HL Deb 13 May 1980 vol 409 cc100-4

2.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.


My Lords, I do not have information in the precise form requested by the noble Lord but I hope the following will prove helpful. Excluding first registrations of formerly rent controlled property there were 180, 000 rent registrations for furnished and unfurnished regulated tenancies in England and Wales in 1979. The mean percentage change in rent following a registration in these cases was an increase of 65 per cent. Nearly all of the previous rents will have been over three years old and many will have dated from considerably earlier.

We only have figures available for the type of applicant on the first registration of a fair rent. Of the 26, 000 first registrations, 73 per cent. followed an application by the landlord. Rent assessment committees made 7, 400 determinations. There is no available breakdown showing how many stemmed from an objection by the tenant. In 58 per cent. of cases, rent assessment committees fixed a rent higher than that set by the rent officer, there was no change in 29 per cent. of the cases and a reduction in 13 per cent. The mean change in the rent officer rent for all cases determined by committees was an increase of 7 per cent.


My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for having furnished me with some information on this very important topic. I realise that it may have been difficult to furnish accurate statistics, but is he aware that as a result of inquiries I have made, particularly in the areas of St. Marylebone and Regent's Park, and indeed in other parts of the West End of London, landlords have not had any difficulty at all in obtaining the highest rents in these regulated tenancy habitations because they are occupied by Iranians, Asians, Jamaicans and those who are quite capable of paying the highest rent that is demanded, even if it does not come out of their own pockets?

Does this not constitute a hardship for the ordinary Britisher who cannot afford to meet the demands that the landlords are making? Indeed, I do not blame the landlords because, naturally, they take advantage of the foreign element who find no difficulty in paying whatever sum is asked. May I ask this further question: May I have an assurance from the Minister that the Government will seek to protect tenants of regulated tenancies in order to prevent undue hardship?


My Lords, it is a marathon question and I am not sure that I can cover all the points asked; but if the noble Lord is saying that people do not know, or do not care, about the rights that they have under the Rent Acts, I am not sure that the Government can do anything other than make available to them, as indeed to any people in the country, information about the fact that there are Rent Acts which give them protection. I do not know that one can really go beyond that.

As for the last point the noble Lord raised—namely, would we try to ensure that there is protection under the Rent Acts—I can only add what I have said on a number of occasions previously. That is that there are indeed considerable protections for both sides, and if it turns out in practice that both sides, landlords and tenants, are frequently unhappy about the final determination of fair rent, that is because the rent assessment committees or rent officers are trying to adjudicate on a matter which is really a very difficult one.


My Lords, will the Government bring to the attention of the rent tribunals the fact that scarcity value should not be taken into account? Will they also take account of the fact that vastly increased rents are probably a more inflationary measure than anything else, and that their present policy, if they do not change it, is leading to the increasing foreignisation of the inner residential area of London? Perhaps they like this.


My Lords, I do not think it is rent assessment committees or rent officers who make policy at all. They are there to adjudicate upon what should be a fair rent. The fact is that the law as it now stands says quite clearly that scarcity should not be taken into account. Indeed, one of the noble Lords opposite, Lord Janner, regularly exhorts me to do exactly the opposite of what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has suggested. In any case, I do not think I can add much to what I seem to say at regular weekly intervals on this same question.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to reconsider his reaction to the points that I have been making from time to time? Is he aware, first of all, that we are in as bad a position, as tenants, as people were in the days when we were fighting under the Leasehold Reform Act? There are here many previous Members of the other place who know what a fight we had in order to preserve tenancies, without exorbitant amounts being asked by landlords to protect them against the leasehold system. Will my noble friend have a look at the situation again? Does he not realise that various districts, particularly in London, will have no places to rent at all? The figures the noble Lord has given to us do not reveal that in London an addition of up to 500 per cent. is being charged by the rent tribunals. The Rent Acts are no longer a protection for very many Members of this House and people similarly placed.

The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Lord Soames)

My Lords, just before my noble friend answers, I feel I must suggest to noble Lords that perhaps it would be to the advantage of the whole House if supplementary questions were kept somewhat shorter.


My Lords, may I ask a short supplementary?


My Lords, I feel that the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, is on a different topic from the one raised by this particular Question. If we start to talk of these huge increases we find they tend to be in the areas where the rateable values are very high, and that is a problem. The last time we were bearing this in mind I did say that it was a matter of concern, but I could not go further than that last week, and I cannot go further than that today. Other than that, I do not think there is evidence in truth to indicate that the Act is being operated by the rent assessment committees other than in an impartial way. There is surely no basis for saying that. If the conclusions that they reach are unhappy for many people, that is the basic problem that exists.


My Lords, will the Minister be prepared to indicate to the House how many Civil Service man hours were involved in extracting and preparing the information given in response to this Question? Can he furthermore tell us what relevance that information has to the working of the Rent Acts?


My Lords, clearly at this moment I cannot give information as to the number of hours involved, but I understand the thrust of the point being made and have much sympathy with it. As to whether or not the Question has relevance to the working of the Rent Acts, I think I have in fairness to say that there is concern about certain aspects of it; it would be less than fair to imply that there was no point in the Question. Frankly, I think we have to be concerned about the Rent Acts.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have not the faintest idea how much it is going to cost to answer the Question that I asked, in spite of the noble Lord, Lord Foot? There is a short question I wish to ask the noble Lord. Will he not agree that, because of rising prices in various directions, electricity and all the rest, it is desirable that the Government should give some consideration to preventing undue hardship to people who are unable to meet the demands that certain landlords are making?


My Lords, the only thing I can say on the ability of people to meet rents is that this is taken care of in the rent allowances available to those who cannot meet them. I think it would be fair to say that the extent of rent allowances is often far more than people realise. For instance, rent allowances are in certain circumstances available for families who have an income even as high as £14, 500 a year. So on that latter point I think the only answer I can give to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, to be helpful is that a closer look at what is available under rent allowances is the best I can advise.

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