§ `A tenancy is an assured tenancy within the meaning of this Act if—
- (a) the letting is or forms part of a building which at the time of the commencement of this Act was empty and had remained empty for a period of more than six months; and
- (b) the landlord has obtained from the local authority a licence authorising the building or part of a building as fit to be let.'.—[Mr. Simon Hughes.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
Even at this late stage, we hope to persuade the Government to proceed slightly more carefully in the deregulation of the private sector. They legislated for a new form of assured tenancy in 1980, and our new clause would allow such tenancies in the new deregulated regime that the Government so favour, but would limit them to property that was previously empty.
The problem with the Bill is that, no matter what sort of property, once someone takes a new tenancy he will not have the same security as he enjoyed previously. He cannot carry his security with him. He will move to a regime where 158 his rights are fewer and his rent greater. He will have no facility to seek regulation of that rent because the fair rent system will disappear. He will be paying market rent and, if not in receipt of benefit, will be substantially financially disadvantaged.
We are bringing to the House a matter that we argued in Committee. We want to ensure that, rather than the Government taking a shot in the dark and arguing the theory that deregulation will solve the housing problem, they take a more common-sense approach. The Government have identified empty properties in the private sector that might be held back from the market because only the market will give the landlord the revenue that the landlord requires. However, no such argument applies to other properties. Property currently let in the private sector does not suddenly need the benefit of deregulated market rents and fewer rights for tenants. That property is already let. The Government should not suddenly sweep away all the present structures and introduce all the uncertainty of the future.
The greatest concern of tenants is that they have secure homes at rents that they can afford. The new clause would ensure that the security of thousands, possibly millions, of tenants is not put at risk because many of the new homes that become available are priced out of the market for all but a handful of people.
§ Mr. Winnick
The new clause would give at least some protection to the many thousands of people now in secure rented dwellings in the private sector. The Bill states that they will continue to be protected, but we know that Rachmanism arose because Mr. Rachman and other undesirable and unscrupulous landlords were aware that, under the Rent Act 1957, once the tenants were out, the places could be relet with no control whatever.
The ITV "World in Action" programme today dealt with the notorious activities of Mr. Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who describes his tenants as "scumbags", admits to spitting at them and makes no secret of the fact that he would use any method whatever—violence, gangsterism and the rest—to get rid of them. He described the Bill as a step in the right direction, and it will greatly assist people of that type.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is absolutely right: if there is to be real security—not just on paper, but real and effective security—for existing private tenants, the most effective way to achieve it within the framework of this undesirable Bill is through the provision in the new clause that assured tenancies will arise only when the property has been empty for six months.
If the Minister seriously wished to ensure that private tenants were protected, he would accept the new clause.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I need not detain the House long to point out the absurdity of the new clause. The result would be to penalise landlords who have continued to let their property notwithstanding all the constraints and difficulties associated with the Rent Acts, and to reward those who have kept their property off the market. If that is what the House wants, I shall he amazed.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The Minister may be more greatly amazed that, despite all his promises, the consequence of his legislation will be that the needs of the large number of people looking for decent, cheap rented housing will 159 remain unmet. The new clause would have been a redeeming feature of the Bill, but the Minister is clearly beyond seeking redemption.
§ Question put and negatived.