaphysics—in a situation that I dislike. I ask the noble Minister, or my noble friends, to clarify the point for me.

6.1 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 15) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 111.

Ardwick, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Milverton, L.
Aylestone, L. Gosford, E. Mishcon, L.
Bacon, B. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Northfield, L.
Balogh, L. Gregson, L, Ogmore, L.
Banks, L. Grey, E. Oram, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hale, L. Peart, L.
Bernstein, L. Hampton, L. Raglan, L.
Beswick, L. Hanworth, V. Rhodes, L.
Birk, B. Hatch of Lusby, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Blease, L. Hooson, L. Rochester, L.
Blyton, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Howie of Troon, L. Seear, B.
Bowden, L. Hughes, L. Shackleton, L.
Brockway, L. Hylton, L. Shinwell, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Irving of Dartford, L. Simon, V.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jacques, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Chitnis, L. Janner, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Collison, L. Jeger, B. Stone, L.
David, B.[Teller.] Leatherland, L. Strabolgi, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Lee of Newton, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Diamond, L. Leonard, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Underhill, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Longford, E. Wall, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Mackie of Benshie, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Gaitskell, B. McNair, L. Walston, L.
Galpern, L. Maelor, L. Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]
George-Brown, L. Melchett, L. White, B.
Gladwyn, L. Milford, L.
Abinger, L. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Mountevans, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Faithfull, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Ampthill, L. Auckland, L. Fortescue, E. Moyne, L.
Auckland, L. Gainford, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Avon, E. Glendevon, L. Netherthorpe, L.
Baker, L. Godber of Willington, L. Norfolk, D.
Balerno, L. Gormanston, V. Northchurch, B.
Barnby, L. Gowrie, E. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Bellwin, L. Gray, L. Orkney, E.
Belstead, L. Gridley, L. Pender, L.
Bessborough, E. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Piercy, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Redmayne, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Henley, L. Rochdale, V.
Caithness, E. Hertford, M. St. Davids, V.
Chelwood, L. Holderness, L. Sandford, L.
Clancarty, E. Home of the Hirsel, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. Selkirk, E.
Clitheroe, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Shannon, E.
Colville of Culross, V. Inglewood, L. Sharples, B.
Cork and Orrery, E. Killearn, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Cottesloe, L. Kilmany, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Craigavon, V. Kimberley, E. Strathclyde, L.
Craigmyle, L. Lauderdale, E. Strathspey, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Long, V. Sudeley, L.
Daventry, V. Lonsdale, E. Swansea, L.
de Clifford, L. Luke, L. Swinfen, L.
De La Warr, E. Lyell, L. Todd, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] McAlpine of Moffat, L. Trenchard, V.
Derwent, L. McFadzean, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Digby, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. Vaizey, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Dulverton, L. Mancroft, L. Vickers, B.
Dundee, E. Mansfield, E. Vivian, L.
Eccles, V. Margadale, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Ellenborough, L. Marley, L. Westbury, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Middleton, L.
Elton, L. Mottistone, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.9 p.m.

Lord STRABOLGI moved Amendment No. 16: Page 38, line 4, at end insert— ("( ) A tenancy of a dwelling-house is not a protected shorthold tenancy if it relates to a dwelling-house which—

  1. (a) was subject to a regulated tenancy at the commencement of this part of this Act; or
  2. (b) has, since the commencement of this Part of this Act, become vacant.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 16. I put down this amendment for consideration on Report, but it was not reached until such a late hour—as has, I am afraid, usually and regrettably been the case with the private sector of this Bill that I did not move it. The Government gave an undertaking just before the last election that shorthold would be restricted to property that was empty on a given date. This was also implied in the Conservative manifesto. The Private Member's Bill of the honourable Member for Kensington was also to be applied to empty property.

There may be a case for shorthold on empty property if, as the Government claim, a great deal of property is being kept deliberately empty and withheld from the market. But the removal of security of tenure from property as soon as it becomes empty is a definite change of policy from the one that has been adhered to by Conservative and Labour Governments alike, which is that the security goes with the dwelling. The Government's shorthold policy will mean a rapid erosion of this principle. It will lead to a transfer within a few years of the private rented sector from security of tenure to insecurity of tenure, and all that that means for tenants of rented accommodation.

People often have to move for compelling reasons which the Government seem unwilling to accept, and the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, did not persuade me when we dealt with this on an earlier part of the Bill. He said, "People have a choice. They can either stay in their present accommodation as regulated tenants or, it they wish, they can move somewhere else and have the option of a shorthold". But people often do net have that choice; they sometimes have to move. They might have served abroad and come back and have no option, and not everybody works for large industrial corporations which are able to lend them money to buy houses and so on. So they have no option, or they might have to move to another part of the country.

The Prime Minister the other day stressed again how important it was to have mobility of labour in order to reduce unemployment. All this seems to be an inconsistent and contradictory policy. I believe people will not be willing to move if they must go on to shorthold with only limited security. This is not a party matter. Indeed, Conservative honourable Members for Inner London and other constituencies in the big cities are as concerned as everybody else; and of course they know full well of the problems from their experience in their constituencies. Even at this late stage of the Bill's progress the Government have a chance to think again.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked what was my party's attitude to shorthold. So far as I am concerned, I think it could be a useful experiment if it were restricted to empty property, as the Government promised during the last election; it was one of the planks of their platform. They made it quite clear on the radio—I heard it myself—that shorthold would be restricted to empty property. They also made it clear in their manifesto. Now, however, the Bill tries to change the whole concept of security of tenure which hitherto has gone with the dwelling; whoever moves into it has the same security as the previous tenant, and of course that security and the regulation of tenancies was put on by a Conservative Government—I do not claim at all that it was put on by my party—and all credit to them, and rightly so. We should, therefore, go slowly and start this interesting experiment with property that is empty now—which the Government claim is remaining empty because people cannot let it—and go on from there. But to try to bring it in for all property once there is a move of tenancy is, I submit, far too sweeping. I beg to move.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I am not aware of the broadcast to which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred, and I am not aware that the Conservative manifesto said we would restrict shortholds to empty properties. If the noble Lord maintains that what he said is so he surprises me, because I must say that the amendment would restrict the scope of shorthold in a way that we would find totally unacceptable because, as he said, it would limit shorthold to dwellings that are vacant when the shorthold provisions come into force.

As I explained in Committee, we accept that vacant properties should be an important source of shortholds, but they should not be the only source. Landlords must be encouraged to go on letting rather than to sell when they obtain vacant possession. I hope that shorthold will do this and thus help to meet the demand for short-term rented accommodation that is so apparent in our cities. That is another aspect of the private rented sector which has removed so much of this type of accommodation—people have sold rather than re-let when accommodation has become vacant, because a regulated tenant has moved on or whatever. That has been one of the greatest sources of loss of this type of accommodation. If we were to do what the amendment suggests, we would not be helping that situation, which I consider to be a major factor in what is happening to the private rented sector, quite apart from the introduction of new lettings that would become available.

If the amendment were accepted, the scope of shorthold would be so limited that it could not hope to make a longterm contribution to meeting housing needs. I accept without question the noble Lord's sincerity when he says he would like the scheme to be given a chance to show what it can do with the restrictions he would like to impose on it. I suggest it would not have that chance with those restrictions. The need for a method of letting that does not involve lifetime security is widely recognised. If noble Lords opposite do not believe that landlords are deterred from letting by the security provisions of the Rent Acts, I would draw their attention to a report recently agreed by the housing committee of Brent Council—and nobody would suggest that was in any way a Conservative-inclined council which says: Many properties in the borough are not being used because owners do not want to become involved in management problems as landlords. Rightly or wrongly, some fear the security of tenure provisions of the Rent Act". They are therefore proposing to use a scheme under which owners of properties who let to Brent can be guaranteed vacant possession when they want on a certain basis, and that is an interesting thought in itself. The fact is that they recognise the reality of the matter, and I do not think any noble Lord would quarrel with that basic position.

I would draw attention again to the shorthold provisions in the Bill. I suggest that a shorthold scheme limited in the way proposed by the amendment would not provide the sort of encouragement to landlords that we feel is needed and which is recognised even by those who perhaps have other doubts. The problem exists, and we return to the question: what would be likely to make it workable and likely to make it succeed? We believe that if the amendment were carried and it could apply only to vacant property, it would never really get off the ground.


My Lords, I should like to support the Government on this amendment. May I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that if this amendment were carried and an owner-occupier were living in his house at the time that this part of the Act came into force, if he were subsequently posted abroad on a three-year contract and if he wanted to let his house on a shorthold tenancy while he was abroad, he could not do so? So if the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, reflects upon that perhaps he would think again about pressing the amendment.


My Lords, I have noted carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, have said. I think I probably know the Conservative manifesto better than the noble Lord himself. He doubted whether what I said was accurate. Perhaps I might read him the actual words. This is how the copywriter put it: There are now hundreds of thousands of empty properties in Britain which are not let because the owners are deterred by legislation. We intend to introduce a new system of shorthold tenure which will allow short fixed-term lettings of these properties, free of the most discouraging conditions of the present law. The provision will not, of course"— I like the "of course"— affect the position of existing tenants".


Will the noble Lord give way? I understand that is probably the only way I can properly speak on this. I am sure that is right, but it is not really the entire point. What that says is so, but it does not exclude our going further. It says, "Yes, for those premises we must give the opportunity for them to be converted into shorthold", but it does not say anywhere there that we should limit the shorthold experiment, if that is what it is, only to those. I would submit that is not so.


My Lords, it depends how one interprets the wording, but I should not like to ask the Conservative Party to adhere to their manifesto any more than any other political party. I have noted what the noble Lord has said. I am disappointed that the Government are going so fast. I think it would be much better if they had brought in this experiment in a restricted way, but in view of the fact that they will not meet me I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.22 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 17: Page 38, line 20, at end insert— ("(6) If at the end of the shorthold term the landlord intends to continue letting under the protected shorthold provisions of this Act he shall give notice of that intention in writing, to the tenant, not later than three months prior to the expiry date of the shorthold term (or any continuous period arising thereof), and shall, in that notice, offer a further term, of not less than one year, to the tenant. Upon receipt of such a notice the tenant shall reply, in writing, not later than two months prior to the expiry date of the shorthold term, clearly stating whether or not he wishes to take up an option to renew the tenancy for a further term. If the tenant thus indicates his intention to exercise an option for a further term the landlord shall offer a further term by serving a valid notice under section 51(1)(b) of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is drafted somewhat differently from the one that I first moved on Committee. It is to give existing shorthold tenants a right of first refusal if, at the end of a shorthold period, their landlord decides to re-let the dwelling for a further period. This again—and I know the Minister likes being reminded of this all the time—was another of the safeguards in one of the original Brandon Rhys Williams Bills, and it is another safeguard that we feel is absolutely essential if shorthold is to work and is to be fair all round. It is a basic safeguard for the tenant, and this was seen, and we see it, as an essential element.

Originally the Government did give pledges that they would go along similar lines. John Stanley, speaking in July 1979, said: We are being careful to ensure that the arrangements at the end of a shorthold term provide no incentive for a landlord to regain possession if he wishes to continue letting".

In other words, if the landlord wants merely to swap one tenant for another then he would not be entitled to vacant possession. He continued: In the right approach the landlord would be entitled to vacant possession at the end of it"—

that is, the shorthold term— unless he wanted to put in a different tenant".

So therefore the Government themselves, earlier on, were thinking along these lines. However, the Government have not honoured this pledge. The argument for omitting this safeguard that was advanced in another place by the Minister was that they would not want to force a landlord to continue letting to a tenant whom the landlord did not like or want.

Were it a question of a residential landlord letting to somebody in his own home, then I think one could argue that this certainly has some force. One has got to accept the question of the close relationship. But tenants of resident landlords do not enjoy full Rent Act protection and their landlords can already gain possession if they wish, with a tenant being able to get only a very limited stay of execution if the rent tribunal or court feel it reasonable to give such a stay of execution. Equally, if the tenant fails to abide by his tenancy conditions, does not pay the rent or causes a nuisance, the landlord, even if he does not live in the same building, even if he is not a resident landlord, can obtain possession. But what the Government appear to want, however, is another ground for possession which non-resident landlords who choose to let on shorthold may adopt; that is, to be able to say, "I do not like you" or "I want to change; therefore you must leave".

Even worse, the absence of a right of first refusal is not only unfair to the tenant. We have heard such a lot about people having accommodation and feeling that they have a home; but it is no good their having a home unless they feel there is some security about it. The absence of a right of first refusal does leave the door open to unscrupulous landlords. It is agreed—the noble Lord, Lord Evans, has put it extremely well on several occasions—that there is a minority of landlords who do behave badly. I think he said this afternoon that our job in legislation is to protect the good and not the bad. So it does leave the door open for the unscrupulous landlord to demand illegal premiums or a higher rent as a condition of allowing the tenant to stay. He will not even have to give the tenant another period as a shorthold tenant but can leave him under threat of eviction if the tenant does not make the extra payments demanded, or if he tries to go to the rent office or tries to take any action in his own defence.

I hope that the Minister will not try once again to dismiss this by saying that premiums are illegal. As we pointed out repeatedly on Committee and during Report, where there is a shortage of accommodation the door is open to all sorts of undesirable practices; and I am afraid, whether they are illegal or not, they do take place, because the tenant is often put in a position of being a willing party and really conniving at the offence himself. There is absolutely no doubt that if the amendment is not accepted then there will be exploitation of some tenants and the charging of illegal premiums as the price for preventing eviction. But this amendment provides a safeguard against such practices. It also provides an incentive to the vast majority of tenants who do pay their rent regularly and cause no nuisance or offence, because it gives them the first option to remain as tenants and to keep their homes if the landlord intends to re-let.

This in no way ties the hands of landlords who do not wish to go on letting. They can still obtain possession when the shorthold comes to an end. Nor does it prevent the landlord from evicting the bad tenant who fails to pay his rent. It does seem to me to be an eminently sensible amendment. It also seems to me to be a compassionate one, because it is going to save so many tenants the terrible heartache of not knowing what is going to happen to them when their shorthold lease comes to an end. I have covered all the points which would apply only where the landlord was a resident landlord, and it seems to me that in the Government's own interests, in making the shorthold policy a success, they should accept this amendment. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, may I speak very briefly on this amendment? I repeat that I want short-holds to be a successful experiment. The problem in the private rented sector is in trying to strike a balance between the advantages to the landlord and the advantages to the tenant. From my experience I suspect that under the old rent Acts the balance in regard to statutory tenancies, and tenancies during the inter-war years, was very much in favour of the tenant. We have heard of, and read, many stories about the difficulties of landlords not only in regard to making a living from the rents that they receive but also in losing a considerable amount of money. Obviously in that respect the balance was too much on the tenant's side.

I believe that the danger is that if we do not accept the amendment, in the short-hold field the balance will be too much on the landlord's side. I should not want a shorthold tenant to have the first refusal of a second term if he or she had been a bad tenant within the terms of the tenancy agreement or the normally accepted rules about obeying tenants' covenants, paying rent, and so on. On the other hand, I should not want the kind of things to which the noble Baroness referred to happen to a normally behaved, straightforward tenant, who would know that he was in a position in which he had absolutely no safeguard whatsoever, no matter how well behaved he was, or how reasonably and rationally he conducted himself as a tenant. If a tenant had a landlord who took a dislike to him, or who thought that he might receive a higher rent from someone else, such a tenant would have absolutely no protection in regard to what during the period of the shorthold tenancy had become his home. This is a modest, humane, amendment which the Government might accept so as to encourage those of us who want the concept of shorthold to succeed.


My Lords, I am not terribly keen on this amendment for the following reason. In practice most landlords are only too happy to retain a good tenant, or even an average tenant, because the problems involved in switching tenancies are considerable. The trouble is that there are many ways in which a tenant can be a bad tenant without specifically breaking the terms of his tenancy agreement. Therein lies the difficulty. However, if acceptance of the amendment would lead to bipartisan agreement on shortholds, then I believe that, despite my misgivings, it would be worth accepting.


I do not think that there is much likelihood of that, my Lords, but may I say straightaway that as I understand it, the intention of the amendment is to give the sitting short-hold tenant the right of first refusal to a further term if the landlord intends to go on letting beyond the end of the short-hold term. This is a proposal which the Government examined very carefully when framing their shorthold proposals, but it is much less simple than it looks. We believe that it would be extremely difficult to operate in practice. Furthermore, we do not think that as a matter of policy it is on balance desirable, as I shall try to explain.

The first point is the question of practicability. The amendment requires the landlord to serve a written notice on the tenant, offering him a further term, at least three months before the end of the shorthold. It requires the tenant to take up that offer at least two months before the end of the term. That may be just workable so far as it goes. However, the amendment says nothing about what is to happen if the landlord does not serve this notice. What is the tenant to do then? What will happen if the tenant leaves, and then finds that the landlord has let to someone else when he had a statutory right to first refusal? The amendment does not resolve the problem of which tenant should take precedence in those circumstances; nor does it specify the terms on which the landlord has to offer the further term. What happens if the landlord introduces new conditions? How is the tenant to know whether a new offer is a valid one? What opportunity does the tenant have to challenge the landlord's offer? Those are some of the difficulties that we see with an offer of first refusal that have convinced us that it would be impracticable.

We also believe that such a provision would be undesirable because there would need to be a penalty against landlords who did not offer their tenants a further term. The amendment does not make any attempt to spell out what the penalty would be, but the provision would have no force at all without some penalty for landlords who failed to comply with it. The penalty suggested by the Opposition in another place was that a landlord who is not prepared to go on letting must be required to keep the property empty for a specified period. I can describe that only as involving an awful waste of housing resources. If a landlord wants to go on letting, but does not want to go on letting to the same tenant, does it make sense that he should have to keep the property empty for six months or more? That does not help either the landlord or the tenant. There is a further point. If there is a penalty provision that the property must be kept empty, who is to enforce it? That would need a special check each time a shorthold tenancy changed hands.

Those are the reasons why we are against a statutory right to first refusal, but we believe that tenants who stay on beyond the original shorthold term should have a reasonable measure of security. That is why the Bill was amended by the Government in another place, so that tenants who stay on beyond the end of the shorthold term, with the landlord's agreement or acquiescence, should have a full year's security under shorthold. That, I believe, is both workable and fair.

The noble Baroness quoted what the Minister had said in a speech, in which he said that there would be no incentive to landlords to get rid of tenants at the end of the shorthold. But that is not the same as forcing the landlord to keep on the tenant against the landlord's will. The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, asked what happens if a landlord dislikes a particular tenant? The whole basic principle of shorthold is that it should be an encouragement to landlords to bring new lettings on to the market. What kind of incentive would it be to landlords to do that if they knew that when the previously agreed term of tenancy was at an end, subject to the agreed procedures as to notice, they could not have what the very concept of shorthold sets out to provide; namely, the opportunity to end the tenancy? If that is not available, then shorthold has no meaning; there is no purpose at all in shorthold.

I see what is being attempted, and I sympathise with the motivation behind it. Nevertheless, if the amendment were passed, shorthold could not succeed, because no one would then undertake to bring new lettings on to the market, knowing that at the end of an agreed contracted period he could not, for whatever reason he may decide upon, say that the tenancy was at its end, which is his prerogative. The whole purpose is to make new accommodation—I do not mean that in the sense of new buildings, but rather in the sense of new lettings—available for private renting, where at present it does not exist.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I must say that the Minister's arguments are in the category of being very "iffy": if this, or if not; the amendment does not specify this, that, or the other. That was on the practical side. I would say only that if the Government's heart and head were in the right place in regard to this matter, it could all be worked out. The Minister has put up a great many obstacles, saying that this and that are not included in the amendment, and that this and that cannot be done. Anything can be done if one wants to do it. If the Government really wanted to accept the principle here, then with all the talent at their disposal—I see much of it assembled in the officials' box—they could bring forward an amendment to meet all the points and the obstacles that they have raised.

On the question of the proposal being undesirable, I cannot believe that the Minister has not considered the point that when a provision is passed into law and becomes practice, people will accept it. If somebody lets on a shorthold and knows that at the end of the period, if they are going to relet, they will have to relet to the same tenant, unless the tenant has put himself into the position of being an undesirable tenant, then they will accept this as the practice and will do so. They will continue to do this because they are not resident landlords and, as I explained before, the tenants have paid their rent and have not become nuisances.

The main reason why landlords are reluctant to let—and this is the Government's own submission, through the Ministers—is, they say, because they cannot regain vacant possession so that they can sell. But under our proposal the right of a landlord to terminate the tenancy at the end of the shorthold tenure and then obtain vacant possession and sell is not affected. That is really what it is all about. But what I still do not understand is this—unless there is some extraordinary pressure on the Government, which I do not like the thought or the sound of, my Lords. They are bringing this in, and in dealing with shortholds they are making it quite clear that they are from a minimum of one year to a maximum of five years, so there is a period of time for the landlord. But if the landlord does not want vacant possession, why do they not then come along—I am asking this as a rhetorical question, because we have had the debate before—and say, "Yes, there is a great deal of sense in this; there are ways in which we can make it work; at least we can try it out, because we will be giving security to the tenant, and when the landlord wants his house or flat back with vacant possession to sell it he will still be able to have it"?

This is one of the worst points about shorthold, because it gives maximum insecurity to the tenant and really, I think, creates a great deal of trouble and anguish (I have used that word many times in relation to this Bill, and I use it again) besides laying it open to illegal premiums and all sorts of practices. This is the sort of thing that encourages the holiday lettings and licences, and the other loopholes we have been trying to stop. However, we have had this debate before—I think this is probably the third or fourth time—so I will not say any more on it except that I am pressing it to a Division.

6.42 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 17) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 68; Not-Contents, 102.

Amherst, E. Galpern, L. Mishcon, L.
Ardwick, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Oram, L.
Aylestone, L. Gosford, E. Peart, L.
Bacon, B. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Balogh, L. Gregson, L.
Banks, L. Hale, L. Raglan, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hampton, L. Rhodes, L.
Bernstein, L. Hanworth, V. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Beswick, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Rochester, L.
Birk, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Blease, L. Howie of Troon, L. Seear, B.
Blyton, L. Hughes, L. Segal, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Irving of Dartford, L. Simon, V.
Bowden, L. Jacques, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Brockway, L. Janner, L. Stone, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Jeger, B. Strabolgi, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Kilmarnock, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Collison, L Lee of Newton, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
David, B. Leonard, L. Underhill, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]
Diamond, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. McNair, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Melchett, L.
Gaitskell, B. Milford, L.
Abinger, L. Gainford, L. Mottistone, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Gibson-Watt, L. Mountevans, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Godber of Willington, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]
Auckland, L. Gormanston, V.
Avon, E. Gowrie, E. Moyne, L.
Balerno, L. Gray, L. Netherthorpe, L.
Barnby, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (Lord Chancellor.) Norfolk, D.
Bellwin, L. Northchurch, B.
Belstead, JL. Harmar-Nicholls, L. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Boardman, L. Harvington, L. Pender, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Henley, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Hertford, M. Redmayne, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Holderness, L. Rochdale, V.
Caithness, E. Home of the Hirsel, L. Sandford, L.
Chelwood, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Hylton, L. Selkirk, E.
Clitheroe, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Sharples, B.
Colwyn, L. Killearn, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Kilmany, L. Soames, L. (L. President.)
Craigavon, V. Kimberley, E. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Craigmyle, L. Lauderdale, E. Strathclyde, L.
Crathorne, L. Long, V. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lonsdale, E. Strathspey, L.
de Clifford, L. Lyell, L. Sudeley, L.
Denham, L. McAlpine of Moffat, L. Swansea, L.
Digby, L. McFadzean, L. Trenchard, V.
Drumalbyn, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Dulverton, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Vaizey, L.
Dundee, E. Mancroft, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Eccles, V. Mansfield, E. Vickers, B.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Margadale, L. Vivian, L.
Elton, L. Marley, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Marshall of Leeds, L. Westbury, L.
Faithfull, B. Middleton, L.
Fortescue, E. Milverton, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 55 [Orders for possession]:

6.51 p.m.

Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON moved Amendment No. 18: Page 40, line 8, at end insert— (3) For the purposes of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 no person shall be treated as having become homeless intentionally or become threatened with homelessness intentionally by reason of his having accepted a protected shorthold tenancy of any premises and thereafter having been required to give up possession thereof.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I moved this amendment in the same words at Committee stage of the Bill. I put it down to move on Report stage but, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said, we reached these amendments so late that it seemed better not to move it at the time. This amendment is even more important now since the Government's heart has not been softened by the pleas made on previous amendments by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. Therefore, the extent of shortholds, and therefore of shorthold tenants, is very much larger than it would have been had those amendments been accepted.

As I have said, I should like to see short-holds having a fair trial. This is not a technical amendment because it is one that could be, can be, and almost certainly would be, extremely important to a large number of shorthold tenants, since as things stand at the moment, if a tenant takes a shorthold tenancy he is deemed to know that that shorthold tenancy is going to come to an end and he is going to have to leave the dwelling in which he finds himself. Therefore, it is arguable that he is thereby rendering himself deliberately homeless and thereby takes himself outside the protection of the Homeless Persons Act.

It might, therefore, happen that a perfectly straightforward tenant who had taken a shorthold tenancy, has not misbehaved himself, has not tried to take advantage of the system to get a council house, has behaved perfectly correctly just as the Government would want him to behave, has been a model shorthold tenant in fact, has been exactly the kind of person that the Government are claiming they seek to help, might find at the end of his term that he leaves the tenancy because he has to, there is no further chance for him to renew the tenancy, goes to the local authority, asks for a council house under the Homeless Persons Act and they say: "We are sorry; you knew when your tenancy came to an end it would not he renewed. Therefore you have made yourself deliberately homeless; therefore you cannot use the provisions of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act".

I know the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, thinks this is far-fetched and a figment of the rather far-stretching imagination of lawyers, but, as Lord Strabolgi said in the debate on the Committee stage, there has been a decision in the Court of Appeal recently—the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, mentioned it too—where a person who had an out-of-season letting was found to have made himself deliberately homeless and not therefore able to benefit from the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act.

I am not impressed by the arguments in reply at Committee stage, of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, that my amendment would cast doubt on the status of all tenants of all kinds who are at the moment outside the protection of the Rent Act. We are dealing with a Housing Bill, and a section of the Housing Bill which deals with shortholds, and I have therefore to deal with the situation that arises under a shorthold tenancy. It introduces—I do not think there can be any argument about this at least—a completely novel type of very insecure tenure, and I think the Government and your Lordships should be particularly concerned about the future of people who become tenants under this system without perhaps fully realising the possible result that might overtake them. If the noble Lord can give me and your Lordships an assurance that this type of tenant would not be outside the protection of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, then I would be quite happy to withdraw this amendment, but I am certainly not happy with the half-hearted and somewhat reluctant semi-assurances that I got at Committee stage.

I can say this as my final word. I am talking about the person who deliberately takes a shorthold tenancy in order that he can then slip through a loophole and force the local council to give him a tenancy, which was argued against me at Committee stage. I am talking about the kind of person that the proposed legislation seeks to give an opportunity of having a shorthold tenancy. They are entitled, since the Government have not been willing to accept any of the reasoned amendments put forward, to limit the extent of shorthold. In view of the broad concept of shorthold tenancy, the Government should give these assurances.


My Lords, I hope the Government will take this amendment very seriously and not by any manner or means brush it aside. When Mr. Ross brought in the Act of 1977, shorthold was not envisaged; it is something that has come up since then. Also, during the course of a shorthold tenancy which could be as long as five years, a person's circumstances may change completely; children may be horn; all sorts of things may happen. I do think this is an important and very serious amendment.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, in his amendment. I was, as I mentioned before, Minister in the Department when the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill went through. I remember making the point during the passage of the Bill that the number of intentionally homeless was not expected to be large. However, as was not to be unexpected, some local authorities have interpreted this provision in a much wider manner than was envisaged—indeed, there has been a recent court case on it which I will not go into now because we have discussed it before—and classify as "intentionally homeless" people who took short-term holiday lettings and were subsequently evicted and made homeless. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Evans, that it must be made clear that people who do take shorthold lettings cannot subsequently be judged intentionally homeless and refused permanent housing by a vocal authority solely on the grounds that they have taken a shorthold letting. I should have thought that the Government would welcome this amendment, because it protects people who wish to take a short-hold tenancy but may be rather worried and deterred from doing so because they fear that at the end of their tenancy they will be refused housing by the local authority.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Evans, covered this matter so extremely well and clearly that there is nothing more I can add, except that I support him.


My Lords, I hope that it will not be felt because I deal with this perhaps more shortly than I have with other amendments on shortholds that we take it any less seriously. Indeed, I entirely take the point that my noble friend Lord Hylton made as to that. As to the observation by the noble Lord, Lord Evans, that he found my responses in Committee on this to be, I think he said, very halfhearted, and that I did not give him the assurance he wanted, I am not usually half-hearted about that which I say. In view of the other comments which have been made about what I have said over the course of the Bill, I would have thought that was one of the few suggestions that might have been made. However, I take it in the spirit in which I am sure it was meant.

Of course I have considered very carefully what was said in the discussion on this amendment during Committee stage. Like the noble Lord, Lord Evans, I looked very carefully at that which might well come back again; and he did intimate then that he might do just that which he has now done. I must tell noble Lords that I remain of the view that no special provisions for shortholds are needed under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. The main reason for this is that shorthold is not the only type of letting where tenants do not have lifetime security. The Homeless Persons Act makes no special provisions for these kinds of lettings, and as I said in Committee their status under the Act would be called into question if special provisions were to be made for shorthold.

We have considered the judgment in the Court of Appeal case, Dyson v. Kerrier District Council, reported in The Times on 1st July. As I said in Committee, this judgment depended very much on the circumstances of the case. It would be quite wrong to infer from that case that anyone who took a winter let or a shorthold and was required to give up possession at the end of the term would thereby be judged to have made himself intentionally homeless. What the case shows is that what happened before a short-term letting was taken up may also be relevant to the question of intentional homelessness.

I should like to refer back to what my noble friend Lord Sandford said in Committee. He said that the view of the Association of District Councils was that no amendment should be made on this point so that local authorities can continue to exercise their discretion as to what has occurred, whether it is a case of abuse or a case of hardship. This is also the Government's view. Furthermore, your Lordships will also know that there is a review of the 1977 Act in progress at the present time. In saying that, I do not want to give the impression that, as regards the proposals in this amendment, we necessarily consider that any change is desirable. But the fact is that this Act is being looked at very carefully indeed, together with all its implications. While doing that, we will certainly be considering whether shorthold would have the kind of adverse effects that the noble Lord fears. Finally, may I assure your Lordships that the point about local authority policies toward people who become homeless on leaving winter lets—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi) —is also being considered actively in the review of the Homeless Persons Act. With those remarks and the assurance I have given about the review, the noble Lord perhaps may feel able to withdraw his amendment.


My Lords, I am not at all happy about this position. With great respect, it is all very well for the noble Lord to say that this does not apply to other lettings outside the Rent Acts, the unprotected lettings. I concede that it does not. But I happen to be dealing in this amendment with shorthold tenancies and not with the other types of tenancies. Had I been here at the time they were dealt with, no doubt I would have been moving similar amendments—possibly with greater success and support from the Government Benches than I am receiving now.

The second point is that if the Government accept this amendment, or if we force it to a Division and show that there is strong feeling here, it may encourage the Government, the legislators and those advising them to give that kind of protection to lettings outside the Rent Acts, because it seems to me to be a very big loophole for two reasons. One, that you have got now a much broader spectrum of possible shorthold tenants because the Government have not accepted the amendment and, secondly, that there is presumably going to be a great encouragement among landlords to use this form of shorthold tenancies. I would have thought that it would have been helpful to the Government and to landlords who wanted to use this provision that their tenants would not be deterred from applying for shorthold tenancies because of their uncertainty about their position at the end of their shorthold tenancy. If they could have an assurance from (if you like) the mouths of the Government or from this Bill that they would not be declared deliberately homeless, it might influence a much larger number of people to apply to become short-hold tenants. I think that the Government's refusal to accept this is shortsighted.

The third and final reason is that from my experience in local government I am very unhappy about the way many local authorities interpret the deliberate homeless provisions of the Homeless Persons Act. I thought that, in a sense, what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said in Committee was rather chilling. Some local authorities obviously do not want an amendment like this, because many local authorities dislike intensely the Homeless Persons Act. They find it a nuisance and an inconvenience from a purely bureaucratic and administrative point of view. Therefore, I think we are only aiding and abetting those authorities that take an inhumane interpretation of the Act and we are not encouraging, by the means of giving this protecton, those people taking up shorthold tenancies—which the Government think is going to be a big way of revising the private-rented market. Therefore, I can only seek to divide the House to find out whether I can get support for what I think is a very reasonable amendment.

7.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 18) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 59; Not-Contents, 94.

Amherst, E. Gosford, E. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ardwick, L. Gregson, L. Raglan, L.
Baker, L. Hale, L. Rhodes, L.
Balogh, L. Hampton, L.[Teller.] Ritchie-Calder, L.
Banks, L. Hanworth, V. Rochester, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Bernstein, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Seear, B.
Birk, B. Hylton, L. Segal, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Irving of Dartford, L. Simon, V.
Bowden, L. Jacques, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Brockway, L. Janner, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Jeger, B. Stone, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Leonard, L. Strabolgi, L.
Chitnis, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Collison, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
David, B. McNair, L. Underhill, L.
de Clifford, L. Maelor, L. Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]
Evans of Claughton, L. Melchett, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Milverton, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Galpern, L. Mishcon, L. Wigoder, L.
Abinger, L. Fortescue, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Gainford, L. Moyne, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Gibson-Watt, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Auckland, L. Godber of Willington, L. Mountevans, L.
Avon, E. Gormanston, V. Norfolk, D.
Balerno, L. Gray, L. Northchurch, B.
Barnby, L. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Bellwin, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Orr-Ewing, L.
Belstead, L. Pender, L.
Boardman, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Harvington, L. Rochdale, V.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Henley, L. Sandford, L.
Broadbridge, L. Hertford, M. Sandys, L.[Teller.]
Brougham and Vaux, L. Holderness, L. Selkirk, E.
Caithness, E. Home of the Hirsel, L. Sharples, B.
Chelwood, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Spens, L.
Clitheroe, L. Kilmany, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Colwyn, L. Kimberley, E. Strathclyde, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Lauderdale, E. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Craigavon, V. Long, V. Strathspey, L.
Craigmyle, L. Lyell, L. Sudeley, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. McAlpine of Moffat, L. Swansea, L.
Denham, L.[Teller.] McFadzean, L. Trenchard, V.
Digby, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. Vaizey, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Dulverton, L. Mansfield, E. Vickers, B.
Dundee, E. Margadale, L. Vivian, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Marley, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Elton, L. Middleton, L. Westbury, L.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Morris, L.
Faithfull, B. Mottistone, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Third Reading of this Bill be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.