HL Deb 25 July 1988 vol 500 cc80-140

House again in Committee.

Clause 27 [Damages for unlawful eviction]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 55: Page 18, line 35, leave out ("20th November 1987") and insert ("9th June 1988").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 55, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 56.

The new right to damages in Clause 27 is seen by the Government as a powerful deterrent to unlawful eviction. Landlords stand to lose the whole of any financial gain that they may make from getting the tenant out. In future landlords ought to think very hard before they harass or evict illegally their tenants.

The new right is at present effective in respect of actions committed from the day in November 1987 after the Bill was published. Our intention here was to deter landlords from attempting to avoid the new right to damages by getting rid of their tenants before the Bill came into force, although it would not of course be possible for a tenant to begin an action for damages under the clause until it has come into force.

The clause was however widened on report in another place on 9th June in that it was extended to cover actions by superior landlords and cases where the landlord knew that the tenant might leave as a result of harassment or persistent withdrawal of services. Those amendments were welcomed on all sides. The Committee will see that, as a result, the clause has become truly retrospective. That is unacceptable and an amendment is needed.

There were two possible ways of approaching the required amendments. One would have been to attempt to pick out those elements introduced in June and to make those effective from that time, leaving the effective date of the remainder of the clause in November 1987. The alternative, which we have chosen, is to make the clause as a whole effective from June. This is much simpler to achieve and avoids creating some rather messy provisions, which would have been more difficult to understand and to use. To the extent that the provision was intended as a deterrent, nothing is lost by bringing the date forward: either it has had an effect or it has not. As I have said, no actions can yet have been started under the provision. We all find truly retrospective legislation repugnant, and I hope therefore that the Committee can agree with these amendments. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I confess that there is a fine balance to be struck between the abhorrent principle of retrospection and the effectiveness of the legislation. When the Committee debated the matters in preliminary form last Thursday, the Government recognised the necessity for protection against harassment and eviction. One of the ways in which they sought to give effect to that undertaking was to introduce the measures as of the date of first publication of the Bill.

I am hardly surprised that no actions have been taken against landlords under the legislation: it has not yet taken effect so there could not have been any actions. That is not an effective argument. If, as I understand it, the Minister is saying that there have not been a significant number of cases where action would have been taken if the Bill had been enacted, them we are content to see the dates changed as proposed. I am happy to take the Minister's silence as confirmation that he has not been notified of a significant number of cases that would have required action had the Bill been in force.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 56: Page 18, line 40, leave out ("20th November 1987") and insert ("9th June 1988").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 56A not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 57:

Page 19, line 5, leave out ("calculated to") and insert ("(or omits to do acts) which individually or cumulatively").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to Amendment No. 57 in introducing Amendment No. 1 earlier in Committee. As a result of a number of procedural discussions, it became clear that it would be better if Amendments Nos. 57, 60, 61, 62 and 63 were considered together without the paving amendment that was originally tabled.

I apologise to the Committee for tabling but not moving Amendments Nos. 56A and 57A. They were put down as evidence of the concern that the Law Society has felt about the adequacy of provisions for protection against eviction. As to the reason for not moving them, it makes for a cleaner debate to concentrate on the other amendments. If the slightly less positive proposals that we have put forward do not find favour with the Committee, we can return to the amendments to the Law Society later.

When speaking last Thursday to Amendment No. 1, with which these amendments were grouped, I spent some time on the activities of a certain number of landlords, including one landlord in particular, who not only is guilty of harassment over a considerable number of years but glories in his harassment activities. I undertook not to repeat my arguments in regard to that person or indeed the arguments echoed by a number of Members of the Committee.

I want to concentrate on five points in introducing the amendments that I believe would substantially improve the effectiveness of the Government's intention to provide good protection for tenants against harassment. It is not necessary to do this in any emotional sense; they are specific amendments which need to be considered seriously and I should like to have the Government's specific reaction to them. I hold myself available for any subsequent discussion that may be necessary if the Government think that that is the right way to approach the matter.

The first change in regard to Amendment No. 57, repeated in Amendment No. 61, is that, in addition to acts, the concept of omission to do an act is brought in. Those who follow such matters and know of the relationship between landlord and tenant will realise that, although there are clearly acts of harassment inimical to the interests of a tenant that can be carried out by a landlord, on many occasions a landlord omits to do something that he has contracted to do which is important to secure the tenant's peaceful and happy occupation of the premises.

Not being a lawyer, I have consulted lawyers and I am assured that the omission to do an act cannot be assumed to be included in doing an act. Therefore, there is something substantial added to the concept of an act of harassment by the omission of an obligation which in itself helps to constitute harassment. In that sense, I hope that the Government will agree that the amendment is a useful addition to the effectiveness of their proposals.

The second is the concept of individually or cumulatively. As Chapter IV is set down, an act can be said to be contributing to harassment and is judged on its own merits as to whether that individual act is looked at as something so bad that it falls within the scope of Chapter IV. I suggest to the Committee that we need to go further than that. The combination and the addition of a large number of acts which by themselves might be relatively small and not worthy of complaint, when combined could become worthy of complaint and add up to harassment, whereas once they could be safely ignored. I suggest that the concept of the cumulative weight of a whole series of what might individually be small acts is a useful addition. It assists in the protection of tenants and should be included in the Bill.

The third point, which arises directly from some of my remarks on Thursday about Mr. Hoogstraten, relates to the inadequacy of restricting the law on acts of harassment to landlords and their agents. The point I made, echoed by other noble Lords, is that all sorts of other people who are neither the landlords nor their agents can take part in harassment. The most common example is putting in noisy neighbours who are certainly not the landlords or their agents but who are put in with the deliberate intention of winkling out the tenant. These omissions to act ought to be counted as part of the evils to which this chapter of Part I of the Bill is addressed.

Fourthly, in the Bill we have the words "calculated to". These bring into the law which will have to interpret and implement this Bill the whole concept of the intention of the landlord or his agent as part of the necessary proof of an act or programme of acts of harassment. I suggest to the Committee that the concept of intention is very much more difficult to prove than the straightforward fact that these acts are taking place and can be seen to help to deprive the tenant of his rights and of his peaceful enjoyment of the premises. Therefore, the words "calculated to" and the concept of intention by the landlord and his agents do not help to make this part of the Bill effective and it would be better without them.

Related to that is my fifth point. The Bill states that the landlord knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the acts are leading to harassment. I suggest that, whether or not he knows it, it should be a matter of fact that the acts he is doing are leading to harassment and are depriving the tenant of his rights. These too should be taken into account in considering whether or not the landlord is acting illegally.

I undertook not to repeat the many examples from which it would be possible for me to show that these are not theoretical objections to the drafting of the Bill. They are objections which are backed up time and again by the practical experience of tenancy welfare officers in local authorities, of solicitors, law practices, law advisory bodies, citizens' advice bureaux, and so on. Over and over again there have been many examples of the inadequacy of the existing law to deal with the widespread but far from universal—I am not suggesting that a majority of landlords do this—harassment where there is a strong financial incentive for the landlord to seek to remove a tenant.

Surely it must be right for us, in welcoming the Government's moves in this direction, to endeavour to make those moves as effective as possible. I believe that my amendments make the provisions more effective and that they deserve serious consideration and I therefore commend them to the Committee. I beg to move.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Coleraine

The noble Lord has opened up a wide ranging possibility for debate. He is, I believe, speaking to amendments in his name to Clauses 27 and 29. I suspect he is also inviting us to look at the other two amendments which emanate from the Law Society.

I should like to consider the word "calculated". It seems to me that much of the problem covered by this series of amendments arises from that word. In our debates last Thursday my noble friend Lord Renton drew attention to the fact that "calculated" could be interpreted as "likely" or as "intended". His view was that it was interpreted as "intended". That is the view taken by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.

The word is used in the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and I believe its use in this Bill directly follows from that. The editors of Halsbury's Laws of England suggest that generally the word would be intended to mean "likely" rather than "intended". I ask my noble friend the Minister whether it would be possible to have the Bill use the words "either likely or intended". I believe that the word "calculated" is confusing the Committee and is likely to confuse practitioners and others who look at the Bill when it becomes law.

There is a considerable distinction to be made between the proposed amendments to Clause 27, with which I have some sympathy, and those to Clause 29. Clause 27 deals with civil damages and in a sense, therefore, it is probably right that the standards of liability that affect a landlord in the case of civil damages may be less onerous than those which apply in criminal proceedings which are covered in Clause 29. However, it is difficult to see how one can allow a tenant to have the automatic right to these damages in the case cited by the noble Lord of a whole series of cumulative acts or omissions. I say that because the remedies available to a tenant which he can bring himself are immense. They are set out in Clause 28 and include the right to the profit which the landlord might have made if he gets possession wrongly under Clause 27.

There is here a grave difficulty in that a whole series of complaints can be made by a tenant which relate perhaps to damp or to the roof falling into disrepair and not being remedied. These are perfectly serious problems and the tenant has remedies under the existing law to set them right. If, by these amendments he is enabled merely to sit by and ultimately to move out, then one has a difficult and unsatisfactory position. The landlord may find—without really knowing what the complaints of the tenant are and having had no proper opportunity to put matters right or direct his mind to the consequences which might follow under this clause as amended—that the tenant leaves having done very little to put things right and then claims colossal damages under Clause 28. I believe that there is room for getting this situation right and possibly for change. I hope that the noble Lord will ultimately take the amendments back, think again, and return with them at a later stage.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I am not happy with the amendment as suggested, or with harassment. I believe the Bill will make it easier for people to obtain legitimate possession in legitimate cases. It is creating kinds of tenancies that, as I have said before, should make available a wider rental market. I believe it is even more important that in such cases which remain protected people have adequate protection.

I support the amendment as regards reference to the word "calculated". In any court of law it is extremely difficult to prove how calculated a matter is. At the moment I am helping a lady whose landlord is attempting to remove her from her basement flat. He will be able to do so because he is a resident landlord; he will be able to get a court order. However, the way in which it is being done is so unpleasant that it almost constitutes harassment. For example, the right to use the garden has been withdrawn and washing cannot be put outside which was previously possible during all the years she has lived in the flat. Children are pushed when they enter the flat.

When the lady wrote to the solicitor asking that at least until the court determined the action she should be able to remain there in peace and not suffer any degree of harassment, a reply was received which I consider to be almost harassment in itself. The letter asks whether she is making defamatory remarks about the client. The poor woman is being terrified. She was not born in this country; she does not know what is meant by defamation. I am unhappy with the word "calculated". I do not support the amendment: I wonder whether that word can be removed and the sentence stand on its own without it. In a court of law to prove calculated harassment is very difficult. The acts should speak for themselves whether they are serious or of a less serious character. The accumulation or combination of many different events should speak for themselves. Although I do not support the amendment, I believe it is very important that this aspect of the Bill should be strong.

Lord Monson

As I have not agreed very often so far with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, during the passage of this Bill, I am pleased to say that I have considerable sympathy with him as regards Amendment No. 57 though, as the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, said, the drafting may be technically defective. I should like it modified by the acceptance of Amendment No. 57B or some later variation of it which would provide a safeguard. It is a great pity that Amendments Nos. 60 to 63 have been grouped together because they are all different. They do not hang or fall together. I believe that Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 may be acceptable though I am not at all sure. Certainly, Amendments Nos. 62 and 63 go much too far. It is a pity that they are being taken together; they should be discussed individually.

The Earl of Caithness

I should like to start our debate on Chapter IV of Part I of the Bill dealing with protection from eviction by stressing once again that the Government are unequivocally opposed to harassment and illegal eviction by landlords. We are determined to see that the law deals effectively with landlords who behave unacceptably and that their victims are properly compensated. The provisions of this part of the Bill are an earnest of our intentions. We also propose to discuss with the Magistrates' Association whether there is any guidance which it can give to its members about appropriate penalties for those who are convicted. We intend to issue advice to local authorities about the use of their prosecution, control order and compulsory purchase powers in relation to cases of harassment.

Clause 27 provides a new civil right to damages for tenants and licensees who are illegally evicted or driven out by harassment. The right is in addition to, not a replacement of, rights to damages which tenants may have under the existing law. The novel feature is that the damages are to be based on the landlord's financial gain from evicting the occupier; that is, the difference in the capital value of the premises with and without the occupier. In extreme cases the sums involved could run into tens of thousands of pounds. We recognise this and we see Clause 27 as a significant deterrent to harassment and illegal eviction. The clause has already been significantly strengthened by amendment in another place.

Although I have some sympathy with the aims of the first amendment, Amendment No. 57, in our opinion goes too wide. The potential damages under this clause are so substantial that a reasonably exacting criterion is essential. The amendment could catch virtually any act or omission by a landlord or his agent which could cause someone to leave their home, even acts of a comparatively trivial nature.

First, it seems to me to be unacceptable to omit the word "calculated" in subsection (2)(b). If the landlord's behaviour was not designed to interfere with the occupier's peace or comfort, he ought not to be liable to damages. As regards the word "calculated" itself, the Government's view is that the word has an everyday meaning. It implies some intention on the landlord's part. So the Government agree with my noble friends Lord Coleraine, Lord Renton and Lady Gardner of Parkes and also with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Here, the word means intended. We shall certainly consider whether there is a case for amending the Bill to clarify the word in this respect. It seems clear enough to me at the moment but I shall look at it between now and another stage.

Second, the extension of the clause to cover omissions would be very far-reaching. The result could be that if the landlord failed to keep the dwelling in good repair so that, for instance, the roof leaked badly causing the tenant to leave, there could again be a right to damages under Clause 27. No one disputes the tenant's need to have adequate remedies where his landlord fails to carry out repairs and this Bill increases them. But surely, damages on this scale are quite disproportionate.

The third element in the amendment—the concept of the cumulative effect of the landlord's acts—I would argue is already present in the clause. Although harassment is a very unpleasant phenomenon, we should not react to it by placing on the statute book a new tort which is so wide that it penalises by disproportionately heavy damages behaviour which is innocent or, even if undesirable, does not merit this sort of treatment. Surely, if the landlord did not intend to interfere with the tenant's peace or comfort he ought not to be liable for damages.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 60 to 63. It is already an offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 to harass a residential occupier with the intention of causing him to leave his home. There have been comparatively few prosecutions for that offence and disproportionately few have led to convictions. One of the reasons for this appears to be that though it may be possible to prove that the person committed the alleged acts, it is often much more difficult to show conclusively that he intended to make the tenant leave. Clause 27 therefore provides an additional offence where a landlord or his agent committed acts calculated to interfere with the peace or comfort of a residential occupier or withdrew services and in either case knew that the occupier would leave as a result.

We believe that the new offence should be easier to prove. The tests which have to be applied are less severe than under Section 1(3) of the 1977 Act. But in drafting the new offence we were very conscious of the risk that, if we made it too wide, we could quite easily penalise innocent behaviour or behaviour which, although anti-social, certainly ought not to be criminal. I am afraid that that is exactly the trap which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has, at least in our view, fallen into with these amendments. Amendment No. 60 enables the offence to be committed by any person not just the landlord or his agent. That we believe is too indiscriminate and carries too big a risk that third parties would be convicted for behaviour which ought not to fall within this—noise, for instance; the neighbour who plays loud music. That may be anti-social but there are ways of dealing with it other than by this offence, which attracts potentially heavy penalties.

Perhaps I may recap on what those might be. There is remedy under Sections 58 and 59 of the Control of Pollution Act. There is remedy under Section 84 of the Rent Act 1984. There is remedy under Section 98 of the Rent Act 1977. There is also civil action. Those are the alternative powers to the draconian ones that the noble Lord wishes to include by his amendment.

Amendment No. 61 is unacceptable for similar reasons, reasons which also applied in the case of the noble Lord's amendment to Clause 27 and which I explained in that context. Amendment No. 62 will not do because its effect could be that a person could commit an offence where he did not intend to make the occupier leave, did not know that he would leave and could not have had reasonable cause to believe that he would leave. Under those circumstances it seems hard to defend.

As for the fourth amendment, Amendment No. 63, that deletes the landlord's defence in a case where he had reasonable grounds for withdrawing services; for instance, in a case where the electricity or water supply had to be turned off while building works were carried out. I find it difficult to see how such an amendment can be justified.

My noble friend Lord Coleraine was right to point out the difficulties for landlords posed by some of the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, but I quite appreciate the strong feeling throughout the Committee of getting this part of the Bill right. There is no doubt that the Government have introduced new powers greater than any other Government have sought for the protection of the tenant against harassment and eviction. What is important is that we get the wording precisely right to suit all Members of the Committee without going too wide to catch innocent people, and I should be happy to discuss that between now and Report stage.

8.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I am grateful also to those on the Government Benches and to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, for their support for individual parts of my amendments although I do not claim that any of them have supported the whole series. I must point out that the amendments are framed within the context and in the spirit of the Government's own clauses and within the spirit of Chapter IV of Part I. We have not attempted in any way to change the definition of what harassment is about. The phrase, interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household", is one with which we are content. We have not attempted to change it in any way. If we had done so, the Minister's criticisms of our amendments would perhaps have had more force. Similarly, we have not attempted in any way to change the concept of damages as set out in Clause 28. We believe that these are good definitions.

We think that significant changes are brought about by the concept of penalising the landlord to the extent of the financial gain which he might make from the tenant's vacating the premises. We have not criticised that and in this respect as well we do not propose any fundamental change to the series of new proposals being put forward by the Government. On more than one occasion we have expressed our appreciation of the Government's intentions in this matter. We are suggesting that, just as previous legislation has not stopped harassment, there are still significant risks that the Bill as drafted will have loopholes which will allow landlords to get away with harassment despite the good intentions of the draftsman in preparing this chapter of Part I.

The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, made a fair point when he said that it would be necessary to ensure that the landlord was notified about what was being complained of. We have made the same point when talking about possession in other parts of the Bill. I am glad that the noble Lord thinks that a similar concept is appropriate to protect landlords. I hope that he will also support us when we use that concept in respect of tenants to ensure that they should be properly notified of what complaint there is as a basis for the landlord seeking to gain possession of the premises by law.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, whose efforts in this matter are well appreciated by her neighbours and friends, made valid points about the adequacy of the existing legislation. I am grateful to her for them. I am particularly interested in the arguments as to whether "calculated" means "likely" or "intended". It has occurred to me that if it does, as I thought, mean "intended", it ought to say so and that "calculated is ambiguous. Perhaps the Minister ought to think again about that. Whether or not it means "likely", my amendments are defective in not putting in "likely" and leaving it to say that it is the effect rather than the likely effect which is the true test. My amendments would have been stronger from my point of view if I had taken out "calulated" and put in "likely". To that extent I recognise that my amendments are defective.

These are complex matters on which many people both inside and outside the Chamber have far greater experience than others. However, it is common experience over the years that landlords have greater power to command legal services than tenants and that generally speaking the law tends to be interpreted by the courts in favour of landlords rather then the other way round. Therefore any additional protection which does not challenge the Government's definitions of harassment—as we are not challenging them—or the concept of damages—which we are not challenging—ought to be treated seriously. However, because of the defects in the individual pieces of wording, which we recognise, it would be better if I took the amendments away and accepted the Minister's invitation to talk to him again about how to produce something which could be acceptable to all sides of the Committee and would meet the widely expressed concerns about the drafting of the Bill.

I recognise that it is a difficult matter to get right the first time. I think we all want the same thing and I am convinced that we want this part of the Bill to be effective. I am convinced also that some of the concepts which I introduced in the amendments will in the end commend themselves to the House at a later stage of the Bill. It is on that basis that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 57A not moved.]

Lord Meston moved Amendment No. 57B: Page 19, line 12, leave out ("shall") and insert ("may").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to echo appreciation of the Government's welcome concern about harassment in general and unlawful eviction in particular. The purpose of this amendment is to express certain misgivings about the provisions for additional damages for unlawful eviction and to invite a critical re-examination by the Government of the proposals.

Clauses 27 and 28 prescribe an additional measure of damages in unlawful eviction cases, the measure prescribed being the difference between the value of the premises with the tenant in occupation and the value with the tenant out of occupation. The basic concern underlying the amendment is that the Bill makes that measure of damage a mandatory head of damage, additional to the other liabilities which the landlord may very properly and rightly have to pay as a result of his wrongful act.

In looking at this section of the Bill one must not lose sight of the fact that the courts will continue—I mean the civil court in this respect—to award ordinary damages and aggravated damages to compensate tenants for whatever injuries they have suffered. They may be personal injuries; financial loss and expense; damage to property; damage for disruption and inconvenience, and so on.

Similarly, one must not overlook, as I think in some ways the Bill does, the fact that the courts have already been well used to awarding what are called exemplary damages when landlords behave outrageously. The difference between what happens now and what will happen under the provisions of the Bill is that at present such awards are made but they are made on a discretionary basis, the courts being prepared to recognise that the landlord's conduct—however outrageous—is not always designed to make a profit.

In practice, one knows this from many years of arguing in county courts and pleading such cases, wrongful evictions often arise as the culmination of years of mutual provocation—it is often six of one and half a dozen of the other. As the law stands, at least, provocation by the victim can reduce or extinguish the victim's entitlement to exemplary damages without affecting his entitlement to ordinary damages. It is not clear that that will happen under the provisions of this Bill.

Therefore the purpose of the amendment is to invite the Government to think twice about what seems to be a somewhat arbitrary and inflexible extra measure of damage which may not always produce a just result. I think that the Government should recognise what the courts are able to do at present and preserve the discretion of the courts in awarding damages.

There are several further points I should like to make. Although the expression I have used is "arbitrary", it is also fair to say that such damages will be variable to a great degree between different parts of the country. The difference between the tenanted value and the vacant possession value might be very great in London—however modest the property—especially if one looks at Clause 28(2), which requires the court not to consider the part of the property from which the occupier has been evicted but the value of the whole building. That will punish the landlord, and perhaps Members of the Committee may think, "A jolly good thing too!" However, it could—I emphasise the word, "could"—far exceed the true measure of the evicted tenant's loss, not forgetting that that person will still be able to obtain his ordinary compensatory damages. Indeed, if he is rehoused, as he may well be, by the local authority, it will be the local authority which will suffer the ultimate loss and which is arguably more entitled—or as much entitled—to damages than the tenant.

There are one or two other factors which I should like to mention. Most serious cases of eviction are likely to have been dealt with very severely—usually, that is, with a heavy fine but, sometimes, with imprisonment—in the criminal courts. However, under the provisions of this Bill the civil court seems to have no discretion to take that fact into account, one way or another. There is a risk of a double penalty. Indeed, it occurs to me—although I may be quite wrong about this—that if the landlord causes three occupiers to be evicted simultaneously, each of those occupiers will be entitled to the whole of the unlocked value of the property under the provisions of the Bill as I read it.

There are also other concerns. The clause may encourage tenants with perhaps rather more doubtful cases to undertake litigation because they have a lot to gain. As the Minister said, the potential range of damages under this clause is substantial. If it is true that tenants will be encouraged to litigate, when they do so landlords frequently counterclaim and the stakes will be very high. The courts will then be forced to hear a replay of years of bickering between the two parties. Indeed, if the tenant proves unjustified in pursuing his case to court and loses, it is probable that the successful landlord will be unable to recover his costs.

One other factor which should be borne in mind is that this clause, and the proposed method of assessing damages, will inevitably require both sides to produce to the court costly valuation evidence. It is likely that the Legal Aid Fund will have to pay, at least initially, for the tenant to employ a valuer to produce a figure. The landlord will then call in his valuer to produce his figure—and, if Members of the Committee think that lawyers thrive on disagreement, so, too, do valuers. The court will need such evidence in order to quantify what the Bill requires it to do.

Therefore I venture to criticise these two clauses because they take away from the courts the discretion that they presently have and they fail to recognise what the courts already do. Further, one final aspect is missing, and that is an aspect which would go a good way towards obviating the need for this particular measure. If the Bill provided a direct power in the courts to reinstate tenants without further ado—subject of course to any third party rights—then that would strike at the root of this form of harassment and take away the need for the kind of litigation which I have suggested may well arise. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Monson

As Members of the Committee will realise, I am not a lawyer and there is no way I could hope to emulate the brilliant and comprehensive exposition of the amendment made by the noble Lord, Lord Meston. However, as a layman, there are two things that I have always understood about the law. The first is that in every normal civil action the court is empowered to reduce the damages which would otherwise have been awarded to the extent that the plaintiff has contributed by his own irresponsibility, stubbornness or malevolence to the unfortunate situation in which he finds himself. On the latter point—that is to say, malevolence, or unscrupulous behaviour—to which the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has alluded, I am sure that even the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, would concede that on occasion you can find wicked tenants as well as wicked landlords. Why, therefore, should the courts be prevented in this one instance alone from reducing damages on these rare occasions?

The second point I should like to make is this. The courts are always meticulous and painstaking and if Parliament makes it clear in the statute that it wishes courts to award full damages—except in those rare cases—to the plaintiff, then the courts will automatically act in a careful and responsible manner. It is possible that the word "may" will not adequately convey to the court the degree to which Parliament wishes full damages to be the norm, rather than the exception. Therefore it may be that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, will wish to withdraw the amendment at the end of the debate and come back at a later stage with something a little more complex to cover that point, but I hope that the Government and the Committee will concede how just and "commonsensical" the principles of the amendment are.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

As a young barrister's pupil, I was the tenant of rented accommodation and had occasion with my wife—recently wedded—to tangle with the landlady of the flat in which we lived. I suppose that for a week or so we were subject to harassment. My wife could not hang the nappies out in the garden; we were not allowed to use the indoor loo, but had to use the outdoor one, and so on. It was all a row which blew over. But the very strong impression of unfairness and of impotence which a tenant feels in such circumstances has never left me. Accordingly, when discussing the measures that were to be included in the Bill, which began when I was Secretary of State for the Environment, I was foremost among those arguing that Part I should be accompanied by firmer rules and provisions against harassment. I was therefore pleased to see not only the strength of the provisions that had been written into the Bill when it was introduced but the amendments moved and accepted in another place.

No one should for one moment doubt my determination to ensure that the law should operate stringently to prevent harassment of tenants. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Meston—I was a pupil in chambers with his father, although he was not my pupil master—and I believe that there is something in the case that he and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, have made. I do not believe that they have the wording right. The substitution of "may" for "shall" leaves the provision too much at large and effectively waters down the stringency of the provision to make it far less effective than the Government and I would wish it to be. However, at the same time it is open to the creation of injustice if a court is to have no way of assessing the conduct of the parties in the circumstances of the case and is bound to impose exemplary damages as provided for in Clause 28.

I therefore hope that the noble Lord, in the light of what is said, will feel it right not to press his amendment to a Division. If he did, I should be unable to support him. At the same time, I believe that there is a case to be made for leaving the court some opportunity to use its discretion along the lines that if the damages, as assessed under Clause 28, are manifestly unjust in all the circumstances of the case, some lesser sum my be awarded. There may be some word which makes it clear that in wholly exceptional circumstances the full rigour of the clause should not apply.

I doubt whether that would ever amount to an invitation to a landlord to harass a tenant and procure an illegal eviction; but it would allow a court to take account of the other circumstances. Noble Lords have mentioned the wholly unreasonable tenant who over a long period has engaged in thoroughly provocative and anti-social behaviour. It can never be six of one and half a dozen of the other, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, suggested, because one man will have lost his dwelling. Nevertheless there are circumstances in which a court may feel it right not to visit the full rigour of the clause on the landlord. In his discussions the noble Lord, Lord Meston, may like to embody that possibility with a view to bringing an agreed amendment before this Chamber at a later stage. Something needs to be done if fairness is to operate in this case: Although the amendment is not the way to achieve it, we may have an opportunity to look at the matter again to see whether we can achieve the objective in some other way.

Lord Trafford

I have sympathy with the amendment, because it always concerns me when a court does not have freedom of action with regard to a penalty that it imposes; in other words, the penalty is mandatory. That has two effects. The first is that a court is much less likely to find for the aggrieved party merely because in its view the penalty is totally disproportionate. It may therefore be inclined to say that it is better not to impose a massive penalty on a landlord and to leave the tenant as he is because everyone will have had a warning. Thus the purpose of the clause would be defeated and the law would be brought into disrepute, which is never a terribly good thing to happen.

My second point is that it would seem to be reasonable that, as the old saying goes, the punishnment should fit the crime. In other words, the level of damages (the penalty, so-called) should match the degree of harassment. I hear that word pronounced with the stress on the first syllable more commonly in this place. I prefer the stress to be on the second syllable, though I am told that that has an American touch about it. Be that as it may, one should, if possible, encourage a court's capacity to assess the situation on its merits. Again, like my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, I do not believe that "may" is the correct word. It is too wide. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look again at this matter. We could shoot ourselves through the foot with this type of clause as it stands, but at the same time I believe that the amendment may be drawn too widely.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, about the pronunciation of "harassment" with the accent on the second syllable. It has a much more pejorative rasp and is clearly much more effective.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I always took the view that if Mr. Rachman had not been called Rachman but had been called McIntosh we would never have heard of him.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Lord does not know about anti-Scots prejudice. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that I recognise that there are tenants who behave badly. That is human nature. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that we must preserve the thrust of Chapter IV. We must do nothing to weaken it unnecessarily or damagingly. I fear that to change "shall" to "may" runs the risk of the courts on the whole going over to the other side. However, it is only a matter of days since I was defending strongly the concept of the court's discretion. If we reached the stage where a court would not convict a landlord because the law was too rigid, we should not achieve our objective. To that limited extent, although I do not support the amendment, there is a point at which the Government would do well to reconsider.

Lord Coleraine

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to a conviction and my noble friend Lord Trafford talked about the punishment fitting the crime. Surely, we are here dealing with civil proceedings. It has occurred to me during the debate that there is something inherently wrong in any tenant having the benefit of what may be colossal damages. I cannot help wondering whether my noble friend will consider bringing back this provision as part of a later clause to amend the Protection from Eviction Act, because it seems to me that it is a crime rather than a civil matter.

The Earl of Caithness

The clause provides that where a tenant is eligible for damages in respect of a liability other than the loss of his right to the accommodation, he may claim separate damages for the liability. However, he may not claim damages for the loss of his right both under this clause and under other provisions. He cannot obtain damages for the same loss twice, but he may obtain damages for different reasons. That clarifies a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Meston, alluded when he said that a tenant may receive more than one set of damages for the same item.

The amendment is intended to suggest that if a tenant is eligible for damages it should be at the discretion of a court as to whether he receives them. We do not believe that to be an acceptable view. The whole point of the clause is that it introduces a penalty on the landlord who engages in harassment and illegal eviction. If the landlord's behaviour is such that the tenant finds that he is entitled to damages, then he should have them.

Although I understand what my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding said, one reason for choosing the word "shall" rather than "may" and allowing the court discretion is that under the present law the damages awarded have been derisory. The largest award of damages recently recorded in a case of extreme harassment was about £ 4,000. That sum simply did not reflect the tenant's loss. We want the courts to award damages which fully compensate the tenant, not to be able to reduce the sum to a point where every landlord can afford to harass, knowing that the gain he makes from his illegal action will outweigh the penalty imposed by the courts.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, suggested that the tenant could obtain damages both under Clause 27 and under the present law. As I explained, that is something that he cannot do. The noble Lord shakes his head. Doubtless he will explain why I am wrong in my assumption in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, felt that the damages might be excessive for an awkward tenant. It may be the case that an awkward tenant provokes his landlord. There may be fault on both sides, but in the end the landlord who harasses a tenant out of his property has committed a criminal offence. It is a criminal offence, I say to my noble friend Lord Coleraine. The fact that the tenant may have been awkward is not relevant at that stage. I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that if we undermine the strength of this clause by providing that in certain circumstances the landlord may not have to pay this penalty, we are affecting its power as a deterrent. We do not want to weaken this clause and I suggest to Members of the Committee that the noble Lord's amendment does just that.

I understand the point made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin that there might be a case for discretion in some areas. That is obviously a point I should like to look at between now and another stage. To have the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, agreeing with my noble friend is too much to tolerate at this hour of night!

9 P.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I thought that my measure of agreement was very limited indeed. Perhaps I may say in response to what the noble Earl has just said that I agree entirely with him. I think he has provided a very satisfactory answer to all the criticisms which have been made of this part of the Bill.

Lord Meston

I am most grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken on the amendment and for the authoritative, albeit qualified, support of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I am glad he survived both his pupillage and his harassment—however that should be correctly pronounced.

The point I was making about not excluding other remedies is that as I read Clause 27(4), it provides that any liability arising under the clause shall be in addition to any liability arising apart from the clause. I shall of course be corrected if I am wrong but I think that is meant to provide that, although this proscribes a measure of exemplary damages, it does not rule out the ordinary damages which the evicted tenant can also recover and would not rule out aggravated damages.

The concern of Members of the Committee expressed in this debate is at the rigidity of the provisions. They provide potentially very substantial damage to a tenant. I suspect that many of these cases will be taken way out of the present county court jurisdiction. The provisions disregard the tenant's duty to mitigate; they will encourage litigation. As the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, has said, we shall run the risk of overlooking the criminal nature of this measure. However, I am the first to accept that the form of this amendment is not particularly subtle and some more thought needs to go into it. For that reason, I do not press the amendment and beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Meston moved Amendment No. 57C: Page 19, line 27, leave out ("begun") and insert ("concluded").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of Clause 27(6)(a) is presumably to provide an incentive to the landlord to reinstate the tenant. I have already said that I much prefer to see in this Bill an express power in the court to direct reinstatement. It would take away much of the debate, I suspect. However, this amendment is to suggest that if reinstatement occurs, not by the beginning of any legal proceedings but rather by the end of those proceedings, the landlord should in those circumstances be able to avoid the extra damages for which these clauses provide. The factual position then will be that the tenant will be back in his home, and the landlord is likely to have had to pay all his costs together with the other damages for which he is liable.

The reality of life is that it is not until the door of the court is reached that the wrongful party sees the error of his ways and sees his position with clarity. If the incentive which is presumably meant to be created by subsection (6)(a) is to be of use, it would he more useful if it were prolonged and remained in existence right up until the end of those proceedings. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

To begin with I did not think that I liked this amendment very much. However, I thought that the noble Lord had a good point in his argument. It is something which I should like to look at. I do not see why a landlord should necessarily suffer a claim for damages if there has been a reconciliation during the period of the court hearing and the tenant is back in the accommodation. Perhaps I may be allowed to look at it between now and another stage and meanwhile talk to the noble Lord.

Lord Meston

I am very grateful for the noble Earl's quick response and for his open mind. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Meston moved Amendment No. 57D: Page 19, line 38, after ("had") insert ("permanently").

The noble Lord said: Clause 27(7)(a) provides a defence to a landlord, as regards the liability provided by this part of the Bill, if he is able to prove, that he believed, and had reasonable cause to believe that the residential occupier had ceased to reside in the premises in question".

This amendment seeks to tighten up the wording so that the landlord is not allowed to get away with such a defence without being required to consider the possibility that a tenant's absence might only be temporary, albeit somewhat prolonged. It may be the case that tenants go into hospital, are working abroad, taking a prolonged holiday or are away for some other reason. That situation shouild not be allowed to provide a loophole if this part of the Bill is to be of value as the Government hope and the Committee should bear in mind the reservations I have already expressed in this regard. In much legislation the words "reside" or "residence" are usually qualified: examples are "habitual residence", "continual residence" or "permanent residence". It would he of use to have such qualification in this Bill. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

The phrase, ceased to reside in the premises is identical to that used in Section 1 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 which created a criminal offence of harassment and unlawful eviction. It seems right that both the 1977 Act provision and the new one relating to civil liability should be framed in a similar way in this respect. In both cases the task of deciding whether or not the occupier generally had or had not ceased to reside in the premises is placed firmly in the lap of the courts. That is a task which they have already shown themselves well able to cope with.

The insertion of the word "permanently" would not, I submit, add anything useful to the provision. We should leave the matter to the courts and make sure that the wording of the Bill is the same as that of the Protection from Eviction Act.

Lord Meston

In view of that response I venture to think that perhaps the Protection from Eviction Act may need to be improved. I was endeavouring to close what I perceived as a loophole bearing in mind that if it is reproduced in a criminal statute, a criminal statute will be construed in favour of the defendant.

Therefore, if I am right on this point and there is a doubt about the matter, however wrongly the landlord may act he will have a chance of getting away with it. I hope that the Government will have one further look at this provision. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 agreed to.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 58: After Clause 28 insert the following new clause:

("Aggravated damages for racial or sexual harassment.

.Where, pursuant to section 28 of this Act, damages are being awarded, aggravated damages shall be awarded if any part of the harassment for which the damages are being awarded can be shown to have been racial or sexual harassment.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 58 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 59. These amendments stand in the name of my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey. The Committee will understand that they are related very much to the general theme of the debates that have taken place over the past hour and 10 minutes. The amendments invite the Committee to consider the matter of harassment which causes terror to the individuals it affects. The amendments show that harassment has certain connotations in specific situations.

Amendments Nos. 58 to 59 seek to call the attention of the Minister and his noble friends to two specific areas. I hope to convince the Committee that in those two areas harassment is an even more obnoxious problem than it is in other areas. Amendment No. 58 is concerned with aggravated damages as a consequence of racial or sexual harassment. Amendment No. 59 deals with the consequences when a person is found guilty of racial or sexual harassment. I believe that the Committee is united in its detestation of cases where it is clear beyond any doubt that individuals in wretched housing are, in addition, subjected to racial or sexual harassment. Reference has been made to some people who subject tenants to racial or sexual harassment. I am not saying that racial or sexual harassment is a universal practice of landlords, but incidents of such harassment are not isolated events either.

Sadly the reading that I have done in preparation for this debate shows that the problem is very bad. The Home Affairs Committee of another place concluded in its report on racial attacks that such attacks had, received less attention than other forms of violence, such as football hooliganism, although the long-term damage they do to our society is, we believe, much greater. Given the immense importance to Britain of improved race relations and the suffering caused by racial violence, we would wish to see much more emphasis from the highest political levels on the unacceptability of racial violence and the need for effective action against it". I equate the words "highest political levels" with the Government.

We want the Government to write on the face of the Bill that in the special (although not unique) circumstances in which it may be held by a court that harassment which has led to wrongful eviction for which a landlord has been convicted causes the court to hold, on the evidence, that there has been a special type of harassment which is racial or sexual, and particularly of women who head one-parent families and where children are involved, special and aggravated damages may be awarded.

I have a pamphlet entitled Homeless in Earls Court. It states: Racial harassment. Reports from Black and Asian people of harassment are common. They are vastly over-represented amongst hotel residents. 50% of Lambeth and 90% of Tower Hamlets hotel residents are from minority ethnic groups".

Perhaps I may quote from the report of the London Housing Inquiry. As has been said more than once, London is not unique. However, the bad aspects of the housing situation are particularly acute in London. The circumstances are not unique and they may be seen in any large urban area which suffers from the problems which we are discussing.

The evidence upon which the report of the London Housing Inquiry is based has come from a wide range of organisations. They include Age Concern, CHAR, the Central Council for Jewish Social Service, the Children's Society, the Docklands Forum, the London CAB Service, the UK Institute of Ethnic Minority UK/India Welfare Society, the London Islamic Turkish Associations, London Women's Aid, Paddington Churches Housing Association, and many more. The evidence did not come from one political or geographical source. It has come from a wide range of organisations which I believe the Committee respects for what they are attempting to do in assisting people in wretched circumstances.

As regards the situation of women in poor housing in London, the report states: 35% of households accepted as homeless are single parent households (a disproportionate number are from Black and Ethnic Minorities) and 9 out of 10 single parents are women…Black and Ethnic Minority women and disabled women are further disadvantaged as they face higher rates of unemployment and are more likely to be lower paid. These facts show the lack of economic power held by women. This is fatal in an economy where owner occupation is growing and income determines access into housing".

We know that the greatest violence to women occurs within the household and involves other members of the family, primarily husbands. Women may be subject to harassment in a variety of ways as regards domestic violence. The report states: One London borough estimates that women fleeing domestic violence accounts for 80% of those in temporary accommodation".

As regards the aspect of race, in almost every area throughout London black people and those from ethnic minorities tend to live in worse housing conditions than do white households. Black people and women are very vulnerable as regards housing problems. When they are at the mercy of the housing market, they may have very great difficulty. The report states: The results of the London Housing Survey 1986/7 show that only 13% of Black households in council property in London live in houses rather than flats, as against 33% of white households". The Report 'Black and White Britain' (1984) found that 11% of West Indian households lived in blocks of flats with 4 or more floors as against only 2% of white households".

I know that those Members of the Committee who are still here and taking an interest are as familiar as I am with the generally wretched circumstances in which many hundreds of thousands of people find themselves. We are saying, not least because of the evidence which my noble friend Lord McIntosh has produced about the activities for example of Mr. van Hoogstraten and many others, that there are practices which ought to be stamped upon as hard as possible and stamped out. These amendments invite the Government to use their authority to say that practices such as racial and sexual harassment should be especially singled out in the statute. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

I must apologise to the noble Lord for not having been here at the beginning of his speech introducing these amendments. However, I have read the amendments and I heard the last part of his speech. Therefore I hope that I may be forgiven for what I am about to say.

In our law the principle of aggravated damages, especially as a form of statutory injunction, has not been well received and is indeed very rare. So far as concerns sentencing, we have not accepted the principle at all. However, I have some experience of continental criminal codes, especially the Italian Penal Code. It is a terrible headache dealing with all the aggravations and extenuations which arise under it. They fetter the discretion of the courts and give rise to the most complicated situations. One could almost say that a man might be sentenced to an extra five years' imprisonment through the misplacing of a comma. Therefore I hope that such a precedent will not be created by our accepting Amendment No. 59 tonight.

I appreciate the motive of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. We all dislike racial or sexual harassment; we are all against them. But I think that we must leave it to the courts to deal with these matters in the cases that come before them in ways that seem appropriate using their discretion rather than try to impose specific instructions upon them in the ways that these two amendments do.

The Earl of Caithness

As my noble friend Lord Renton has just said, we on this side of the Committee share the abhorrence of Members opposite for racial or sexual discrimination and for criminal behaviour with a racial or sexual motive. However, I am afraid that we believe that this does not justify awarding aggravated damages automatically where racial or sexual harassment was involved in a case which has resulted in damages being awarded under Clause 27. I repeat what was said in another place, that deplorable though racial and sexual harassment are, they are not necessarily worse than other forms of behaviour such as ill-treatment of the elderly or the disabled.

Nor do I think that the new clause is actually necessary. The damages which are awarded under Clause 27 are already exemplary, but I say to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that it is open to a plaintiff to claim additional damages where there has been an offence of the type for which aggravated damages may be awarded, such as trespass against the person, which might often be relevant in cases of racial or sexual harassment. Clause 27 does not remove the right of a plaintiff to claim under another head. The plaintiff may have grounds for proceeding under the Race Relations or Sex Discrimination Acts, and these claims will not be disallowed because of the award of damages under this clause.

With regard to the second new clause, it is up to the courts to decide what factors they shall take into account as aggravating or mitigating factors when they are sentencing. It is already open to them to consider racial or sexual motives as aggravating factors in sentencing under this section of the Protection From Evicition Act if they choose, and it is not for government to dictate that they should always consider these factors in preference to any others.

Of course we are in sympathy with Members opposite in deploring the evils which they wish to tackle through these amendments, but I put it to the Committee that these amendments are not the acceptable means of doing so.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

To say that I am disappointed in what the Minister has said is the understatement of the evening. Without wishing to give offence, perhaps I may say that I genuinely believe that the Minister and most of his colleagues on the other side of the Chamber do not grasp, because they have not experienced, the wretchedness, despair and terror which exist among thousands of people who find themselves in the kind of circumstances that these two amendments seek to redress.

First of all, I believe that housing per se is an element in life and relationships which is quite unique. The ability to enjoy the quietude of one's own home and the security of a house are unique features among the many facets of what one might call the good things of life. We are therefore talking about a unique factor.

When it comes to the question of racial harassment, the Committee will not be surprised when I take the view that there is much racial prejudice in Britain—as indeed there is in the world—and, to be fair to the Government, they seek to take account of it. The Minister may be right in saying that there are other forms of redress, but, rightly or wrongly, our amendments are an attempt to show to a great many people who feel aggrieved and badly done by because of their inability to obtain fair treatment in housing, that the Government recognise their problems in housing and the unfair treatment meted out because of the colour of people's skin. It may very well be a case of a black landlord who carries out racial harassment against a white tenant or equally a white landlord who is harassing a black tenant. When the courts find that there has been harassment with a racial overtone or purpose, then it should be capable of redress.

There is also the situation of very many women who find that they are harassed because they are women and are vulnerable. Together with other Members of the Committee last week or the week before I listened to the wretched tales told by members of the Bayswater Project. They came to us and we listened to them. I do not believe that it would have been possible for any Member of the Committee to have listened to those women and come away other than utterly depressed at the circumstances in which they find themselves, circumstances in which racial and sexual harassment form part of their daily life and that of their children. These amendments seek to address that situation.

I am disappointed at what the Minister has had to say. We shall look again at the remedies that he has pointed out. I must emphasise that our sympathy is not a synthetic one. We accept that the Government acknowledge that there is a problem which needs to be addressed. The Minister's solution is to point to other ways in which it can be dealt with. We shall examine it further when we come back at a later stage. In those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 59 not moved.]

Clause 29 [Further offence of harassment]:

[Amendments Nos. 60 to 63 not moved.]

Clause 29 agreed to.

9.30 p.m.

Clause 30 [Variation of scope of 1977 ss, 3 and 4]:

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 64: Page 21, line 38, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: With this amendment I speak to Amendments Nos. 65, 66, 67, 68, 72, 74 and 75.

The amendment that I move seeks to continue the present application of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and the need for a court order where repossession is sought for the type of letting excluded from that protection by Clause 31 of this Bill.

Clauses 30 and 31 exclude certain tenants and licensees from the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. We do not feel that the proposals included in these clauses strengthen the rights of tenants against illegal eviction.

To put the Government's proposals, as laid out in these clauses, into perspective, it must be realised that they intend to decriminalise certain evictions. In reality this will remove from the protection of the law people who are likely to be the most vulnerable. This part of the Bill is about the vulnerability of certain groups of people who are living in wretched circumstances. As we understand it, the groups which will be removed from the protection of the law consist of people sharing living accommodation with their landlord, where the landlord was an owner/occupier before the tenancy or licence began, licences granted as a temporary expedient to a trespasser, holiday lets, hostels of statutory bodies, housing associations, or anybody else whom the Secretary of State decides upon. A closer look at these groups shows the serious flaw in the Government's claims that they are giving greater protection against unscrupulous landlords.

On hostels, I ask this serious question. Are the Government saying, for example, that people who are living in hostels—possibly having been discharged from psychiatric hospitals, having drink or drug dependency problems, or being very young or very old—should be allowed to be evicted on to the streets without any protection from the courts? The Minister needs to answer that question, yes, or no. Already it is common for hostel dwellers to be evicted unceremoniously at short notice. As the reason for their being in such accommodation is usually because they are vulnerable and need support, basic rights are rarely enforced.

The NFHA proposed that hostel dwellers should be treated in almost exactly the same way as other housing association tenants when possession was sought, but that the right of security should be qualified by the introduction of new grounds for possession to cover gross misconduct in shared accommodation and the situation where a resident no longer requires special accommodation. These additional grounds adequately cover any problems which may arise in tenancies where there is a communal aspect to the accommodation not usually present in housing association tenancies, while allowing hostel dwellers a reasonable level of security.

Holiday lets form the largest category of abuse and sham lettings. Genuine holiday lettings are already exempt from security of tenure. To remove the need for a court order for eviction will make sham lettings even more attractive to landlords wishing to abuse the system, as the court hearing is usually the only point at which the sham can be tested. For instance, nurses working at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead were let rooms in the street opposite the hospital on holiday let agreements. At the end of the six months' period the letting was extended for a further six months. After taking advice the nurses applied for fair rents to be registered on the premises. The landlord then applied to the courts for possession but the courts upheld the nurses' claim that the device was a sham and that they had a protected tenancy.

There are other aspects of the amendment that I have moved on which I have more details, but I am conscious of the pressure of time on the Committee and of other amendments to which we need to give attention. I hope that the Minister—who I am certain has given close attention to what we are trying to do—will say something helpful to me before I decide what to do with the amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I have very strong views on this subject. They are quite different from those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. In the first place this lack of protection is to be in a place with a resident landlord. That was the first category that he covered. I believe that the intention in taking away the present condition is to encourage people to let a portion of a property which they are not willing to let at present because of the restrictions and the problems that they would face. If through this change in the law we bring about a great increase in the number of people willing to share their accommodation, I believe that is good.

At Second Reading I suggested that if this is to create a whole new quantity of housing, even if someone is required to leave by his resident landlord he will have somewhere else to go because some other resident landlord will be willing to have him. That is the first issue about resident landlords.

In the last year I have been to see a great many hostels dealing with short-term tenants. I have been very impressed with the work that they do, but what interested me greatly was a point made by people running the hostels. It is essential for them to have a process, a pipeline, whereby people stay in the hostel but do not remain there permanently.

I call to mind immediately a place which had 17 residents, each requiring special rehabilitation after psychiatric treatment, perhaps for problems involving alcoholism or drugs. There were different problems in each case. The work that the hostel was doing was fantastic, but the staff were concerned to have further places for people to move onto when they no longer needed the rehabilitation process. It was said that unless there was a wider variety of housing available they could rapidly find themselves with 17 permanent residents and no hope of continuing the good work they were doing because the hostel would stagnate with those same 17 people in possession of the property. The Committee will agree that 17 residents is not a very large number.

These are not instances in which I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham, at all. However, I have one point that I should like the Minster to answer. At present if a local authority is to help someone who has been asked to leave somewhere where there is a resident landlord, it will not do so until it sees a court order for possession. With that court order the local authority considers that the person is officially and legally homeless and the council then undertakes an obligation to look after them.

What will happen if a resident landlord just asks someone to go and that person has no documentation to prove that he left willingly and without regret? What obligation would the local authority then have to do anything? I see a problem there, but the other aspects of this amendment I do not agree with and I shall oppose it.

Earl Russell

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, knows that I go along with a very large part of the general framework of criticisms that he and his colleagues have developed, but there are occasions, of which I believe this is one, when I find it necessary to say that landlords are people too. I do not believe that there is a large amount of housing in London about to be brought onto the market. I do not think there are many more houses to be found in London.

One area in which there is a possibility of bringing more houses or at least rooms on to the market is the areas of holiday lets. I appreciate that that can be abused and often is. I am certain that I should not contemplate a holiday let of my premises were the amendment on the statute book. On this occasion I hope that the Minister will resist the amendment.

The Earl of Caithness

Support from that quarter of the Committee is always welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, was active earlier in the Bill and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is no less welcome in joining our considerations.

As my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes indicated, behind these amendments lies a fundamental disagreement with some of the changes we are making to the Protection from Eviction Act in this Bill. We believe that that Act needs to be strengthened, and we are extending its provisions to give greater protection to licensees. It will in future be necessary to get a court order to evict a licensee, but not every licensee. There are amendments here which delete the references in Clauses 30 and 31 to excluded licences, so it should be necessary in every case to get a court order to evict a licensee. But that would make the management of residential accommodation impossible. Even a short consideration shows that some licences are such that it would be quite unreasonable to expect the licensor to get a court order to evict. Clause 31 sets out the categories of tenancy or licensee which should be excluded from the new provision.

Amendment No 67 deletes another important provision. The Bill excludes some tenancies, and then excepts some from the exclusion. This amendment removes the exceptions from the exclusion. Amendment No. 65 is a consequential amendment.

Amendment No. 72 would have us require landlords and licensors issue notices in prescribed form giving four week's notice to excluded tenants and licensees. The whole point about such excluded agreements is that they are not to be subject to the same formal notice requirements as tenancies and licences which are within the scope of the amended Act. We contend that it would be a nonsense for there to be a formal notice requirement for a squatter or a holidaymaker, for example. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, will appreciate the difficulties that the amendment would cause to the holiday industry. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, indicated an example where he would be reluctant to let his house or part of it as a result of the amendment. It would run contrary to our wish to increase the amount of property on the market available for letting.

Amendments Nos. 74 and 75 seek to delete parts of Clause 33, not only a reference to excluded tenancies and licences. Among the deletions are those subsections which provide that where a landlord or licensor increases the rent payable by an existing tenancy or licensee, then that tenancy or licence is treated as a new tenancy or licence for the purpose of the amended sections of the Protection from Eviction Act. We do not want to undermine the security of existing tenants or licensees. Let me emphasise that we do not want landlords to evict their present tenants so that they can put in new tenants subject to a different and less stringent security of tenure regime. By providing that new tenancies and licences are created when the rent is increased we are protecting the position of existing tenants, and of landlords who must of course be entitled to increase the rent.

We have created a logical system designed to give extended protection to licensees, and we believe that these amendments would undermine this at crucial points.

My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes asked me about a specific matter. Where a landlord has a right to possession the advice which my department has given to authorities is that they should not insist on a—perhaps I had better write to my noble friend.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am prepared to wait. I am bound to say that I am disappointed not only with the Minister's reply but with the attitude of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. We are talking of people who, if they had any other option than to be a tenant in the kind of establishment about which we are talking, with a resident landlord, or any other option than to be in a hostel for a special purpose, would not in general want that to be their place. We are not arguing that there should be any permanence of tenure. We are arguing that these people, one of the most vulnerable groups in society, who have had some protection should not have it removed.

The Committee should be aware that members of the National Federation of Housing Associations, who are the landlords of many of the hostels in which the people stay whom we are trying to protect, certainly do not wish to see their position strengthened, if that is what the Bill says, andipso factothe position of their tenants weakened by this. The association told me that it wrote to William Waldergrave, who at that time was the Housing Minister. June McKerrow, the Chair of the NFHA, said: Residents of housing association hostels and shared housing should enjoy a limited form of security… This can be achieved by amending the Bill so that licensees of housing association hostels are subject to the provisions of the 1977 Protection from Eviction Act". I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is saying, that in the philosophy of the Bill we are loosening up, widening and encouraging greater flexibility. The people who are closer to the problems than either the noble Baroness or myself—that is those people who are daily in contact with and are having to work the system— are telling us that the situation is not as she sees it but the way that I have attempted to portray it.

I am very sorry that the Minister has already allowed landlords to get easier access to courts for possession proceedings and that the required notice periods have been reduced. In this series of amendments we are not seeking full security for tenure. We are just seeking to ensure that the courts are still involved before eviction takes place.

I believe that the Minister's friend is saying to the Minister that perhaps he might want to intervene.

9.45 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

Indeed, I should like the opportunity to intervene, just to continue the answer to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

We can hardly wait.

The Earl of Caithness

Well, here I am with the answer. The advice that we have been given to authorities is that they should not insist on a court order before rehousing a tenant who has to leave and is in priority need, and that will continue to be our advice. But if my noble friend would care to listen to what I have to say in more detail on Amendment No. 71 of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, which deals specifically with hostels, perhaps we may go into that point again.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I repeat my disappointment. As is the convention, I simply say that when those outside the House have discussed with me what the Minister has said we may come back to this matter at a later stage. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 65 to 68 not moved.]

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 [Excluded tenancies and licences]:

Lord Ross of Newport moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 23, line 36, leave out ("only") and insert ("for a period not exceeding two months and the tenant or licensee has not been in occupation of the premises for more than two months.").

The noble Lord said: I am conscious of the fact that I have a fairly long brief and I do not wish to keep the House for too long, but I have great sympathy with the noble Earl in his predicament during the last amendment. I recall when I was first in the other place the then Secretary of State for Energy, the right honourable Tony Benn, being interrupted by my honourable friend the Member for Rochdale. He said that he hoped to carry the honourable Member with him, which brought the House down, since he weighed 29 stone.

I am hoping that in this case I shall be able to carry my honourable friend on these Benches with me, because I am hoping to define in this amendment what actually is a holiday let. I have had a quick word with him, and he tends to agree with me that perhaps two months is a reasonable period for a holiday let. It seeks to obviate the predictable use of sham holiday labels, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, on the previous amendment, for what will be quite extraordinary residential tenancies.

The blanket nature of the exclusion, as the Bill now stands, from even the basic protection of the requirement for eviction through the court of residential occupiers who have been obliged to enter into so-called holiday agreements to get a roof of any kind over their heads has horrified housing advisers. The amendment comes from tenancy relation officers active in this field in London—it is not an experience to my knowledge in my part of the world—who have seen numerous cases in which prospective occupiers have had to provide employers' references and have then been granted the right to occupy premises in such well-known "resorts" as Tottenham and Crouch End for holidays of a year or so at a time.

That was bad enough when the "holiday" description was to avoid or evade the security of tenure and right to register a fair rent consequent upon protected status under the Rent Act 1977. However, at least those occupiers could rely on Section 3 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and could test their position in court if they took advice rather than just accepting a landlord's orders. In their view it will be far worse in future because the mere description of an occupation agreement as "for a holiday only" will be used by many unscrupulous landlords and agents to save the time, trouble and expense of repossession through the court even after guaranteed possession is available to them through the assured shorthold tenancy. Thus even the very limited rights of this new style of tenure will be denied to many people who have no choice but to look for a rented home in the private sector. I repeat my support for the assured shorthold tenancy. It is a move in the right direction. The amendment is an endeavour to ensure that it is not greatly abused by those who try to get round it with holiday tenancies.

Many people will end up being unceremoniously and even forcibly evicted after paying exorbitant rents for substandard homes if they try, for instance, to insist on their rights to standards of repair that the Government rightly intend to strengthen. The police will usually be powerless to intervene even if summoned while the eviction is taking place. It is idle to say, as the Minister for Housing and Planning has said in another place, that there seems to be no need to prescribe a maximum length for an excluded holiday because we can leave the meaning of the word to the discretion of the courts. I think, as was said earlier, that it is up to us to define the limits that we believe to be fair and reasonable—in our view, two months. There will not be any reference to the court, or certainly not until well after the eviction, and then only if the dispossessed occupiers can somehow manage to fund civil legal action and produce credible witnesses who will not be deterred by fear of being similarly treated themselves.

It is surely reasonable to restrict the length of any holiday agreement that might take an occupier out of the protection of the court to a time that is rather more than the total of holiday that most working people have in a year, let alone at any one time. We are talking here about a significant departure from the principle only recently established in the minds of most people that it is nearly always unlawful to deprive anybody of what might be called his or her home other than by proceedings in the court. If it is contended that any persons threatened by this holiday exclusion as it stands would not be occupying the premises "as a residence"—in other words, it is not their home—then it is reasonable to rejoin that the rejection by the occupiers of the holiday label and any attempt on their part to assert a continuing right to reside must cast doubt at the very least on the accuracy of the label from the first. That doubt should be—indeed, must be—resolved in the court.

The second part of the amendment is necessary because the courts have often upheld "working holidays" of a year or more in length as a valid use of the holiday exception from Rent Act protection. If this line of authority is not statutorily ruled out for the future, it will be almost impossible for wrongly dispossessed tenants to get legal aid or even to find a solicitor who feels able and willing to take civil action against the landlord. Criminal proceedings by the local authority would hardly ever be feasible because of the difficulty of showing, on the criminal burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt, that the landlord or agent had had the necessary guilty intention to evict without recourse to the law someone entitled to be evicted only through the court.

I am told that the Minister for Housing and Planning said in another place, and the Under-Secretary of State has repeated it in correspondence with the Association of Tenancy Relation Officers, that there is no issue of principle that goes against an amendment such as this. There would appear to be every reason in principle and for the sake of social harmony and upholding the rule of law that it should be accepted.

Genuine holiday landlords will still be protected if this amendment is accepted. Sham holiday landlords who impose their terms willy-nilly on persons searching desperately for somewhere, almost anywhere, to live will be frustrated. Surely that is devoutly to be desired.

In moving this amendment I mention one other point. It has been drawn to my attention that Clause 30 brings all residential licences into the protection of the requirement for a court order for eviction by saying that Section 3 of the Protection from Eviction Act applies to, any premises occupied as a dwelling under a licence as it applies to, premises let as a dwelling under a tenancy". That wording means, I am told, that so-called bare licencees—I have not heard that word until recently—who are persons who have never paid a penny for their use of the property and who are genuinely intended by the owner to enjoy it free of charge, are included in the requirement for a court order unless excluded under Clause 31.

I am referring to a person who is perhaps going abroad for a short period and who has a friend who has sold his house and wants temporary accommodation. Those people who abuse the trust put in them by the person who has let them the house in fact have the protection of the courts until they can he evicted. That seems to be wrong when we are at the same time talking about people in so-called holiday lets. It is obviously an omission in error which has recently been brought to the attention of officials of the Department of the Environment, who have said that it is intentional and that no government amendment is planned. I think that is a shame. I now bring it to the attention of the Minister because I believe it is wrong. People enter into such agreements on trust and those agreements should be honoured.

I go back to my original amendment which seeks to define what is a holiday let. I hope the Minister will agree that two months is a reasonable period. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In general I support the amendment but I must protest, as a resident on the borders of Crouch End and as one who represented Tottenham for 10 years on the Greater London Council, at the slur in the noble Lord's speech about those delightful neighbourhoods. He ironically suggested that they could not be resorts. Let me assure him that there are few more delightful places in which to live and work than Tottenham and Crouch End.

Lord Ross of Newport

I apologise to the noble Lord. I was brought up in North Finchley. I am going to Crouch End next week for a fortnight.

Lord Renton

Perhaps I should declare a contingent interest. Although the family property to which I shall refer is in Scotland, and Part I of the Bill does not refer to Scotland, I am very much afraid that if this amendment is accepted it will create a precedent for Scottish law which I believe would be unwelcome.

The amendment is misconceived. So many holiday lettings are not for two months. There are not many people who can afford two months' holiday. In our experience with the house and the cottage on our property in Scotland which from time to time we let, it is nearly always let for two weeks at a time. That is what is wanted. I do not think there has been a single example of the properties being let for two months. Some of the lettings for the cottage are for only one week.

If the amendment is accepted we would find a strange position which, frankly, would be unfair to the owners of the property. The amendment says that that holiday letting is, for a period not exceeding two months". That may be a letting for only one week. It continues by stating that in effect the tenant or licensee can stay on for two months. Having agreed to a letting for one week, then to stay on for two months would be wrong if this amendment were accepted. The Bill as it stands is much better, and it is right. It states: A tenancy or licence is excluded if it confers on the tenant or licensee the right to occupy the premises for a holiday only". That covers all likely circumstances. It would be a very artificial and unfair distinction to make if this amendment were accepted. Therefore I very much hope and expect that my noble friend will resist it.

10 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Before the noble Lord sits down, does he not appreciate that this amendment is an attempt to achieve some clarity over the period which the Bill regards as a holiday? Is he not aware that there are sham holiday lets? They are called holiday lets as a device for the landlord to avoid the responsibilities which he would have if they were otherwise classified.

Lord Renton

That may be the motive behind the amendment, but I am speaking of the effect of the amendment, which is as I have said.

Earl Russell

I wish to reassure my noble friend Lord Ross that he has succeeded in carrying me with him. It is not as difficult a task as carrying with him his honourable friend the Member for Rochdale. This is such a good amendment that I have no doubt that he would have succeeded. It seems to distinguish with a discrimination which is characteristic of the approach on these Benches as regards landlord and tenant relations as between use and the abuse. That distinction needs making. I do not believe that the amendment has the effect suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, because it is creating an excluded tenancy; that is a tenancy in which the landlord can recover possession without the difficulties characteristic of other tenancies. I do not believe it is the effect of this amendment to give guaranteed possession for two months for a tenancy which was supposed to last for two weeks. I believe that it does what it is intended to do, and I am happy to support it.

Lord Coleraine

I wonder whether the noble Earl, who is a noted academic, will agree with me that there are many cases when academics from other countries take sabbatical leave, come to London on holiday and rent a house for six months.

The Earl of Caithness

As the Committee is aware, sham holiday lets are essentially a device to evade the rent and security regime of the Rent Act. With the new shorthold tenancy we are offering landlords a method of using short lets at market rents which gives them a guaranteed right of possession. This has to be attractive to the landlord whose main aim in setting up sham holiday lets is to set market rents for his property. The landlord who sees the attraction of sham holiday lets as being the power to evict without a court order is running a serious risk. If he uses a sham holiday let rather than shorthold he runs the risk that if the tenancy is examined in court he will be found to have created a full assured tenancy.

I am sure that, like me, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, sees the danger of any definition which includes a time limit as being that the unscrupulous landlord will grant lets of just shorter than the time limit, in this case the two months suggested in his amendment. Landlords of houses in multiple occupation, for example, would simply offer tenants successive holiday lets of different rooms in their property, which would be disruptive for tenants. The amendment would also bite on the admittedly rare but known creature, the person who is lucky enough to take a holiday for more than two months. I appreciate that Members of the Committee are trying to tackle a known abuse with this amendment, but I believe that it is an abuse which will die out in a healthy, flourishing market in which shorthold becomes the norm for short lets.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, referred to Clause 31 bringing all residential licences into its scope and particularly the bare licences. He cannot have it both ways. He wants every residential licensee to have protection except the bare licensee who does not pay for his accommodation. There will be few bare licensees who are not in fact licensees of resident landlords. Where they are licensees of resident landlords no court order is needed. They are not in principle different from other licensees, so the licensor should give them notice and get an order if there is a dispute about possession.

Lord Ross of Newport

The noble Earl seems to be well briefed about bare licensees. I was trying to be even-handed, so there was a case the other way round. However, I accept what he has just said. The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, is that anybody wanting to take a property for six months or more enters into a shorthold tenancy under the Bill; and I totally support that. I bow to the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Renton. He and I used to sit in another place and I would not want to take issue with him. I remember that long ago the first real holiday I ever had was in Scotland. I took a cottage for a whole month right up in the North-West of Scotland. The lady who let the cottage said that if I took it for more than a fortnight I could have it a lot cheaper; so I did, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were trying in the amendment to define what is a holiday let. I fail to see the noble Lord's argument against adding at the end of subsection (7) the words, the tenant or licensee has not been in occupation … for more than two months". It certainly was not the intention to stop the holiday let to which the noble Lord referred. If it were to have that effect, which I still cannot see—the noble Lord has far more knowledge of legal matters than I do—it certainly was not intended.

I realise that this is a late hour and hardly the time to divide the Committee but we have at least debated an issue which the noble Earl himself has admitted causes concern in London and about which I admit, being in the Isle of Wight, I do not know very much. However, I am told that sham holiday lets are an issue and therefore if we have at least aired the subject it may have some effect. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 70: Page 24, line 7, at end insert ("or Housing for Wales").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 71:

Page 24, line 8, leave out paragraph (h).

The noble Lord said: In speaking to an earlier amendment, the Minister promised the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, that all would be revealed about hostels when he came to reply to this amendment. I hate to disillusion him but this is a limited amendment. It refers only to hostels under housing associations and it refers only to licences, rather than tenancies, in those hostels.

The effect of the amendment is to remove housing associations from the list of landlords to whom Clause 31 applies and therefore to give some degree of security of tenure to licensees under housing associations. No criticism of housing associations as landlords is implied by the amendment. There have been various reasons why housing associations with the highest of motives have not only set up hostels but as well as tenancies have had residents in hostels who have licences. However, because of the way the Bill is drafted at the moment, those on licences rather than on tenancies could be evicted without the need first to obtain a court order. I am not saying that most housing associations would have any intention of doing so as they are charitable housing associations.

The difference between licences and tenancies in housing association hostels is or ought to be of historical interest rather than of real interest. The only argument that I can think of as to why there should be any difference is when there is a risk of having disruptive tenants, or disruptive residents, in these housing association hostels. It is certainly the case that there are some disruptive residents, and housing associations must not have any ability to deal with such tenants taken away from them. But surely that should happen by calling in the police, rather than by using housing tenancy legislation. If it is a problem, having called in the police, to get the courts to act quickly enough, then I suggest that it is up to the Government to propose an expedited court procedure and not to have legislation which continues and intensifies the difference between tenants and licensees in housing association hostels.

I do not think that this is a particularly controversial amendment. I do not know whether it covers the points which the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, wished to refer to, but I hope that the Committee will feel that it is a reasonable approach to cutting out a difference which no longer has any real significance. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

Under the existing law it is not necessary to obtain a court order to evict a licensee whose contract has ended. That seems to the Government to be anomalous, and in Clause 30 we have extended the requirement in the Protection from Eviction Act to obtain a court order so that it covers most residential occupiers. Moreover, in, Clause 32 we have extended the notice to quit provisions of Section 5 of the Protection from Eviction Act. There must, however, be some exceptions and those are set out in Clause 31. They include licensees whose agreements have expired living in hostels provided by the bodies listed in subsection (8).

The amendment deletes from that list housing trusts which are charities and registered housing associations. I can see the argument for giving all residents of hostels, not just tenants, a safeguard against arbitrary eviction. But the requirement to give four weeks' notice and to obtain a court order in every case could bring, I contend, real operational problems. The pressure on the county court is such that it commonly takes six to eight weeks for a case to be heard and, regrettably, in some areas it can take rather longer. So an association wishing to remove a resident who was disruptive, because of alcoholism or behavioural disturbance, might have no way of doing so quickly even though that resident was making life intolerable for the other occupants of the hostel.

That seems to me to be a very severe practical drawback in what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, is proposing. It can certainly be argued that a way of helping to deal with this problem is to have an expedited court hearing. There are precedents for that. But even in these cases it can still take a week or two to get to court, and allowing some cases to go to the front of the queue means that others have to wait longer.

There is also the point that much of the accommodation with which we are concerned here is intended for short stays, not permanent residence, and that it is inappropriate to have formal and possibly lengthy procedures of this kind to remove an occupant who no longer has any contractual right to remain there and who has no statutory security either.

We are therefore not convinced that this amendment is sensible from the point of view of the practical operation of hostels. We believe that housing associations are responsible bodies and can be trusted to treat their hostel residents reasonably. They can grant contractual security and minimum periods of notice if they wish. We have, however, been discussing these issues, and others related to the status of hostel residents, with the National Federation of Housing Associations. Those discussions will continue. I cannot give the Committee any undertakings, but I can say that we are prepared to look at the whole issue with an open mind.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I must take note of the Minister's last remarks and of his assurance that the National Federation of Housing Associations has been consulted on the matter. I shall certainly look to brief myself better than I feel I have been briefed at the moment about the consultations which have taken place. I welcome what the Minister said about the open mind with which he approaches the matter. If I think it is necessary to come back at a later stage with an amended proposal, then I am sure that I shall have an opportunity to persuade the Minister that there is a kernel of truth behind what we are saying, even if we have not covered all the possibilities. For example, I was particularly impressed by what he said about the danger in our proposals for short-stay hostels. I agree that it would not have been our intention to include short-stay hostels in our proposals. In those circumstances, it is best that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 32 [Notice to quit etc.]:

[Amendment No. 72 not moved.]

Clause 32 agreed to.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Ross of Newport moved Amendment No. 73:

After Clause 32, insert the following new clause:

(".—(l) All local housing authorities to which this section applies shall appoint and retain a proper officer whose functions shall include those set out in subsection (3) below.

(2) This section applies to the following local housing authorities—

  1. (i) district councils and London borough councils;
  2. (ii) the Common Council of the City of London;
  3. (iii) the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

(3) The proper officer for the purposes of subsection (1) above shall receive, acknowledge and investigate any complaint made to the local housing authority by a person aggrieved that an offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 as amended has been committed within the area of that authority and shall prepare a recommendation in writing for that authority on whether or not that authority shall commence a prosecution or other action against any person arising from those investigations.

(4) For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby confirmed that a person aggrieved under subsection (30) above shall have sufficient interest in the matter to bring appropriate proceedings to enforce the duties established under this section.").

The noble Lord said: The clause seeks to give teeth to the Government's proposals and their manifesto promise to strengthen the law against harassment and unlawful eviction. The Government have drafted Clauses 27, 28 and 29 to honour their manifesto promise, and all credit to them for that.

No law will be of much practical help unless residential occupiers who feel that they have been unlawfully treated can find a ready and reliable source of help in their local council. Despite the Government's wish to abolish local authorities, when people are in trouble they turn to their local authority. The police, under instructions, can find themselves preventing or dealing with breaches of the peace. They send a report in due course to that local authority. Far too many of those reports have been investigated too late to do any good, with the inevitable result that the police in some areas have become less astute at identifying the cases that should be reported.

I hasten to say that in the amendment I do not seek to add to the establishment of local authorities. I pick up the point that the Government look upon the local authority of the future as a type of agency which will perhaps push people in certain directions. Many people will not have too much to do. Even in the Isles of Scilly, one officer could be appointed as the harassment officer.

Legal protection is useless without effective enforcement machinery. The new clause seeks to ensure that every local housing authority has an officer, not necessarily specially appointed, who might be called the tenancy relations or harassment officer and who must and will receive and investigate any complaints alleging harassment or unlawful conviction. Seventeen years ago the Francis Committee recommended that local authorities should employ tenancy relations officers to ensure observance of what was then the fairly new law against harassment and unlawful eviction. However, until now local authorities have had only a power and not a duty to investigate and prosecute alleged offences. The application of the Protection from Eviction Act is haphazard, to say the least. In practice, few authorities have an officer appointed for the purpose of enforcing the Act. Many which have had such officers in the past no longer have them. For example, I am told that the London Borough of Camden had four tenancy relations officers two years ago; it now has none.

By accepting the new clause, the Government can show that they intend that no more such cases can or will occur, and that the law against harassment and unlawful eviction will be enforceable and regularly enforced. If the new clause is not accepted, and local authorities continue to have no duty in that respect, the Protection from Eviction Act is unfortunately likely to continue to be the dead letter it so often is today.

At the request of county council social services departments I put through the Housing (Homeless) Persons Act. I was assured that when that Bill was on the statute book, social services would co-operate completely with housing authorities in the implementation of that Act and that they would play a part in helping to decide cases which should be given priority treatment. I was horrified, I have to admit to the Committee, after 1977 when an Act was on the statute book to find that social services departments wanted nothing whatever to do with it. It was left totally to the housing authorities; I left them with the problem. They had to appoint their own social service officers to interview people who were claiming to be homeless. I think in this case totally the same applies as regards harassment. I take on board that the Government have honoured their pledge to write provisions into the Bill about harassment. They are concerned about it but they have not provided the manpower to carry out the provisions. I ask them to do so now. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I rise to support the amendment to which my name is added. I am bound to say that when I first saw the text I was concerned about the inclusion of the Common Council of the City of London and the Council of the Isles of Scilly. I thought that in the rarified atmosphere of the City of London, this sort of thing was hardly likely to happen. Certainly in the salubrious surroundings of the Isles of Scilly it would never happen. I have to say that I am wrong.

In May 1986 a case was brought to the attention of the Council of the Isles of Scilly where a landlord had removed the front door of a tenanted cottage with a chainsaw. He had smashed all the windows and pulled out all the electrical wiring. There had been other harassment. Although it would have been within its powers to do so, the council and its solicitors decided to take no action. The council was had up before the local authority ombudsman, who said that the complainants had sustained an injustice through the council's administration in what he called a very serious case. So even in the Isles of Scilly there are cases of harassment which require the intervention of local authorities to protect the tenants. If that is so even there, how much more is it so in other local authorities on the mainland of this country?

It may seem draconian to enforce the appointment of tenancy relations officers, but this is by no means a theoretical or abstract problem, as I think Members of the Committee will recognise from some of the cases which I cited last Thursday when talking about Mr. Hoogstraten's associates. One of his associates is now in prison for grievous bodily harm—throwing a lump of concrete at the Westminster tenancy relations officer. It is a problem which is happening every day, particularly in our cities and towns and even in the Isles of Scilly. There is an obligation placed on local authorities, I admit. In general one would like to rely on the discretion of local authorities, but the need is so great that I believe this is a case when such an obligation should be placed on local authorities.

Lord Renton

I hope that my noble friend will not accept this amendment because it is quite unnecessary. Housing authorities have powers to appoint whatever officers are needed to fulfil their statutory obligations. If we accept this amendment it is purely administrative and we shall create a precedent. The statute book will be cluttered up with one section after another in Acts of Parliament, placing responsibilities on local authorities and telling them to appoint officers to fulfil those duties. I hesitate to use the word in the courtesies of the Committee, but frankly this would be ridiculous.

The Earl of Caithness

We believe that it would be wrong to require every local housing authority to appoint such an officer, as this new clause proposes. I agree with my noble friend Lord Renton on that. Perhaps I may tell the Committee that we intend to write to all local authorities drawing their attention to their duties under the Protection from Eviction Act and the remedies available to them where serious harassment is taking place.We shall point out to them that even if they do not create a new post of tenancy relations officer, there are advantages in identifying an existing officer, probably a housing officer, to take on the functions of advising private tenants on their rights.

Different local authorities will cater for the advice needs of private tenants in different ways. Some with a large number of privately tenanted properties in their areas will think the best approach is to appoint a tenancy relations officer with special responsibilities for investigating allegations of harassment. Others will prefer to leave this to housing advice centres or law centres.

As the Committee knows, local authorities have complete freedom to appoint such officers as they choose to discharge their statutory functions. I do not think that they would welcome the Government prescribing how they should discharge their functions, and we do not propose to do so in this area.

Although I am sympathetic to the intentions behind the new clause, as I said, we do not propose to prescribe to local authorities the best way of fulfilling their statutory duties. I thought that I would have the support both of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, and of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, on that point.

Lord Ross of Newport

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, has walked out of the Chamber. For someone on the opposite side of the Committee to say that it is wrong to impose this and that on local authorities is a bit rich, when the present Administration impose all kinds of restrictions on local authorities. However, I must say that the reply of the Minister was rather better than that of his noble friend.

I was not asking for particular extra appointments. If the Members on the opposite side of the Committee did not watch the television programme that was shown the other day, I ask them to have a look at it. I want the idea of bringing back rented accommodation to succeed. My family never lived in a house that it owned. My father always rented property. But I am sure that there will be problems with rented property. I think that the Minister accepts that. Serious problems already exist in our inner cities, particularly in London.

Therefore, it would strengthen the Government's hand if they were seen to be giving instructions to local authorities as regards harassment and if they were seen to be at least allowing local authorities to have a harassment officer to deal with such problems. I made the point about the implementation of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, will probably shake her head at what I am about to say. But it is a disappointment to me that the co-operation that used to take place no longer happened after the implementation of that Act. Social services no longer co-operated with the housing authorities as they had in the past. The boroughs found that they had to employ a social worker to interview families who were in distress of one kind or another.

Baroness Faithfull

The situation in the country as a whole must have been uneven. That is the impression I gained from what the noble Lord said. Certainly in my authority and in the authorities with which I worked there was co-operation between the two departments.

Lord Ross of Newport

Perhaps I should have exempted Oxford and authorities in that part of the country. But even in my own authority the cooperation did not work, or at least not after a certain time. Therefore I think that the idea that someone should have responsibility to deal with harassment has merit. I accept the answer that has been given nevertheless, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 33 [Interpretation of Chapter IV]:

[Amendments Nos. 74 and 75 not moved.]

Clause 33 agreed to.

Clause 34 [New protected tenancies and agricultural occupancies restricted to special cases]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 76:

Page 25. line 35, leave out from ("granted") to the end of line 37, and insert— ('either by the person who at that time was the landlord (or one of joint landlords) under the protected or statutory tenancy or by a person who at that time was connected with the landlord (or with one or more of the joint landlords) under the protected or statutory tenancy").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 77, 78, 79, 81 and 82. We turn now to Chapter V of Part I of the Bill, which is concerned with the phasing out of the Rent Acts and other transitional provisions.

I remind the Committee of the Government's intention in this respect as expressed in their White Paper and in the consultation paper which they issued on the private rented sector proposals. The White Paper stated: The Government does not propose to make any substantial changes in the regime for existing tenancies subject to the Rent Acts. It would not be right to disturb these existing tenancies". The consultation paper says: Existing tenants will retain their right to security of tenure under the Rent Act".

Those are fine words, with which we agree. Our amendments to the chapter are intended to strengthen the Government's hand in the objective they have set themselves. The amendments are in no sense destructive or wrecking amendments. They are intended to help and relieve anxieties expressed about the effectiveness of this part of the Bill.

The first difficulty we see with the Bill as drafted—I say straight away that substantial improvements were made to this part of the Bill at the Committee stage in another place—is that there is still the problem that alternative accommodation, if offered by the same landlord at the same address, achieves the same Rent Act protection but it will be easy for a landlord to get round the protection by offering what would otherwise be alternative accommodation which is not under the control of the same landlord or not at the same address. It is not unknown for landlords to meet and know one another. They may seek to persuade tenants that something is genuinely an acceptable alternative, although it is in another building or owned by a different landlord or the same landlord operating through a different holding company.

There are many examples of that which are known to the various housing action centres in London. Property negotiators may persuade tenants that that is acceptable. However under the Bill as drafted, tenants will lose their rights and find themselves with assured rather than existing protected tenancies.

That is the case with relatively honourable landlords. I am not going back to the case of Mr. Hoogstraten. He had connections with at least 45 companies and used 15 aliases. Unless he and others like him are caught, the provisions of the Bill as drafted are not adequate to deal with the cases where such a landlord may be using different companies, addresses or aliases in order to achieve the loss of controlled status for his tenants. The protection in the Bill, although clearly rightly intended, does not achieve what is intended. We believe that our amendments make the situation clear and provide more effective protection for tenants.

Turning to Amendment No. 77, the Bill provides that a letting granted by a new landlord as suitable alternative accommodation under a possession order will only be a protected tenancy if the court so directs. That weakens the provisions of the 1977 Rent Act. It means that a court could hold—it is only too likely that in a number of cases it would hold—that an assured tenancy is suitable alternative accommodation for a protected tenancy. I hope the Government will assure us that in their view an assured tenancy cannot be regarded in any circumstances as a suitable alternative to a protected tenancy. If the Government are able to do that, I shall not move Amendment No. 80, which deals with that specific point. I hope that that will be seen as a different issue. The amendments are intended to help in a matter on which we share the Government's objectives in this part of the Bill. I hope that the amendments will be seen as helpful and that they will contribute to the effective implementation of the Bill's objectives. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

Amendments Nos. 76, 78, 79, 81 and 82 together raise the issue of how far we can reasonably expect to go in safeguarding the position of those who at present have protection under the Rent Act. It is, as the Committee is aware, a basic principle of our approach that existing Rent Act tenants should remain unaffected by the new proposals. Thus, anyone who has a Rent Act tenancy when the Bill becomes law will retain his existing rights in terms of both rent and security for as long as the tenancy continues.

But we have also recognised that it is right to go further than this and provide that in certain circumstances a tenancy created even after commencement of the Bill can be a Rent Act tenancy. We have, in particular, accepted the need to ensure that existing tenants do not lose their protection by virtue of the landlord persuading them to accept a new tenancy, either of the same or different accommodation. Accordingly, under Clause 34(1)(b), any new tenancy granted to an existing Rent Act tenant by the same landlord—whether the accommodation is the same or different—can also be a Rent Act tenancy.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has argued that we ought to extend this safeguard still further so as to take in the situation where a tenant with Rent Act protection accepts a new tenancy from someone other than the landlord under the previous tenancy—specifically, someone who either had a connection with the previous landlord or made an arrangement with him regarding the new tenancy. The noble Lord's main concern is to ensure that a landlord cannot enter into collusion with a third party in order to deprive a tenant of his existing protection.

I do not lightly dismiss the noble Lord's concern in this matter. However, it seems to me that in seeking to extend the circumstances in which a Rent Act tenancy can be created after commencement of the Bill, he is casting the net unreasonably wide. His proposals could involve penalising the landlord in perfectly innocent circumstances. For instance, a new landlord might in good, faith grant a new tenancy without any knowledge of the previous protected status of the tenant under a landlord with whom he happened technically to be associated, and thereby find that he was committed to a Rent Act letting. Then there are the practical problems of how to define a connection between landlords and how to establish beyond doubt whether there had genuinely been an arrangement of the kind referred to in Amendment No. 79.

The noble Lord's solution in the first case would be to import the definition in the Income and Corporation Taxes Act. But there must be doubt, even with a provision of this complexity, whether we would succeed in thwarting the operator who was absolutely set on circumventing the safeguards we had provided.

The Government's view is that we have gone as far as we sensibly can in this matter of new tenancies granted to existing protected tenants. We want to provide effective safeguards against blatant abuse. On the other hand, we cannot realistically hope to cover every possible angle. If we cast the net wider than we have, we risk producing legislation of fearsome complexity, full of traps for the unwary and perfectly responsible landlord, yet still not guaranteed to catch the person who is set on abusing the system. I am sure that the Committee will agree that there comes a point at which we have to ask the tenant to safeguard his own position. We must remember that no protected tenant can be compelled by a landlord to exchange his existing tenancy for a new one. As I made clear at the outset, so long as he retains his existing tenancy, he will continue to enjoy the full protection under the Rent Act.

I turn now to Amendment No. 77. Under Clause 34 a tenancy entered into after this Bill comes into force can be a protected tenancy under the Rent Act only in limited circumstances. These are set out in subsection (1). One of them is where a court has granted possession under Section 98 of the Rent Act of a dwelling let on a protected tenancy because the landlord is providing suitable alternative accommodation and the court directs that the new tenancy of the alternative accommodation shall be a protected tenancy. By removing the requirement for the court to have made a direction, Amendment No. 77 would mean that whenever a court granted possession under Section 98 the new tenancy would be protected if it met the usual qualifying conditions for a protected tenancy.

We do not think that that is acceptable because it conflicts with the provisions of the Rent Act itself. If a court is to grant possession under Section 98, it has to be satisfied either that the new tenancy will he a protected tenancy or that the security of tenure afforded by the new tenancy in the alternative accommodation offered by the landlord is reasonably equivalent to that provided by a protected tenancy. So the new tenancy does not have to be a protected tenancy. Some other form of tenancy—-for instance, an assured tenancy with contractual terms similar to the statutory safeguards provided by a protected tenancy—may be sufficient. We have sought to preserve this position in Clause 34 by giving the court the power in future to determine whether the tenancy of the new accommodation is to be protected.

So in that respect the Bill is consistent with the Rent Act. This amendment conflicts with that Act and therefore I cannot recommend it to the Committee.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I must express my gratitude to the Minister for explaining my amendments far more lucidly than I did. Certainly in his expose of the situation he leads me to think that the loopholes that I suspect exist in the government drafting are in fact quite serious ones. Even if I have the drafting wrong now—and I think it is highly likely—this is a matter to which I must return at a later stage.

I do not think that the extent to which the present drafting of the Bill leaves the way open for actions by landlords which would not be harassment in the normal sense is fully appreciated. I do not suggest that anything illegal would be done; but the value to a landlord of converting from a protected tenancy under the Rent Act to an assured tenancy is so great that there are many things that landlords could do which could not be classed as harassment, even under the amendments that I sought to move earlier this evening, but which might well persuade a weak-willed or insecure tenant— or perhaps an elderly tenant—to make a move that would be very much to his or her disadvantage.

For example, it would be perfectly legally possible for a landlord to send successive agents or solicitors to discuss alternative offers. That could be done with such frequency that the tenant was never sure what would come next, what opportunities were being offered or what threats were implied in the offer of other opportunities.

I am not suggesting that the law on harassment can be made so watertight that that kind of activity could be covered in that respect, but if the advantage to the landlord of a change in tenancy is so great and if there is any real weakness in the drafting of the clause, this must be a possibility which should be taken seriously.

As regards Amendment No. 77, the Minister quite rightly said that when the landlord has obtained a possession order on the grounds that the new letting is suitable alternative accommodation the matter can be dealt with by the courts. But is it really desirable to force this matter into the courts? Is it right to force litigation when it is possible that the landlord and tenant could be in perfectly good agreement about the matter so long as the protected tenancy is to continue in the new circumstances?

I think that I shall have to study quite carefully the various remarks that the Minister has made in his response. He appeared to me to recognise some of the difficulties that we were attempting to address in this series of amendments. It may well be that we shall want to come back to this point at a later stage, perhaps after further discussions with him. On that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 77 to 79 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 80:

Page 26, line 30, at end insert— ("() In Part IV of Schedule 15 of the Rent Act 1977 there shall be added after paragraph 4(2):— '(3) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)(b) a tenancy which is an assured tenancy within the meaning of Part I of the Housing Act 1988 shall not be treated as affording the required security by reason only of the fact that the tenancy is an assured tenancy within the meaning of the Housing Act 1988.' ").

The noble Lord said: I think it is necessary to move this amendment because it deals with a point that is sufficiently different to be teased out if there is any possibility of doing so. I gave the Minister the opportunity to do that, if he thought fit, in his reply to the previous group of amendments.

As the Bill is drafted, there is the possibility that an assured tenancy could be classified as being reasonably equivalent to a protected tenancy. They could be the same in every other way. However, I wish to suggest to the Committee that if the form of tenancy is different—if there is a difference between the protected status and the assured status—then they cannot be reasonably equivalent. The courts ought not to be able to find them reasonably equivalent because the difference between them is so great. It is a fundamental principle of the Bill that it is creating in the new assured tenancy a different and very much lower degree of security. That is the basis on which the Government hope to revive the private rented sector. Without entering into that broader issue, it is clear that the Government see that there is a very great difference.

If we have the drafting of the amendment correct—and I offer no assurance on that—we seek to ensure that no change of accommodation can be regarded as being reasonably equivalent if the form of the tenancy moves from being protected to being assured. If the Government can give us assurance that that would not be called reasonably equivalent there is no difficulty in withdrawing this amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

There is no doubt that the noble Lord has hit on a good point here. We accept the principle behind the amendment. If he will withdraw it at this stage, we can deal with the point at a later stage.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the noble Earl. I could not ask for more than that. I am certainly willing to withdraw it, and to make myself available for discussion if he would find that helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 not moved.]

Clause 34 agreed to.

10.45 p.m.

Clause 35 [Removal of special regimes for tenancies of housing associations etc.]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 83:

Page 27, line 39, at end insert— ("(4) If, on or after the commencement of this Act, the interest of the landlord under a protected or statutory tenancy becomes held by a housing association, a housing trust, the Housing Corporation or Housing for Wales, nothing in the preceding provisions of this section shall prevent the tenancy from being a housing association tenancy or a secure tenancy and, accordingly, in such a case section 80 of the Housing Act 1985 (and any enactment which refers to that section) shall have effect without regard to the repeal of provisions of that section effected by this Act. (5) In subsection (4) above "housing association" and "housing trust" have the same meaning as in the Housing Act 1985.").

The noble Earl said: I speak also to Amendment No. 177. We have been at pains in drafting Part I of the Bill to ensure that tenants with Rent Act tenancies or with housing association tenancies which are both secure under the Housing Act 1985 and subject to Part VI of the Rent Act do not lose their rights. These amendments fill a lacuna which we have noticed in their protection. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 35, as amended, agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Renton)

Unless any noble Lord objects, I propose to put Clauses 36, 37 and 38 together.

Clauses 36 to 38 agreed to.

Clause 39 [Statutory tenants: succession]:

Lord Dean of Beswick moved Amendment No. 84: Page 30, line 10. leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 84 perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 85 to 91 inclusive.

These amendments deal with the rights of succession for people whom we know as carers. It would be fair to say that in the main they are women who have given up their future careers in order to care for elderly relatives. Sometimes this is not of long standing because people's health can deteriorate very quickly, but someone has to take the responsibility for caring for them.

But under Clause 37 and Schedule 4 in Part I, on the death of the original tenant (or of the first successor) other family members can succeed only to an assured tenancy at a market rent. If a family member has been living with his relative for less than two years he or she will not be allowed to succeed to any tenancy and may be forced to find alternative accommodation. Currently, under the Rent Act 1977, family members who have been living with relatives for more than six months can succeed to the same regulated tenancy enjoyed by the original tenant.

A Report stage amendment reducing the residential qualification from the Bill's original proposal from five years to two years was most welcome, but succession will still be to an assured tenancy only. Many carers on low or even modest incomes are unlikely to be able to afford a market rent and may have to leave the accommodation, yet their chances of finding alternative housing are not high. Only assured tenancies will be available in the private and housing association sectors and most local authorities are probably unable to help because of long waiting lists. Carers who have been living with relatives for less than two years may be made homeless when their relative dies. Many may have made the decision to give up their own home to care for a relative whose health has deteriorated. Organisations, especially Age Concern, know of no evidence of people abusing the current succession laws to gain accommodation unfairly.

The proposals on succession contradict the Government's care in the community policy, which relies heavily of course on family carers. Speaking in October last year, at a Conservative Party conference fringe meeting organised by the National Council for Carers and their Elderly Dependants, Mr. Anthony Newton, the Minister, emphasised the Government's commitment to supporting informal carers, recognising that they are the bedrock on which community care provision is based. The lack of available alternatives to family carers further underlines the Government's dependence on these informal carers.

In the Commons Committee stage on 2nd July 1988, Mr. Waldegrave stated: We believe that succession rights have been as important as rent control in driving rented property off the market. It would be easy to seem caring by reinstating the right, but it would lead to further drying up of rented property".—[0fficial Report, Commons, 2/7/88; col. 614.]

Age Concern believes that the number of carers who will be affected by the new succession laws in forthcoming years will be relatively small and amending the Bill further should not greatly reduce the future supply of assured tenancies, but the consequences for those people may be very serious. We therefore urge the Government to reduce the residence qualification to six months and to allow qualifying tenants to succeed to the same regulated tenancy as that originally accorded to their relative.

It is late in the evening and there is a lot more that one could say on this issue, but I believe I have said enough in saying that people who do make a sacrifice on the basis of going into accommodation with an elderly relative in order to care for him or her do not take this decision lightheartedly, nor is it taken on a commercial basis. It is mainly and overwhelmingly taken on their desire to care for a member of the family who is in some distress. Obviously in doing so they save the community as a whole a tremendous amount of money and prevent a lot of people being taken into care or hospitalisation with all that that involves. I believe on that basis that the amendments, mainly sponsored by such organisations as Age Concern, are worthy of serious consideration. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear

I want strongly and briefly to support the amendment. I am president of the National Council for Carers and their Elderly Dependants and I am very well aware of the problems which arise over succession in these cases, as the noble Lord, Lord Dean, has said. People who take on caring and move in with their parents or elderly relations in order to do so make a very great personal sacrifice. It is a severe hardship if they cannot then succeed to the house.

Baroness Faithfull

I ask my noble friend to look sympatheticaly on the amendment.

The Earl of Caithness

The theme behind these amendments is that succession to a Rent Act tenancy is a right and that any qualifying member should be able to accede to one on Rent Act terms after a short qualifying period as set out in the Rent Act. It is indeed entirely reasonable that the surviving partner of a couple should take on the tenancy on the same terms enjoyed by his or her spouse. Many Rent Act tenants are elderly couples who have passed a large part of their married lives assuming that when one of them dies the other will be able to take over the tenancy.

It is also reasonable that a family member who has a real stake in the property, established by long residence, should be able to take over the tenancy. But the landlord has rights too, and for many of these tenancies the landlord has been receiving a fair rent which is manifestly unfair to him. Since we are not doing away with succession altogether, we offer him the prospect of a market rent if he chooses to ask for one, except where a spouse inherits. I contend that that is not unreasonable—though there are many landlords who regard it as unreasonable because it goes a lot less far than they would like us to go.

Although we have made substantial concessions on the residence qualification, I accept that there may be individual hard cases—people who do not quite fulfil the two-year residence requirement. This means they do not have an automatic right of succession to the tenancy, but it does not mean that the landlord will not necessarily grant them another tenancy. In some cases a landlord may well be prepared to grant a new-style tenancy to a member of a family he knows.

These changes to the succession rules are not uncaring. The noble Lord, Lord Dean, rightly said that in the other place we amended the succession rules from a five-year period to a two-year period of succession. They say to landlords that they cannot have their property back where there are qualifying family members who have a good claim, but they also enable them to charge a market rent in such cases except where the family member is a spouse.

It is right that I should comment on carers because the point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dean. the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and my noble friend Lady Faithfull. I well understand the arguments put forward by those who say that changes we are making to the rights of succession under the Rent Act, and the absence of right of succession to assured tenancies for a member of the tenant's family, are hard on carers—the son or daughter who gives up a home to move in with an elderly parent. As regards the Rent Act, carers will still have the right of succession where they have lived with a tenant for two years at the time of his death. There are transitional provisions to protect people who at the commencement of the Bill had already lived with the tenant for the old qualifying period of six months under the Rent Act. They will succeed to an assured tenancy at a market rent, not a regulated tenancy. We have made this change because we believe it to be inequitable that under the present rules a landlord can lose possession for up to three generations while receiving only an artificially low rent.

As regards new assured tenancies, although we have provided a statutory right of succession for a spouse or common-law partner, we did not think it right to give others such a right. To those Members of the Committee who criticise us for that I say that they must face the fact that if the terms are not attractive to private landlords they will sell their property rather than let it. We cannot force them to let. If we want the private landlord again to provide much-needed rented homes we must create the right conditions. Many landlords find the statutory rights to succession intolerable because they limit their flexibility to dispose of their property as they think best.

It is not that we are against carers; quite the contrary. It is rather that we must also be fair to landlords. Certainly as regards future lettings, landlords will simply stop letting if we are not. That would be quite against the intentions of everyone in this Committee.

Lord Dean of Beswick

I am grateful for the sympathy which the Minister expressed for the position of carers in his opening remarks. However, it saddens me that the Government are not now to be convinced that there is a case to go forward. I do not wish to delay the Committee any longer than is necessary, but I tried to point out the fact that, because of the responsibility and onus they place upon themselves, the carers are saving the community—which means the taxpayer and the Government—a considerable sum of money by the job that they are undertaking which is very often unpaid. They are skimping and even denying themselves any form of social life in order to care for people unable to care for themselves. I hazard a guess. which I think would be more than a guess, that organisations such as those to which the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, belong. Age Concern and local social services departments, could list not isolated cases, but hundreds of cases, of people who are looked after by carers. If they did not accept that responsibility there would be a very difficult problem.

I find it rather disturbing, when the Government are already being criticised for releasing people into the community, that somebody is going to have to accept responsibility for those people in the community. It may well be the eldest son or daughter of a family who has to come back into the community; so a younger son or daughter moves back to help to care for them. If the handicapped or disabled person succeeds to the tenancy and then some tragedy happens, the carer is left without any security of tenure whatever.

I should like to think that the Minister may—I say -"may"—ask the Secretary of State to review the situation. because I am not convinced that the majority in your Lordships' House would take the same view as that of the Minister and the Government so far. The Minister has shown sympathy and on that basis I hope that he will read what I have said and try to make the case. I shall certainly read what he has said. I should like to take away this group of amendments and come back at a later stage. I am sure that there is overwhelming individual case evidence to support our arguments. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 85 to 89 not moved.]

Clause 39 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Statutory tenants: succession]:

[Amendments Nos. 90 and 91 not moved.]

Schedule 4 agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Renton)

Unless any noble Lord objects I intend to take Clauses 40 to 44 together.

Clauses 40 to 44 agreed to.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 92:

After Clause 44, insert the following new clause:

("Extension of the provisions of Part VI and Part XI of the Housing Act 1985 Relating to Repair Notices and to Houses in Multiple Occupation.

. The Secretary of State shall make regulations on or before the coming into operation of this part of this Act providing for—

  1. (a) failure to comply with sections 189 or 190 of the Housing Act 1985 (repair notices) to be a criminal offence;
  2. (b) improved provisions for local authorities to serve repair notices in respect of communal parts in blocks of flats;
  3. (c) power for local authorities to serve repair notices under section 190(1)(b) of the Housing Act 1985 without prior representations by tenants;
  4. (d) expedited powers for local authorities to carry out work in default of compliance with a repair notice;
  1. (e) wider powers for local authorities to recover expenses incurred in carrying out work in default of compliance with a repair notice;
  2. (f) applying minimum management standards to all houses in multiple occupation as defined by section 345 of the Housing Act 1985.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment may I thank my noble friend the Minister for writing to me very fully on 20th July 1988. I apologise to him that I have been unable to discuss this letter and my amendments before today's debate.

In his letter my noble friend accepted Amendment No. 92 with the exception of (b) and (f). I am particularly interested in (f) which concerns, applying minimum management standards to all houses in multiple occupation as defined by section 345 of the Housing Act 1985". In particular, I am concerned and deeply worried about the bed and breakfast arrangements in this country.

In his letter my noble friend the Minister pointed out that a consultation paper was issued on 18th July to local authorities and to others. I congratulate my noble friend for what is an extremely good consultation paper. It makes the very point that I wish to make in the amendment. It asks everybody to make their views known by 1st September.

The bed and breakfast situation in the country is very serious. I submit that every effort should be made to deal with it as soon as is possible and practicable. If it proves possible for everybody to submit comments by 1st September, will my noble friend consider bringing in an amendment in the final stages of the Bill to deal with the management of houses in multiple occupation?

The question of premium was discussed under Amendment No. 51. In no circumstances can those living in bed and breakfast accommodation ever receive a premium. As a result, families in bed and breakfast accommodation have to remain there for a certain amount of time, and their social, education and health situation becomes very serious.

I hope that my noble friend will consider the possibility of bringing in an amendment at a later stage. I shall not of course press the amendment at this time of night, but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, could talk to my noble friend with a view to incorporating an amendment into the Bill at a later stage.

Lord Seebohm

I strongly support the amendment. In view of what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has said and the fact that the consultative document has now been issued, it may be better to hear what the Minister says before considering whether it is worth pressing the matter tonight.

Lord Dean of Beswick

I should like to refer briefly to the homeless people in relation to what the noble Baroness said in moving the amendment. The stage is being reached where accommodation for them is costing local authorities so much, certainly in the centre of London, that it may well pay the Government to take on board the initial payments referred to as key money. It may well be in the interests both of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the community as a whole to consider that before the results of the consultative document are forthcoming.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Faithfull for the manner in which she introduced the amendment. She is quite right to say that I wrote to her on 20th July and met many of the points covered in the amendment. I draw attention to Amendments Nos. 143 and 153 in my name, in which I cover most of the points raised in Amendment No. 92. I therefore hope that my noble friend may feel able to withdraw the amendment.

My noble friend raised one important point which we have not yet covered relating to houses in multiple occupation. The reason we have not yet tabled an amendment is that, as the Committee will be aware, we have just issued a consultation document and invited responses. Clearly it will take some time to receive those responses, although we hope they will he in by 1st September. It will take further time to consider them, analyse them and draft the necessarily fairly complicated provisions.

Therefore, it is most unlikely that we shall be able to do that in time for the Bill, but I am sure that my noble friend is fully aware of the Government's commitment to do something in future legislation, which is foreshadowed by the fact that we have put out a consultation paper. However, I shall be happy to see my noble friend, or any other noble Lord who wishes to speak to me on this matter, between now and later stages of the Bill.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister is certainly optimistic about making progress. Those of us who have taken a special interest in this matter cannot help but be amazed at the fortitude of the people who are faced with living in the conditions which this amendment seeks to put right. It is the absence of rights that concern us. Those tenants are bereft of any belief in their ability to do anything about their circumstances. Of course, at the end of the day all they want is a decent place in which to live and bring up their families.

The Minister said that there will be consultation. Can he say whether it will extend to groups such as the Bayswater project, which has produced an excellent document? Will the consultation include the homeless in Earls Court, who form another group? Will it be with the primary organisations such as the councils and the national agencies? Will it seek to get right down to the roots; that is, those groups seeking to help the people affected?

The Earl of Caithness

Copies of the consultation document have been sent to every local authority in England and to organisations and individuals interested in multiple occupation problems. Copies have also been placed in the Library and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales will be consulting separately the Welsh local authorities and those interested in Wales.

If the noble Lord knows of an association which would like a copy of the consultation paper perhaps he will let me know and we shall make sure that it gets one, because the wider the consultation, the better. However, the wider the consultation the longer it will take to analyse the problems and the less chance there will be of provisions being included in the Bill.

Lord Seebohm

Before the noble Baroness replies, I should like to add that I believe the whole situation relating to bed and breakfast accommodation, and the condition of the houses in London in particular, is so serious that I hope it will not be said that an amendment will not be put forward at a later stage. We must do something rather than wait for a year or two years.

Baroness Faithfull

I am grateful to all who have spoken to this amendment. I fully appreciate that my noble friend is well aware of how serious is the situation. The consultation paper itself says that currently about 4,000 management orders are made each year and that the number of houses in multiple occupation which are in poor condition, as the department's research has shown, far exceeds that figure. Clearly the research department within the Minister's department is well aware of the seriousness of the situation.

I hope that it will be possible to discuss the matter with the Minister and, as the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, said, perhaps have an amendment to the Bill at a later stage. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 45 [Interpretation of Part I]:

11.15 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 93: Page 34, line II, after ("sub-tenancy") insert ("and a rental purchase agreement as defined in Regulation 10(1)(i) of The Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987, for so long as the title to the property has not been transferred to the rental purchaser").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 93 I speak also to Amendment No. 172. This amendment deals with rental purchase. I believe that the Minister will be aware from his advisers that this is a phenomenon specifically related to conditions in the North. It is not exclusively related to the North, but from the evidence that I have read many of the councils have been very concerned at the plight of those who live in their areas and who have been induced to take up what appears to be a sensible arrangement but which has proved to be a nightmare for the poorer section of the community. It believes that it is undertaking a legitimate form of house purchase, but in fact it has been found that is not what it is.

In essence this amendment is seeking to add to that part of the Bill that relates to definitions. We are saying that a 'tenancy' includes a sub-tenancy and an agreement for a tenancy or sub-tenancy; and". We then insert, a rental purchase agreement as defined in Regulation (101(1)(i) of The Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987". The regulation states: Rent. Subject to the following provisions of this regulation, the payments in respect of which housing benefit is payable in form of a rent rebate or allowance are the following periodical payments".

Under (i) the regulations state: payments under a rental purchase agreement, that is to say an agreement for the purchase of a dwelling under which the whole or part of the purchase price is to be paid in more than one instalment and the completion of the purchase is deferred until the whole or a specified part of the purchase price has been paid".

We all understand that in essence the way in which this scheme has been operated, it is nothing more than a hire-purchase agreement. That worries a great many people. I shall be grateful if the Minister will either accept the amendment or explain to those outside the Committee who are very worried that there is no need for this amendment and that they can retain or obtain better protection than they have from the operation of the law as it stands. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

I believe that the noble Lord is also speaking to Amendment No. 172.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

That is correct.

The Earl of Caithness

Amendment No. 93 would give all rental purchasers who entered into agreements after this Bill, the status of tenants under this Bill, with all that that implies. But practically a rental purchaser is not an assured tenant. He is someone purchasing his property in instalments whose rights and obligations under his contract to purchase are different from those of a tenant under a lease. Amendment No. 93 would not help him very much. A rental purchaser enters into a fixed term contract with the vendor of the property he is purchasing. Therefore, he will not have the right to go to the rent assessment committee for it to consider the sum that he is paying for his property until the end of the fixed term, by which time he will own the property and it is already necessary to go to court to evict a rental purchaser, so he has some security.

Amendment No. 172 will bring rental purchasers within the scope of Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Section 11 is a very important section which sets out the repairing obligations of the landlord in relation to most leases of seven years or less, particularly periodic tenancies. I believe that many rental purchasers take on full repairing obligations in their contract and this amendment will put the liability on their vendors. However, I believe that many rental purchase agreements are for longer than seven years and this gives them a stake in the property greater than that of tenants on short or periodic leases and consistent with full repairing obligations.

Also, when an occupier takes on full repairing obligations this is normally reflected in the amount he pays by way of rent or charge, and in an agreement when this has happened it would be wrong to put the repairing obligation on the landlord. We believe that it would not be sensible to make a rental purchaser an assured tenant under the Bill when he has little to gain by it. We do indeed realise that there have been problems with rental purchase for some people, and we are awaiting with interest the results of the AMA survey. However, I do not believe that these amendments are the way to help rental purchasers. I believe the main provisions of this Bill in enabling landlords to charge market rents will go a long way to changing the situation.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that the Government are alive to the problems; but, in view of what I have said, I wonder whether it might not be wise to withdraw the amendment until we see what the AMA has to say on the matter.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I shall certainly do that. I note that the Minister has made no commitment until we see what the AMA survey throws up. I know from looking at the correspondence I have received in preparing for the debate that the residents of many—indeed most—local authorities in the North are very concerned. We think that this solution as a security measure would be the answer. We do not say that it is the only answer. I hope that those outside the Committee will think of this as an ongoing matter which has not been closed, dropped or killed by the Minister. However, he has given me sufficient hope to enable me to say that I doubt whether I shall be coming back to it during discussions on this Bill. Like the Minister, I shall await the findings of the survey. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 94:

Page 34, line 30, at end insert— ("For the avoidance of doubt, in this Act, tenancy means: Any grant of a right to occupy a dwelling-house as a residence, for occupation with exclusive possession at a term, whether or not at a rent, made between distinct parties intending to create legal relations. There shall be a tenancy notwithstanding that in the case of an agreement which amounts to joint exclusive possession, the lawful joint occupants have entered into possession at different times. In construing documents which purport to represent agreements to grant rights to occupy dwelling-houses, courts shall have regard to the true nature and effect of the transaction and shall determine from all the circumstances, including the conduct of contracting parties, the true nature and effect; the courts shall be astute to detect cases where documents do not reflect the true nature and effect of the agreement.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment deals with the position of licensees. Not for the first time, people outside the Chamber believe there is a problem while those inside the DoE believe that there is not a problem. That is because those in the DoE do not live in the real world. In this amendment we seek to define "tenancy" on the face of the Bill.

Landlords will not make use of the assured tenancy scheme unless there is an incentive for them to do so. There is every incentive for landlords to let on licences rather than to use the assured tenancy scheme or even the assured shorthold scheme. The creation of the excluded licence gives them even more incentive to do so. If the Government want to deal with the problem, they must make a clear ruling that is a disincentive to the use of licences.

In Committee in another place on 4th February the Minister stated that the courts were dealing with the problem. Although this was probably largely true in 1984 when the House of Lords decided the case ofStreet v. Mountford, in a series of cases since then the Court of Appeal has consistently undermined that judgment and made of the state of the law an inconsistent morass in substance and a narrow and pettifogging approach in method. I wish I had coined those words myself. They sound very good. I am happy to repeat them. They have been written for me by somebody else.

Those outside the Chamber consider there is a real problem that is not addressed in the Bill. If the Minister tells me that this is not the way to address the problem and that there is some other means, I shall be happy to listen to him. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

This amendment deals with a very complicated issue which has preoccupied distinguished legal minds for many years. The judgment in the case ofStreet v. Mountford, was believed by many to be conclusive in this issue. In its wake many landlords and tenants recognised that they had entered into agreements which would be construed as tenancies in the courts, even though they were called licences. Since then the Court of Appeal's decision in the case of Antoniades v. Villiers has added further complications to the issues.

I think that it may just surprise the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, to know that we in the DoE are aware there is a problem, the reason being that we are humans. We live in the real world. We have been, or are, tenants and we have been licensees. Therefore we understand some of the problems which exist. I know that it is difficult for some people to realise that fact, but we try to be as realistic as possible.

However, I am afraid that I must say to the noble Lord that we shall not solve the problems before us by this amendment. Indeed, I do not think that we shall even solve them by the provisions in the Bill, because a housing Bill is not the place to deal with a fundamental issue of landlord and tenant law—certainly not this one, which is one of the most complex.

The problem of non-exclusive occupation licences has come into sharp focus because of the different outcomes in the Court of Appeal decisions in the recent cases of AG Securities v. Vaughan and Antoniades v. Villiers. I understand that in the AG Securitiescase leave has been granted to appeal to this place and that the case should be heard in the autumn. It would be wrong for me to anticipate the outcome of the judgment, but I believe that we can expect a decision on the case which will be conclusive and enduring.

I believe that sham licences such as this amendment attempts to tackle are a product of a regime which has held down rents and made it difficult for landlords to repossess their property. We are tackling both those problems in this Bill. We offer the landlord in shorthold a guaranteed right of repossession for a tenancy at market rent. There will be no need or incentive for landlords to resort to sham licences. If they do, I believe the courts will be astute to detect such shams, as they already are and as this amendment enjoins them to be, and some landlords will find they have created assured tenancies and given their tenants security of tenure.

Although I fully understand the point of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, I cannot for the reasons I have given accept it. I hope that one day we shall be able to deal with the matter in its proper place; namely, in a Bill on landlord and tenant law. In the meantime, we hope that this Chamber, in another capacity, will sort out the law for us.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am most grateful to the Minister. He rests his case on the possibility of dealing with the issue in a landlord and tenant Act. However, we have not been without such Acts over the past three or four years, and though this problem has been in existence for longer than that the opportunity was not found to include it.

Nevertheless, I have heard what the Minister has said and those outside this place will read what he has said. If they prompt me to take some action in the future, I shall be most willing to listen to them. As I say, I am grateful to the Minister for having put on record what he has said on the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 45 agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 95:

After Clause 45, insert the following new clause:

("Conditions in houses in multiple occupation.

.—(1) Subject to) section 126 below, this section shall have effect in relation to protection for assured tenants in houses in multiple occupation in the private rented sector.

(2) The relevant provisions of the Housing Act 1985 (as specified in Schedules 14 and 15 below) shall be amended to—

  1. (a) repeal the requirement for a local authority to make a management order in respect of a house in multiple occupation before enforcing the management regulations;
  2. (b) secure a standard procedure for the serving of notices requiring improvements by enabling authorities to serve all notices on the person responsible for the management of the house;
  3. (c) provide for a single notice to the landlord of a house in multiple occupation whereby any of the powers of the local authority may be enforced; and
  4. (d) place a duty on local authorities to enforce amenities notices in houses in multiple occupation.

(3) For the purposes of this section, the 'relevant provisions' shall be those provisions of the 1985 Act which relate to the matters specified in subsection (2) above and which are subject to amendment in Schedules 14 and 15 below.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 170A.

The Earl of Caithness

Is the noble Lord not speaking also to Amendments Nos. 161 to 169 and to Amendment No. 179?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I must apologise to the Committee; it was indeed my intention to speak also to those amendments. With these amendments we return to the question of houses in multiple occupation, which has already been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. In bringing forward the amendments we recognise that the Government have indicated—as the Minister of State indicated on Report in another place—that there are further amendments to be brought forward by the Government and, as the Minister said here today, that there are amendments which cannot be tabled now but which may have to be introduced later, perhaps after the passage of this Bill.

There are certain things here which we consider it necessary to deal with now, because we believe that there are improvements in repairs notices, in addition to those which have already been placed on the Marshalled List by the Government, which could be made relatively simple and which would enormously strengthen the Bill's ability to deal with that great problem. I say "great problem" advisedly. Houses in multiple occupation in the private rented sector are at the heart of some of the country's worst housing conditions. Four out of five houses in multiple occupation lack a satisfactory means of escape from fire.

Surveys have shown that nearly half of the houses in multiple occupation would justify a management order under the Housing Act 1985. In 61 per cent. of houses in multiple occupation tenants lack access to a full range of basic facilities. In Amendment No. 95 we propose to simplify the provisions of the 1985 Act. In other words, we want to repeal the requirement that a local authority go through the formality of making a management order before enforcing management regulations.

We are looking for a standard procedure for serving notices requiring improvements so that notices can be served on the person responsible for the management of the house. We are not looking for different people or for someone who is not responsible for managing the house.

In subsection (2)(c) we provide for a single notice to enforce any of a local authority's powers. That is again referred to in Amendment No. 170A, which provides that all the notices under the 1985 Act can be made part of a single notice. In other words, a notice relating to the power to require the execution of works to render premises fit, a service and contents of overcrowding notice, and notices relating to means of escape from fire, powers to limit the number of occupants of a house, and so on, could all be made part of one notice instead of there being separate notices. Subsection (2)(d) places a duty on local authorities to enforce amenities notices in houses in multiple occupation.

I have forgotten the numbers, but the amendments to which the Minister referred when he corrected me cover a number of other points about houses in multiple occupation which are of great significance.

The defects in houses in multiple occupation to which we have referred—the lack of basic amenities, frequent overcrowding, unsatisfactory means of escape from fire and the general poor management—are problems which are readily understood by government and have been understood by all governments over a period of years.

We do not feel that it is good enough for government to continue to put off all the simplifications of the law which are necessary to deal with the problems. It is not satisfactory to put them off to subsequent legislation. We are grateful for the improvements in the drafting of the Bill which have been made. We believe that the simplifications now proposed will make the law more effective. We hope that they will find favour with the Government. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

These amendments deal with a subject which is only tangentially related to the subject matter of the Bill but is one about which the Government are concerned. Much research, including some by my department, has been done into houses in multiple occupation. It has revealed that the conditions in many of them are poor. The department appointed an environmental health adviser who has been visiting local authorities all over the country, finding out about their problems. His visits have confirmed the research findings and also confirmed the Government's view about local authorities' powers to deal with houses in multiple occupation.

Most local authorities accept that the powers they have under Part XI of the Housing Act 1985 are very extensive and generally suitable for the task of improving HMOs and bringing them up to standard. However local authorities have made the point that they would like to see the powers streamlined in certain respects. Accordingly, my honourable friend the then Minister for Housing and Planning made an announcement in another place on 9th June that the department would be consulting local authorities about ways in which their present powers could be strengthened. As I said, a consultation paper was issued on 18th July.

Members of the Committee will be aware that some of the proposals in that paper are very similar to the proposals contained in these amendments. The paper proposes that the management regulations should apply to all houses in multiple occupation automatically, as Amendments Nos. 95 and 165 and the subsequent repeals in Amendment No. 179 would provide. It proposes that there should be a common single notice procedure, as does Amendment No. 95 and in some respects Amendment No. 170A. It proposes appropriate changes to the definition of the person having control, as do Amendments Nos. 161 to 164 and 167 to 169. The paper invites comments by the beginning of September. One important issue on which it invites local authority views, and an issue not addressed by these amendments, is the definition of a house in multiple occupation, since there is evidence that local authorities differ widely in their interpretation of the term. It is important that we should get an agreed definition before we start changing the powers applicable to an HMO.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, will accept that the Government share his objectives of improving the condition of HMOs and that matters are very much in hand. I hope that as a result of those assurances he will be able to withdraw this amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Minister's reference to the former Minister for Housing and Planning confirms what had only been rumour up till now, that he himself has changed his responsibilities to include I think at least housing, or some additional responsibilities within the department. He seems unable to confirm that; I thought it was now confirmed. I was about to congratulate him on his increased responsibilities; if that is true, I congratulate him sincerely.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said. There is a very difficult problem here. We do not want any further delay. We should like these protections, which have not been adequately argued against, I am afraid, put into the Bill now rather than waiting for a later stage. I appreciate the virtues of consultation, the work that is being done within the department and the appointment of the environmental advisers. But these are urgent matters; they will not brook further delay. If we have these amendments wrong, I should like to talk to the Government about them. However I should not like there to be any delay later than the Report stage of the Bill before we see something better on the statute book to deal with the evident abuses which have taken place and are still taking place in houses in multiple occupation.

I accept the sincerity of' the Minister's response. I know that he is concerned with the matter and that he recognises that this is one of the worst areas of housing provision in the country. If together we can work for a better way of overcoming the problem here, I think we should do so. But in order to do so it is right that I should beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 96:

After Clause 45, insert the following new clause:

('Notification to tenant of change of landlord

.—(1) If the interest of a landlord under a tenancy of premises which consist of or include a dwelling is assigned, both the person who was the landlord immediately before the assignment ('the old landlord') and the person who is the landlord immediately after the assignment ('the new landlord') shall give to the tenant notice in writing of the assignment and of the new landlord's name and address in accordance with paragraph 28A of Schedule 14 below.

(2) Section 3 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 shall he amended in accordance with that paragraph.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 96 I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 174 which perhaps contains the meat of this pair of amendments. The problem here has been referred to on a number of occasions in Committee over the last week. It is that many tenants do not know who their landlord is. That is not simply because of the very complicated abuse of the law by people such as Mr. Nicholas van Hoogstraten. It is true of a very large number of landlords who may not even be trying to evade the law, but who leave their tenants in a position where they cannot effectively exercise their rights.

When one looks at the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, one could be forgiven for thinking at first sight that all of the problems had been resolved by that Act. But unfortunately that is not the case. Section 3(1) of that Act requires the new landlord to tell the tenant his name and address. But of course if the tenant does not know who the new landlord is how can he institute the criminal proceedings which are made possible by Section 3(1) of the Act? It is a Catch-22 situation as regards the tenant. Unless he knows who the new landlord is and is informed by the person who is in a position to tell him, he will find it very difficult to implement his rights under Section 3(1).

Section (5)(1) of the Act states that the rent book should contain the landlord's name and address. That sounds all right, but it only applies to weekly rent. If the tenant has not been told in the first place of the landlord's name and address, how can he see that his rights are enforced? Section 3(3) of the 1985 Act, as inserted by Section 50 of the 1987 Act, states that the old landlord is responsible for breaches of the tenancy until the tenant has been told of the landlord's new name and address. But, in practice, if he has not been told it is no good the tenant pursuing the old landlord because the old landlord does not have the control over the property to do any work that is necessary to correct a breach of the tenancy. If he is not worth suing, the right is worthless.

Section 47 of the 1987 Act states that any demand for rent or service charges is invalid unless it contains the name and address of the landlord. But that only applies to variable service charges and not to fixed service charges. Therefore, we need corrections in that respect as well.

Finally, Section 48 of the 1987 Act states that the liability for rent or service charges is suspended unless the landlord gives the tenant notice of an address on which notices can be served. That again sounds all right because it covers rent as well as service charges, but still tenants who do not know their rights are in danger of paying the rent demanded, even if Section 48 has not been fully complied with.

No one doubts that the 1987 Act, like the 1985 Act, was designed honourably to deal with the problem of property changing hands to the detriment of the tenant's interest. But we are saying that that Act has not worked yet and that more action is required to tighten up the law. That is what the amendments are intended to do. If the Minister says that this is only tangential to the purpose of the Housing Act, as he said in response to an earlier amendment, I can only say that the protection of tenants in private rented accommodation, which is what we are talking about, should be central to the Government's housing policies whether or not it is central to the stated purposes of this Bill.

If the Bill is to be a coherent attack on housing problems, these problems should be tackled. We suggest in these amendments a particular way of tackling a particular, very serious problem. I beg to move.

Lord Ross of Newport

I wish to support very strongly the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who has highlighted the problems that still exist. There are anomalies; the situation should be tightened up. I used to live not very far from this Chamber in rented accommodation. I finally bought the accommodation as a tenant on a long lease, but I never knew who the landlord was. When I bought it, the landlord was Legal and General Insurance. Then it was sold on to somebody in the Channel Islands, the United States or heaven knows where. I never knew, to the day I sold it, who owned the property. I might have been able to find out under the 1985 and 1987 legislation. If that is so, I was remiss in not doing so. There are still anomalies which have been highlighted by the noble Lord. I strongly support the amendments. I believe that tenants should know who is their immediate landlord.

The Earl of Caithness

I entirely agree that it is important for tenants to know who is their landlord and how he can be contacted. Those points were forcefully made in the analysis of the Nugee Committee, whose report on the management of privately owned blocks of flats provided a basis for the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has used most of the answers that I was going to give him. He looks at it from one side and I look at it from the other.

The noble Lord asked how a tenant can discover the name of a new landlord. The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 already contains provisions concerning the disclosure of a landlord's identity on request to the person demanding the rent or the landlord's agent; about the disclosure of the names and directors of corporate landlords; about the duty of a new landlord; and, if the tenancy of premises consisting of or including a dwelling is assigned, about the duty to inform the tenants of his name and address. Failure to do so is a criminal offence.

The provisions were strengthened in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987. Section 50 of the Act provides that, in addition to the duty on the new landlord, the former landlord should remain liable to the tenants for any breach of covenant or obligation to the tenants until the tenants are notified of the assignment and of the new landlord's name and address.

Contrary to what the noble Lord has said, I believe that that gives a powerful incentive to a former owner to ensure that the necessary information is supplied, since no one wishes to remain liable for matters over which he has no direct control. In addition, Section 47 of the 1987 Act provides that a written demand for rent or service charges must contain the landlord's name and address, and, if the address is outside the jurisdiction of the High Court, an address in England or Wales at which notices and proceedings may be served on him. If that information is not provided, the tenant is not liable to pay unless and until it is forthcoming. Those sections and Section 48, which requires a landlord to notify tenants of an address for service of notices, have significantly strengthened the tenant's position as regards his ability to identify and contact his current landlord. It makes no difference to the tenant who provides him with that information. Therefore, I can see little advantage in imposing a duty on the former landlord after he has assigned his interest.

However, as this is the last amendment and as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, has supported so much of what we want, perhaps I may be allowed to consider the matter between now and another stage.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Minister is as disarming as ever. I am not entirely satisfied with his analysis of the situation. He has already agreed that there are obligations on the old landlord—for example, in respect of breaches of tenancy agreements. The obligation which we propose—that the old landlord should have the responsibility of notifying the tenants of the last known address of the new landlord—is not particularly onerous. It ought not to cause the kind of difficulty which the Government appear to see. However, in view of the Minister's undertaking to take the matter away and look at it again, which I assume implies recognition that the matter is one which could and should be dealt with in the Bill if a suitable way can be found for doing it, I think it is proper for me to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

House adjourned at ten minutes before midnight.