HC Deb 28 April 1971 vol 816 cc117-9W
55. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the meeting which he had with representatives of London boroughs on 2nd April, 1971, concerning the problem of securing greater availability of land to enable an acceleration of municipal development to take place in Greater London, and so as to ease the problems of stress areas.

Mr. Amery

The purpose of the meeting on 2nd April was not to discuss land availability but, as I said in the House on 10th March,to discuss what action can be taken now in the light of the Francis Report so that no time should be lost in improving conditions for both tenants and landlords in those areas where the shortage of housing is worst. I was much impressed with the efforts being made by many London Boroughs and the thought they arc giving to these problems.

There was general agreement that wherever possible these efforts should be extended. In accordance with my promise to keep the House informed, I add a copy of the letters I have sent out following the meeting:

28th April, 1971.

Following the publication of the Francis Report, I held a small meeting on 2nd April with some London Boroughs who seemed to have the worst "stress area" problems affecting landlord and tenant relationships. We discussed the Francis Committee recommendations which could be acted upon before waiting for further legislation. I promised to send them a letter setting out the main points on which action seemed urgently desirable; and I am sending such a letter to them today.

I recognise that the Boroughs who attended that meeting are not the only ones with the stress areas or with problems in this field. I am therefore sending you and all other Leaders of those London Boroughs which were not at that meeting, a copy of the letter which I am sending them.

If there is anything you would like to tell me about the extent of the problem in your borough, and what steps you are taking to deal with it, I should of course be most interested.


28th April, 1971.

I am writing as promised following the meeting on 2nd April about what more can be done to help private tenants and landlords in areas of special housing stress.

I was very much heartened by the meeting. Although it was clear that the problems of different authorities varied quite a lot from each other and some of them were difficult and intractable, I was struck by the amount of thought already given to them and the general agreement to do more if we possibly can.

All present at the meeting were good enough to undertake to send me a report in due course—I suggest about six months, say the end of October—first on which are the areas of special difficulty in your Borough, and second what provision you are making to deal with the problems there. The meeting was generally agreed, I think, that it is not necessary to define stress areas more precisely than to say that we are thinking of the sort of areas where overcrowding, multiple occupation and bad physical conditions nut landlord/tenant relations under special strain.

The various forms of help which we discussed included—

  1. (a) the appointment of tenancy relations officers, or greater emphasis on the part which existing officers concerned with Part III of the Rent Act, 1965 can play by means of conciliation, advice and help for tenants, and where necessary landlords, in all matters relating to tenancy relations in stress areas; the local authority will decide whether the tenancy relations officer should be based at the Housing Aid Centre or elsewhere; it may be that more people in stress areas will come to him for advice if his office is not in imposing surroundings;
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  3. (b) the setting up of Housing Aid Centres where advice and help on various kinds of housing problem can be concentrated. Such centres will of course be useful to many beside those in stress areas, but specially useful to them;
  4. (c) the importance of giving maximum local publicity about what sort of help and advice can be given, and where it is to be got. I was interested to find that most authorities have arrangements for receipt of emergency telephone messages: I suggest that this is a matter which could very usefully be made known in stress areas, although it does not of course follow that problems there can be sorted out immediately, or by any one type of action;
  5. (d) prosecutions for harassment and illegal eviction. It must be entirely for the local authorities to decide whether the evidence in any particular case warrants a prosecution. It does, however, seem to me, looking at the figures of convictions in different areas, that some authorities have shown special vigilance in this matter, and it is a point which you may like to consider further;
  6. (e) Multiple occupation. We had a useful discussion about the various powers you have for controlling conditions in multi-occupied premises. I shall be very interested to hear what you have to tell me in October about action under these powers;
  7. (f) The need for clear and—so far as possible—simple advice to be available to coloured people, many of whom live in stress areas. In this connection you no doubt know about the Department's leaflets on landlord and tenant matters in various immigrant languages.

I am considering many of the points that were put to me at the meeting and will write further about some of them. In general let me end by saying that you are the people who can really help those in stress areas if I or my officers can help you to help them, I hope you will not hesitate to get in touch with me. Many of the wider aspects of housing will of course have their effect on housing shortage. But our meeting, and this letter, are concerned with the narrower question of helping people in their difficulties in these areas so long as housing stress persists.