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New Schedule—(Provisions As To Premiums Paid To A Predecessor Of The Landlord)

Volume 462: debated on Monday 7 March 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

1. Where Section (Special provisions as to premiums paid to a predecessor of the landlord) of this Act applies, the tenant of the dwelling-house at the time of the Tribunal's determination shall be entitled to recover from the person to whom the premium was paid such amount, if any, as may be provided by paragraphs 2 and 3 of this Schedule.

2.—(1) Where the existing rent (that is to say, the rent which would be the rent for a rent-period payable by the tenant at the time of the Tribunal's determination if this Act had not been passed) is equal to or exceeds the reasonable rent as determined by the Tribunal under subsection (1) of Section one of this Act, the said tenant shall be entitled to recover from the person to whom the premium was paid an amount equal to the rental equivalent of the premium as determined by the Tribunal under subsection (2) of Section two of this Act multiplied by the number of complete rent-periods in the period beginning with the determination of the Tribunal and ending with the relevant date.

(2) Where, in any case not falling within the last foregoing sub-paragraph, the said rental equivalent exceeds the difference between the said reasonable rent and the existing rent, the said tenant shall be entitled to recover from the person to whom the premium was paid an amount equal to the excess multiplied by the number of complete rent-periods mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph.

3. Where the rent payable under a tenancy is a progressive rent, the last foregoing paragraph shall have effect as if for the references therein to the existing rent there were substituted references to the average rent payable under the tenancy over the period beginning with the commencement of the term, or of the continuance or renewal of a term, in respect of which the premium was paid and ending with the relevant date.

4. Subsection (4) of Section three of this Act shall have effect subject to the following provisions, that is to say, that where before any assignment to which that subsection applies the Tribunal have given a certificate under Section (Special provisions as to premiums paid to a predecessor of the landlord) of this Act, the amount of premium allowable under the said subsection (4) shall be ascertained as if the premium first mentioned in that subsection were reduced by an amount equal to the rental equivalent mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 2 of this Schedule or the excess mentioned in subparagraph (2) thereof, according as the said sub-paragraph (1) or the said sub-paragraph (2) applies, multiplied by the number of rent-periods in the period beginning with the grant, continuance or renewal in respect of which that premium was paid and ending with the relevant date.

5. Where subsection (4) of Section two of this Act applies, the three last foregoing paragraphs shall have effect with the substitution,

for references to the relevant date, of references to the date determined under paragraph ( a) of the said subsection (4).

6. In this Schedule the expressions "relevant date" and "rent-period" have the meanings assigned to them respectively by subsection (2) of Section two of this Act.

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, "That the Schedule be read a Second time."

The House will remember that the Parliamentary Secretary referred to these provisions on the new Clause at the beginning of our proceedings today.

Question put, and agreed to.

Schedule read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

In view of the very full discussions we have had in the House both in Committee and on Report, I formally move the Third Reading of the Bill.

6.49 p.m.

On the Second Reading, the Opposition voted against the Bill and in order to make their reasons for doing so quite plain both to the Government and to the country, they put down a reasoned Amendment. They voted against the Bill, in the first place, on the grounds that it would discourage the provision of new and converted dwellings; secondly, that it would result in the breach of existing contracts; and, thirdly, that it would increase the anomalies and grave injustice of the present system of rent restriction.

In considering whether to vote on the Third Reading, we naturally have to consider to what extent the Bill has been amended and, in our opinion, improved in the course of its passage through the House. As regards the first point, the main argument was that it was unwise to control the rents charged for houses after the War or houses or dwellings converted or let for the first time after the War. Our reason was that we wished to do everything possible to encourage builders and other business men to provide dwellings. The Minister said as regards that:
"…it is objectionable to us to allow the provision of flat accommodation to let in the centres of our great cities to reside only in the hands of those who will do it if they obtain extortionate returns upon their capital investment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 584.]
It was never the wish of the Opposition to encourage extortion of any kind. But it was also quite obvious that unless there was a sure and certain return upon the capital invested there was not likely to be a great deal of money and enterprise devoted to increasing the number of dwellings available. In taking this view, and in thinking that on balance it was unwise to interfere with the rents of houses built or let for the first time after the war, we were in agreement with the majority of the Ridley Committee. We believe that the only final and satisfactory solution of the rent problem is an adequate supply of houses and dwellings, and anything which will increase that supply seems to us to be a good thing.

Since we took that line on Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman has introduced another Bill—which I cannot discuss in detail—in order to encourage conversion and reconditioning. It is, of course, entirely in accordance with his Socialist philosophy that he should put the cost of that upon the taxpayer and the ratepayer to a very large extent. We ourselves would have preferred to encourage private enterprise, and to have done that by giving them—

On a point of Order. I do not wish to interfere with the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I think it would be rather offensive if, on the Third Reading of this Bill, he were permitted to make any reference whatsoever to a Bill which has not yet been introduced. Also, in my submission, up to now he has said little or nothing about this Bill. The purpose of the Bill is clearly set out, and on Third Reading he cannot go outside it. He can either oppose or support the Bill; he cannot do more than that; he cannot add comments on what is not there; and he certainly cannot, in my submission, make any reference whatsoever to any other statute, especially one which has not yet had its Second Reading.

You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will no doubt recollect that when this point was raised in Committee the right hon. Gentleman did refer to the fact that he was intending to deal with the whole question of reconditioning and conversion in a different Bill. I am not going into details about it; what I am seeking to do is to explain the position of the Opposition, and the degree in which it has been changed since the Second Reading of this Bill by the introduction of that other Bill. I shall not criticise the Bill for what is omitted from it. I am fully aware of what is germane to the Third Reading: to consider what is in the Bill, and in what respect the position is now different from what it was on Second Reading.

Before you reply, Sir, to this point of Order, may I add this? The hon. Gentleman, on the Third Reading of this Bill, made a comment about the merits of a Bill which has not yet had its Second Reading. In my submission, it is highly improper to make any such comment, because by the rules of Order I am stopped from making any comment upon his comment.

I think the right hon. Gentleman is right in that particular. Clearly, the hon. Member must relate his remarks to what is in this Bill. I was listening to him, but I had not quite appreciated that he was going into some detail on another Bill. He must relate his remarks to what is in this Bill, and not to some other factor.

Yes, indeed, and therefore I will say that we still are of opinion that the conversion and reconditioning of houses would have been effectively encouraged if the rents chargeable by the landlords had not been interfered with as they have been under this Bill, because the effect of this Bill is to enable the tribunals to reduce the rents which had been agreed between the parties; and this Bill does have a deterrent effect upon the landlords and the builders who otherwise would have risked their capital in doing that.

Our second objection was to the breaking of contracts. In that matter our objections have been somewhat strengthened by what has happened while this Bill has been passing through the House. If Parliament decides to intervene and to substitute for rents agreed upon between the two parties reasonable rents, that is a perfectly proper step for Parliament to take. But if it is going to do that in the interests of the tenants in cases where the rents charged are in excess of what are deemed to be the reasonable rents, it would only be fair if, similarly, the landlords were able to go to the same tribunal and obtain increases in the rents where the actual amounts charged are unreasonably low. That is one of the defects of this Bill to which we still object. The fact that the Minister himself has heard our appeal for justice upon this and has refused to accept it does, I think, show a certain prejudice.

The third of our objections is that this Bill increases the obscurity and aggravates the injustices of the Rent Restrictions Acts; and to that, of course, the Minister has no answer whatsoever. I do hope—and when I ask him this, I am not asking him merely a rhetorical question—that after this Bill has been put upon the Statute Book he will consider bringing the official publication called "Rent Control in England and Wales" up to date. It was published in 1946, and it does seek to explain—

On a point of Order. This, after all, is only the beginning of the Third Reading Debate, and I think all of us would like to know where we are. I take it that the hon. Gentleman is now beginning to discuss whether or not the Rent Restrictions Acts should be brought up to date, and I should like to know whether, since that is not in the Bill, we are in Order in discussing it on Third Reading.

I understood the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that the alterations made by this present Bill might conveniently be reprinted, with others, for the information of the public. If that is so, it would appear to be a consequence arising out of the Third Reading, to which it would be proper for him to refer.

I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will try to enable both landlords and tenants to obtain, in comparatively simple form, an explanation of the general effect of this Bill, which is added to the various others which deal with rent restriction.

I now turn to the improvements which have been made in this Bill by the right hon. Gentleman's acceptance of Amendments. We were surprised, gratified and, let me say, grateful at the way in which he responded to suggestions which we made. We regarded the Bill as a bad and an inadequate Bill, but once it had had its Second Reading we tried to make it more logical, and therefore more just.

In the first place, the Bill as originally introduced prevented a landlord from charging a premium but did not also prevent the outgoing tenant from charging a premium. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), in particular, made a great point on Second Reading that it was unfair to draw that distinction. Why the Minister did not deal with this matter when he introduced the Bill I do not know, and perhaps he will tell us whether it was a strange ignorance of the subject which he has now administered for four years, or whether it was that he wanted to encourage the Conservative Party to give him a little constructive advice and to egg him on. Whatever the reasons, we are obliged to him for having accepted our suggestion, and we think that the Bill has therefore lost one of its most objectionable characteristics.

In the second place, when we were apprehensive that the effect of the Bill would be to discourage conversions and reconditioning, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), in particular, put forward a suggestion which would enable an enterpriser before he invested his money to obtain in advance an assurance of what would be regarded as being a reasonable rent, and the fact that the Minister expressed sympathy with that point of view and has carried out the undertaking he gave in a matter to which I am not allowed to refer naturally softens our hostility towards this Measure. In the third place, we are glad that houses covered by the Building Materials Housing Act, 1945, have also been excluded from the mischief of this Measure. Therefore, because the Government have been willing to make these substantial changes and improvements in the Bill, and because we can neither discuss nor take into consideration the omissions from the Bill during the Third Reading, we do not propose to divide against it.

I wish now to turn for a few moments to the defects of the Bill, and there are serious defects that still remain. If I do not develop the arguments at length, it is because we have already done so on Committee and Report stages. We are not opposed to the idea of tribunals establishing reasonable rents. That was one of the main recommendations of the Ridley Committee. It is probably the only way that we shall ever get out of the jungle of the existing rent restrictions legislation. Therefore, we do not object to the principle of the establishment of tribunals to decide what are reasonable rents. But we do think it is extremely unreasonable on the part of Parliament to call upon tribunals to decide what is reasonable without giving any guidance at to the principles upon which they are to act.

To take the simplest case: Is a reasonable rent to be what is a reasonable rent for the landlord to charge, or what is a reasonable rent for the tenant to pay? That may be entirely different according to the criterion by which it is judged. From something the right hon. Gentleman said in answer to what I said on Report stage, he apparently does not always consider that the landlord is entitled to a fair return upon his expenditure. I cited a case where a landlord had had enterprise and had borrowed some money with which to buy a house and convert it into three flats and a flatlet of a single room for one person. As a result of reductions in the rents of three of the tenants, the landlord is now making a total profit of £4 a year at a risk of about £8,000, and if the fourth tenant goes to the tribunal and obtains a reduction he will then be working at a loss. The right hon. Gentleman has been unwilling that the intentions of Parliament—what I believe to be the ordinary sound principles upon which a tribunal of this kind should act—should be laid down. The effect will be that the landlord in this case gives notice to the tenants and sells the house with vacant possession when it will be occupied only by a single family.

We think that this Bill is likely to have a serious effect by discouraging the provision of additional housing. The right hon. Gentleman refuses to recognise the desire for all these tribunals to administer the law in the same way. I was shocked at certain sentences he used; when he said that he wished the tribunals to act informally and taking into account the conditions of the particular locality. I was painfully reminded of the peoples' courts that are set up in countries under Russian domination. That a Minister of the Crown should be unwilling to lay down the general principles upon which the tribunals are to act, without there being any system of bringing their decisions into harmony, seems to me to be a most shocking departure from the accustomed principles of the past. The other point to which we object is that there is no redress for the landlord in cases——

I am sorry to keep on interrupting, but if there is not in the Bill any redress for the landlord, I submit with some confidence that it is not in Order to complain of it on Third Reading.

If a Member is not to be allowed to point to any defect in a Bill because that defect might have been averted if something else had been added to the Bill it would appear that he can only speak on the Third Reading if he wishes to indulge in a paean of praise of the Bill.

Surely, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is failing to recognise a very clear distinction. It is a well-known practice that a Member may not refer, during Third Reading, to something which is a mere omission from the Bill, but that when he wishes to indulge in positive criticism, namely, that its provisions, as amended, are one-sided—he is surely entitled to make that criticism although, as a matter of grammar and language, the Member, in doing so, makes it in negative form. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne was paying no attention to the real substance of what my hon. Friend was saying. Indeed, he has indulged in pettifogging criticism, based on grammatical structure.

I hope I was not pettifogging, and if the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) ever moves to alter the Rules of Third Reading Debate to widen the Debate I think he will render the House a service, and I shall support him. But we have to conduct the present Debate according to existing Rules. While it is all right to complain that tenants have the right to have rents reduced, it is not competent to complain that a landlord cannot have his rent increased unless there is something in the Bill to give him that right.

The Minister has inserted in the Bill power of access of the landlord to these tribunals. That being so I submit that my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) is in Order in pointing out that the landlord has power of access to the tribunals although he does not think that that access is sufficient.

The general rule of the House is, of course, well known. A Member can only refer to those matters which are in the Bill as it comes to the House on Third Reading. I was listening extremely carefully to the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), and if I may say so to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), there was really no necessity for him to call my attention to what the hon. Member was saying. I do think, however, that the hon. Member for The High Peak, in some of his remarks, was certainly going outside our practice. Not only that, but on another point he was rather rehashing, if I may use that expression, a good many of the arguments used on Amendments on the Report stage, earlier today. I do not think the hon. Member is entitled to repeat those in detail. It may be that he is entitled to mention omissions if he puts them in a positive way, but no more than that; in strictness he should be confined to the contents of the Bill, and nothing more.

I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I will certainly not go into these matters in detail. Under the Bill as it is, however, I think I am entitled to point out the great abuses which can arise. I was sorry to hear the Minister of Health emphasising so much his desire for complete informality. He spoke about easy access. I think there are cases in which it is possible for the tenant to have too easy access, and that there may be cases in which recourse to these tribunals is on frivolous and unsubstantial grounds. This is extremely vexatious to the landlord who incurs costs in rebutting these accusations, and is not able to obtain redress of any kind. We think that within its small and narrow scope this Bill will serve a certain useful purpose. We are very conscious of its many defects, but we sincerely hope that, on balance, it will do more good than harm.

7.16 p.m.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) put certain questions during discussion of one or two Amendments on the Report stage which, at that time, seemed to go beyond what we are dealing with, but lest he should feel that I was guilty of any discourtesy I should like to take this opportunity of replying, as best I can, to the main point which I think he then had in mind. Tribunals were established in Scotland by the 1943 Act, and they have worked extremely well. There have been remarkably few complaints about their decisions, either by landlords or by tenants. Indeed, such has been the general behaviour of everyone concerned that there has not been, so far, much necessity for us to bring in any amendment to the Act.

This Bill has been introduced mainly to deal with matters which have arisen in England and Wales, and especially in London. A great many of the abuses, if they may be so described, which are being dealt with by the Bill are not prevalent in Scotland, and on this Bill Scottish voices have been more or less silent. A point raised some time ago in Scotland was about evictions of people who make complaints. Fortunately, we were able to deal with that by administrative action, which could include the requisitioning of the house. I am pleased to say that in most cases the matter was dealt with without recourse to requisitioning. Even with that process the procedure has progressed smoothly. The complaints made in England and Wales about cases which this Bill seeks to remedy have not been prevalent in Scotland but, nevertheless, there may be such cases here and there. When this Bill was coming before the House we therefore agreed that it should be a United Kingdom Bill and apply to Scotland as a whole.

So far as we know, there are few new lettings in Scotland and the question of a premium is not a common abuse. Should it occur we think it right that we ought to have the power to deal with it. The tribunals in Scotland cover over 90 per cent. of the population, and all the main industrial areas, and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing thanks to their members, who have worked in a quiet and unobtrusive way to do justice as between landlord and tenant. I understand that a number of people who have wished to let rooms have actually asked the advice of a tribunal as to what rent they ought to ask for their rooms. The tribunals have been looked upon not as an enemy of one section of the people but as bodies prepared to be fair to all sections. The Amendments which have been passed today will apply to Scotland. The Amendment about furnished rooms may have more effect in Scotland than the Amendments which refer to lettings themselves. I am glad that the Bill has reached this stage, because I am sure Scotland will welcome its additional powers.

7.20 p.m.

I hope I shall not infringe the strict rules of Debate on Third Reading. I have no wish to do so. As one who has a certain amount of knowledge of building I should like to make a few remarks which I hope the Minister will not regard as being offensive or as being opposed to the general principles of the Bill. The first thing it does is to remove abuses, which are not occuring wholesale, because not everybody takes advantage of the position today. The abuses are there, and possibly unscrupulous people would have taken advantage of them had it not been for this Bill.

Even at the expense of boring the House I want to labour the point that these abuses would not occur unless there was scarcity. All these abuses will completely go when the scarcity passes. While I have been a Member of this House I have seen many extraordinary things happen, and I have seen the situation changing. What is going to happen in the event, which we all hope to see one day, of there being more accommodation than there is demand for instead of the present scarcity? In that case a lot of this legislation will not be necessary, and, therefore, I want the right hon. Gentleman to realise that he must not accept the present state of affairs as the status quo for the remainder of his life, because the situation may, in fact, change. At the present moment what we have to look at is that there is a grave scarcity, and a certain number of unscrupulous people are taking advantage of that scarcity. This Bill will unquestionably remove certain of the abuses.

At the same time, let us realise that we are injuring to a certain extent the provision of housing accommodation, because anything which is a restriction—I am not saying that we can remove all restrictions; of course we cannot—acts as a brake. Therefore one does not want to regard this as a completely, happy, normal, healthy Measure. Another thing, with which I am sure the Lord Advocate will agree, is that anything which breaks contracts freely entered into acts as an uncertain factor, which makes people feel there is no security, and they are not prepared to take risks if they feel that at a later date the contract can be upset. I am not saying that we can always accept contracts. There are occasions when it may be necessary to upset them, but we ought to reduce those occasions to a very minimum and regard them as regrettable instead of something which should be welcomed.

Lastly, there is the spate of legislation which Mr. Deputy-Speaker said we might mention for a few seconds. If we start consolidating all this legislation, economic factors in the country might lead the House to alter them as soon as consolidation has taken place. I know of many London streets where before the war there were many boards offering property to let. I remember streets of houses where there were perhaps 20 to 30 boards in every street. How do we know that those happier times will not return? Therefore, although we want to clarify the position in the interests of the general public, we do not want to pass some-tremendous consolidating Measure, which will, in fact, require to be altered almost immediately. I appreciate that I may have transgressed a little, and I do not intend to proceed further with this argument.

The right hon. Gentleman is going to get his Bill. He is not being opposed, because on all sides we realise that there are some features in the Bill which must command the support of all. I want however, seriously to appeal to him to remember that this is not a solution. The solution is to produce houses and get on with the provision of accommodation, so that rents will fall and so that no spiv or any other type of person will be able to circumvent legislation passed by this House. If the accommodation is available the ordinary economic factors will come to the aid of the public who will then have a fair deal.

7.25 p.m.

Yes, I think I have. I want to congratulate him on carrying this Bill successfully to the stage which it has reached. I should like to quote a letter from my own constituency, and that is the best test to take in this matter. I have watched the rent tribunal in my constituency with very great care, and I have also experience of rent tribunal work through cases that have arisen for my consideration at various times. I should like to quote from a letter written to me by the chairman of the tribunal at Leicester. It reads as follows:

"It is astonishing the number of people who have already signified their intention of making applications as soon as the Bill becomes law."
[Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Gentleman finds to laugh at in that. This obviously means that a large number of people, who hitherto have not had an opportunity of exercising their rights in regard to their moral claims are now being put in a position to apply to a tribunal to have injustices removed. They are waiting for this Act to be passed so that they may immediately take advantage of it and have justice done in respect of their cases. I quote a little further:
"Judging from some of the details with which we have been supplied there are some very bad cases to be dealt with."
This is not being said by a layman, but by a very experienced lawyer who has been for many years consulted in his legal capacity not merely by individuals but by courts. Today he is the chairman of this tribunal, and another member of the tribunal to whom I have spoken holds very similar views.

I am pleased to see that the Minister has taken into consideration a number of points which I put forward in the form of Amendments. I am grateful to him for having accepted the Amendments which dealt with restrictions on charging premiums on assignments in the case of furnished and non-furnished lettings. We have cause to be pleased with the fact that since the Second Reading and during the Committee and Report stage the Minister has seen fit to stop the racket which was going on by the charging of heavy progressive rentals and so avoiding the principles of the provisions of a number of the Rent Acts which had been passed. The House ought to be grateful to him and his advisers for having taken into consideration a number of the other points raised on the Second Reading.

It is perfectly true that this Bill does not profess to cover the whole of the ground that ought to be covered. However, I am not going into that point except to say that I am frankly disappointed, because I know from experience in many cases that there are a large number of injustices yet to be dealt with, but this Bill in going as far as it does, fulfils a very useful purpose and will bring satisfaction possibly to hundreds of thousands—I do not think I am exaggerating—of people throughout the length and breadth of the country. I only hope that some people will not seek to evade the intentions of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will give his consideration to the possibilities which are open in that direction, and that if any abuses arise he will take an early opportunity of having them dealt with by a separate Bill if he cannot provide for their prevention by the time the Bill becomes an Act. We have every cause to be grateful for the Bill, and I am certain that it will bring a considerable amount of relief in many cases.

7.31 p.m.

Even when I agree, as I do in substance, with the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner), I find it very difficult to agree with the arguments with which he supports his case. I want to begin as he began with a word of congratulation to the Minister. I do not claim, as the hon. Member claimed, to be speaking on behalf of the country. Such phraseology is both absurd and bombastic, but I trust that the Minister will accept the congratulations of a more modest character which I offer to him personally.

The subject matter of the Bill is probably among the most technical that Parliament has discussed for some time. I should feel not in the least ashamed to confess, as one who has practised for some years in this branch of the law, that I should never dream of dogmatising about it without very carefully looking up my cases first. I must say, without any attempt at being patronising, that I was very much struck indeed with the extraordinary grasp of the extremely complicated principles of this legislation which the Minister showed during the course of the Debates. I should not have thought it possible for one who must necessarily be in one sense a layman, to have acquired this very extraordinary grasp in so short a time. That only confirms my view, which I have always held of the Minister, that it is a pity that a man of such great qualities should misuse them so badly as he does.

There is one other word of praise that I should like to add. I think that the Minister has done his best according to his lights, or according to such of his lights as he permits himself to use, to improve the Bill since it came before us on Second Reading. He has introduced what the Bill badly needed, provisions with regard to the assignment of tenancies. I certainly did not appreciate when I made my criticisms on Second Reading that new provisions relating to assignments would require such detailed or such complicated machinery to carry them out. The Minister is to be congratulated upon having taken those steps.

The main criticism by those of us who still do not like the Bill very much is not one which we should be in Order in raising on the Third Reading of the Bill. We are sorry that the Minister has used this opportunity to introduce what of its very character is an opportunist Measure, instead of something very different. Even with that general criticism put into the background as one which the rules of Order do not permit us to indulge at this stage, there are serious defects in the Bill as it stands. With respect to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), I say that they are positive defects and not merely defects of omission.

I frankly do not like a Bill, which is a one-way street. The Minister described this Measure as being a tenants' relief bill and not a landlords' relief bill—highly coloured political language. The ideal which I hold in this matter and which I should like to see embodied in legislation is that one should seek not to produce a landlords' relief bill or a tenants' relief bill, but should seek to hold the balance of justice equally in one's legislation. That the Minister does not even pretend to do by the Bill. He alleges that the Bill is a one-way street. I do not like one-way streets in matters of justice. I like the even balance, and not the weighted balance. My complaint against the Bill, even with all the improvements which have been effected in it, is that it is a Bill in which the scales of justice have been deliberately weighted on one side. I am not prepared to concede to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that the fact that there is nothing in one scale and the other scale is weighted is a purely negative omission in the Bill. It is inherent in its positive conditions. For that reason I criticise the Bill.

Secondly, I do not like the machinery for the administration of justice under the Bill. I quite agree with hon. Gentlemen who have spoken in praise of the tribunals, but even the tribunals—again I must seek to keep within the rules of Order—which have been introduced by the Minister are like jellyfish, local jellyfish which have no backbone. I do not regard the absence of the backbone in which the Minister glories, or the absence of the vertebrae of the right of appeal as mere omissions from the Bill. I regard the whole machinery for the administration of what is called justice here as something which is necessarily going to be rather cheap and nasty. I should have preferred something a little less cheap and a little less nasty.

The reason I smiled while the hon. Member for West Leicester was addressing the House was that he was in process of quoting what seemed to me the extraordinarily unjudicial remarks of the chairman of a tribunal. It seemed to me a very good example of the kind of evil to which this sort of tribunal inevitably lays itself open. It seems to me extraordinary that the chairman of a tribunal which is supposed to do justice should be writing to a Member of Parliament expressing an opinion about the litigation which, he alleges, is pending before his own tribunal. I was smiling because the hon. Member for West Leicester did, as it seemed to me by the words he uttered, lend colour to the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), at which the hon. Member for West Leicester scoffed, when he said that this was the sort of thing which reminded him of the people's courts. My own view, such as it is, is—

Is the hon. Member suggesting for a moment that the chairman of a rent tribunal is not entitled to give information to a Member of the House about the number of people applying to him, and in respect of the experience he has in consequence of the cases that come before him, in order to assist the Member of Parliament in the promotion of legislation?

The hon. Member forgets that, according to the letter which I think he was reading to the House, the chairman was permitting himself to say that if the details supplied to him were accurate there were a number of very bad cases coming in front of him. I am a little shocked to see a member of the legal profession not only quoting that letter in the House but quoting it with such na"vet" that he did not even see that there was anything at all peculiar about it. It is an extraordinary thing indeed and savours of the people's courts to which my hon. Friend referred.

My own view is that in a very wide range of matters we are now committing ourselves to various new expedients, of which this is one, in the administration of justice in this country. In each case we are probably driven to take a course of this kind, but I regret that the Minister has not seen fit to listen to the advice of the Opposition in seeking to assimilate this machinery to the ordinary principles of natural justice. Nor do I regard his failure, for instance, to insist upon giving guidance in matters of principle to the tribunal or his failure to provide for any control of the tribunal as mere matters of omission. On the contrary, I do not think it is a mere criticism of omission to liken these tribunals to jelly fish without principles and incapable of control, floating upon a sea of prejudice and driven by tides of emotion rather than by proper and ascertainable principles which will enable justice to be done between man and man. That is particularly necessary, in view of the fact that professional lawyers are not normally engaged as advocates, in order to compel them to do justice when their prejudices and emotions do not naturally lead them to do it.

I regard the whole tribunal apparatus as something which must be examined and must continue to be examined with very great care from time to time. I do not in any way think that my hon. Friend's reference to the people's courts was at all fanciful in the limited sphere where these tribunals operate. On the contrary, this matter will require further investigation. Subject to that, what I have said is in no way intended to take away from the congratulations with which I began this speech. Within the limited sphere with which he has wrongly set himself, the Minister has achieved a notable performance from the Parliamentary point of view and has produced a Bill which at any rate may do a little more good than harm.

7.42 p.m.

The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) has made so gracious and courteous a speech that I cannot help feeling that it was a pity that he should spoil it a little by some exaggeration towards the end. He was a little hard on the chairman of the tribunal who, as I understood it, had done no more than draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) to the number of hard cases in which he has at present no jurisdiction and in which he hopes that Parliament by this Measure will give him jurisdiction. I thought the comparison to peoples' courts so exaggerated as to be a serious limitation on the kind of speech the hon. Gentleman was making. I have always thought that what was supposed to be wrong with peoples' courts was that they were not courts at all but that they were only intended to condemn according to political prejudice, that they had no rules, that there was no natural justice and that they were purely political weapons and not courts of justice at all.

If that is so, it is a very serious objection to them, but if we admit that this tribunal—an hon. Gentleman opposite said he thought it quite right that tribunals of this kind should consider whether rents were reasonable or not—is a correct tribunal and that it is the only machinery available to us, and if the Minister is using it, it is a little hard to say that he has gone behind the "curtain" for his inspiration and that he is really using political weapons. Nobody thinks that. I am sure that the hon. Member for Oxford does not think that.

There is little between the hon. Gentleman and myself. When he accuses me of exaggeration, he is conceding my case, because exaggeration is to state too strongly in degree, that in which there is no difference in kind.

If by their reference to peoples' courts, the two hon. Gentlemen opposite intended no more than to say that they were lay tribunals, I cannot for the life of me see why they needed to complain deleteriously by way of denigration of other courts of which we all disapprove. To use the hon. Gentleman's language, I should have thought that there was a difference not of degree but of kind between rent tribunals in this country and peoples' courts in the Soviet Union.

No one pretends that the Bill is any more than a patch intended to cover an existing hole until the time comes when the garment is completed. I only intervened, since we are not to have a Division, in order to do what I hope I may without offence take the opportunity of doing. It seems to me that the Opposition's attitude on the Bill is really an example of the kind of irresponsible and obstructive behaviour which has destroyed their influence in the House and largely destroyed it in the country. They voted against the Second Reading; they are not proposing to vote against the Bill tonight. There was nothing in the Bill as it was first presented which is not in it now. There are none of the things set out in the famous reasoned Amendment for which the Opposition—not all of them but most of them—voted on Second Reading, which are not still in the Bill. It seems to me to follow that either they were wrong to oppose the Second Reading or they are wrong not to oppose the Third Reading. They cannot have it both ways.

One of the three things their reasoned Amendment complained of—it was repeated in the opening speech from the Opposition—was that the Bill interfered with the freedom of contracts or interfered with contracts after they were made. The Opposition put that forward as a ground of objection. Yet throughout the Debate subsequently they have asked not for less interference but more interference. One of the things now in the Bill is that we are to interfere not merely with contracts between landlord and tenant but contracts between tenant and tenant. If it was right to oppose a Bill which interfered with some contracts, one would have thought it was also right to oppose a Bill when it interfered with more contracts.

I agree with the hon. Member for Oxford that if an injustice is involved in what a Bill puts in as against what it leaves out, that is a positive objection to the Bill and not a negative one. If I seemed to say anything to the contrary earlier I regret it. It is a perfectly sound thing to say, "This thing might be just if something else was done as well, but since something else has not been done, it is unjust." One is entitled to say that, but if it is said, the case has to be made out, and I think that the hon. Member for Oxford signally failed to make it out. No one is in favour of interfering with the freedom of contract for the fun of it. The State interferes, and always has interfered, in contracts in order to protect the party which would be at a disadvantage if the State did not intervene.

The hon. Gentleman must not make a false point. What I was objecting to was this: that it ought to be open to a tribunal to fix a fair rent plus or minus the contractual rent, and not simply one that was minus; and that having done that, one has weighted the scales of justice having said it was only to go one way.

I quite followed that point. The hon. Gentleman was perfectly lucid the first time. I think he will agree that it is related to the principle of interfering with contracts. The question is, what gives us the right to interfere? I know that he agrees that sometimes it is right to interfere; the question is, when? I am suggesting to him that the way this Bill does it is right because the State is only really justified in interfering when an injustice would be done if it did not interfere because one of the two parties to the contract is at a disadvantage.

We have never interfered to protect the moneylender from the man who borrows money. We have never interfered to protect the man who sells furniture on hire purchase against the person who hires his furniture and pays it off by small weekly instalments. We have always said that the moneylender and the seller of hire-purchase furniture are perfectly able to protect themselves in their contracts and, if they fail to do so, it is their business. However, the House has interfered to protect those who borrow money from moneylenders and those who buy things on hire purchase because it has come to the conclusion that the contracts are not equal contracts, and that unless the State, by legislation, protects one side against the other, injustice will result.

Indeed, this is the whole principle of the Rent Restrictions Acts. We have interfered with contracts only on the side of the tenant, never otherwise. I say that since this is confessedly only a patchwork Bill in order to deal with an existing situation, then it really seems quite inconsistent with the basis on which the Bill is supported by any of us to complain that, while it deals with the mischief it is aimed at, it does not also deal with another mischief which is not aimed at and which does not result from the scarcity of houses which lies at the back of this legislation.

I think my right hon. Friend was perfectly right when he put it, in the vivid picturesque language of which he is such a master, that this was a Bill to protect tenants and not a Bill to protect landlords. That is precisely what it is, and it is on that basis we ought all to support it, not because we take sides for the tenant as against the landlord, but because the circumstances which make it necessary to have a Bill at all are the circumstances which make the free contract difficult for the tenant and to the advantage of the landlord. If you have a sellers' market, you protect the purchaser, not the seller. That is the basis of it, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who has followed these things so carefully, who attended the Second Reading Debate and who did not vote against the Second Reading, should have taken that point tonight when he is supporting the Third Reading.

It is quite true that I did not vote on the Amendment which was proposed by my hon. Friends. If it had been a straight vote on the Second Reading I probably should have voted against it, but I did not agree with the phraseology of the Amendment and I felt that I could not support it.

That is just what I was saying, that the hon. Gentleman did not agree with the Opposition in the reasons which they gave for opposing the Second Reading, and therefore he is perfectly consistent tonight when he supports the Third Reading, but in what position are the rest of the Opposition? They are in the position of not opposing tonight what they opposed on the Second Reading although, if they were right on the point of the Second Reading, they would be all the more right today in opposing the Third Reading. For not all the Amendments made have been concessions to the Opposition. There was one concession to the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) which put the operative date of the lettings of houses to which the Bill applies considerably further back. Although the Opposition voted against it without that extension, they are not going to vote against it with that extension. They are in a hopelessly unmaintainable position. All that has happened in the meantime is South Hammersmith, and one can only hope that their political education——

I do not press the point, but I am sure there must be in that part of London a great many houses to which this Bill refers.

As the hon. Gentleman was at such pains to prevent me from referring to anything that was not in the Bill while I was trying to address the House, does he not appreciate that while we could quite properly on Second Reading vote against the Bill because of its inadequacy, on the Third Reading we cannot do so for that reason?

I think that the purely academic point which the hon. Gentleman is putting to me is one from which I would not dissent, but the Opposition did not vote against the Second Reading on the grounds of its inadequacy; they took pains to put on the Order Paper what their reasons were for voting against the Second Reading, and all those reasons are still in the Bill. Since I must not refer to it again, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I can only attribute their change of intention tonight to the rapidly advancing political education that they are experiencing at the hands of the electors.

7.57 p.m.

I want to refer briefly to one or two points in this Bill. Despite the rather pessimistic note from the other side regarding the application of this Bill to Scotland, I speak on the assumption that relief will be brought to considerable numbers throughout the United Kingdom, including my own constituency, where many people today look forward, as the people of West Leicester look forward, to this Bill becoming law in order to give them the relief for which they are waiting.

My first point is the extended security that is to be given by the tribunals to furnished lets. It will be possible for the tribunals under this Bill to renew for successive periods of no more than three months each the tenancy of these lettings. I would add my praise to all that has been said about the work of the tribunals. Great and good work has been done, relief has been brought to thousands of people, but at the same time my experience in meeting those with grievances week by week is that they now become reluctant to have them redressed by tribunals. That is not because of any lack of faith in the work of these bodies, but because they feel that if their application is successful they stand in danger of being served with a notice to clear out. So many of these people, if they can find the money are prepared to spend it in buying that higher degree of tenure, uncertain as it may be, rather than run the risk involved in applying to the tribunal. It will be more difficult under this Bill for that kind of action to be taken by the landlord.

My other point is the extension of the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts to tenants sharing living accommodation. Mention was made during the Second Reading Debate to that territory lying between the Rent Restrictions Acts and the legislation which has been brought in during the last few years in regard to furnished lettings. This is a very wide territory. My experience frequently is of somebody who has taken a couple of rooms in one of these divided houses. There is no doubt whatever that the rooms are unfurnished. The man provides his own furniture and after a time is given a week's notice to leave. On inquiring into his real standing under the law he is told that he occupies what is really a furnished letting, for the reason that he is sharing accommodation or an amenity—a kitchen or bath room, for instance—with others in the same house. Very often he has spent his own and his wife's savings, and perhaps his Service gratuity, in buying furniture for that house. It is not surprising that such a man becomes bewildered on finding that his plight is described in terms so far removed from ordinary language. There is something in the Bill which will bring relief to that kind of person.

I make an appeal to my right hon. Friends the Ministers concerned for publicity for the provisions of this new legislation. I believe that mention was made—it gave rise to a point of Order—of bringing a book up-to-date. I am concerned not so much about a book as that both landlords and tenants should know of their rights and duties under this Measure. There is no doubt that in the last few years—since 1943, when the first Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act came into force in Britain—millions of pounds, responsible people have estimated, have been paid needlessly to the wrong people because the victims were not aware of their rights under the law.

Probably the hon. Gentleman could make his point by asking for the Bill to be publicised. He cannot go back to the earlier Acts.

I follow your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was merely illustrating what had happened in the last few years. I hope that the same thing will not happen under this new legislation.

The Bill, as has been pointed out by many hon. Members, applies chiefly to London, but I believe there is a great deal in it for the rest of the country. The question of premiums has been discussed, and rightly so, at some length. Other provisions, however, which have not given rise to the same amount of discussion, are nevertheless, important. Because of the extended protection afforded by the Measure in the directions and to the groups of people I have mentioned, the Bill, for this reason if for no other, is well worth while.

8.4 p.m.

We are approaching the conclusion of a discussion which on the whole, I think, has been carried out in a businesslike fashion on a Measure which admittedly raises problems which are not capable entirely of a lasting solution. The problem of the replacement of fixed capital, especially of house capital, and the price which should be paid to keep it in proper maintenance and repair, is one of the most puzzling of questions, especially when, at a time such as the present, the value of money has fallen greatly in recent years and the cost of repair, maintenance and construction of new accommodation is enormously higher than it was when this accommodation was originally prepared.

The arguments which have been put to the House have, on the whole, addressed themselves to the practical points which this legislation raised. We do not grudge the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) the gleeful remarks which he addresses by way of soliloquy to the House, thereupon disappearing entirely from the precincts until the next occasion arrives for him to come in to conduct a monologue, either during somebody else's speech or immediately after it. But it was a little rash of him to suggest that voting against the Second Reading inevitably involved voting against the Third Reading of a Measure. It displayed not only a remarkable ignorance of Parliamentary procedure, but a remarkable ignorance of the recent utterances of the Minister, whom he was complimenting at the time. For it was only on 17th February last that the Minister gave the House some observations on the question of voting on Second and Third Readings, and pointed out:
"One very rarely votes against a Bill on Third Reading if one does not object to the Bill root and branch."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1949; vol. 461, c. 1464.]
Naturally, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne never listens to anybody else's speech and, as far as anyone can see, never reads anyone else's speech either. It is a pity that in these circumstances he takes it upon himself to address the House on points of procedure.

The points of which we complained have to some extent been modified. It is true, as my hon. Friends have said, that our objections have not been removed entirely, but it would be impossible for us to say that we object to the whole Bill root and branch. It was pointed out by the Secretary of State for Scotland that the original Bill was introduced as long ago as 1943, at a time when there was a very considerable Conservative majority in the House. The subsequent Measures have, of course, been the matter of consideration by both parties, but they have been the matter of consideration as dealing with immediate and practical proposals.

As has been said by Members on more than one side of the House, the difficulties of the situation are, of course, the signs of shortage. This is a scarcity Bill. It arises out of a desperate scarcity. It is a matter of distress to all of us, in all parts of the House, that we should be forced to introduce such a Measure in the fourth 'year after the war. It must be an especial hardship to the Minister, who put himself on record, when introducing the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, of which this Measure is an amendment, as saying:
"The House will note that, at the end of 1947, the Measure will die. This is my own estimate—perhaps vague—of the period when the worst housing stringency will have ceased to exist."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1945; vol. 415, c. 1945.]
The worst housing stringency, of course, has not only not ceased to exist, but in some ways has become much more stringent, of which this Bill is the proof. The housing lists in London, which have risen from 50,000 in 1945 to 150,000 at present, are an example of the enormously increasing stringency. Although I mention this only in passing, it is clear that the new construction is scarcely keeping pace with the destruction, the wastage, of houses and is certainly doing nothing to eat seriously into the shortage.

The difficulty of the Government, of course, is that, faced with a scarcity, they are bound to bring in scarcity Measures. The other Measure which follows this is also a scarcity Measure. That being so, we examine this scarcity Measure to see whether it will do more harm than good. The two dangers which we see are the danger of the deterrent to new construction and the danger of the breaking of contracts. These are two sides of the single problem. We object to the breaking of contracts not only from the point of abstract justice, which we do not expect to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman or his supporters, but from the practical side that it might deter people from entering upon new construction.

An improvement has certainly been effected by the fact that the Bill as amended, and read in conjunction with the other Measure just introduced by the Minister, provides that a man desirous of providing accommodation can now find out the return which he might expect. That was one of the points which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). It is a point upon which he is perfectly entitled to say that he is able to support a Measure of which he said on Second Reading that on pure merit he might not have found himself able to support.

Furthermore, there have been Amendments on one matter which has been brought forward by all of us on this side of the House, namely, the position of the landlord. The landlord was previously estopped from making any appearance whatever before the tribunal. That has been removed. It is true that the provision does not go so far as we should wish, but for the first time the landlord has a locus standi before the tribunal. My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) brought out that point, and it is one of the reasons why we certainly consider that an improvement has been made in the Bill.

It is quite true in regard to the third point which we made—the increase of anomalies—that some of them have been removed, but not all. Again, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said in his mild glee, an Amendment has been accepted which was moved by the Communists. The hon. Member is perfectly entitled to be gleeful about that, not so gleeful as the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin), but still gleeful to a reasonable degree in comparison with the somewhat gloomy outlook which is in general appropriate to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. But some anomalies have certainly been ironed out. The question of assignments of controlled leases has certainly been met.

The great anomaly of the person who was in an area where there was a surplus of houses, and who on that account let a house at a low rent, has not been met. The hon. Member seemed to indicate that there was no such thing, but there are many cases which are well known to the Minister, and which must also be well-known to the Home Secretary, of areas which were under bombardment during the war, from which people had to move, and in which tenants were sought at almost peppercorn rents, for the simple purpose of keeping houses occupied. There are people in areas from which the so-called landlords were moved, often at the behest of a Department of State. I myself gave the example of the Ministry of Health, when I had to issue orders which compelled the movement of many thousands of civil servants to the North country from the areas where they had their houses. Many other examples must be known to the Home Secretary.

Therefore, when the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne quotes with delight and approval the assurance of the Minister that this is a Bill for the protection of tenants and not for the protection of landlords, it seems to me to be rubbing in a little the attitude of mind from which the Minister did his best to escape in an earlier interruption. On that occasion he explained that he really knew that landlords were often humble people, and that his heart bled almost equally from the right lobe for the landlord, from the left lobe for the tenant, so to speak, and that he was equally willing to look after the interests of both. The unconscious revelation of his attitude, to which he gives vent when he is in his unguarded moments, goes a long way to disprove that that is his real attitude. Nevertheless I believe it to be true that it would be much better if we could get away from the words "landlord" and "tenant" and use some such phraseology as "accommodation provider" and "accommodation consumer," which would not arouse these complexes.

There again we see the same complex and how it springs up, in spite of what hon. Gentlemen opposite say about their desire to be just to the accommodation provider who is a person in humble circumstances. The words "rent gatherer and rent payer" represent the normal way in which they look at the matter. Yet not one of them does not inveigh against people for not building more houses to let. In successive sentences they attack people for not providing houses to rent and then inveigh against them for collecting any remuneration for those houses. This Bill carries out that point of view to some extent.

The anomalies about goodwill have been corrected by the Minister, corrections which he admitted were due to considerations advanced by us on this side of the House. He seemed to think, however, that those considerations were needless, but in that case why did he make any alteration in the Bill? Clearly, he must have been convinced that the alterations were an advantage or he would not have made them. Nor am I sure that all the anomalies have been yet corrected. There is the question of the houses let under Regulation 68CB, which the Home Secretary will remember. People were urged to register their houses and let them under a form which provided that if they were so let they would be protected against the provisions of any Rent Restrictions Act. This was done under a Defence Regulation. I should like the Minister to look into the point as to what will happen when the Defence Regulations fall or are abrogated. I trust that no mischief, to use the technical term, will come to the people who accepted that obligation and registered, and whose property is in occupation on account of the bargain arrived at between them and the Ministry, when the regulation which at present protects them lapses or otherwise comes to an end.

So much for the reasons which have led us, as I say, not to ask the House to reject this Bill on its Third Reading, namely, that the deterrent is less, many of the anomalies have been diminished and the position of the accommodation provider—I am trying to use this anodyne word—is at any rate slightly improved by the Amendments which the Minister has inserted in the Bill. As the Secretary of State for Scotland has said, it is a Bill which applies more particularly to London and almost exclusively to England and Wales. The hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. J. L. Williams) seemed to think that it would be of great advantage in that constituency. A slightly piquant position arises there, for I also have some knowledge of the constituency. I would say that at present the anxiety of the inhabitants of that area is much more as to whether they will be able to get a house of their own than whether they are having to pay too much for certain furnished accommodation. Places like 63, Buccleuch Street, with 43 people living in one house and only one toilet, will not be improved by any provisions which this Bill seeks to introduce, but only by a programme of new construction which is long and lamentably overdue.

The House certainly ought not to reject this Bill. The position in which we are is so serious and the stringency is so acute that every possible palliative must be sought. The only possible criticism of any palliative should be that it does more harm than good. I do not think that can be said in this case. But it is a palliative, and only a palliative, and certainly the position will not be improved until a much greater programme of new construction is in sight than there is any sign of at present.

8.21 p.m.

I am not proposing to ask the House to listen to me for any length of time, because it is not stimulating to speak in opposition to a case which is, I was going to say, intrinsically so weak. With his usual dexterity the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been trying to cover a retreat from an untenable position. He misrepresented my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) because in fact my hon. Friend spoke of a vote upon a reasoned Amendment and not upon Second Reading. If I remember rightly, it was only one vote upon the reasoned Amendment itself. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, despite his dexterity, did not succeed in answering how it comes about that the principles in the Bill which were wholly repugnant on Second Reading are acceptable today. That point has not been made. I do not want to extend the Debate in conjecture as to what it is that has convinced the Opposition to take a different course. As Mr. Deputy-Speaker has said, there are certain matters that lie outside the Bill and I am not able to refer to them. But I am quite sure that the Opposition have not been entirely unconvinced as the consequence of electoral opinion, and the performances given quite recently.

The position with regard to Third and Second Readings is clear. In ordinary Parliamentary practice one votes against a Bill on Third Reading if one is still convinced that the principles of the Bill are unsound. That is the reason why I made my reference the other night. It is because the Opposition thought the principles of the Health Bill were unsound that they voted against them on Third Reading. They are perfectly entitled to do that, and we are perfectly entitled to remind them that they did so. Now, of course, all we want to know is what has convinced the Opposition in the meantime.

It is perfectly true that in the passage of the Bill through the Commons I have accepted a very important Amendment which was recommended to me by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and which was supported, I think, by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) and several hon. Members in different parts of the House. The hon. Member for The High Peak Division (Mr. Molson) was unkind enough to ask whether I was entirely ignorant of the existence of that class of person. The fact is I had considered the matter very carefully when the Bill was being constructed. I do not think that virtue should be refused a certain amount of guile. I thought to myself, "This is a highly debatable point. I would like to have the advice of the House of Commons upon it, and see what they do, and see whether indeed they find that assignments as between tenants is the kind of conduct that ought to be got rid of."I was perfectly ready to accept the advice. Now I have had it. I have incorporated in the Bill a provision that makes premiums on assignments between tenants illegal, because I understand that the Opposition do not like that. All right then, if they do not like assignments between tenants, do they like assignments as from a landlord to a tenant? I should like to know now, because we ought to have some clarity about this.

I will give the answer perfectly plainly. We do not, as a matter of fact, object to premiums, but if we are to make it illegal in one case we had better make it illegal in another.

So the Opposition still think that premiums ought to be left? They say if premiums are not to be permitted then they should be prohibited on all rents, but they still think that premiums should be charged. Why then do they not vote against the Third Reading of the Bill? I am astonished at this and I am worried by it. I think, as I have said before, that the electors when they are choosing one of two parties to govern in this State, ought to know what they are choosing between, and what are the principles dividing us. It is the duty of the Opposition to raise their flag. It may be bedraggled but nevertheless they should raise it. After all, how are the electors to follow them if they cannot see where they are going. So I gather that the Opposition still think, and I hope that it will be noted—that it is a perfectly proper thing, in times of housing scarcity, for premiums to be levied. I understand from the hon. Member for The High Peak that they are not against premiums. That is what he said.

We are against premiums, because we think it is a bad thing that people who are without housing accommodation should have their circumstances preyed upon by people who have no decent restraint. We know that in the last three or four years, and indeed before that, very large premiums indeed were exacted by people who were in possession of accommodation——

Surely, the right hon. Gentleman is making a very false point and he must not make it. I know that he knows that in fact premiums on restricted houses have been illegal now for 29 years at least, and probably more. What we are saying is: "If you make it illegal, as it has had to be, in respect of restricted houses, then you have to make it illegal (a) in respect of assignments and (b) in respect of new restricted lettings.

I was referring more particularly to lettings where we have premiums charged on lettings for the first time. I take the point, and I have accepted it. What was key money, if refused to the landlord, ought not to be permitted to the tenant on assignment. But I gather from the Opposition, or from some hon. Members of the Opposition, that it is still not repugnant to them. They are not voting against the Third Reading, not because they are against premiums, but for reasons which have not yet transpired in any of the speeches which we have heard. But having certain political clairvoyance we can guess the reasons which will not lead them into the Division Lobbies this evening.

The right hon. Gentleman did trail his coat a bit and say that the reason for this Bill was that there was still a shortage of accommodation. Of course it is. He says it is rather painful and regrettable that after four years we still have to have protective legislation of this kind. Certainly it is. In 1946 I used the words which he attributed to me. I have never concealed from the House and from the country that I have accepted with far too great credulity the housing targets which I inherited from my predecessor.

Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor I was a member of the Coalition Government.

I am talking about my immediate predecessor in the Caretaker Government, not the Coalition Government. It is perfectly true, and it is a most interesting reflection—I shall have more to say about it when we introduce the Housing Bill—that the amount of the shortage of housing that existed in 1938–39 was for very large numbers of people far more serious than was ever revealed in the housing statistics. This is strictly pertinent to this Bill because we are still protecting people against the shortage of accommodation. In 1938–39, very large numbers of people who would have applied to the councils for a house and whose names would have appeared on the councils' lists did not do so because they could not afford to rent a separate house. There were two million unemployed in those days and that figure itself kept off the housing lists large numbers of people who shared accommodation because only in that way could they afford to pay the rent. But now that we are living in more expansive times, now that there is full employment, and now that people are earning reasonable wages and feel that they are able to launch out, they are coming forward as applicants for houses.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not deny the fact that at that time they were being provided with houses at the rate of 350,000 a year, and that now they are only being provided with houses at the rate of 220,000 a year.

It happens to be the fact, as revealed by the housing figures, that, when the Opposition were in office, we were providing a much larger amount of accommodation for people who could afford to buy a house than for people who wanted to rent a house, and that large numbers of people did not even want to rent a separate house because the Opposition had kept them in so impoverished a state that they did not have the ambition to live in a separate house. That is a shocking reflection on the conduct of the country and the Opposition. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman would have been well advised not to have trailed his coat in that direction.

The oftener the right hon. Gentleman lets me say that I was building 100,000 houses a year more than he is, the better I am pleased, but is it strictly relevant to this Bill?

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman went into the question of housing and housing figures, and the Minister is equally in or out of Order, as the case may be, in also doing so.

As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, the need for this Bill rests on the shortage of accommodation. Of course it does, and that is why it is here. Indeed, there would have been need for some protective legislation in 1937–38, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his party depended on the poverty of the population to conceal from them the full consequence of their neglect and incompetence.

Now the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that the results of this Bill will be to prevent accommodation being provided in the centres of our great cities. Indeed, he regretted that on Second Reading and one of his hon. Friends mentioned it tonight. What they are saying, in fact, is that the one section of private enterprise that was being permitted to provide accommodation for rent will be discouraged from doing so by the provisions of this Bill. I hope I am not misrepresenting them, but that is their contention. What does it prove? It proves that private enterprise in the building industry can only provide accommodation for rental by charging exorbitant sums for that accommodation. That is exactly the point, and that is what the Bill is aimed at. It is perfectly true that in the centres of our cities conversions and adaptations are taking place. This is the sector in the building industry where private enterprise is able to provide accommodation for rental, and this is the one sector where the most appalling exploitation of tenants takes place.

I have already cited a case where a tribunal has so reduced rents that it has resulted in a profit of only £4 on £8,000. That is not extortion; that is a bad tribunal.

That is a mere red herring. London is the one part of Great Britain where the local authority housing schemes are undermanned at the present time, that is to say, the one part of the country where we have not sufficient building labour to fully man up the housing industry with properly balanced building teams. Therefore, we cannot afford that building labour being diverted to building flats or making conversions that can only be used by people who are able to pay extortionate premiums to those who let them. If we have to choose between the provision of flats in London, let at high rentals to people who can afford to pay them, and using this same labour to build flats for the London County Council and the Metropolitan boroughs for letting to those on housing lists, then we prefer to use the labour on the latter rather than on the former. That is a plain statement, but it shows what I want to point out. When the greed of unrestricted private enterprise is let loose on the housing shortage—I did not say it in the first instance; hon. Members opposite did—it gorges itself at the expense of the poor tenants. Therefore, the reason for this Bill is in order to force them to pay back some of the premiums they have exacted.

There is one part of this Bill to which very little reference has been made, but to which I wish to refer, and that is where it deals with shared accommodation. I am very anxious indeed to get the Bill on the Statute Book as early as possible, because large numbers of people are losing the protection of the Rents Acts at the present time, and the sooner we get that protection restored the better. I will take what steps are available to me to publicise this Bill when it becomes an Act, as the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) and as one of my hon. Friends suggested, in order that the citizens of the country may be aware of their rights under the Measure. I appreciate the many kind things that have been said in the course of the discussion this evening, and I trust that we can now give the Bill its Third Reading and let it go to another place where, I hope, the reactions will be amiable and even more speedy than they have been here.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.