HC Deb 13 June 1988 vol 135 cc78-92
Mr. Simon Hughes

I beg to move amendment No. 306, in page 22, line 45, leave out 'cannot be a protected tenancy, unless' and insert 'shall be a protected tenancy if.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following: Government amendment No. 48.

Amendment No. 325, in page 23, line 5, after 'question;', insert 'or—(ba) it is granted to a person (alone or jointly with others) who immediately before the tenancy was granted was the protected tenant (or one of the protected tenants) or a statutory tenant of other premises owned by the same landlord or managed by the same managing agent.'. Amendment No. 232, in page 23, line 5, at end insert— `(c) it is granted to a person (alone or jointly with others) who immediately before the tenancy was granted was the protected tenant (or one of the protected tenants) or a statutory tenant of other premises let by the same landlord.'. Amendment No. 307, in page 23, line 22, at end insert `unless, in any of the cases in (a) to (d) above, the tenant informs the landlord in writing that he wishes to be granted an assured tenancy.'. Government amendments Nos. 49 and 50

Amendment No. 80, in clause 33, page 24, line 8, leave out from 'tenant' to end of line II and insert `(alone or jointly with others) of a registered housing association: or'. Amendment No. 81, in clause 33, page 24, line 26, at end insert or (e) it is granted to a person (alone or jointly with others) who, immediately before the tenancy was granted, was a secure tenant (alone or jointly with others) of a local authority, a new town corporation or an urban development corporation, all within the meaning of section 80 of the Housing Act 1985, a housing action trust established under Part III of this Act or the Development Board for Rural Wales.'. Government amendment No. 51.

Amendment No. 300, in clause 33, page 24, line 43, leave out from second 'was" to end of line 45 and insert `a secure tenant of a registered housing association;' Amendment No. 301, in clause 33, page 25, line 10, at end insert— '(f) it is granted to a person (alone or jointly with others) who, immediately before the tenancy was granted, was a secure tenant (alone or jointly with others) of a local authority, a new town corporation, or an urban development corporation, all within the meaning of section 80 of the Housing Act 1985, or a housing action trust established under Part III of this Act or the Development Board for Rural Wales.' Amendment No. 299, in schedule 13, page 120, column 3, leave out lines 6 to 10.

Mr. Hughes

If I were to give a title to this debate, it would probably be "When is protection not protection? When is a concession not a concession? And when is a social landlords' charter not a social landlords' charter?" Each of those matters arises in the debate.

I was reminded of a quote—I thought that it was from Sir Winston Churchill but it has an older pedigree—derived from Tolstoy: Should you read, upon an enclosure with an elephant, a sign saying Buffalo, believe not your eyes. One question which will arise regularly in this debate is, when does a sign that says one thing reveal, on a closer look, that there is something else behind the bars?

Amendments Nos. 306 and 307 deal with Rent Act-protected tenancies. Clauses 32 and 33 deal with four types of tenancies—Rent Act-protected tenancies, protected agricultural tenancies, housing association tenancies and secure tenancies. Each half of the two clauses deals with a different species of protected tenancy. The important matter of principle—the Government's response will determine whether it will be put to the vote—is whether tenants who are at present entitled to and enjoy Rent Act protection will automatically be granted new Rent Act-protected tenancies and whether, at the end of a Rent Act-protected tenancy, the new or old landlord can grant them assured tenancies even if they do not know what is going on. The risk is that a person could lose his rights at the end of a tenancy without being aware of it.

Amendments Nos. 306 and 307 are designed to guarantee statutory tenants the right to new, similarly protected tenancies unless they do not want them. That is stated clearly in amendment No. 307. The presumption is changed so that Rent Act protection continues unless … the tenant informs the landlord in writing that he wishes to be granted an assured tenancy. Sometimes—this will be the exception rather than the rule —people may be willing to forfeit Rent Act-protected tenancies or similarly protected tenancies for assured tenancies—for example, if they want to sell on a fixed-term assured tenancy. There should be opportunities for a tenant to opt out of protection, and that is what the amendments provide.

Clause 32(1) and (3) and clause 33(2) and (3) provide that new tenancies can be protected tenancies, but do not guarantee that they will be. The amendments attempt to reverse that. This is not a theoretical point. I raised in Committee, and make no apology for raising it again, a typical example from my constituency. Just over the bridges into Southwark and just off Borough High street, there is an attractive estate called Newington estate, owned by Trinity House, which invested in the estate to provide the income necessary to fulfil its duties to lighthouse keepers and seafarers. Just over half the tenants are on fixed-term leases governed by the Rent Acts.

The tenants have asked me several times since the Committee stage whether their present rights will be protected when their current fixed-term leases end. Will they be granted a new tenancy of the same property and given the same protection? If the Government concede, as I think they must, that that protection is not built in, I look to the Minister to say that that is a valid request and to agree that protection should be continued. After assignment by inheritance of a fixed-term lease on the Newington estate, would the new tenancy be an assured tenancy or have protection under the Rents Acts? That point has not yet been made clear under the present drafting of the Bill.

7.15 pm

Amendment No. 325 raises another substantive point —the extent to which people can move into other properties owned by the same landlord and still have the same protection. I am grateful to the Minister for making some concessions and, in turn, I concede that they go at least some way to meeting my worries. I seek by way of my probing amendment to discover whether the Minister accepts that my measure goes further than his. The Labour party has tabled a similar amendment, No. 232.

There may be good grounds for a person to move elsewhere. They may be instigated by the landlord in order to renovate a property, or a tenant may wish to move to larger, or smaller, premises because of a change in the number in his family. The concessions should be made clear. If they do not go as far as my amendment, the Government should accept that they need to go further. The Government's concessions do not appear to cover whether a move to another property owned by the same owner or managed by the same managing agency carries the same protection.

The Minister will have seen in the specialist housing press reference to worries about this aspect. Amendment No. 48 appears to allow a new landlord to talk a tenant who is unaware of his or her rights into signing a new agreement when ownership is transferred, with none of the old rights. I accept that this will apply only when a tenancy and ownership ends and there is a new landlord. It is likely that a person will buy a property so that he has it when the fixed-term lease concludes. Tenants may find on signing their new seven or 14-year lease that they have an assured tenancy and not a Rent Act-protected tenancy. Like many hon. Members, I listened to the Government's case in Committee. The logic of their argument is that they are not seeking to alter the rights of tenants who are presently protected. I believe, as do many tenants and those involved with them, that the Government are resiling from that position and that some existing protected tenants will not be protected if the Bill is passed unamended.

Amendments have been tabled which are worthy of support and an appropriate response and which protect the present practice of mobility between properties in the housing association sector. Many of us use in our constituency work information from the housing association liaison project, which is operated by housing associations. It allows people who live in a property owned by a housing association in one borough to apply for a transfer to another property owned by a different housing association in a different borough. I am not convinced —the amendments point to this deficiency—that there will be the same facility to enable people to move once the protection ends. In particular, I would ask the Minister to consider the threat that clause 33 appears to pose to arrangements which are mutually beneficial, which allow mobility and which the Government should support.

This is the first opportunity that we have had to debate the social landlords' charter, to which amendment No. 299 relates. In Committee, we had a long debate about whether there should be a housing association tenancy. The Minister will remember our exchanges about the status of housing associations. We wanted to establish whether they were private sector bodies, public sector bodies or something in between. Are they a new social provision? The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) asserted that they were in the public sector. The Minister resisted. Eventually, I elicited from him a commitment that they were not in the private sector either.

If that is correct, what is now presented as the social landlords' charter appears to be slightly different from what was implied in Committee. It looks as though we are to have not a housing association tenancy, or even half a housing association tenancy but some sort of guidance from an ever more powerful quango, the Housing Corporation, appointed by the Secretary of State, which will apparently mysteriously provide some sort of protection for the new sector which is neither one thing nor the other. It looks as though all that we shall have is a bit of extra protection added on to the private sector with a lack of rights that the Government seek to make the growth sector of their rented housing policy.

Mr. Soley

Is not the reason for that that the Secretary of State for the Environment would dearly like housing associations to be moved into the private sector, whereas the Minister for Housing and Planning recognises that that would not work and would therefore like to keep housing associations in limbo, whereas, to my mind, they clearly belong in the social landlord or public sector portfolios.

Mr. Hughes

The Secretary of State is in his place so perhaps he would like to reply to that. Last week we were all waiting for the balloon marked "social landlords' charter" to go up, but no one was sure whether it was the right balloon. On Wednesday, the Minister of Housing and Planning went to Warrington and made a speech. The press release, issued at the very last minute, did not relate to the contents of the speech. No one was sure whether what they saw was the balloon marked "social landlords' charter" or something else. Perhaps the Secretary of State will come clean on this. There certainly appears to have been an internal debate about what the new creation should be. Whatever the substance may be, the Secretary of State must surely have been happy with the description given.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the biggest balloon was in the Scottish Office? Having served on the Opposition Front Bench during the proceedings on the Housing (Scotland) Bill, I am very interested in this debate on the English Housing Bill. The Secretary of State for Scotland held throughout that housing associations were to be in the private sector under the new arrangement. Therefore, I was particularly interested to read the speech made by the Minister for Housing and Planning in Warrington last week as it was prefaced by a paragraph that concluded by referring to a new social housing sector in Britain. For the time being, at any rate, Scotland is part of Britain, as far as I know. I have tabled a series of written questions to the Scottish Office to try to find out whether Scotland is to be part of the new scheme, but there seems to be chaos in Government ranks at present.

Mr. Hughes

I shall not be drawn into discussing whether Scotland is in Britain; the Government have not yet managed to float Scotland off, despite their efforts to float everything else off. We discovered in Committee that what went on in the Scottish Office did not go on in Marsham street and vice versa. I might say that we were often envious because we wished that we could have proposals similar to those accepted by the Scottish Office. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) may be critical but we would have been grateful for some of the small droppings off the Scottish Office table.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

Droppings? Mr. Hughes: I am sorry, I meant the crumbs.

Mr. McCartney

We have table manners in Scotland, you know.

Mr. Hughes

The confusion probably arose from bread and dripping.

The was-it, wasn't-it social landlords' charter announcement on Wednesday has certainly not persuaded good Tory bodies such as the Association of District Councils to welcome the proposal with open arms. The National Federation of Housing Associations said that there were good bits, but that it did not go far enough. The Institute of Housing still has its alternative ready to be taken up by the Government. We are sad that what promised much has apparently given birth to so little.

I do not know whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will have the good fortune to be chairing them, but we shall no doubt have some very interesting debates on this question. The Minister implied that the rents in the social landlord sector must remain within the reach of those in lower-paid employment, but we have not yet been shown the mechanism to achieve that. We shall be asking, "When is an affordable rent not an affordable rent?" Some of us have very clear views about that and we await the Government's response on it. We shall be interested to discover whether we got the whole picture and whether what was described as an elephant is in fact a buffalo, to return to my original quotation. Are we to have a social landlord's charter or are we to have private sector assured tenancies with knobs on but very few advantages to the tenant in the end?

Amendment No. 299 focuses on the fact that in moving the housing association sector the Government appear to be removing its security and removing from housing association tenants the right to buy. I do not know whether that is what the Minister intended. The right to buy applies only to secure tenancies. If housing association tenancies are not to be secure tenancies, presumably the right to buy will not apply. That did not get a press release in Marsham street green, or bigger neon lights either.

It also looks as though the Government are repealing the right of housing association associations and the like to grant secure tenancies. This is the time to ask the Minister to set out clearly—not just for the House but for all those who have been building up the housing association movement—the exact implications of this part of the Bill and what exactly the Government amendments will do to the housing association sector. What will be the rights of tenants in housing association property and as regards the rent that they have to pay? If the provisions go through and the Opposition amendments are rejected will the housing association tenant have only four weeks' notice to quit as opposed to the security enjoyed by such tenants at the moment? This is the time when the truth will out. I note that the Secretary of State has just left. Perhaps he does not want to be here when what was promised fails to be delivered. I hope that the Government will at least accept that the fears are well founded. Unless they move some way in our direction, we shall have to register our feeling that much was promised but not enough has been delivered.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

The Opposition take strong exception to the Government's failure to make absolutely clear their intentions on the transferability of tenure for housing association tenants and the other transitional provisions. The Government are attempting to tighten the noose around the Rent Act protection that private sector, local authority and housing association tenants have hitherto enjoyed. It is part of their attempt to make what they see as a great leap forward—the vision of a free market-based housing market. They see it as an attempt to rerun the 1957 Act deregulation of the housing sector. For some of the reasons already mentioned by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) we take strong exception to that and we also have special reasons of our own.

Amendments Nos. 232, 300, 301 and 299 are intended to highlight the problems that the Government are creating for themselves by their inability to make up their mind about the status of housing associations in the brave new world of the deregulated housing market. Their current dilemma is in the same tradition as the problems that they faced in extending the transitional provisions when phasing out the Rent Acts in the private sector. The Government were unable to sort this out in Committee and the amendments that they have been tabling right up to this morning leave us with the impression that the Secretary of State as Caligula and the Minister of State as the horse appointed to be his proconsul are still in some conflict and that as the Minister of State canters through the private green belt around his hon. Friend's castle in Cirencester, communications between the two of them are still somewhat deficient. In the next couple of days, they must tell us finally whether housing associations are intended to be free market bodies with assured tenancies and market rents or part of the social housing sector and, if the latter, how the right to buy will be handled.

That critical division within the Government has produced an extraordinary piece of legislative jerry-building to which last-minute additions are still being proposed. I have no doubt that when the Bill goes to another place it will still be subject to multiple amendments, some put down by the Minister of State to neutralise those that the Secretary of State persuaded his ministerial team to table the previous day. The Bill will be a succession of lean-tos propped precariously on one another.

7.30 pm

The difficulty that we all face is in knowing the kind of tenants for whom the housing association sector is intended to cater when it moves away from the traditional concept to which we have become accustomed even from this Government. The Government went to a great deal of trouble to extend security of succession to council tenants in 1980 and the right to buy to housing associations other than charitable associations in 1980, further strengthened by the Housing Associations Act 1985. The Government's current mental state on housing matters is clearly schizophrenic, but they have a duty to inform the half million families in housing association tenancies what is intended for that sector and how it is to move from the situation created by the Government in the past nine years to the proposed new state of affairs.

Housing association tenants need to know whether they will have the right to buy or whether the Government intend to treat the associations as commercial agencies with commercial methods of raising funding and thus not subject to the right to buy. If that is the intention, will tenants be offered transfers to other public sector housing with full transferability of discount? This is a critical area of difficulty for the Government as they have invested so much political capital in the right to buy with transferable and successively increasing discounts.

Moreover, while the Government are furiously tabling amendments to their own legislation 14 weeks after the end of the Committee stage, along comes the Secretary of State for Wales and starts dripping words to the press about a further extension of the right to buy, with massive discounts and the sale of two-up two-down council houses in Wales for £1 apiece to sitting council tenants. Presumably the same would apply to housing association tenants. The provisions in the Bill seem to run directly counter to the press briefings by the Secretary of State for Wales two weeks ago, which were presumably intended to cover England and Wales and perhaps even Scotland, too.

None of this does much to foster the conviction that the Government know their own mind. The Minister of State will have to take a couple more canters around the Secretary of State's private paddock to establish whether the intention is to introduce further discounts for council tenants, and presumably also for housing association tenants, or whether it is the opposite. People must be told whether the Government are still committed to the right to buy and the possible elimination of public sector housing or whether they have decided to go back on that commitment because they regard a large rented sector as desirable for reasons of labour mobility or whatever else they have in mind.

The Government's schizophrenia must come to an end in the next couple of days. Local authority and housing association tenants have the right to know what is intended for them. They waited for the Housing Bill and they have waited 14 weeks since the end of the Committee stage, but Government amendments are still pouring in. Many of those amendments do not fit in with previous legislation. The moment of truth must come during the Report stage of this extraordinary double Bill which the Minister of State and the Secretary of State have cobbled together in such a way that it would certainly not be guaranteed by the National House-Building Council, as it clearly will not last long.

Will the Secretary of State now tell us how he regards the housing associations of the future? Will t hey offer secure tenancies and the right to buy or will they be part of the private sector with assured tenancies and market rents, and how are they intended to move from one situation to the other?

Mr. Timothy Kirkhope (Leeds, North-East)

Many Opposition Members seem not to have understood the history of the housing association movement, which should actually be called the voluntary housing movement and does not really fall either in the public sector or in the private sector. If hon. Members have not yet read C. V. Baker's excellent book on the history of the housing association movement, they should do so now. They will then realise that it is a progressive movement which was forestalled mainly by the failure of local authorities to show the same enthusiasm for housing after the first world war as the voluntary movement had before the war and has again today under the Government's proposals.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

If the hon. Gentleman is giving us lessons on housing, I should remind him that both the Addison Act and the Wheatley Act which were dealt with by local authorities made an enormous contribution to housing in the public sector. Local authorities participated strongly in that initiative which grew directly out of the campaigns which developed before the first world war and continued thereafter.

Mr. Kirkhope

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, but it is the belief of many that the failure of councils to take up the old management traditions after the first world war, combined with the poor estate design, had much to do with stunting the growth of a very important movement.

It is important to realise that, by and large, housing associations are small bodies both in terms of the number of houses that they control and in the scope and area of their activities.

Mr. McCartney

In giving this history lesson on public housing concepts, will the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what happened in the public sector before 1919? He seems to suggest that there was some kind of activity before that date. Perhaps I went to a different school and my knowledge of history and social science is deficient on that point, but I doubt it. Having done such magnificent research on the subject, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give chapter and verse about what exactly was the public sector before 1919.

Mr. Kirkhope

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not trying to teach anybody anything. I am trying to make a few observations about these matters, as I am entitled to do, just as the hon. Gentleman is entitled to do.

It is perfectly true that, before 1919, one of the large movements in this country was the almshouses. [Interruption.]' Any derogatory remarks about almshouses are not helpful. They were the precursors of the present voluntary housing movement. They were set up on a charitable basis and were extremely successful in providing good, modern housing. They had enlightened housing management. That is what I tried to say to hon. Members when I referred to local authorities which, I regret to say, for many years were not as enlightened and did not have the same progressive views as the voluntary housing movement.

When one talks about the great number of housing associations, it is important to remember that my constituency and the area around it in Leeds have more diverse types of housing associations than many other parts of the country. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) will acknowledge that. I support what the Government are trying to do. It is important not to create an atmosphere in which small housing associations are unable to continue their work in that small area in which they want to work.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why Leeds housing associations have petitioned the hon. Gentleman—he has made press statements about them—to say that the proposals in the Bill will make their work more difficult? Not least, they will price them out of development in inner-city areas that are difficult to develop and will make it more difficult for them to provide accommodation for those with special needs. Having voted against them in Standing Committee, what is the hon. Gentleman's response to housing associations now?

Mr. Kirkhope

The hon. Gentleman is now trying to give lessons of one kind or another. I have met representatives of the Leeds housing association movement. I am rather more aware than the hon. Gentleman is of what they said to me at the time. They generally welcome the Government's proposals to enliven—[Interruption.] I have had meetings with them, and I know what they think. They generally welcome the Government's approach to the enlivenment of the housing association sector. They welcome the greater freedoms that they will have in raising finance. They greatly welcome the fact that they will receive support from the Housing Corporation and from many other institutions such as the building societies that are now able to support them. They welcome all those things. Naturally, they have the concerns that I have expressed. To some extent, smaller associations worry that they will be gobbled up or that their specific role will be affected.

The Government are generally right, but, obviously, it is important too for us to do our best to recognise the needs of housing associations of every size and type. Only through doing that will we continue to give the extra necessary support to make the housing association movement grow even faster.

Mr. Soley

My remarks on this important group of amendments will be brief. We should like to know why the Minister is moving Government amendments Nos. 50 a nd 51 when, in a later part of the Bill, he proposes to remove from about 500,000 existing housing association tenants security of tenure, tenants' charter rights, and rights to buy. If the Minister examines amendment No. 299, he will see that we seek to delete the proposed partial repeal of section 80 of the Housing Act 1985. The partial repeal would mean that housing associations no longer satisfy the "landlord condition" required for a secure tenancy.

In other words, after the enactment of the Bill, the existing 500,000 housing association tenants will cease to be secure tenants, because the landlord condition required for a secure tenancy will not be satisfied. Additionally, tenants of non-charitable housing associations will lose the right to buy, and tenants of non-charitable housing associations will lose the right to apply for a transferable discount to assist them to purchase a property in the private sector. I should like the Minister's comments on those issues.

Rather more widely, and without repeating the arguments already outlined by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), I warn the Government, with considerable seriousness, that they are in danger not only of not achieving their goal but of destroying the housing association movement as we have come to know it. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East missed an important point. In 1974, the Labour Government put forward the housing association movement in its modern form. That action was based on all-party support.

It is fair to point out that the legislation was considered in detail by the Government of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). It was picked up by the Labour Government and put into effect. It had all-party support. The present Government have busted that consensus wide open, and have put housing associations in an incredibly difficult position. The hon. Gentleman should not say that housing associations do not mind that. They are deeply worried. I concede that they are now divided—some support the Bill and some are against it—and that division is doing much damage.

7.45 pm
Mr. Kirkhope

The legislation was drafted by the Conservative Government in 1974. If the hon. Gentleman will check the matter, he will see that barely any amendment was moved by his party. The inspiration of the Conservative Government led to the housing association legislation. It is important to remember that point.

Mr. Soley

I do not object to the hon. Gentleman taking up the time of the House by repeating what I have said. Some amendments were made, but there was all-party agreement. The Labour Government enacted what they picked up from the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. That is what happened. This Government are busting the consensus wide open.

The problem is that some housing associations may wish to move up-market, when the Minister for Housing and Planning actually realises that there is a crisis in low-cost rented accommodation and when we need more housing associations, more local authorities, and more co-operatives providing for the lower end of the market. Obviously, if some housing associations choose to move up-market, they are free to do so. But they must not expect an open-ended Government subsidy, either under the present Government or under a future Labour Government. If they provide up-market accommodation, they carry the responsibility of arranging finance for it. The priority for a Labour Government will and must be good-quality, low-cost homes for people on low incomes. Investors who do not recognise that fact will burn their fingers.

The housing market is not and cannot be a free market. Conservative Members keep falling into the trap of talking about it as though it were a free market—it cannot be; there are too many imperfections in it. At best, using economists' language, it is an inelastic market, in which change takes time. But several other factors—for example, cost and availability of land, alternative uses and the various Government subsidies in the form of tax relief and regional grant—affect the supply of housing and make it nonsense to talk about a free market in the way that the Government do.

Where there is scarcity, a Labour Government will arrange for rents to be set independently of the landlord. I predict that even this Government will return to that sooner or later. They will do so because they will find that the growing sense of scarcity in the low-cost accommodation sector—be it for rent or for purchase—will drive them to it. As the housing crisis worsens, and as more people sleep out or are forced into bed-and-breakfast accommodation, so the Government will be forced to address the problem. As the Government take off the Rent Act tenancies, they are aggravating the problem that they are seeking to solve.

It is important that that message goes out loud and clear, not only to investors, but to everyone in the housing association movement. We set up the housing association movement with all-party support. The Tory Government have broken that consensus and placed housing associations in a difficult position. We will continue to support housing associations as long as they remain true to the principles on which they were set up. That is the important aspect that is being placed at risk by the Government's absurd legislation.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. William Waldegrave)

Though I would put the rhetorical points differently, I can agree wholeheartedly with a lot of what the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said. That is that no one wants the housing association movement to move away from doing the job for which it has been funded under both Labour and Conservative Governments. We want it to do more. I do not think that anyone would thank me for widening this point into a general debate about housing associations, which we shall be coming to later. However, there are one or two points to deal with now.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) said, it is right that the experimental mixed-funding scheme is a small part of the funding of the Housing Corporation. About £60 million has been put into the scheme and there have been £700 million worth of bids from interested housng associations. That shows the amount of interest that there is in the scheme. I do not believe that the people who have put forward those bids —some of whom are in my hon. Friend's part of the country—are departing from their traditions. They are seeking to make the money go further and have more useful, low-cost housng built, which is the objective of all of us. I do not disagree with what the hon. Member for Hammersmith said. The House would want to know if the subsidies did not produce housing at low market rents. That is clearly what they are meant to achieve. We shall continue the subsidies.

I can dispose of one small point that the hon. Member of Hammersmith raised.

Mr. Soley

Before the Minister moves on, the scheme is not producing more low-cost rented accommodation in the housing association movement.

Mr. Waldegrave

As the hon. Member knows, the mixed spending scheme has only just started, with a tiny sum of money in the first year and the grant levels too low. Therefore, we have put more money into it and we are developing it as we go along. The scheme is now beginning to work. I have visited, as the hon. Member probably has, some useful schemes that have already been carried out in the second year of the experimental programme.

One small hare that has been started running by a genuine misunderstanding in the National Federation of Housing Associations can be laid to rest. The hon. Member for Hammersmith alleges that we are affecting the rights of 500,000 existing people. That is not so. We are certainly not resiling from the pledge to maintain people's existing rights. We shall, of course, need a saving provision to exclude from the repeal provison in schedule 13 those who are in existing secure tenancies. That would normally be done in a commencement order under a Bill like this, but, as it is so important, it will be on the face of the Bill itself. Obviously, we must do that, and that is a technical amendment which will be brought forward. Clearly, that is just a misunderstanding. We have written to Mr. Page of the NFHA, who has probably briefed the hon. Member for Hammersmith on this, to explain that point to him.

Mr. Soley

I am grateful to for the commitment that the Minister will amend that matter, but will he tell us when he will do this? Will it be more legislation on the hoof? Will we get it at a later stage in here or is he proposing to do it for the House if Lords?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Member for Hammersmith is really pushing this slightly thin line a little bit too far. Normally, it would be done in the commencement order of the Bill. We can do that if he wishes and wait until next April. That would be the normal way of doing it. However, we thought that it would be better to put it on the face of the Bill.

However, the hon. Member for Hammersmith presses me never to make another concession to him again.— [Interruption.] That is the message I have received from his behaviour in the past couple of days.

Mr. Simon Hughes

On the question of the state of the housing association tenants, is the Minister saying that the present security for all housing association tenants will be underwritten and guaranteed, not just on the right to buy, but that all their present security will be guaranteed?

Mr. Waldegrave

As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) knows, there are broadly two categories among present housing association tenants. There are tenants of registered housing associations, who are secure tenants with the right to buy, and all the rest of it. There are also tenants of unregistered associations, who are usually—not in every case because some of them may already be on secure tenancies—Rent Act tenants, without the right to buy. Some hon. Members have been asking whether all those tenants in the housing association movement have the right to buy. Of course, they do not all have the right to buy. If they are tenants of charitable housing associations, they do not have it. They also do not have it if they are Rent Act tenants. However, all existing rights will be continued.

Mr. Hughes

For both categories?

Mr. Waldegrave

Yes, for both categories.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked me about the assignment of tenancies. There is no problem about that. I am advised that the Bill makes our intention clear. If a fixed term protected tenancy is assigned or devolves by inheritance, it will remain protected even after the commencement of the Bill.

I think I made this point in Committee, but it is perhaps worth making again. People have the right to register a fair rent, even after the commencement of the Bill. If they are in the category of Rent Act tenants who have never got around to, or chosen to register, a fair rent, they can do so at any time. Their rights under their existing tenancies continue indefinitely.

The purpose of our amendments was to undertake the commitment that we made in Committee. I think that it was I who made that commitment. It is to be found in column 603 of the Committee Hansard. That commitment was at the commencement of the legislation to provide additional protection for people who are tenants of private landlords or housing associations who might be required to be moved around. One can imagine that that might be necessary in hostels and other types of accommodation, and might be good housing management.

I said in Committee that we were inclined to do it only for tenants of the same landlord. That is what the amendments provide and there can be no doubt about it. Tenants moved within the property of the same landlord would obtain secure tenancies on the same basis. We said in Committee—and we have stuck to it—that we were doubtful about doing it for transfers because that would greatly increase the number of Rent Act tenancies. Therefore, we have not moved further. I understand that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey would have liked us to move further but we have not.

I cannot accept the argument that people who happen to share the same management agent might gain a secure tenancy from it. That would have the most peculiar random effects. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey as a lawyer—I am glad to see that he has recovered from his cold—would regard it as a matter of some importance that it would produce tremendous uncertainty and argument subsequently about what had been the status of a tenancy at the beginning. It would depend on who the managing agent was and that might have no relationship to the property ownership at all. I should have thought that that would have been an odd procedure.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I am aware of the possible general difficulty. However, one of the things that happens, as the Minister is aware, is that there are often transfers of ownership between a holding company and a subsidiary company—different companies in the same group. There are a lot of companies in the private sector which will transfer ownership from one company to another, which may be technical in one sense, but in terms of legal ownership it is fundamental. The management is carried on by the same agency—the same firm of estate agents, surveyors or whatever—and transfers take place for reasons that have nothing to do with the management of the property or the good of the tenants.

There are a lot of mischiefs which, I am sure, the Minister will want to prevent when dealing with some of the worst landlords—corporate landlords—and which are occasioned by transfers between one technically "corporate" owner and another. I would be grateful if the Minister could consider that problem because it seems something that he would not want to slip through the net. My amendment sought to protect such moves which, at the moment, might be to the disadvantage of the tenant.

8 pm

Mr. Waldegrave

I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. However, his method of making the managing agent the test would produce some peculiar anomalies. I want to argue against him and I claim that our amendments are much clearer than amendment No. 307. Our amendment states that there is no question but that the tenant becomes a secured tenant. We do not give the option for negotiation about whether or not he wants to choose to become an assured tenant, first because clarity is important and we do not want subsequent arguments about "Did he agree, or did he not?" and the landlord saying, "Oh yes, he did," and so on. We want it to be clear that there is no legal argument. The tenant continues to be a secured tenant. That is the first and most important point.

Secondly, if we opened up the idea that there could be negotiation, one might open up just the pressures which hon. Members of all parties would be against if there was the option of pushing people into an assured tenancy. There will not be an option. The tenancy becomes secured automatically, which is right.

Amendment No. 80 goes much wider than our amendments. Its effect could be that tenants of registered housing associations with new-style assured tenancies who have never had a fair rent tenancy of the old kind would, if they moved to another dwelling let by the same or a different association, get a housing association tenancy subject to part VI of the Rent Act 1977. That seems extremely odd because they might never have been in such a situation. I think that amendment No. 80 was a probing rather than a serious amendment.

I have dealt with amendment No. 299, the point of which is absolutely essential and clearly we must deal with it. As I have said, we shall deal with it not in the commencement order, but on the face of the Bill. I hope that the House will welcome that.

We have moved to meet some commitment that we made in Committee and which will improve the Bill—

Mr. Simon Hughes


Mr. Waldegrave

I see that the hon. Gentleman wants to go even further. I am willing to give way to him once more.

Mr. Hughes

The Minister appears inadvertently to have missed the question about whether the protection continues if a fixed term protected tenancy ends at the same time the landlord changes, even with a new landlord. That is a specific question that I have been asked and which I now ask the Minister.

Mr. Waldegrave

I think that I should be absolutely sure and get a lawyer's answer on that, so that I will not mislead the hon. Gentleman. I shall write to him about it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members will agree that, although they want us to go further, we have met two commitments that we made in Committee and that the drafting has met our objectives.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Minister has certainly clarified for me some things that were not clear. I cannot speak for the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), but speaking for myself, the right course is to go away and consult lawyers and to await the Minister's letter on the one remaining matter. That is the responsible way forward, because there will be opportunities in another place, where as the Minister knows, the housing association movement has many friends. If any matters remain unresolved here, they will no doubt be pursued in the other place.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made:No. 48, in page 23, line 2, leave out from second 'was' to 'or' in line 5 and insert 'a protected or statutory tenant and is so granted by the person who at that time was the landlord (or one of the joint landlords) under the protected or statutory tenancy'. No. 49 in page 23, line 42, leave out from second 'was' to 'tenancy' in line 46 and insert 'a protected occupier or statutory tenant, within the meaning of the 1976 Act, and is so granted by the person who at that time was the landlord or licensor (or one of the joint landlords or licensors) under the protected occupancy or statutory'.;—[Mr. Waldegrave.]

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