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That, at this day's sitting, the Ways and Means Motion may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Bill ("the Act") it is expedient to authorise--
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of
(a) sums required by the Secretary of State for paying sums to Scottish Enterprise in respect of the exercise of its functions, other than those to which public dividend capital relates, and in respect of its administrative expenses, so long as the relevant aggregate amount outstanding shall not exceed £1,500 million ; (
(b) sums required by the Secretary of State for paying grants to Highlands and Islands Enterprise in respect of expenses incurred by it in the exercise of its functions and powers ;
(c) sums required by the Secretary of State by virtue of the Act for paying grants under the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968 in respect of a disposal of land by a development corporation, or of any transfer of lands under a transfer order, or of expenditure incurred or to be incurred in providing facilities specified in the said Act of 1968 ;
(d) sums required by the Secretary of State for paying public dividend capital to Scottish Enterprise, so long as the relevant aggregate amount outstanding shall not exceed £1,500 million ; (
(e) sums required by the Secretary of State to defray any deficit arising from, by virtue of the Act, the winding up under the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968 of a development corporation ;
(f) increases attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other Act ;
(g) administrative expenses incurred by the Secretary of State or the Treasury in consequence of the provisions of the Act ; (2) the payment out of the Consolidated Fund of any sums required by the Treasury for fulfilling guarantees given by them in respect of sums borrowed by Scottish Enterprise from persons other than the Secretary of State, so long as the relevant aggregate amount outstanding shall not exceed £1,500 million ;
(3) the payment out of the National Loans Fund of any sums required by the Secretary of State for making loans to Scottish Enterprise for the purposes of the exercise of any of its functions, so long as the relevant aggregate amount outstanding shall not exceed £1,500 million ;
(4) the reduction of the assets of the National Loans Fund by amounts corresponding to such liabilities of a development corporation to the Secretary of State in respect of advances made by the Secretary of State to that corporation as the Secretary of State may by virtue of the Act by Order extinguish under the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968.
In this Resolution-
"development corporation" has the same meaning as in the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968;
"general external borrowing" has the same meaning as in the Act; "public dividend" has the same meaning as in Shedule 2 to the Act but includes such capital within the meaning of Schedule 2to the Scottish Development Agency Act 1975;
"relevant aggregate amount outstanding" means the aggregate amount outstanding, otherwise than by way of interest,in respect of- a) the general external borrowing of-
(i) Scottish Enterprise and its subsidiaries;
(ii) the Scottish Development Agency;
(b) sums issued by the Treasury in fulfilment of guarantees under Section 2 to the Act or Schedule 2 to the Scottish Development Agency Act 1985, being sums which have not been repaid to the Treasury; (c) sums paid to Scottish Enterprise by the Secretary of State out of money provided by parliament but with there being deducted- (i) any such sums repaid to the Secretary of State by the body other than in consideration of the receipt of public divident capital;
(ii) any such sums paid in respect of enhancing skills and capacities relevant to employment in Scotlandand assisting persons to establish themselves as self-employed persons there;
(iii) any such sums paid in respect of the administrative expenses of Scottish Enterprise:
(d) sums paid to the Scottish Development Agency by the Secretary of State out of money provided by Parliament but with thier being deducted-
(i) any such sums repaid to the Secretary of State, other than in consideration of the receipt of public dividend capital, being sums repaid either by the Scottish Development Agency or by Scottish enterprise; and
(ii) any such sums paid in respect of the administrative expenses of Scottish Development Agency; and
"subsidiary" has he meaning given by section 736 of the Companies Act 1985:and
"transfer order" has the same meaning as in the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968 as amended by the Act.-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Bill ("the Act"), it is expedient to authorise--
(1) payment into the Consolidated Fund of amounts payable by Scottish Enterprise in consideration of the receipt of public dividend capital or in reduction of public dividend capital ; (2) payment into the Consolidated Fund of any surplus arising from, by virtue of the Act, the winding up under the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968 of a development corporation ;
(3) payment into the Consolidated Fund of payments in or towards repayment by Scottish Enterprise of sums issued in fulfilment of guarantees given by the Treasury ;
(4) payment into the National Loans fund.
In this Resolution--
"development corporation" has the same meaning as in the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968 ;
"public dividend capital" has the same meaning as in Schedule 2 to the Act but includes such capital within the meaning of Schedule 2 to the Scottish Development Agency Act 1975.-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
That the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Bill may be proceeded with as if it had been certified by Mr. Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland.-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
Broadcasting (Deaf People)
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : With your leave, Mr. Speaker, I wish to present a petition that has been signed by 1,125 people who live in the Dundee and Tayside areas. It asks the House to recognise that Britain's 4 million deaf people have the same rights of access to television as every other citizen and calls on the House to ensure that legislation be passed placing an obligation on television channel operators to provide complete coverage with teletext and subtitles of all programmes by a specified date. The Government have not yet given that commitment, but I urge on them the necessity of doing so at an early date.
To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : I am grateful for the opportunity to raise and to place on record the quite extraordinary state of affairs in my constituency at the Cambrian trailer park at Culverhouse Cross. It is the only residential caravan park in Cardiff, and in some ways it is the only remaining bastion in Wales of unfettered landlordism. Ceausescu and his wife may be dead, the Berlin wall may be crumbling, most of the east European and South American dictators may have disappeared, but I am afraid that in one small corner of my constituency people feel as though they are living in a police state.
The trailer park is owned by Maurice Lubin and the company that he owns, called Property Developers Mortgage and Loan Company. It is a private property company, and without question Maurice Lubin is a home-grown Rachman in Wales. He is creating a climate of fear and is acting like the godfather to the 147 caravan dwellers in the park. I should like to give some examples of the more inhuman aspects of his behaviour according to the information that I have received from the residents' association.
On Christmas day, he threatened to cut off the electricity of the caravan of a severely disabled, wheelchair-bound elderly lady who had recently returned from hospital. In early December, he sent an eviction notice for alleged arrears of rent, which do not exist, to a 92-year-old man living alone. On the same day in early December, he sent an eviction notice to a widow. She had been widowed on Wednesday and he sent the eviction notice the following Saturday. In November, he sent an eviction notice for overcrowding to a family on the very day that their newborn baby was delivered. He has threatened parents whose children, as young as six years old, ride their kiddies' bikes around the site.
The landlord has also taken strong measures to try to discourage the continued existence of the residents' association because the association has been in dispute with him. In October last year, it won a case on the level of ground rents to be set. He is trying to split people from the residents' association and in general he is creating a climate of fear.
For the benefit of the House, I shall quote from a letter that I have received. Unfortunately, I cannot give the name and address because of the request of the person who wrote it and when I read the relevant parts of the letter the House will understand why. The gentleman who wrote the letter is a young father with a wife and daughter. He says :
that is Mr Lubin--
"has told me that I will not be able to live in my unit for much longer as it is too old and wants smashing up My wife is frequently upset and cries a lot because of what this man says. She thinks we'll be out on the street with no-where to go because the £2,000 I have been offered for my unit will not even pay back half of my personal loan I am using to pay for it."
On the last page he says, even more tragically :
"I would be very grateful if you would treat this letter in confidence and not use my name or address for fear of retribution by the owner and I do not wish to put my wife through any more trouble."
Column 917If anything illustrates a climate of fear, that is it. It is the general feeling on the site, which is by no means restricted to that man, his wife and child. It is a general pattern that has been created by the behaviour of the landlord. People living on the site have said to me that they are living in a police state. That is wholly unacceptable.
To illustrate the landlord's attitude to the residents' association and his attempts to break it up, I want to quote again from a letter that he wrote recently to one of the members of the association. Regarding alleged rent arrears--which do not exist--Mr. Lubin says : "I am writing to you personally in view of the good relationship which existed between us prior to your wife becoming a member of the resident's association Committee and because I feel that possibly you are not receiving the best advice."
He then quotes at length from the agreement that he has with this particular tenant and says that he and his family can have an arbitrator appointed if they so wish. That is fine.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope) : I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to a case before the court. I understand that one case was before the courts, but I may have been misinformed.
Mr. Morgan : I was referring to cases that have already been determined by the courts. There may be further aspects coming before the court for a different form of determination, but my quotation relates to the court case that has already been determined. As is common in agreements involving caravan site owners and caravan owners, in this agreement there is a procedure for referring matters to arbitration. That is fine when the procedure is used in good faith by both sides. If, for example, there is a disagreement on how to apply the formula, on how much the retail prices index was last year, or on how much the owner has spent on improvements and how that money should be divided, that is fine, but the law can be used and abused by the owner rather than being used constructively as is intended, as is shown in the letter that I was about to quote when the Minister intervened. It says :
"All requests for arbitration will be made to the Cardiff County Court on an individual basis. With full costs being asked for if the application is successful."
That is using the law not as it was intended to be used, but as a threat.
The landlord is not saying that there should be a test case before the county court and that people would see how the county court judge determined one case so the formula could then be applied to the other 146 caravans on the site, which would be acceptable. All the owners would then not need to go through the rigmarole. However, this landlord is threatening that every case will be taken to Cardiff county court on an individual basis, which is clearly meant to scare people off from using the arbitrator formula at all, especially as he says
"full costs being asked for if the application is successful." That is threatening the cost of legal proceedings on the less well-off in society. It is saying, "Don't you dare use the arbitration formula as laid down in your agreement with me because it will cost you a lot of money to do so." That
Column 918way of proceeding--the landlord using the unequal relationship between landlord and tenant--seems a complete abuse of the legal process.
I am not willing to see my constituents being pushed around by this godfather in that way. His sole technique is to put the frighteners on people when they are in a vulnerable position, using the legal process. It is all done under the Mobile Homes Act 1983, which is supposed to confer security of tenure and the reasonable and peaceful occupation of caravan sites, subject to the agreement not being broken on either side.
There are major incentives for any trailer park owner who is greedy not to confer security of tenure. A trailer park owner makes his money fast by destabilising the site. He wants to increase the ground rent, but he finds when he buys the site that it is governed by a formula agreed to by the tenants when they originally bought their vans. By that formula, the rent can go up only by the rate of increase in the retail prices index, plus an allowance for what the owner has spent on the site. Hence, he cannot increase the rent fast, unless he spends a great deal of money, in which case he must spend the money before he can get it back, and if he is greedy he is not happy to do that.
The owner can make much more money when a tenant leaves because he can buy the van from the tenant cheaply. When a new tenant comes in, the owner sells the same van for six or seven times what he paid for it because the tenant must buy the van through the owner of the site. By that means, the owner makes perhaps £10,000 or £20,000 per van every time there is a change of tenancy.
That shows that there is a major incentive to get existing tenants out and new ones in. There is no incentive under the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to confer reasonable security of tenure on tenants. On the caravan site of which I am speaking, Maurice Lubin is harassing the tenants so that they feel they must leave, that they cannot cope any more because their wives are crying and they fear that they cannot carry on much longer before they will have to go, despite the fact that the Mobile Homes Act is supposed to confer on them reasonable security of tenure.
I am anxious to avoid dealing with a court case which will proceed in February in relation to further increases in rents in the years 1988-89 and 1990. If I were to deal with that, the Minister would be unable to give a reasonable response to my remarks. In other words, I am endeavouring to avoid referring to current court action. What is the solution to the problem? There is great incentive for the owner of a caravan site to remove security of tenure, not through the law but by all other means at his disposal--by leaning on tenants and coming the heavy with them so that their lives are made miserable--then new tenants will sign new agreements containing different ground rents and different formulae governing annual increases in the ground rent and so on. That incentive is undoubtedly there.
We need an additional power, over and above that contained in the Mobile Homes Act 1983, to prevent that incentive to get existing tenants out and new ones in from acting as a means of making every mobile home site owner greedy. We need a formula similar to that conferred on the Housing Corporation, and on Housing for Wales or Tai Cymru in Wales to license not merely the site, which is already the case, but the owners of sites.
I recall our debates in Committee when what is now the Housing Act 1988 was going through Parliament. A beneficial side effect of what was otherwise a bad measure
Column 919was the way in which it conferred some useful quasi-judicial powers on the Housing Corporation and its equivalent body in Wales to license people who wanted to be owners of parts of the municipal housing stock. In other words, if one applied to be a new private owner, a housing association, a co-operative or any other body wishing to take over some of the existing housing stock, one had to register and be approved by the Housing Corporation. One could be unapproved afterwards even if one had been approved in the first instance.
Such a power would license not only the site, which is done annually by the environmental health departments of all local authorities, but the owner to ensure that his or her behaviour towards the tenant complies with the intention of the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to confer reasonable security of tenure and peaceful enjoyment of what, after all, are the tenants' caravans on someone else's ground. If the landlord infringed to an unreasonable degree the basic intention to confer security of tenure and peaceful enjoyment, he could have his licence removed because he was not a fit and proper person or company to own a trailer park or mobile home site. That would provide the power to say, "You have misused the law and your power over people who are frequently in a vulnerable position, very often elderly or young families with small children." If he threatened them and made their lives a misery in order to get them out and put in new tenants at much higher ground rents, the Housing Corporation or Housing for Wales could step in and issue a warning and then remove the licence to be a mobile site owner. He would no longer be considered a fit and proper person to be an owner and would have to dispose of his interest in the site. A new licensee, whether an individual or company, would have to take over and run the site perhaps at a slightly lower rate of return but in a more reasonable way with regard to the tenants' security of tenure and enjoyment of life on the caravan site.
I ask for such a power without great hopes of the Government providing it. However, there is some hope. After the Housing Act 1988 became law, there was excitement among the less desirable fringe of the landlord community. Many individuals and companies made inquiries about acquiring parts of the municipal housing stock. I understand from Housing for Wales that the only material inquiry about acquiring part of the municipal housing stock of Cardiff city council was by Maurice Lubin and the Property Developers Mortgage and Loan Company. It did not get as far as a serious inquiry but it was the only one that made it to the starting gate, much to my surprise.
Although the Housing Act 1988 was clearly intended to open the door to all manner of extensions of what is, to me, unacceptable, unfettered landlordism, I am glad to say that it has not worked out that way. I hope that the Government will consider seriously the idea that I suggested. The people involved are my constituents and could be those of the Minister. They all deserve better than they get now. Everyone likes to think that they live in a free country and can bring up their family and live out their old age without harassment or living in a climate of fear. They wish to live in the highest standard of freedom that this country and the laws provided by Parliament can allow.
Column 92010.33 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, Wes(Mr. Morgan) on this Adjournment debate. It follows an early-day motion which he and several other hon. Members signed.
I listened with interest to what the hon. Gentleman has had to say about the difficulties which his constituents who are resident on the Cambrian trailer park at Culverhouse Cross in Cardiff have recently encountered. As the hon. Member recognised, I cannot discuss the particulars of this site, not least because it is currently the subject of action in the county court. Nevertheless, the case raises several broad issues concerning mobile homes legislation and I should like to comment on them.
The system under which mobile home residents own their homes and yet rent the pitch on which the home stands is unique, and legislation has to cater for its particular requirements. Before 1983, mobile home residents lacked long-term security in their homes, but the Government passed the Mobile Homes Act 1983 that year to provide security of tenure, and it gave other important rights including the right to sell the home on the site.
Unless the planning permission for the site, or the site operator's interest in the land, is subject to a time limit, the resident has indefinite security of tenure and his agreement can be brought to an end only for one of the three reasons prescribed by schedule 1 to the Act : that the resident is not living in the mobile home as his or her main residence ; that, because of its age or condition, the mobile home is having a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site ; or that the resident has broken a term of his agreement, and has been told of this and given a reasonable time to put things right but failed to do so. In that last case the court must also consider whether it is reasonable to terminate the agreement on that ground. A site owner cannot bring an agreement to an end without going to court and cannot evict a resident without an order from the court. The Act provides that the main rights that it gives are implied in every agreement. The resident has those rights whether they are mentioned on the face of the agreement or not. Other terms of the agreement, such as those covering pitch fees and the mechanism for reviewing them, are not specified by the Act but may be included as "express" terms in individual agreements. Such terms are open to negotiation within the legal framework provided by the Act and, once agreed, are legally binding on both site owner and resident. Unless an agreement says that he can, a site owner cannot normally impose new terms without the resident's consent. If the pitch fee is increased or new rules are introduced, it is always open to a resident to challenge in court the site owner's interpretation of the express terms of the agreement.
I appreciate that many people--especially the elderly--find the idea of going to court daunting and are worried about the cost, but county courts are not the forbidding places that some people imagine. In the longer term, the housing action proposed by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor as part of his review of civil justice should offer a lower-cost, informal and accessible form of resolving disputes through the courts, and I hope that it will be used for mobile homes cases. The review proposed that the housing action would provide for arbitration by a registrar, with hearings kept informal and the parties not needing legal representation. It would be not unlike the
Column 921present small claims system. But until such arrangements are available, mobile home residents must have confidence in their ability to enforce their rights through the present system if they disagree with what a site owner is doing.
If residents accept that a proposed increase in rent for a caravan or in pitch fees is fair but it is nevertheless likely to cause them hardship, they can apply to the local authority for help in the form of housing benefit.
The fact that this debate has arisen from a case that has gone to court should not be taken to mean that the legislation is not working. There were some teething problems after the 1983 Act became law, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), when he was Under-Secretary, instigated a review of the Act that involved discussions with representatives of residents and site owners to see whether the problems could be sorted out.
The review concluded that there was no need for new legislation, but it led to some important initiatives, one of which was the issue of a code of guidance by the mobile home industry for members of its associations. The code gives guidance on issues that had been the source of some concern. It encourages site owners to recognise residents' associations. It condemns harassment and it gives an undertaking that disciplinary action will be taken against members where harassment is proved, or even where it is not referred to a court of law.
The review also led to a review of the model standards for park home sites, and new standards were issued last year. Finally, the industry introduced an arbitration scheme for pitch fee disputes--which has now been set up by the Confederation of Park Homes Industry--known as COPHI--and an informal scheme whereby the industry agreed to look into complaints against individual site operators. COPHI hopes to put draft proposals for a formal complaints scheme to the Office of Fair Trading in the near future.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West argues that such initiatives by the industry are not enough. He thinks that we should have formal licensing of site owners and give mobile homes residents rights similar to those enjoyed by local authority tenants under the tenants' choice arrangements, although I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman would press the point or whether he believes that it would be appropriate to introduce a tenants' choice system. We have established the tenants' choice system for tenants who rent their homes in the public sector, whereas in this debate we are talking about home owners in the private sector, who rent the pitches on which their homes stand.
Mr. Morgan : I think that the Minister may have misunderstood what I said. The licensing to which I referred was an extension of section 94 of the Housing Act 1988, under which would-be purchasers of municipal housing stock have to be licensed by the Housing Corporation or Tai Cymru in Wales as fit and proper persons or companies. I was asking for that extension to determine whether landlords of trailer parks should also be licensed as fit and proper persons in the light of the circumstances that I have revealed.
Column 922of formal licensing. That would be unnecessary and would go much further than the Government would think appropriate.
Mr. David Mudd (Falmouth and Camborne) : My hon. Friend the Minister will accept that the 1983 Act was private Member's legislation which was piloted through the House by our right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), the Secretary of State for Defence, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment. Serving on the Committee was our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), who is currently Her Majesty's Solicitor-General. Therefore, on the fairness and liberalisation of the law, there is no doubt about what was intended. It has taken many complaints off the boil. The House now hears far fewer complaints than ever before.
I must ask a hypothetical question. If the law were to be amended to proscribe certain people as being park operators, should it not be extended further to proscribe certain people as ever having rights to be tenants on caravan sites?
Mr. Chope : My hon. Friend has a good point. It underlines the Government's concern about having more controls over the people who can operate sites, and the same applies to people who apply to move on to sites. There is an absolute discretion at the moment. The answer is to have more competition between site owners, and that means having more sites developed. If there were more sites there would be more choice for potential tenants, and in the marketplace only the best site owners would flourish. That would ensure that people were not forced on to sites where they were likely to encounter problems.
Local authorities already have powers to control physical conditions on sites. There is a remedy in the hands of local authorities who need to consider the role that mobile home sites can play in their areas. They can control conditions on sites and they can also, through their planning powers, facilitate the development of more sites and thereby encourage more competition.
We are conscious of the need to have a comprehensive, up-to-date picture of the conditions on mobile home sites and the changes that have taken place over the last few years. As the hon. Gentleman may know, we have commissioned research into local authorities' policies and practices on mobile homes and into the physical conditions on sites and the views and experiences of site owners and residents. The first part of that research, the local authority survey, is complete and should be published in the spring. Its findings were encouraging and bear out what my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) said. Complaints from residents were fairly infrequent, and were mostly dealt with successfully by informal arrangement between the site owner and the authority. Contraventions, mainly of site licence conditions, occurred on a minority of sites. On the much larger physical and social survey so far we have only had the results of a pilot study, including a study of a site in Wales, which have also been very encouraging. A pilot study is not the same as a full survey, and it would be wrong to assume that the national survey will necessarily tell the same story. But the survey has revealed a high degree of satisfaction among mobile home residents and standards which are continually improving. The