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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps I may take up that last point. The Minister tries to put all the arguments in the one direction. He says that the Government's primary concern is to continue to strengthen the private rented sector. He points to the success of the past few years. What, of course, he should admit to the Committee (but he will not do so) is the reason for the success of the private rented sector. When we combine that fact with the information that the Minister continues to give--namely, that most houses that are rented are single houses owned by people who do not let anything other than one house--one realises that those houses are let because they cannot be sold. Why cannot those people sell the houses? It is because the Government's policies have wrecked the housing market for owner occupiers.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell the Committee where those people who want to sell their house will live while they rent the house to someone else?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: They may be in the situation in which I have been. My parents died and I have one house which is shared with my brother and sister. In the past I have let it simply because I am unable to sell it in a housing market that has been destroyed by the Government. The moment that the housing market picks up, that house will come on the market for sale. That is the situation in which hundreds and thousands of people--hundreds and thousands--currently find themselves.

All the evidence shows that something like one-third or so of the new lettings that have come on the market in the past three years are the result of people's inability to sell. They have therefore gone on somewhere else and rented and, in turn, have let out their own home. That is what has been happening to the private rented sector. If the Minister had read the research on the matter, he would realise that the private rented sector will shrink

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as and when any confidence is restored in the market for purchase. I am sure that he is aware of that. His point that most people have only one house to rent is precisely evidence of the point I make.

The broader point is that in this Bill, in regulations, and in changes to housing benefit and the like, we have seen blow upon blow--those words are not in any way over the top--to the situation of the tenant in the private rented sector. We have seen something like seven or eight shifts in housing benefit regulations and the grounds for possession, every one of which is on the side of the landlord. That undermines the security of the tenant. Indeed the Minister's remarks earlier today seemed to suggest that, even when the landlord is fraudulent, the Government are willing to be soft on the landlord rather than deny him access to the flow of rental income from which he has to pay his mortgage.

There is a huge gulf between us. The Government are interested only in the landlord for whom the property is his income and not at all in the tenant for whom the property is his home. That is why the next government will reverse much of this legislation.

Clause 94 agreed to.

Clauses 95 and 96 agreed to.

Lord Meston moved Amendment No. 242JB:

After Clause 96, insert the following new clause--

Amendment of date when secure and assured tenancies end

(" .--(1) In section 82(2) of the Housing Act 1985 (security of tenure) for "the tenant is to give up possession" substitute "possession is delivered up to the landlord".
(2) In section 7 of the Housing Act 1988 (orders for possession)--
(a) after subsection (6) insert--
"(6A) Where the court makes an order for possession under this section the periodical tenancy ends on the date when possession is delivered up to the landlord in pursuance of the order."; and
(b) in subsection (7) for "date on which the order takes effect" substitute "date possession is delivered up to the landlord in pursuance of the order".").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of Amendment No. 242JB is to redefine the statutory ending of a tenancy. Under Section 82(2) of the Housing Act 1985 it is provided that,

    "Where the landlord obtains an order for the possession of the dwelling-house, the tenancy ends on the date on which the tenant is to give up possession in pursuance of the order".

In reality--I know that we all claim to occupy the real world out there somewhere--possession proceedings are often used for rent collection. The landlord may obtain an order for possession for arrears of rent or for a breach of the tenancy agreement, but the tenant may then pay up and remedy the breach. Peace, if not harmony, is then restored. The tenant is allowed to stay and, by agreement, stays beyond the date stipulated under the possession order.

Under Section 82(2) of the Housing Act 1985, the tenant will lose the rights he held under his original tenancy agreement after the date the tenancy is deemed to end, and thereupon his status inevitably becomes uncertain until it is redefined either by agreement or by court proceedings. This amendment

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proposes that the tenancy should not be treated as having come to an end unless and until his actual departure delivering up the premises to the landlord. That would accord with practical reality and avoid the sort of artificial situation which can arise when a tenant stays on by agreement with his landlord. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The proposed new clause tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, would extend the length of a secure or assured tenancy when a court has granted the landlord an order for possession until the tenant gives up the tenancy. Under existing legislation, the tenancy ends on the day the court order takes effect, or in the case of a suspended possession order, when the conditions of the suspended order are breached.

Court procedures will leave a tenant who is subject to a suspended possession order in no doubt about the seriousness of his position. The tenant will already have had an opportunity to make his case in court, and will know that if he breaches the condition of the suspended order, he will lose his home.

Where a court has determined that the landlord has a right to possession, I do not believe that it is right for the tenant to expect to enjoy the rights conferred by the tenancy beyond the date when the possession order comes into effect. Where the landlord is prepared to give the tenant another chance he may offer the tenant a new tenancy.

I understand from research--Rent Arrears in Local Authorities and Housing Associations in England (1994)--that almost without exception social landlords in arrears cases ask for suspended possession and, where agreements for payment are ratified in the court, those cases are monitored carefully for default. Only where arrangements break down irretrievably do the landlords consider using the final deterrent of eviction.

It cannot be right that if somebody is in arrears, has been taken to court and, for example, asked for time to pay the arrears, and the court agreed that the tenant should have that time and stipulated it, that from that point on the tenant should continue to have the rights of a tenancy. The tenancy should not carry on until the tenant leaves as a result, presumably, of not paying arrears. He forfeits his right to a tenancy until he makes good the rent arrears due. The amendment therefore is not sensible and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.

Lord Meston: Having heard the Minister's reply--for which I am grateful--I cannot help feeling that perhaps we are not as far apart as his reply suggests. I am not talking of non-compliance with suspended orders; I am talking of orders where the statute provides the date on which the order takes effect and that determines the end of the tenancy. Nevertheless, the relationship between the landlord and tenant may continue for months, or even years. An artificial situation is created by the provisions of Section 82.

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I shall need to consider this matter further and consult with those more expert than myself. I reserve the right, therefore, to come back to it and in the meantime beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Meston moved Amendment No. 242JC:

After Clause 96, insert the following new clause--

Suspended possession order not to be enforced without leave of the court

(" . In section 85 of the Housing Act 1985 and in section 9 of the Housing Act 1988, in each case after subsection (4) there shall be inserted--
"(4A) Where an order for possession is suspended on conditions in accordance with subsections (2) and (3) and the order ceases to be suspended by reason of the conditions not being complied with, the order shall not be enforced more than two years after the order was made, without leave of the court.".").

The noble Lord said: This is a similar amendment to Amendment No. 242JB on an analogous point. The simple point, which I hope is self-explanatory, is that a suspended possession order should not be enforced without the leave of the court if it has lasted for more than two years. That would avoid the tenant finding himself in a sort of limbo with a suspended order hanging over him for an indefinite period of time with the risk of the landlord choosing, for good reason or bad, to activate stale orders.

The amendment does not prevent enforcement of orders which have been outstanding for more than two years; it simply requires that the court be asked to reconsider the matter before giving its leave to enforce. On such reconsideration the court can look at any fresh circumstances which have arisen on either side in the period of two years or more which must have elapsed. I beg to move.

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