Major at risk of housing revolt

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The Government faces the prospect of a new Commons revolt today as Conservative supporters of leaseholder rights are set to test John Major's fragile one-vote majority, writes John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, is seeking to overturn amendments to the Housing Bill secured by the Opposition at the committee stage. But he is expected to face a mini-rebellion from Tory MPs with large numbers of leasehold flats in their constituencies.

The Ulster Unionist Party's nine MPs were said last night to be determined to vote against the Government, but Labour managers said they were not confident of a full turnout of other minor parties, and that they needed 7-10 Tory rebels to win the three key votes tonight.

In committee, Labour secured two amendments which it claims would make it easier for leaseholders to buy the freehold of their flats. Its housing spokesman, Nick Raynsford, wants to abolish the so-called "low rent" test for buying freeholds, and to make it easier for leaseholders in flats above shops to buy their freeholds. Some Tory MPs have also criticised the system of tribunals to enforce leaseholders' rights to manage their properties.

A last-minute concession by the Government headed off a rebellion on a fourth vote - to give homosexual couples the same right to inherit a tenancy as married people. The Government was defeated on this issue in committee when David Ashby, the Conservative MP who lost a libel action against the Sunday Times for claiming he was gay, voted with Labour last month.

Labour's amendment would give same-sex partners of tenants the right to the tenancy if they have been living together for more than 12 months and the tenant dies.

David Curry, the environment minister, last week promised to issue guidelines to local councils urging them to offer joint tenancies to gay couples or other long-term domestic relationships such as carers. This did not satisfy gay rights campaigners, as it would do nothing for couples who had failed to register a joint tenancy. Under existing law, only married or heterosexual couples automatically succeed to tenancies on death.

In today's debate, Mr Curry is expected to unveil a new draft of the guidelines which would recommend that councils should "normally" treat a same-sex relationship in the same way as a heterosexual one.