Landlord And Tenant (Rent Control) Bill
As amended, considered.
New Clause—(Special Provisions As To Premiums Paid To A Predecessor Of The Landlord)
(1) Where under Section two of this Act the Tribunal determine the rental equivalent of a premium paid in respect of the grant, continuance or renewal of a tenancy of a dwelling-house, and the Tribunal are satisfied that since the premium was paid and before the twenty-fifth day of March, nineteen hundred and forty-nine, the reversion had been conveyed or assigned for a consideration in money or money's worth, the Tribunal shall certify that this section applies.(2) Where the Tribunal so certify, subsection (3) of the said Section two shall not have effect but the provisions of the Schedule (Provisions as to premiums paid to a predecessor of the landlord) to this Act shall have effect in lieu thereof; and subsection (7) of that Section and subsection (4) of Section three of this Act shall have effect subject to the provisions of that Schedule. (3) In this Section the expression "reversion," in relation to the grant continuance or renewal of a tenancy of a dwelling-house, means the estate or interest in the dwelling-house which, immediately after the grant, continuance or renewal of the tenancy, was expectant upon the determination of the term granted, continued or renewed. — [Mr. Blenkinsop.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."It may be for the convenience of the House if we discuss at the same time the new Schedule, which we shall move later entitled, "Provisions as to Premiums paid to a Predecessor of the Landlord." This new Clause and the new Schedule relate entirely to each other. We are trying to provide for the case which was raised in the Committee stage where there has been a change of the landlord since the premium was paid. It is clear that it would be quite wrong to allow the tenant to recover a premium from a landlord who, in fact, never received a premium in the first place. This new Clause, therefore, makes special provision to enable the tenant first to go to the tribunal to establish the fact that there has been such a change of landlord and the amount which he can recover, and the Schedule sets out the precise amount which the tenant can in fact, recover. It will be seen that the provision is for recovery of lump sums. Obviously it would be impossible to recover from the initial landlord, the landlord who had originally received the premium, rent equivalent as is provided in the Bill for the generality of cases. This Clause, therefore, together with the Schedule, makes provision for the recovery of lump sums both in the case where the existing rent is in excess of the reasonable rent, and therefore the recovery of premium can be the full proportion of the premium which remains outstanding for the remaining period of the tenancy, and in the case for which subsection 2 (2) of the Schedule makes provision, where the reasonable rent may be higher than the standard and, therefore, only the excess part of the premium shall be allowed to be recovered. There is also provision in paragraph 4 of the new Schedule that where an assignment takes place after a tenant has recovered such a lump sum from the original landlord, the assignor shall not be allowed to charge to the assignee the part of the premium which he has already recovered from the original landlord. Both the Schedule and the Clause are rather complex, but very briefly those are the provisions, and I think the House will agree that in this way, together with certain consequential Amendments which we shall meet later in the proceedings, we have met a proper point which was raised in Committee by hon. Members on all sides.
I was not on the Committee, but I have a certain amount of interest in these things, so perhaps I may ask the hon. Member a question before he sits down. There is a great difficulty sometimes in finding the first landlord; it is not at all easy to trace him or to know where he has gone. What kind of procedure will be possible? Will the rent tribunal be able to help in any way?
The Committee stage of this Bill was taken on the Floor of the House and every hon. Member was a member of the Committee. With regard to the second point raised by the hon. and gallant Member it was because of the difficulty which sometimes might occur in finding the landlord that I did not put this proposal in the original Bill. It was, however, represented to me from all sides of the Committee that there ought to be power to proceed against a landlord where he could be found. That is why we have introduced the proposal into the Bill.
The Minister has done his best to meet what is admittedly a very complex situation. I do not deny that this is the sort of legislation where, in attempting to correct anomalies, one is reminded of the ancient legend of the Hydra and Hercules' attempts to deal with it; when one of its heads was cut off it immediately grew two in its place. It is true that as one attempts to correct an anomaly in this legislation there is a danger of creating other and greater anomalies. In fact, we drew attention to that in our Amendment on the Second Reading.Nevertheless, I think the Minister has attempted to deal with this point. We must, I think, trust the skill of the Ministry and the Ministry's draftsmen in introducing the most satisfactory solution to this very difficult point. As the Minister himself said, he has not attempted to pursue the matter too far. It may be said that this could go on almost indefinitely, but again I think that would give rise to a far greater crop of anomalies than any which could possibly be remedied by it. We do not, therefore, raise any objection to the new Clause; we welcome it as a concession to meet a point of view put forward by us.
My right hon. Friend said this was a concession to meet a point raised on all sides of the Committee. I take the liberty of reminding him that when this was being discussed in Committee I expressed my own doubts of the wisdom of conceding it. I said at the time that if on consideration of the matter my right hon. Friend still thought the point ought to be made, I should not make any difficulties at this stage, and, therefore, I am not proposing to ask the House to reject it at all, but I hope my right hon. Friend, nevertheless, will not mind if I take the opportunity to put on record my own opinion that this is a mistake.When a man buys a house he buys it subject to tenancies. He knows about the tenancies. He can inform himself about the tenancies. He can raise whatever requisitions he thinks it right to raise before completing the sale. He can inquire if any premium has been paid in respect of the tenancy. He can inquire how much it is. He can form his opinion whether it is a reasonable or unreasonable premium. If on all that knowledge he completes the purchase, I should think that the proper assumption would be that he decided to take it with such risks as there might be.
But suppose that he is given the information that no premium was paid even though it was? That could often be the case.
I do not think it would very often be the case. Requisitions are raised by purchasers through their solicitors and answered by the vendors through their solicitors. It is not a new thing, but a thing which takes place on every transaction in land that happens. It is not in the least true that requisitions are often answered untruthfully or fraudulently. Of course, if a vendor did answer such a requisition untruthfully or fraudulently, the purchaser would have the remedy which this new Clause is proposing to give to the tenant.Therefore, I make the point that it would have been—and was as the Bill was originally drawn—perfectly easy for the purchaser of property of this kind to protect himself against the possibility of having to repay a premium, and that there is nothing unfair or inequitable about it. If, on the other hand, we relieve him of that obligation it means he can buy without making any inquiries about premiums at all, and, obviously, the door is open to one very easy means of evading the provisions of the Bill; because it means that wherever a premium has been accepted in respect of a tenancy the man who has received the premium, if he sells at once, will, at any rate, make it to that extent more difficult for the tenant to pursue him or recover the premium he has paid when he ought not to have paid it. Therefore, we shall be putting an additional burden on the tenant, in a matter where the whole purpose of the legislation is to relieve him, in order to protect the purchasing landlord from a risk which he could perfectly well protect himself against. In other words, we are putting an additional obstacle on the tenant without conferring any advantage on the owner which he could not have conferred on himself without putting that burden on the tenant at all. Therefore, I think it worth while to put it on record that, for my part, I think this is a mistake. and that it ought not to be done.
Question put, and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause—(Jurisdiction Of County Court)
Subsection (2) of Section seventeen of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920 (which extends the jurisdiction of county courts in respect of proceedings under that Act) shall have effect in relation to any claim or proceedings for the recovery of any sum which is recoverable by virtue of this Act as it applies to the claims and proceedings mentioned in that subsection. —[Mr. Blenkinsop]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."This new Clause merely provides the procedure by which the lump sums we have been considering in the previous Clause are to be recovered. It is the same procedure as is provided in the principal Acts.
I understand that it does not raise any great question of principle, and in the circumstances we offer no objection.
Question put, and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause—(Prohibition Of Premiums On Grant Or Assignment Of Furnished Lettings)
(1) Where the rent payable for any premises is entered in the register under the provisions of the Act of 1946, and, in the case in which the approval, reduction or increase made by the tribunal is limited to rent payable in respect of a particular period, that period has not expired, the following provisions of this Section shall apply in relation to the premises.
(2) Save as hereinafter provided, a person shall not, as a condition of the grant, renewal, continuance or assignment of rights under a contract to which the Act of 1946 applies, require the payment of any premium:
Provided that this subsection shall not prevent—
(3) Subsections (7), (8) and (10) of Section three, and Section four, of this Act shall with the necessary modifications apply for the purposes of this Section as they apply for the purposes of the said Section three.
(4) The following provisions of the Act of 1946, that is to say—
are hereby repealed:
Provided that, without prejudice to the operation of Section thirty-eight of the Interpretation Act, 1889, nothing in this Section shall be construed as affecting the operation of the said provisions of the Act of 1946 as respects anything done before the commencement of this Act.—[ Mr. Blenkinsop.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."This new Clause does not raise any new principle. It is merely to meet the point raised in Committee that we should provide a similar procedure in regard to the illegality of premiums in respect of furnished lettings as has now been provided by this Bill in other cases. The procedure here is to be similar. There is provision here to establish the same procedure as in the other cases.
I should like to thank my hon. Friend for having accepted the suggestion that was made by me in Committee and for having put it in a form which is very much better than the one I myself prepared. There is, however, a point I should like to put about it, because there is a question of some doubt in my mind and in the minds of others as to the meaning of the new Clause. Is the period referred to—the Clause says the "period has not expired "—sufficient to cover a case where an extension of time has been given by the tribunal in respect of the period during which the notice shall run? I can understand that the period should be the time originally provided for in the Bill. Does this, however, clearly cover the case where extended periods are given for security? It may cover that quite definitely. I want to be assured that it does so.
I wonder what my hon. Friend means by his question. Does he mean where security of tenure is renewed?
I should not have thought that this had anything at all to do with that.
Reference is made here to
Does that also cover the period which has been extended? I want to know whether the new Clause covers the extended period which the tribunal may have given."… a case in which the approval, reduction or increase made by the tribunal is limited to rent payable in respect of a particular period, that period has not expired. …"
I want to draw attention to the difficulties Parliament places on such bodies as these by this sort of legislation. I draw attention particularly to subsection (2, b) which says:
This is a point which will come up again later, but it does seem to me that the burden being placed upon the bodies which are to determine these amounts is growing greater with every Clause we add to the Bill. The House will remember the very complicated and exacting provisions that were made in the National Health Service Act to ensure that no transfer of goodwill could possibly take place in connection with a doctor's house. Conceive the set of circumstances which are arising here, where a tribunal will have to determine what is the reasonable sum, let us say, in respect of a house previously occupied by a masseuse. I do not intend, of course, to ask the House to reject this Clause because I think that the Minister, having started upon this course, must do his best to provide against the various contingencies. I do, however, draw attention to the point we shall make later—to the necessity for co-ordinating the decisions, the inevitably conflicting and divergent decisions, which will be given by scores of tribunals operating without any direction whatever in circumstances of enormous diversity. I do ask the House to consider what half a. dozen tribunals in different parts of the country may easily decide to be a reasonable amount to be paid in respect of"Provided that this subsection shall not prevent—
(b) a requirement that there shall be paid a reasonable amount in respect of goodwill of a business, trade or profession, being goodwill transferred to a grantee or assignee in connection with a grant or assignment or accruing to him in consequence thereof."
The difficulty is added to because the conditions are retrospective. How do we get at what is reasonable in the case of the business of a masseuse, the goodwill of which was transferred some time ago in consequence of a decision made by two people in ignorance of the fact that Parliament was about to take any account of the action many years afterwards? The tribunal will have to weigh this up. It has been said in the courts of law that the devil himself cannot know the mind of man. In this case, it is lay people who are being asked to know the minds of two persons and to go back to what they were thinking six or seven years before. It shows the state to which Parliament is being led by legislation of this kind and by retrospective provisions. I do not wish to dilate on the difficulties of the furniture provisions, although they will differ from one part of the country to another. On this simple point of goodwill, it seems to us on this side of the House that the case which it makes out for some co-ordination of these decisions, and which we shall move in later stages, is irresistible."goodwill of a … profession… transferred to a grantee or assignee in connection with the grant or assignment or accruing to him in consequence thereof."
There is one question which I wish to ask on this point of the interpretation of the word "goodwill." It will be no doubt recalled that under the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1927, provision was made for compensation for goodwill in certain circumstances. It was provided there by Section (4) that
Is it sought to import into the word "goodwill" in the new Clause the same meaning as is attached to the word "goodwill" by the Landlord and Tenant Act, or are we to have words used in a different sense? If we are not going to disregard any value which is "attributable exclusively to the situation of the premises," it seems to me that the tribunal will get into very great difficulty in administering and interpreting this provision. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to indicate to what extent the definition of the word "goodwill" here differs from the definition in that Act."the tribunal shall, in determining the amount of goodwill—disregard any value which is attributable exclusively to the situation of the premises."
It is not possible for me to define what is meant by "goodwill" because the tribunal itself will do that. It would be improper for me here to utter what would not be a statutory direction unless included in the Bill. The tribunal fixes the rents. We are not dealing with the matter on which the tribunal will arbitrate. It will be for the courts to construe this matter. This is a prohibition on assignment, and we are getting rather confused in imagining that the tribunal itself will construe this. All that the tribunal will do is to fix the rent.
How does the right hon. Gentleman connect that with subsection (1) of the new Clause:
It seems to me to connect it with a decision of the tribunal."in a case in which the approval, reduction or increase made by the tribunal is limited to rent payable in respect of a particular period, that period has not expired, the following provisions of this Section shall apply in relation to the premises."
The tribunal will have to determine what was a reasonable rent in the first instance and it will be determining from time to time, as the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) intimated in his question, what would be the period of tenancy. As to whether in fact a certain sum of money could be paid on assignment, is a matter for the court to construe and not for the tribunal, as I understand the position from my legal advisers.As to the actual merits of the proposal itself, this will occur in very rare instances indeed. This is not a normal eventuality and, therefore, any mischief, if mischief there be, will be expressly limited. It is perfectly true that the tribunal will reach a large number of different decisions. The circumstances themselves will be very diverse. I am talking about the way in which the tribunal will be fixing the rent and not the way in which the court will construe the Clause. The rents will be fixed by the tribunal having regard to all the circumstances of the case. As the circumstances will be inevitably diverse, then the decisions themselves will inevitably be diverse. It is because of the diversity of the conditions that we have to have a tribunal of this kind to determine them. In this whole field of rent legislation, the courts have reached a diversity of decision about the same facts. It is because the courts have reached so many diverse decisions about what we thought were the same facts, that part of this Bill is necessary. The tribunal itself, being a much more flexible instrument, will be able to make its decisions relate to the particular facts of the case. That is why we put forward the merits of the tribunal for cases like this as distinct from the merits of the courts.
If I may speak again by leave of the House, I would say that the Minister's point that the courts had given diverse decisions was not exactly germane to the question of these decisions. The courts give different decisions, but there is a court of appeal by who those diverse decisions are coordinated. These decisions in the tribunals are being given independently, without any appeal and without any possibility of a co-ordinating decision which will bring into relation these diverse decisions. Although, as the Minister said, the courts will construe this Clause, yet the tribunal itself, in giving these decisions, is surely bound by the remainder of the Clause; and in its decisions as to what ought or ought not to be reasonable, or where something had unreasonably been done, or a rent ought to be reduced, it would surely have to make these decisions in accordance with its own interpretation of the remaining subsections of the Clause.
Question put, and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause—(Adjustment Of Stamp Duties)
Where upon the grant continuance renewal or assignment of a tenancy stamp duty has been paid upon a rent or other consideration which is reduced or otherwise affected by any determination of the Tribunal under this Act there shall be repaid to the person by whom such stamp duty was paid upon a claim being made by him for the purpose such sum as represents the difference between the stamp duty so paid and the stamp duty which would have been payable at the date of the instrument upon which the stamp duty was paid as aforesaid if the rent or other consideration for such grant continuance renewal or assignment had been in accordance with the determination of the tribunal less such part of such difference as represents the proportion which the period during which the rent or other consideration stated in the instrument was payable by the person by whom the stamp duty was paid bears to the period beginning with the said grant continuance renewal or assignment and ending with the date which would be the relevant date for the purposes of Section two of this Act.—[Lieut.-Colonel Elliot.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."I hope that the House having swallowed the camel will not strain at the gnat. This is merely a suggestion that where the State has profited by this instruction which the State subsequently declared to be illegal, the State should not thereby profit from a transaction that the State has decided is wrong. Of course, there are other people concerned in it. There is the worthy profession of solicitors. They also have drawn fees from this transaction which has subsequently been declared to be illegal, but as they had nothing to do with declaring it illegal, it might seemed a little harsh that they should be subsequently prosecuted and their costs taxed or reduced by an adequate proportion of whatever the tribunal decides. As for the State, I do not think the State has any possible line of retreat from this. The State allowed the transaction; the State profited by the transaction; the State now breaks the transaction: the State therefore, it seems to me, is not entitled to receive moneys on behalf of this transaction.
I am afraid I must resist this new Clause. It is quite easy to exaggerate its value. A very small amount of money is involved.
Like the housemaid's baby.
Yes, but I am not merely resisting it on account of that. If the demand itself were just, I should not resist it, but this is not the Bill in which to state whether or not exemptions from Stamp Duty should take place. That should really be done in the Finance Act, not here. There are very few instances indeed—I think it is only where Stamp Duty has been wrongly paid, or where there has been a misdirection or something of that sort—on which exemption takes place, and I think it would be an improper use of this vehicle to exempt people from Stamp Duty in it.I have tried to find out what would be the kind of value of the Stamp Duty which would be paid here. I think it is £1 for every £200, and £2 for every £100 rent. That would be the maximum charge. So we are really talking about very, very small chips indeed. I should not have thought that we ought to use the weighty instrument of an entirely new Clause for the purpose of stating that, when the tribunal comes to assess what should be paid by way of reduced rent in respect of a rental equivalent on a premium they should take into consideration that proportion of the Stamp Duty which has in fact expired. I think that would be a very small matter indeed, and I must resist this proposed new Clause.
Perhaps I might speak again with the leave of the House. The Minister's defence was about as fine a piece of wire-drawing as I have ever seen him indulge in. I can imagine the shreds into which we would have been torn had the Minister been on the other side, or if this had been something in which some of his prot"g"s were particularly concerned. We would have been told: "£1 or £2 to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, with their castles, their pineries and their vineries, their staghounds and fox hunting"——
It is not a fraction of £1.
Even so, we would have been told that the smaller the fraction, the less it would have appeared in the Minister's diminuendo glass. The right hon. Gentleman would have brought it down to these trivial sums, and then said:"It is important to the small man or woman who is my particular client. What is only 10s. to hon. and right hon. Members opposite is an enormous sum to people in my class of life, to people amongst whom I was brought up." The Minister could plead with great eloquence on either side, and the fact that on this occasion he was not able to put up a better case shows that he feels very unconvinced on the matter. I should have thought, especially when he says this is not the place in which to give Stamp Duty exemption, that the place where injustice is committed and the occasion upon which it is being committed are, surely, the place in which and the occasion upon which the injustice should be remedied. The place where it is being caused is the place where it should be dealt with, and that is in this Bill. We are admittedly exacting the return of sums—
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman appears to be forgetting all the while that we are assuming that the tribunal has decided that an unreasonable premium has been charged. He pretends that someone who has paid Stamp Duty on an unreasonable act ought to have a portion of that Stamp Duty taken into account in determining what he ought to pay back. That is a most extraordinary conception of justice: someone has taken a sum of money he ought not to have taken, and when we try to estimate what he should have taken, we ought to reduce the Stamp Duty by the extent to which he has been able to get away with what he ought never to have charged. That is a most astonishing argument. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in trying to devise an Amendment to put down, has taxed his ingenuity to such an extent as to overrun his virtue.
I knew that if we, so to speak, dragged our coat up and down the Floor of the House long enough the Minister would not be able to refrain from treading upon it.
And ripping it.
Well, I hope to prove not, because I observe what the Minister concealed from the House—and he must have concealed it intentionally, because he ought to know it by this time. He was talking about what was a perfectly legal transaction at the time it was done. What the Minister says is that people who were permitted by the State, and indeed encouraged by the State, to enter into this transaction should have divined on their own instance, that it was unreasonable and wrong. It is the Minister who is now seeking to make this transaction illegal. The transaction was perfectly legal and perfectly right at the time, and it is an astonishing doctrine for a Minister of the Crown to say that a transaction into which it was immoral for two private citizens to enter, and in respect of which the State drew revenue, should be quashed as regards the two private citizens but the State should still continue to draw revenue from it. There is no limit to the extent of the remarkable doctrine which the Minister is now commending to the House.The right hon. Gentleman twits us with the fact that we have exercised our ingenuity in drafting an Amendment to put down. Indeed, that is not so. We have Amendments of great substance upon the Order Paper. I admit that this Amendment deals with small sums. The fact that it also deals with justice or injustice, naturally does not weigh with the Minister. However, we shall get on to the more substantial points, and it is for the very reason that we want to get on to the more substantial points that I do not wish to delay the House further by discussing this matter. We are not merely absolutely unconvinced by the Minister's arguments—we generally are by his arguments—but we are also absolutely unimpressed at his way of presenting them. That is not always so, because on many occasions upon which the Minister's arguments are very thin indeed he presents them with such sound, vigour and fury that we desire that he, like the lion in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," should roar again. On this occasion we do not ask him to roar again, but rather that he should as speedily as possible pass away from what has been an unsatisfactory exhibition.
May a still smaller voice be heard to follow the roarings of the lion, to suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite the interesting and, I think, complete parallel to what they are attempting to do? A lease is granted lawfully; Stamp Duty is paid on it; the house is then used for immoral purposes, and the lease is voided. Is it seriously suggested that the Stamp Duty should be returnable?
Question put, and negatived.
Any person, including a local authority by whom a reference is made under the Act of 1946, aggrieved by a determination of the tribunal under this Act or the Act of 1946 may within twenty-one days from the date of the determination apply to have the question referred to the tribunal determined by a person selected from the panel of official arbitrators appointed under the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919.— [Lieut.-Colonel Elliot.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Lieut.-Colonel Elliot; Commander Galbraith; Mr. Walker-Smith.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The hon. Member is out of Order. As none of the hon. or right hon. Members on whom I called rose, we must pass to the next new Clause.
As it is a technicality that the proposed new Clause should be moved by somebody in whose name it stands on the Order Paper, I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."If I wish to speak again I should ask the leave of the House, which I trust would not be withheld. I do not wish to dilate upon this proposed new Clause at present because my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) is, if I may say so, better acquainted with it than any of us, he having taken up this point particularly with the object of bringing it before the House.
I rather deprecate the practice of moving a new Clause and then making another speech later in the Debate.
We attach great importance to this new Clause, and we are still not without hope that the Minister will give consideration to the matter even at this late stage. Under the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, no central appeal body was set up to coordinate the decisions that were given. Manifestly, the effect of this Bill will be to introduce this system of a notional reasonable rent in the case of an immensely larger number of properties than has been the case in the past. Surely it is of the utmost importance that there shall be the same criteria of reasonableness applied in all parts of the country.I hope to speak on a later Amendment asking once more that general principles of guidance may be laid down, but if that Amendment is not accepted and all these tribunals are to be left to act in the light of their own judgment as to what is reasonable, almost inevitably there will be an immense variety of decisions arrived at in different parts of the country. Even if the Government are prepared to accept the later Amendment for some guidance to be given as to what principles the tribunals shall take into account, the experience of courts of law is that different courts arrive at different conclusions and it is necessary therefore to have a single court of appeal where conflicting decisions given in different parts of the country can be brought into harmony with each other. I can think of nothing that would be more likely to bring this procedure into discredit than that we should see one tribunal in one part of London, acting in perfectly good faith and taking certain considerations into account, coming to a different conclusion to another tribunal in a neighbouring part of London also acting in perfectly good faith. We might find that what was considered to be a reasonable rent in one case was held not to be reasonable in another. It seems to us vital, whether these tribunals are good or bad, that some central appeal tribunal should be set up to bring decisions into harmony. Good as many of these tribunals are, some have arrived at the most extraordinary decisions. I do not apologise for quoting this case again, because when I first raised it during the Committee stage the Minister was away having a very hurried dinner and I received no answer to it. The case concerns a decision taken by the Acton, Ealing, Hayes and Harlington tribunal, presided over by Miss Venetia Stevenson. My correspondent is an old client of 25 years ago whom I have not met since this Bill came before the House. He bought a house for himself during the war for £1,900 and purchased a similar house for £4,100 in 1947. He wanted to convert the second house into flats and to furnish them. He calculated to obtain a net profit of 3 percent. on the transaction. Three out of four of his tenants went to the tribunal and obtained a substantial reduction in rent, with the result that he is now making a net profit of £4 a year at a risk of about £8,000. If the fourth tenant goes to the tribunal and obtains a reduction he will be working at a loss. This case indicates the desirability of having some means whereby aggrieved persons may go to a single appeal tribunal which harmonises the decisions given by the tribunals throughout the country. We are not wedded to the particular tribunal suggested in the new Clause. During the Committee stage we suggested an appeal to the county court, but the Minister took exception to that on the grounds that he thought it inappropriate when matters had been dealt with informally for an appeal to be made to a court of law. The exact tribunal is not the important point we want to urge. We say it is undesirable that a large number of tribunals should be set up without any guidance being given to them, being left with complete and free discretion without any means being provided whereby their decisions can be harmonised.
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) suggested earlier that the Opposition had new Clauses later on the Order Paper which were of great substance, and this is one of them. This is of great substance, being short, simple, understandable and completely destructive of the Bill. It was intended in the 1946 Act to provide a simple tribunal to which ordinary people could apply to get a just decision on what they should pay for lettings. This Bill extends the powers of the tribunal in several respects, especially in regard to the fixation of rents for new lettings since 1939. That is the only extent to which the tribunals' powers are substantially extended.It was always understood—because we followed the precedent of our colleagues in Scotland—that the best kind of tribunal would be one which was local. That is to say, it would have knowledge of the actual locality, it would be able to arbitrate on the facts of the case, it would be easily accessible to the people wishing to go before it, both principal tenants and sub-tenants, it would be informal so as not to frighten people, and it would be inexpensive so that people would not be deterred from seeking justice. I have resisted throughout any attempt to appeal against a tribunal because all those considerations would be absent from the appeal. Where a tribunal is held to have exceeded its powers under the statute action can be taken in the courts to restrain it. It is for the courts to see that the tribunal confines itself to its statutory powers and obligations. But where there is an appeal from the determination of the tribunal the virtues of the tribunal are lost. Its simplicity, localism, inexpensiveness, informality and immediate relation to particular facts are lost. The effect of this new Clause would be to destroy not only the merits of the Bill but all the merits which the tribunals have had ever since they have been set up. I am astonished at the Opposition, at this late hour, should have sought to convince the House that we should carry this Clause, which is of an entirely destructive character. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) gave an illustration of what he considered to be an injustice against a landlord who bought a house at what seemed to be at an excessive cost. It is no part of our duty to protect a person against having made a bad bargain. All we can do is to see that he does not pass along to the lessee of the furnished letting the consequences of his own impropriety.
This is of the utmost importance, because throughout the whole proceedings on this Bill we have been trying in vain to obtain an understanding of the principles on which the Minister wishes the tribunals to act. If the house was bought at the end of the war at a high price, when the prices of all houses were high, are we to understand that the reasonable rent at which the landlord is expected to let the flats into which that house was converted may be such as would result in a loss to him?
We must take into account the conveniences and amenities that the tenants of the furnished lettings are having. Normally, tribunals do take into account the cost to the landlord of providing furnished lettings, but where an excess payment has been made by the landlord it would be against the spirit of the Bill if the pure cash element should increase payment for furnished lettings. What is paid should have some relationship to the conveniences which are being enjoyed. I do not intend to lay down directions, because once I do, then I have deprived the tribunals of the elasticity that they have possessed. But assuming that the case which the hon. Member made is a proper case. Suppose, in such a case, the tribunal misdirected itself. Does he intend to abolish the validity of the tribunal because of that? Because the Supreme Court, the House of Lords, sometimes reaches a decision which may be regarded by some as being foolish would he abolish it?
That is the whole point. In the case of the courts there is a single court of appeal which, rightly or wrongly, co-ordinates decisions over the whole country. Under this legislation there is nothing to prevent each tribunal from having a different series of cases decided on different principles.
That is beside the point, because I just mentioned the Supreme Court. Even if it could be shown that a tribunal such as the Supreme Court itself had reached what was considered to be an unreasonable conclusion, that is no reason at all for doubting its general validity. If it could be shown that according to the opinions of people who did not look at the facts, the tribunal had made a wrong decision, that is no reason why we should destroy the value of that tribunal entirely, as this Clause would do. It is not desirable, in these cases, that the decision should be in doubt; it is not desirable that we should import into this legislation machinery so complicated as to deter people from seeking from the tribunals what they want. I must resist the proposed Clause.
The Minister's argument is directed against having a court of appeal. That may be his view, but it is not the view which is taken by any system of justice—
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not ask leave of the House to speak a second time.
I thought it was tacitly given, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but if I may I will, with the leave of the House, proceed with my argument. I am sure the Minister would be the last to desire that the argument should not be fully presented to the House. I fear that we shall have to divide the House on this Clause, because it is necessary to indicate——
Why did not the Opposition ask for this in 1946?
The right hon. Gentleman said that the whole thing was coming to an end in 1947.
Yes, I have his quotation here. I am sure he is acquainted with his own statute. He not merely put it into the statute, but drew attention to it in his speech. The right hon. Gentleman said the whole thing would stop in 1947. Here he is extending the provisions to a very wide set of cases, and he is making this, so far as we can see, a permanent part of the machinery of justice. That deals with the right hon. Gentleman's point that the Bill extends to new lettings from 1939. It does not: it makes permanent a piece of machinery which was previously temporary.The right hon. Gentleman argued that it was desirable for tribunals to be friendly and informal, that they should be capable of reasonable approach. I shall give the analogy of the pensions tribunals. If there is any class of man for whom it is desirable to provide a court to which he can go in an informal manner, and which will be a friendly and inexpensive way of giving a decision, surely it is a man who was wounded in defence of his country. This point was actually brought to the attention of the House by one who has a better right than anyone to do so, my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) when he said:
"The whole feeling on all sides of the House when these tribunals were set up was that they should be homely affairs, not particularly formal, and not necessarily legalistic or following procedure in any well defined form, but friendly tribunals to which men could come with confidence and get fair judgment."
I too know a great deal about this procedure and it is only fair to compare like with like. In the case of the assessment tribunal under the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act, 1943, there is no appeal to a higher authority, only an entitlement, which is rather different.
The hon. Gentleman says it is rather different, but that is only a quibble. I am saying that these tribunals, to which both the Parliamentary Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale was referring, were similar to this, and the phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale was repeating words which the Minister previously used about the rent tribunals. I do not think he will deny that. The words "homely," "not formally," "not legalistic" as my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale said, are applicable, and this was not controverted at the time, but the Parliamentary Secretary says that appeals have been granted in a certain class of cases. He will not deny that there is entitlement, and everyone of us knows—
It is analogous to jurisdiction under which a person can go to the court.
That is straining the matter too far. Entitlement is exactly the sort of thing that Parliament had in mind to be discussed and decided by these informal, friendly courts. The man should go before this body because he is entitled to do so. Naturally none of these cases are 100 per cent. identical with each other. I am merely giving an analogy when I say that the fact was brought out by my hon. Friend that a case can go to appeal. It has not been denied by the Parliamentary Secretary, who has a great experience of these matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale said:
The Minister seems to be pleading a principle which goes very much further than the cases to which he would now seek to direct our attention. I could not make out from the Minister's argument anything that would limit the extension of that to other cases of appeal. It is a great advantage to have swift decisions. So swift was the decision taken at Jed-burgh that the man was hanged first and the trial took place afterwards. It was known as "Jedburgh justice," but it was never held up for imitation by superior tribunals and it has been generally frowned upon ever since. The Minister may desire an immediate decision, but a wrong decision is no better because it is a swift decision and because there is no appeal against it. My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) instanced two cases cheek by jowl in two slices of London in which there might be a different decision with no means of bringing them into co-ordination. I put it to the House that this is an undesirable position if it is to be a permanent feature of our legislation and of our justice. That is where the fundamental difference arises between the Minister's original Bill and this Bill, and between a temporary and a permanent Bill. Naturally, we do not wish to labour the point, because it seems to us absolutely crystal clear. As the Minister says, our new Clause is simple, clear and important. He disagrees with us. We believe most strongly in this principle. and we shall take every opportunity of pressing it upon those who are responsible for carrying on the Government of this country."Here is a situation where between 30,000 and 50,000 cases go to the tribunals and only a few score of cases go to appeal on points of law. Moreover, there is value in allowing cases to go to appeal on points of law because one can get a directive from the superior court which comes to the tribunals and can assist in bringing about uniformity of judgment throughout the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1949; Vol 461, c. 1306.]
Question put: "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The House divided: Ayes, 93 Noes, 154.
Division No. 74.]
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt, Hon. Sir C.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Baldwin, A. E||Hollis, M. C.||Pato, Brig. C. H. M|
|Birch, Nigel||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Raikes, H. V.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Howard, Hon. A.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Bower, N.||Hudson, Rt. 'Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hurd, A.||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Hutchison, Col. J, R. (Glasgow, C.)||Robinson, Roland|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Keeling, E. H.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Carson, E.||Lancaster, Col. C. G||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Challen, C||Langford-Holt, J.||Savory, Prof. D. L|
|Channon, H.||Law, Rt. Hon. R, K.||Snepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Crosthwaitc-Eyrc, Col. O. E||MaoAndrew, Col, Sir C||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon M. S.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Macdonald, Sir P, (I. of Wight)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J (Moray)|
|Darling, Sir W. Y||McFarlane, C. S.||Studholme, H. G.|
|De la Bere, R||Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd"t"n, S.)|
|Digby, S. W.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Teeling, William|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Thorneycroft, G, E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Drewe, C.||Marlowe, A. A. H||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Touche, G. C,|
|Erroll, F. J.||Mellor, Sir J.||Turton, R. H.|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Molson, A. H. E.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Gammans, L. D.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||York, C.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Neven-Spence, Sir B||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Nicholson, G.|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.||Nield, B. (Chester)|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Head, Brig A. H.||Odey, G. W.||Brigadier Mackeson and|
|Albu, A, H.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S||Mitchison, G. R|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V||Gibbins, J.||Monslow, W|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Glanville, J. E (Consett)||Mort, D. L.|
|Allen, Scholefteld (Crewe)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Moyle, A.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Murray, J. D.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Grey, C. F.||Neal, H. (Claycross)|
|Ayles, W. H,||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Palmer, A. M. F|
|Bacon, Miss A||Guy. W. H.||Parker, J|
|Balfour, A.||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Paton, J. (Norwich)|
|Barstow, P. G||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Piratin, P.|
|Barton, C.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Popplewell, E.|
|Battley, J. R.||Harrison, J.||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Bechervaise, A E.||Haworth, J.||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Benson, G.||Herbison, Miss M||Proetor, W. T.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Hobson, C. R.||Ranaall, H. E.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Holman, P||Reeves, J.|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Hoy, j.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Hynd, j. B. (Attercliffe)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire>|
|Bramall, E. A.||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Rogers, G. H, R.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Janner, B.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Jenkins, R. H.||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Sharp, Granville|
|Burden, T. W.||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A||Kendall, W. D.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Champion, A. J||Kinley, J.||Skeffington, A. M|
|Chater, D.||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Chetwynd, G. R||Leslie, J. R.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Snow, J. W.|
|CoHick, P.||Lyne, A. w.||Solley, L. J.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||McAdam, W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cova, W. G.||MsEntee, V La T||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Mack, J. D.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||McLeavy, F.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Deer, G.||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Symcmds, A. L.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Macpherson, T (Romford)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Edelman, M.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Tiffany, S.|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Titterirtgton, M. F|
|Farthing, W. J||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Tolley, L.|
|Foot, M. M||Mellish, R. J.||Vernon, Maj. W. F|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Viant, S. P.|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Millington, Wing-Comdr E. R||Walkden, E|
|Wallace, G. D, (Chislehurst)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)||Youns, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Wallace, H. W. (Walthamslow, E.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Warbey, W. N.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)||Willis, E.||Mr. Pearson and|
|White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon A||Mr. Richard Adams.|
|Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W||Yates, V. F|
Sir John Mellor.
On a point of Order. May I ask why the proposed new Clause standing in my name and dealing with the subject of premiums is not being called? It appears to me to fall within the provisions of the Bill, which is designed to
The Bill also purports to deal, and I believe does deal with"provide in certain cases for the determination by a tribunal of standard rents for the purposes of the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Acts, 1920 to 1939."
The Clause which is in my name on the Order Paper comes, in my respectful contention, within both those purposes. The Financial Resolution dealt with the determination by tribunals of standard rents, for the purposes of the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Acts. The houses to which the proposed new Clause refers are those which are within the rateable values in those Acts. Every new Clause, with one exception moved today has sought to extend the duties of tribunals, particularly the new Clause which was moved by the Minister himself, in which he introduced for the first time provisions relating to the prohibition of premiums on grant or assignment of furnished lettings. There was no question of that sort of provision in the original Bill. It is true that I moved an Amendment to that effect during the Committee stage, and subsequently withdrew it. The new Clause which the Minister has moved places upon the tribunals duties and obligations which were not within the provisions of the Bill as originally drawn. Nevertheless, I agree that the Minister's new Clause comes within the purview of the Bill. I think my proposed new Clause does so also. There could not have been any question when the Bill was introduced that the Bill was not intended to prevent the payment of premiums. Therefore, a Clause which is introduced with"the adjustment of rents by a tribunal where premiums have been paid."
the object of preventing frustration of the intentions of the Bill by a subterfuge surely must come within the Measure as originally proposed. It is my belief that the whole object of the Bill can be sidestepped by a person——
The hon. Member must not discuss the merits of the proposed new Clause which has been ruled out of Order. I am listening to a submission by him why he thinks that the proposed new Clause is in Order.
I think that the proposed new Clause is relevant for the reason that the Bill was introduced partly to prevent the payment of premiums, but is framed in such a way that anybody intending to avoid the intention for which the Bill——
The hon. Gentleman ought to know that the proposed new Clause is out of Order not because it is outside the Money Resolution or outside the scope of the Bill, but because it places new duties on the tribunals and thereby increases the charge. It is therefore out of Order because, without a recommittal of the Bill, the hon. Gentleman cannot move this Clause on the Report stage.
If that is so, my contention is that new Clauses which have already been accepted and which are entirely new proposals, come precisely within that category. I ask your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on the point I am making, having in view the fact that precisely the same arguments might be used in respect of the new Clause which was moved by the Minister dealing with the prohibition of premiums on the grant of assignment of furnished lettings. There cannot be the slightest doubt that that Clause will cause a tremendous increase of work to the tribunals, quite rightly of course. The new Clause which I am proposing would not impose anything like the same amount of additional duties upon them.
I cannot change my mind in spite of what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Clause 1—(Variation Of Standard Rents Fixed By Reference To New Lettings)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 31, after "circumstances," to insert:
The purpose of the Amendment is to make it clear that tribunals shall have regard to all the circumstances of the premises and all the terms of the contract but shall not have any regard to the personal circumstances of the landlord or the tenant. During the discussion on the Committee stage, some difference of opinion was expressed with regard to the proper interpretation in this respect of Clause 1 (4). The hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) said:"(not being circumstances peculiar to the landlord or the tenant for the time being of that dwelling-house."
The Minister of Health took the opposite view and I think the right view, but it is a matter which should be cleared up. When I asked him to express his view of the interpretation of the subsection, the right hon. Gentleman said:"As I understand it, the wording of the subsection would leave it open to the tribunal to have regard to the circumstances of the tenant if they regarded that as a relevant matter on the issue of what was a reasonable rent for the premises. In my judgment the tribunal should be free to determine whether that is a relevant factor."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 1045.]
I think the Minister is right in that interpretation, but the fact remains that differences of view were expressed and this subsection will have to be interpreted by lay tribunals. I am sure that the Minister will agree that no expression of opinion which has been given in this House as to the interpretation of the subsection would have any weight, and certainly should not have any weight, with any tribunal which has to construe it. An assurance which he might give to us, however welcome, would not in any way be binding upon any court. I am not asking the Government to amend the Clause by way of giving any directions—I know that the Minister has expressed his strong objection to giving any directions—but to amend only by way of clarification. In view of some doubt having been expressed as to the interpretation of the Clause, it is desirable that subsection (4) should be amended in order to make it clear that the tribunal should have no regard whatsoever to the personal circumstancs of the landlord or the tenant"We are not dealing here with the personal circumstances of the tenant. We are not dealing with the personal circumstances of the landlord. It would not matter twopence whether the tenant was one of Jehovah's witnesses or whether the landlord was a Holy Roller. It has nothing to do with the matter at all. It is a purely property relationship. It does not deal with the subjective content of the landlord and the tenant, but with the objective contractual relations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 1054–5.]
I beg to second the Amendment.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) that it would be quite improper to take into account the personal circumstances of the tenant if one did not at the same time take into account the personal circumstances of the landlord, because in many of these instances the person who is called the landlord is often a principal tenant who is letting furnished rooms. Even if it were not so, if we allowed the tribunal to consider the private personal circumstances of one of the parties to the action, we ought to make similar allowance to the other party. However, the subsection does neither. As I understand it, it does not commit the tribunal to consider the personal circumstances of either the landlord or the tenant. All the tribunal have to take into account are the conditions appertaining to the letting, and those conditions are confined to the contractual relationship and not to the private relationship of either party. I thought I made that perfectly clear on the Committee stage. In fact, it would be almost impossible for a tribunal to assess the subjective factors in such a case. They could not weigh in their scales the degree of misery or happiness that might be occasioned to this or that person by whatever decision they reached. Those are not matters for a tribunal. I cannot imagine any tribunal to which they would be relevant.
But as reputable opinion in this House, and from the right hon. Gentleman's own side, expressed the diametrically opposite view to the one he has just expressed, would it not be wise when this has to be interpreted by lay tribunals to make it quite clear in the terms of the subsection?
As I understand it, it is clear. I give the assurance that if it is not clear, we shall certainly make it clearer than it is now. As I understand it, there is no doubt at all about the construction which can be placed on the words, but if the words are capable of bearing any other construction than the one I placed on them during Committee stage, I will certainly alter them.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving the undertaking that if there is any doubt about the proper interpretation to put upon the wording of the statute, he will be willing to effect such an Amendment as will make it perfectly plain to the lay tribunals. My only other point is that the Minister said that he did not think it was the task of these tribunals to try to arrive at any balance of happiness or misery as between the landlord and the tenant. He went on to say that he could not imagine that that was the task of any kind of tribunal.
I should like to have my words correctly represented. When I am speaking about happiness or misery I mean happiness or misery in relationship to private circumstances; happiness or misery, of course, in relation to whether they are being tied together in the same letting, because it is part of the duty of the tribunal to consider whether any further tenancy should be accorded having regard to the impact of one family on the other family sharing similar accommodation. The tribunal would have to take that into account. I was speaking about the private circumstances of the landlord or the tenant and not such circumstances as may arise out of the contractural matter which is the subject of arbitration.
I recommend the right hon. Gentleman to open his HANSARD at this column tomorrow morning and read through what he has just said and then put himself into the position of the numerous tribunals all through the country who are expecting to understand the Bill and put upon the Bill exactly the construction the Minister has been at such pains to explain to the House. It will be extremely difficult for them to do so. The Minister made a very interesting and valuable contribution because it goes a long way towards elucidating what is in his mind about this. I was about to say that as regards the general Rent Restrictions Acts a balance of this kind is exactly what the courts of law have to try to arrive at. Under a number of the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Acts, the county court judges have to exercise their discretion in order to decide whether giving the possession of the house to the landlord would or would not cause a greater hardship than refusing to do so. Therefore, in view of the fact that in administering the Rent Restrictions Acts the courts are actually required to use a discretion and to try to arrive at a balance of that kind, there is nothing unreasonable or improbable in the tribunals set up under the Bill thinking that they are under a similar obligation. All this, therefore, goes to show how entirely inadequate at present is the guidance being given in this Bill to the tribunals who are expected to administer it.
I only intervene because, for once in a way, I find myself largely in agreement with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I should like that to be noted because it is unusual. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman takes the view that the present subsection is perfectly clear without the Amendment being added. At the same time I think he will agree that there is nothing in that Amendment in any way contrary to the view which he holds in regard to the way in which tribunals should act under this subsection. In view of the fact, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) in Committee interpreted the subsection apparently entirely differently from the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has interpreted it, it seems to me that there is an argument for clarification.The right hon. Gentleman takes the view that the personal circumstances of the individual landlord or tenant are in no way brought in under the Clause as it stands, and if the hon. Member for Edge Hill, who we would all agree is a Member of considerable intelligence, takes the view he did that the circumstances of the tenant could be a relevant factor, there is some difference of interpretation which might be taken up by lay tribunals. After all, if there is any doubt, it would be the most human thing in the world for lay tribunals to begin to consider the personal circumstances of a landlord or tenant, if they thought they could do it under this Clause because those are the sort of things which affect ordinary people. Although I do not press it strongly, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman—because he has pointed out that later on if there is any doubt he will have that doubt clarified, and as in the Committee stage there was that doubt—that we might have this Amendment accepted, since it would sweep away all doubt and would also give us the hope that sometimes we can get an Amendment accepted by the other side if it is a reasonable one.
Naturally the Minister, having given an assurance, we accept that, but I would draw his attention to the words used both by the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster). The former said:
My hon. Friend the Member for Northwich said:"As I understand it, the wording of the subsection would leave it open to the tribunal to have regard to the circumstances of the tenant if they regarded that as a relevant matter on the issue of what was a reasonable rent for the premises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 1045.]
This is not a jumped-up suggestion, it is a matter on which we received a Ruling from the Minister during the Committee stage, but which we think it desirable if possible to incorporate in the statute. The Minister has indicated that he will examine it and, if there is any shadow of doubt, he will incorporate words to deal with it. In the circumstances, perhaps my hon. Friends may see their way to withdraw the Amendment."I submit…that it is necessary to introduce particular words in order to bring the tribunal's mind to the factors which they can take into consideration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 1055.]
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 33, to leave out "to the tenant making,"and to insert "at the time of."This is a drafting Amendment in view of the Amendment made in the Committee stage permitting the landlord to appeal to the tribunal.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 40, at the end, to insert:
(6) The Minister may make rules for the guidance of the tribunal in determining under this section what rent is reasonable for a dwelling-house.
This Amendment relates to a matter which we have been pressing all through the Committee stage and all through this stage. I am bound to say that whenever the right hon. Gentleman has intervened, or has answered a question we have put to him, on almost each occasion it has been apparent that he wished the tribunal only to be guided by the same kind of considerations by which we on this side of the House desire the tribunal to be influenced, and he has now given us an assurance that if there is any real doubt that the wording of the Bill does not give sufficient guidance to the tribunal, he will take the necessary steps to ensure that that guidance is given. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, the position of these tribunals, appointed chiefly because of their local knowledge and without any legal or business training, must necessarily make them particularly subject to the impression made upon them by the hard cases which come before them. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he does not consider that the conditions of either the tenant or the landlord are relevant for the purposes of this Bill. He said that it relates actually to the character of the tenancy. On an earlier Amendment it was quite obvious that he and I do not take the same view as to the meaning of that, but at any rate we are both agreed that it is not the intention of the Bill that the tribunals should, for example, consider whether a tenant in his individual circumstances can afford to pay more than a certain rent. If the economic rent for that property is higher than that tenant can afford to pay, then the economic conditions of the tenant would not, as I understand the Minister, be a reason for reducing the reasonable rent below the rent which could fairly be charged for accommodation of that size and quality. The fact that some of the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman have taken a different view; the fact that in the case of the Rent Restriction Acts the question of hardship has to be taken into account by the county court judges—surely these things make it plain that unless clear guidance is given to the tribunals a number of them may take these irrelevant considerations into account. I should be impressed if the Minister said that it is extremely difficult to find a form of words in a statute which will correctly and accurately express what he has in mind. It is not usual for the Conservative Party to propose giving rule-making powers to a government; still less to the present Government, and least of all when it is the Minister of Health to whom the powers are proposed to be given. I hope, however, that he will accept this as a compliment to his integrity in this matter for it will enable him to convey to the tribunals the considerations which during the course of Debate it has become apparent that he has in mind. Let him not be craven or fear that power is being thrust upon him. We offer him this opportunity of giving wise and kindly guidance to the tribunals as to what is reasonable. His own reputation is such that no one could draft regulations more happily in order to produce a reasonable result. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will be willing to accept the Amendment.Rules made for the purpose of this subsection shall be of no effect unless they are approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.
I beg to second the Amendment.My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) has invited the right hon. Gentleman not to be craven in taking powers upon himself. I cannot help feeling that that is a superfluous invitation for I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has never been afraid of taking power. My fear has always been that he was anxious to take too much. This is an Amendment to which the right hon. Gentleman should pay some attention. I do not know what will be his reaction but, knowing well his sense of his own infallibility, I feel it is hardly likely that he will be accommodating. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that here he is setting up a new process of tribunal which, in a sense, will be running parallel with the county courts in administering the law of property affected by the Act. Unless some guidance is given to these lay tribunals I fear that there will be a complete absence of uniformity and that different decisions and rulings are likely to be given, not only by the different tribunals in different parts of the country, but also by the county courts. In administering this very complicated part of the law, county courts, of course, are guided not by rules established in this way but by cases, such as those referred to by my hon. Friend, by requirements in the principal Act and also by the long series of case law which has become binding upon the county courts. All this is very important, because the right hon. Gentleman has to bear it in mind in relation to the absence of appeal in these cases. In administering the principal Act the decisions of county courts have been subject to appeal. Therefore, the appeal courts have provided a channel through which the law from all over the country has been brought into one stream. By this means uniformity has been ensured. The absence of appeal from these tribunals will have a considerable effect in allowing the administration of the Act to become diversified. It is all the more necessary, therefore, that some guidance should be given so that tribunals may be able to arrive at conclusions which will not be too dissimilar in different parts of the country. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember particularly that these are lay tribunals and are, therefore, all the more likely to take differing views. I suppose, quite apart from my arguments regarding case law and the Court of Appeal, that if all the tribunals were administered by lawyers or by persons of legal training the tendency would be for uniformity, but with lay tribunals there is no common ground upon which they can build. The results will be most unfortunate if we find, for instance, a tribunal in Cornwall coming to one decision while another tribunal in Durham arrives at precisely the opposite conclusion. That sort of consequence will be bad, not only for the tenant who is involved, but for the administration of the Act. The right hon. Gentleman may well find his Act being brought into disrepute and, therefore, becoming all the more difficult to administer. In these circumstances I hope he will think it right at least to make the attempt to secure uniformity by giving guidance from this House.
I hope the Minister will not concede this point because, in my view, the whole purpose of the construction of this particular form of tribunal will be very seriously affected and we may find different people interpreting the rules just as differently from each other as it is possible for them to interpret the actual provisions of the Act. The hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) knows very well that there is no question of appealing on a matter of fact on cases which come within the provisions of the Rent Acts. The county court judge decides and, if the facts are such as he decides they are, there is an end to the matter, except in so far as the law is concerned. On a question of law there is an appeal to the divisional court anyhow from these tribunals.I do not understand, therefore, why any further rules are required, except, perhaps, if hon. Gentlemen are arguing that the tribunals are not as capable as county court judges to decide these issues. In my opinion, and with the greatest respect to judges in county courts, the tribunals are equally capable, because they visit the actual houses involved, make the fullest inquiries, and have much more time and opportunity of coming to decisions as to the actual circumstances of a particular house which comes within the provisions of these Acts. This other point has to be borne in mind. To wait for rules and to interpret those rules will entail a considerable length of time. The purpose of these provisions is to obtain people with local knowledge, who understand the situation in every case which comes before them and who go out of their way to examine that situation before they arrive at conclusions. I think the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) was wrong in stating that the existing Acts permitted judges to decide what was hardship in relation to rent.
I said "possession," not "rent."
That is an entirely different matter. This is a question not of hardship, but of a reasonable rental for a dwelling-house.
The extension would be.
The extension of what?
The extension of tenancy.
Surely, the tenant, coming himself before a tribunal of this nature which has a limited power—it is not, of course, an indefinite power—is not placed in precisely the same position as a person who goes to court and claims possession on the ground that his hardship is greater than that of the tenant. That is not the purpose of this Amendment at all.
Would not the hon. Member agree that the result of security of tenure is in fact to give an answer on the question of possession? The tenant is securing possession as against the landlord.
That is carrying the matter very much further than——
That is what the Measure says.
No, it is carrying the argument very much further than the one adduced in regard to a judge deciding which is the greater measure of hardship. An Amendment of this nature would tie the hands of the tribunals very considerably and would result in considerable delays which are not justified.
The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) spoke in such seductive terms that I found my will almost failing me at one point, when it was restored by the belligerency of his colleague the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe). I am now in full possession of my former resolution, and I am therefore much obliged to the hon. and learned Member for Brighton for protecting me from the snares into which his colleague was luring me.Nothing could be worse for the administration of this Measure than to accept the Amendment, because once we began laying down a whole series of directions for the tribunals we should open up possibilities of all kinds of actions claiming that decisions of tribunals were ultra vires in this or that respect because they had not paid attention to this or that direction. The result would be that before long we should have a whole crop of cases in the courts, and the work of the tribunals would be frustrated. That is the main reason why I cannot accept the Amendment. I listened with some trepidation to the argument put forward by the Opposition. We discussed this point in Committee over and over again. If they had their way they would render this Bill abortive. It is all very well saying, as was said in the previous Debate, that there should be appeals against the decisions of the courts in order that justice might be done. We know very well that the machinery of justice can become so cluttered up that justice is practically withheld. Therefore we must maintain a balance. Is the machinery effective for the purpose which we have in mind? It is no use to say, as was stated by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton, that different decisions will be reached in different parts of the country. Of course they will, but it rarely happens that circumstances repeat themselves. It is precisely because that is the fact in this particular class of case that it is the practice of county courts to decide on the facts, and as my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) pointed out, an appeal does not lie against county court decisions in respect of facts. Facts do not fit themselves into formulae. They are not capable of condification. Statutes, usages and wants are, but facts are not; they do not repeat themselves sufficiently to give rise to a system by which they can be classified. Nothing can be more varied than the circumstances in which people rent furnished lettings; nothing can be more varied than the relationship which may exist between a landlord and those occupying furnished lettings. We have already pointed out that it is necessary to give tribunals the power to terminate the lettings because the conditions may cause such friction that security of tenure should not be given indefinitely. That is precisely what we have decided. The lives of two sets of personalities sharing the same kind of particular accommodation can become so painful that their relationship ought to be terminated. The tribunals can do that, and it has nothing to do with the financial circumstances of the people concerned. It would not be fair to force the landlord to subsidise a tenant because that tenant would be unable to afford what would be a reasonable rent for the accommodation, and it is not intended that that should be the case. There is no reason why I should put that kind of obiter dicta in a regulation, because that is how reasonable people would behave and would consider was what the law intended. I must defend this Bill from the continual attempt to widen the terms of reference in such a way as to provide all kinds of grounds for fruitful litigation—fruitful for the legal profession but extremely painful, and in the last analysis completely frustrating to the individuals needing the protection of the Bill. I hope that in the light of the reasons I have given the Opposition will not press this Amendment.
Just conceive the case which the Minister has put before the House. He says that the financial circumstances of the tenant as against the landlord should not be taken into account. He said, "I refuse to draw up rules which would embody this." But he has just undertaken to the House to draw up a formula to put it in the statute. The Minister does not seem to realise that we are seeking to enable landlord and tenant, or a better phrase would be "property purveyor and property consumer," because the word "landlord" seems to bring up in the right hon. Gentleman's mind a picture of some duke with battlements and a portcullis——
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman really must not say that. I have specifically said on many occasions in the course of the passage of this Bill and of the 1946 Act that in a large number of cases the term "landlord" is usually applicable to a person who is the principal tenant and who lets to another tenant. Therefore, I am perfectly conscious of the fact that we are here dealing with a number of people who are more or less in the same social stratum. It is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who seems to imagine that they are in some kind of social stratum which can afford the expense of interminable litigation.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman's subconscious governs his whole being and actions. He explains these things with his mouth but his heart thinks differently. The word "landlord" does not raise in his mind these pictures of the humble people he has mentioned. One can see his cheeks flush, one can hear his voice take on a deeper boom and can see his chest take on a greater amplitude. The word "landlord" raises some Freudian bruise and rubs upon it in his subconscious and makes him quite oblivious to those considerations of reason which he quite rightly does his best to recapture from time to time for the purposes of debate in this House.The right hon. Gentleman continues to adduce to this House a set of arguments which really run quite contrary to the whole of the well-recognised systems of justice not merely of this country but of all countries. He says that it is undesirable to have cases in any way coordinated, that facts are not capable of codification. In these days, when regulations are extremely numerous, any one of us may happen to find ourselves under the sway of the court for some infringement. Indeed, we might find ourselves unjustly accused of even greater crime. I wonder, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether you would like to be brought before a committee of people down the street who happen to know you and some of whom might happen to——
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is placing me in a most awkward position.
I will take the spears in my own bosom, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I can imagine myself being brought before a number of people down the street who might happen to know me and dislike me. I can imagine the right hon. Gentleman being brought before a committee of people down his street who might happen to know him and who, astonishing as it may seem, might happen to dislike him, and then tried on some grave charge on the grounds that he had been guilty, in their opinion, of an anti-social action. In those circumstances I should like the conditions under which I was to be convicted to be a little more precise than merely such as would appear to a reasonable group of people to be reasonable in the circumstances.That is all that is being given to the tribunals. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that only the speech matters. It is really not so. We have to take into account not only that justice should be done, but that justice should seem to be done, and that a similar set of circumstances should seem to lead to a similar decision. Facts are not exact but they are more or less nearly exact. They can be brought into some sort of rough harmony. I suggest that the tribunals, without any appeal, with no direction from Parliament, with no direction from the Minister, may easily fall into exactly the same conflict of view which led the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) and my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) to construe the same Section in this statute in diametrically opposite terms on the Floor of this House only a few days ago. I do not think it is an exaggeration to suggest or to say that some of what the Minister calls obiter dicta should be brought under some form of review and be subject in some way to Parliament. The Minister is in charge of a great Department. He knows what the Department will do, formally or informally. People discuss these matters. Obiter dicta are given. What we ask—
Oh, no, Sir. The words of the right hon. Gentleman usually breed words, but now he is breeding a lot of naughty ideas. It is not true to say that the Minister of Health gives directions or interpretations of the statute. It would be entirely improper, and I should be unhappy to think that when he was Minister of Health he was guilty of such indiscretions. I do no such things. The tribunals are statutory bodies appointed under the statute. It is their function to interpret it. It seems to me quite nonsensical for one lot of reasonable men to tell another lot of reasonable men what the first lot of reasonable men thought to be reasonable.
Sometimes I am dumbfounded by the Minister's acute knowledge; his realisation of the world; his acquaintance with all the circumstances of our modern life. And sometimes I am equally astonished by the kind of ivory tower in which he seems to live. To suppose that people who have the honour to be placed, who have a duty—an irksome duty—imposed upon them by being placed on these tribunals, will never read what others of them are deciding in other parts of the country; will never begin to discuss the matter with each other; will never try to extract from some high official whether that official thinks they are, or they are not, proceeding on the right lines, suggests a degree of cloistered seclusion which would be remarkable in a set of Trappist monks; but in the case of ordinary people going about this world, is totally devoid of any contact with reality. The fact that some form of convergence of opinion will somehow arise on these matters is absolutely inevitable. All we ask is that, somehow or other, this Parliament, which
Division No. 75.]
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Odey, G. W.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Orr-Ewingr, I. L.|
|Astor, Hon. M||Hollis, M. C.||Peaks, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Peto, Brig C. H. M|
|Birch, Nigel||Howard, Hon. A.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Bower, N.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Robinson., Roland|
|Boyd-Carpcnter, J. A.||Keeling, E. H.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|.Bratlhwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G||Kendall, W. D.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Lancaster, Col. C. G||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Byers, Frank||Langford-Holt, J.||Savory, Prof. D. L|
|Challen, C||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Channon, H.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Smithers, Sir W|
|'Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Lannox-Boyd, A. T.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Linstead, H. N.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E||Low, A. R. W.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Darling, Sir W Y.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C||Studholme, H. G.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Maodonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't"n, S.)|
|De Ia Bère, R.||McFarlane, C. S.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Digby, S. W.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Touche, G. C.|
|Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Turton, R. H.|
|Drewe, C.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Duthie, W. S.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Walker-Smith, D|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Erroll, F. J.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Mellor,Sir J.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Molson, A. H. E.||York, C.|
|Gammans, L. D||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.||Nield, B. (Chester)||Colonel Wheatley and|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Bacon, Miss A.||Benson, G.|
|Albu, A. H.||Balfour, A.||Berry, M.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Barstow, P. G||Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)|
|Allon, Scholefield (Crewe)||Barton, C.||Bing, G. H. C.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Battley, J. R.||Blackburn, A. R.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Bechervaise, A. E.||Blenkinsop, A.|
|Ayles, W. H||Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J||Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W|
is placing an enormous blank form before these people and asking them to fill it up, should have some opportunity to consider whether in fact the decisions which are being given and the penalties which are being placed on fellow-citizens, are such as we here would desire.
This seems to us so simple and straightforward and self-evident that we cannot understand why the Minister is resisting it. We feel that at this point, somehow or other, his acute mind is slipping a cog; that his clutch is slipping; that it is not biting upon the question. We can do no more than appeal to the arbitrament of the Lobby. We trust that we shall succeed in obtaining such support from his own side as may succeed in overpowering him and making him feel afterwards that on this occasion, Parliament has been wiser than the Minister.
Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
The House divided: Ayes, 96; Noes, 158.
|Bramall, E. A.||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Janner, B.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Jenkins, R. H.||Rogers, G. H. R.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Ross, William (Kilmanock)|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Sargood, R.|
|Burden, T. W.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Segal, Dr. S|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Kinley, J.||Sharp, Granville|
|Champion, A. J.||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E|
|Chater, D.||Leslie, J. R.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Chetwynd, G. R||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Simmons, C. J.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lyne, A. W.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Collick, P.||McAdam, W.||Skinnard, F. W|
|Collins, V. J||McEntee, V La T||Smit'h, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||McGhee, H. G||Solley, L. J|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Mack, J. D||Sorensen, R. W|
|Cove, W. G||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Daines, P.||McLeavy, F.||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Sylvester, G. O|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Deer, G.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Mellish, R. J.||Tiffany, S.|
|Farthing, W. J.||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Titterington, M. F|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R||Tolley, L.|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Mitchison, G. R.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Monslow, W.||Vernon, Maj W F|
|Gibbins, J.||Mort, D. L.||Viant, S. P.|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Moyle, A.||Walkden, E|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Murray, J. D.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Grey, C. F.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Parker, J||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Guy, W. H||Parkin, B. T.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Pearson, A.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Peart, T. F.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Harrison, J.||Piratin, P.||Willis, E.|
|Haworth, J.||Popplewell, E.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Harbison, Miss M||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Woodburn, Rt Hon. A|
|Hobson, C. R.||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Yates, V. F.|
|Holman, P.||Pritt, D. N.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hoy, J.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Randall, H. E.|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Reeves, J.||Mr. Hannan and|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Mr. George Wallace.|
I beg to move, in page 2, line 42, to leave out from "house," to the end of line 43, and to insert:
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Are you not selecting the Amendment in page 2, line 40, at the end, to insert:
I understood from previous inquiry that it might be possible for the Government to accept this Amendment."(6) In determining under this Section what rent is reasonable for a dwelling-house which has been erected or made available by the conversion into self-contained dwelling-houses of another dwelling-house since the first day of September, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine the tribunal shall have regard to the cost of construction during the same period of houses or flats affording comparable accommodation to the dwelling-house in question by the local authority for the area in which the dwelling-house is situated."
No, it has been decided not to select it in view of the discussions which have already taken place.
The Amendment in line 42 covers the point raised in Committee that it was not precisely clear what types of houses would be excluded from the operation of the Bill. Already it is clear that housing under the management of a housing association is excluded, and we are now seeking to exclude houses managed by development corporations under the New Towns Act. We also seek to include a provision covering houses which are let at a rent limited by statute other than the Rent Restrictions Acts or this Bill.
As we understand it, this excludes from the ambit of this Act a considerable number of houses Could the Minister give a rough estimate of the gross weight of housing which is likely to be affected by this provision. The numbers taken out of this Bill and the numbers remaining, have a considerable bearing on the possibility of some sort of free market being left in housing.
The largest number would be the houses that are to be built under the New Towns Act. I could not give the figure involved at the moment. There are also the houses built under licence where the rents have already been fixed. I could give the latter figure later, perhaps, but I could not give it now.
I should be grateful if the Minister can give some estimate later. A great deal depends on the successive slices of housing which are being considered under this statute. It would be of interest if the Minister could give an estimate of the number which might be brought within this subsection next year or the year following.
We should be grateful if the Minister would undertake to have an estimate given when the Bill is considered by another place.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 43, at the end, to insert:
Here again, we are meeting a point raised in Committee where some doubt was expressed concerning the position when there was a progressive rent about precisely what rent would be taken into account. Here we make it clear that where a dwelling-house is let at a progressive rent, it should be the maximum rent which it can reach which should be taken into account for this purpose."() In relation to a dwelling-house or property let at a progressive rent, subsection (1) of this Section shall have effect with the substitution, for references to the rent at which the dwelling-house or property was let, of references to the maximum rent under the letting."
I think it was the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner), who is not here at the moment, who raised this point. Really he raised it with the idea of showing that an active minded landlord in the past could have driven a coach and four through the provisions in this respect. It seems that it rather puts a premium on the smart fellow. Many decent people have let property at small rents for various reasons—the blitz, from mere friendship or from charity to some unfortunate. Now the stamp comes down upon them and those are the standard rents for ever more. If these people had had an echeloned rent which would rise in future by steps to what might seem at the time unreasonable heights, they would have got away with it.All this seems to make it desirable to give the tribunal the power to do for the ordinary person—not a "smart Alec," not the person advised by a clever lawyer—what the Minister is now writing into the statute should be secured by somebody who was clever enough when the rent was originally fixed to say, "The rent is small now, but we lay it down that it is to go up by successive stages to what might be a suitable height." I call it to the attention of hon. Members that it is the final peak to which the rent rises which is being taken as the standard rent, whereas the ordinary simple person who let a house at a low rent is caught for ever more at a rent which may be quite out of relation to the economic value of the property of which the tenant has possession.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 2—(Provisions As To Premiums, Etc, Where Section 1 Applies)
Amendment made: In page 3, line 5, leave out "applicant," and insert "tenant."—[ Mr. Blenkinsop.]
I beg to move, in page 3, line 7, to leave out "applicant." and insert "tenant."
Why has the alteration been made? What was the matter with the word "applicant," and why should "tenant" be inserted now?
This is consequential on an Amendment in the Committee stage, which permitted the landlord to appear at the tribunal.
That is what I thought. I must call attention to the important change now being made, as far as we can see, in response to an Amendment from this side of the House giving the landlord also the right to appear before the tribunal. That is a fundamental change, and one which will broaden out along the lines of the argument which I have been addressing to the Committee. These are drafting changes, but they do indicate throughout the Bill that the tenant is not the only person who has the right of access to the tribunal.
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendments made: In page 4, line 3, leave out "applicant," and insert "tenant."
In line 4, after "section," insert:
"and in Section (Special provisions as to premiums paid to a predecessor of the landlord) of this Act."
In line 8, leave out from "rent," to end of line 9.
In line 19, at end, insert:
"and the last foregoing subsection shall have effect subject to the foregoing provisions of this subsection."
In line 33, at end, insert:
"but subject to the provisions of Section (Special provisions as to premiums paid to a predecessor of the landlord) of this Act."— [Mr. Blenkinsop.]
Clause 3—(Prohibition Of Premiums On Grant Or Assignment Of Tenancy)
I beg to move, in page 5, line 7, at the end, to insert:
This is rather more than drafting; it is an attempt at clarification. I think the matter was raised by one hon. Member during the Committee stage, and it was felt desirable to clarify this Clause by the insertion of these words."being a tenancy to which the principal Acts apply."
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 5, line 12, to leave out "or renewal," and to insert "renewal or assignment."I suggest that, while discussing this Amendment, it would be convenient also to consider the two following ones: In page 5, line 17 leave out "or renewal," and insert "renewal or assignment." In page 5, line 20, after "renewal," insert:
We thought the Minister might be willing to meet us on this point, because, as far as we can see, the new Clause which was introduced by the Minister in Committee had an unlooked-for effect. A landlord could not in future assign a tenancy with a premium, whereas an assignee who had paid a premium could, in turn, pass on a portion of it to a second assignee, but only where the original payment was being continued or renewed. Thus, if a house was let at a premium in 1945 and assigned also at a premium in 1949, a proportion of that premium could be passed on in 1950, but, if it were let at a premium in 1938 and was assigned by A to B in 1946, no part of that premium could be passed on to a third assignee. I do not know whether the Minister is seized of the point, which is one of those rather intricate matters which arise out of the power of the tenant to pass on this premium from one to another. If the right hon. Gentleman could indicate that he will meet the point or will look at it further, we should be ready to let it go at that."or with the date on which the assignment before the commencement of this Act took effect."
I am sure hon. Members will recollect that the Amendment which I introduced during the Committee stage was a consequence of pressure brought to bear upon me very largely from the other side. I had to consider this matter in framing the Bill, and I wanted to get the benefit of the views of the Committee before I altered the Bill at all. It was suggested that, whereas the Bill made it illegal, and, indeed, so did the principal Act, for a landlord to charge a premium to a tenant, the latter, in his turn as assignor, could charge a premium. Why on earth, it was asked, should a tenant be allowed to do something which a landlord was not permitted to do? I took the point, and I have amended the Bill accordingly.I appreciated, and I hope the Committee did, the full consequences of this amendment of the law. The situation was that one person had paid a premium, and, in his turn, charged a premium to the next tenant. That is the effect of it. The simple answer to that case is that we have got to stop somewhere. We would not obliterate the hardship to the person who had paid the premium by permitting him to pass that hardship on to someone else; we would merely perpetuate the hardship. What we were trying to do was to make it impossible for people to charge for the mere fact of occupancy, for that is what the premium is being charged for. It is perfectly true that a person who has paid a sum of money may then want to leave the premises, for any reason whatever, but cannot charge that premium to anyone else coming in. Of course, that person can only recover by imposing on the assignee the hardship which it is the whole purpose of the Bill to avoid. There is no way out of it. This is largely a consequence of the lack of housing accommodation, and, as housing accommodation increases, the charging of premiums for mere occupancy disappears too. Although I appreciate the hurt that happens when the axe falls, the axe must fall somewhere if we are to prevent what has been regarded by everybody as an injustice being indefinitely perpetuated. In these circumstances, I hope the Opposition will not press their Amendment, because its effect would be completely negative to what they asked for on the Committee stage.
I can only speak again with the leave of the House. I would not agree with the last sentence of the right hon. Gentleman. I agree with him that it is true that we have to make an end somewhere, but we thought it would be possible to shade it down more than the present arrangement allows. I think it is still possible to consider that the person who comes in may well be getting a property at a lower rent than he would have got it if this lump sum had not been paid at the beginning. In the circumstances, and as we have still a good deal of work to get through, we shall not insist on our Amendment.
Amendment made: in page 5, line 13 after "Section," insert:
"but subject to the provisions of Section (Special provisions as to premiums paid to a predecessor of the landlord) of this Act."—
I beg to move, in page 5, line 14, to leave out from "assignment," to the end of the line, and to insert:
This Clause is, in fact, a clarification of the wording in the Bill, and which was discussed on the Committee stage. I think the hon. Member for Weston-super Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) asked whether the wording could be looked at again to see if some clarification could be made. This is the result of those endeavours."of that tenancy or any subsequent tenancy of the same dwelling-house."
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendments made: In page 5, line 16 after second "the," insert "said";
In line 17 leave out "of the tenancy";
In line 21 at end, insert:
"Provided that this subsection shall not have effect where since the said grant, continuance or renewal the landlord has granted a tenancy of the dwelling-house under which, as against the landlord, a person became entitled to possession other than the person who was so entitled to possession of the dwelling-house immediately before that tenancy began."
In line 23 leave out paragraph ( a).—[ Mr. Blenkinsop.]
I beg to move, in page 6, line 9, after "dwelling-house," to insert:
This is a very modest Amendment, which I hope the Minister will accept. It is, roughly speaking, the allowance for what one might term modernisation. An extra payment can be obtained, but it is limited to sums incurred in carrying out any structural alterations of the dwelling-house. The person in question may have incurred expenditure of substantial sums which benefits the person who is coming in. but which does not actually come under the heading of structural alterations. We have followed the precedent of Section 7 of the Rent and Mortgage Restrictions (Amendment) Act, 1933, which enables a landlord to raise the rent by a percentage on account of expenditure incurred by him on what might be termed modernisation. It seems to me that it is to the benefit of everyone that a continuous process like this should be kept up so that the danger of making a charge on somebody coming in should not obviate the possibility of the occupier carrying out improvements which will obviously be to the benefit of the next person who enters the house. As the House will see, we have not actually put in expenditure on decorations or repairs because, theoretically, the tenant should be able to recover that cost from the landlord if it is the landlord and not the tenant who is responsible for them under the contract. But on the point about which the Minister spoke of the axe coming down, it is most inadvisable that it should shear away the possibility of recovering perfectly reasonable expenditure which is to the benefit of all concerned who are going to use the property. For fear of the fall of this axe, some tenants may either seek to avoid making such changes or make them in a way which would enable him to carry away all the improvements upon which he had embarked instead of leaving them, as they normally should be left, for the benefit of the next person coming in to enjoy the premises."or in the provision of additional or improved fixtures or fittings therein (not being expenditure on decorations or repairs)."
There is no difference between us in this respect. We have shared the same intention, but my advice is that the words proposed to be put into the Bill are not necessary, and that it is already possible for an assignor to charge for the items described in the Amendment. But under Clause 4, we do, of course, take power to prevent excessive prices being charged because, as hon. Members know, it is the practice to charge extravagant amounts of money for very small amenities. That would be merely a way of concealing the demanding of a premium. Therefore, in order that a perfectly proper charge should be made, but that it should not be a disguise for a premium, power is taken to prevent excessive charges being made. I was asked in Committee—and I am now doing it—to include fittings among the things for which quite excessive prices cannot be charged. I am informed that the Bill already does what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman wants, and we, by our protective Clause, prevent it from becoming exploited by unscrupulous persons.
We on this side would like a little further elaboration of this matter. As we see it, the assignor can only recover sums incurred in the carrying out of structural alterations to a dwelling-house. With great respect, I should have thought that the Minister has not met us on this. As we see it at the moment, if a tenant were to put in a new boiler, radiators, and so on, in order to replace an out-of-date hot water system, it would not be possible under the Measure for the assignor to say that those improvements were in any way structural alterations because they were, in fact, replacements. Surely, the same thing would apply to a lot of items of expenditure such as the replacement of an existing bath, the retiling of a bathroom, the fitting of a series of beautiful chromium taps, and so on, all of which might be put into replace something that was out of date. Such items would not come under the term "structural alteration." Structural alteration, as I understand it—of course, I am not a member of the legal profession—implies something that is structurally altered in the house.
There is never any need for the House to quarrel about the language, so long as we are satisfied about the intention, but it must always be taken for granted that the spokesman of the Government is being perfectly sincere in saying, "I think this language does what you want it to do. If it does not, we will make it do that." I give an undertaking that I shall look at the words, and that, if they cannot be construed in the way I have described, I shall see to it that in another place they are so construed.
I am grateful for the Minister's intervention. It seemed to me, as a layman, that the courts might not be able to read into these words what the Minister means. I shall not detain the House any longer, because I am satisfied with the Minister's assurance.
With the leave of the House, I should like to make a few remarks. The Minister cannot undertake that his language will do what he wants it to do; he can only undertake that his language will try to do it. More than once we have indicated that these matters are so complex that it would be better for the Minister to retain a little latitude in this respect; we have offered him the opportunity of making rules, which he has turned down. I still think that there is a real possibility of some people who have to thread their way through this jungle losing their way. However, we must accept the Minister's assurance that these words will be examined in another place to see whether they can be made clear beyond a peradventure.We in this House understand what we want statutes to do, but the purpose of writing a statute is to enable people outside the House to understand. We on this side of the House are by no means clear that we are writing down words which will be construed outside in exactly the sense in which we wish them to be construed. However, we naturally accept the Minister's assurance that in another. place these words will be scrutinised more closely. The Minister is being very vigorous in submitting Amendments; up to last Thursday he was still bringing out Amendments to the statute, which indicates the complexity of the subject. Whether between now and the Bill reaching another place the Minister will be able to improve the language is a matter upon which we can only share the optimistic hope of the Minister. I still say that as we proceed through this statute we find ourselves, even in this House, in difficulties in interpreting it, and I am sure that those outside will find their difficulties greater and greater as time goes on.
In view of what the Minister has said, I should like to make one suggestion, since we shall not have a further opportunity of commenting on any of the alterations which the right hon. Gentleman makes. I suggest that the simplest thing would be to insert a definition Clause defining what is intended by the words "structural alterations" as they, now appear in the Bill. If he would state the things which he intends to be covered by "structural alterations" that would clarify the situation and would assist the tribunal. As has already been said, this Measure will have to be construed by a lay tribunal; I should have thought that as the Bill is at present worded, "structural alterations" would not include the kind of things to which my right hon. and gallant Friend referred.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in page 6, line 9, to leave out "or."This Amendment, together with the Amendment in line 15, to insert paragraph (d), makes special provision for those cases where shops or other premises —offices, for example—are provided together with residential premises, and where it has been suggested that this might prevent the proper charging for goodwill. This Amendment makes clear that any doubt about the question of charging for goodwill is removed and that reasonable goodwill may be charged for.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment proposed, in page 6, line 15, at the end, to insert:
(d) where part of the dwelling-house is used as a shop or office, or for business, trade or professional purposes, of a reasonable amount in respect of any goodwill of the business, trade or profession, being goodwill transferred to the assignee in connection with the assignment or accruing to him in consequence thereof."—[Mr. Blenkinsop.]
This is the operative part of the provision, and this is the point at which the Minister is making a concession so that a charge may be made in those cases where part of a dwelling-house is used as a shop and part is used as a residence. One of the difficulties is that where a house has been used as a dwelling-house, that purpose transcends the purpose of a business. It might produce a very difficult situation if the goodwill could not in any way be charged for.This again is an example of the difficult decisions which will fall upon the bodies interpreting this Measure:
I ask the House to consider the sort of problem which the bodies will have to decide in. these matters, without any particular indication from anybody of how they are to set about this problem. We have the Minister's touching belief that bodies in different parts of the country will on no occasion seek any guidance or have any consultation with any central body as to the lines upon which they are to operate during these complicated series of determinations. I do not understand how the Minister feels that he can leave this problem in the way in which he is attempting to leave it. However, he is obstinate in his view and confident in the wisdom of the bodies which he is setting up. All we can say is that, at any rate, this does something to remedy one of the anomalies which we pointed out at an earlier stage in the Bill, namely, that with the most legitimate desire in the world, the Minister might be confiscating the goodwill of some small business or some professional man, in his desire to avoid the payment of any kind of premium. I trust that we have succeeded in picking up all the anomalies as we go through this Bill, although I greatly fear that we have not done so. The fact that this injustice is remedied at this very late stage in the Bill is enough to show the class of case which may slip through. I do not feel that we shall be leaving this statute in the condition in which we ought to leave a statute which refers so many intricate determinations to these lay bodies. However, this is a concession; we welcome it, and naturally we offer no opposition to it."…a reasonable amount in respect of any goodwill of the business, trade or profession, being goodwill transferred to the assignee in connection with the assignment …"
I hesitate to say anything which may disturb the harmony of the proceedings, but in view of what the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut. - Colonel Elliot) has said about clearing up injustices and anomalies, I feed bound to say that the present Amendment, although I have no objection to it at all and will cheerfully support it, seems to me not to clear up any anomaly or injustice at all. It seems to be completely unnecessary except to satisfy the misconceived fears and suspicions of hon. Members opposite. What this Bill does is to order that premiums, where they are unreasonable, shall be returned—no more than that. But for suggestions which have been made in this House, nobody would ever have thought that when a man pays for the goodwill attaching to a profession or a trade or a business in connection with certain premises, it was ever a premium to which the Bill applied at all.I have no objection to further clarifications as we go along, especially as we are now near the end of the Bill and, presumably, near the end of the further Amendments and clarifications which seem to me to have been quite unnecessarily demanded, but I should have thought that this was a perfectly clear case, but for the doubts cast upon it from the other side of the House, of an injustice or anomaly that would never have been caused if the Bill had been left entirely unamended on this point.
There are two points I want to make. The first is the question of what the Minister means by the phrase:
I am anxious, as I am sure is the whole House, that the Bill should be as clear as it possibly can be, despite the difficulties arising from its complexities. One can understand goodwill transferred to an assignee in connection with an assignment, but what is meant by "or accruing to him"? I think the words should be:"… or accruing to him in consequence thereof."
If the words are left as at present the implication is that one can be called upon to pay for a goodwill which has no value at all to an assignee once the goodwill is transferred. Suppose the business at the premises was connected with furniture and the assignee wanted to open a fried fish shop there. There would be no goodwill attached to that business for the person who took over the premises, although he had paid for goodwill. A premium is being allowed in respect of something for which no value or consideration has been given."… and accruing to him in consequence thereof."
I shall have no objection to giving way if I am allowed to finish what I want to say. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) can then ask what he wants to ask. The second point I want to make is with regard to the question of assessing goodwill. I want the Minister to answer this point, because it has been raised by one of the Leicester tribunals. Will the tribunal be in a position to engage an expert valuer? Will the tribunal be entitled to examine the accounts of the assignor before coming to a decision? It is an important point, because the tribunal itself will have to assess the value of the goodwill.
I take it that an answer will be given to that point.
With all respect, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has already said, the purpose of the Amendment is to clear up what was a doubt in the minds of hon. Members opposite. We had no doubts at all as to what had to be done, but because of my normal amiability I said, "All right; we will put in a form of words which leaves no doubt." But, obviously, once the lawyers start niggling with it everything which clears up doubts leaves more doubts behind. The original wording was quite simple until we had this clearing up of doubts. Now the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner), who can see a difficulty in a situation about which everybody else is perfectly clear, says, "What on earth can the tribunal do?" The tribunal can call for whatever evidence seems necessary in order to arrive at a reasonable conclusion. I should have thought the hon. Member for West Leicester knew that very well.
I may speak again only by leave of the House. I sympathise with the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) in being interrupted by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne does not know whether he is on his feet or not; that explains much of his conduct which otherwise I should have thought discourteous. The point is that the hon. Member for West Leicester was saying that the tribunal was in doubt—
With all respect, I suggest that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) is abusing the courtesy of the House. We are not now in Committee and I am striving to keep my remarks to a minimum, but the right hon. and gallant Member has spoken three times on this Amendment. We are on the Report stage, not in Committee. I respectfully suggest to him that it is an abuse to take up each point which is made and deal with it.
I merely continue my remarks. I think nobody could have been more reasonable than have been the Opposition in the discussion of this Measure this afternoon. No delay of any kind whatever has been caused. No undue Divisions have been called and our interventions have been merely for the purpose of clarifying the subject under discussion. I do not think anyone should say that it is an abuse of the Rules of the House to attempt to clarify a statute which we are placing on the Statute Book. It was to that end alone that my observations were directed and that they seemed to be of use was borne out by the fact that the discussion has been carried on by two hon. Members on the Government side of the House, who are indebted for their opportunity to speak to the fact that we, the Opposition, caused this Amendment to be placed on the Order Paper.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 4—(Excessive Prices For Furni Ture, Etc, To Be Treated As Premiums)
I beg to move, in page 7, line 3, after "furniture," to insert "fittings."Again, this Amendment is merely for clarification. It seeks to make it quite clear that fittings are intended to be included in this Clause.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 6—(Register Of Determina Tions Of Tribunal Under Fore Going Sections)
Amendments made: In page 8, line 26, leave out "and.";
In line 30, at end, insert:
(d) any certificate given by the Tribunal under Section (Special provisions as to premiums paid to a predecessor of the landlord) of this Act."—[Mr. Blenkinsop.]
I beg to move in page 8, line 36, at the end, to insert:
This is to provide machinery for making comparable provisions to those under the Act of 1946."() Section eleven of the Act of 1946 (which provides for proving the contents of a register under that Act in any proceedings) shall apply to a register under this Section."
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 9—(Provisions Where Tenant Shares Accommodation With Other Persons But Not With Landlord)
I beg to move, in page 10, line 35, to leave out from beginning, to "shall," in line 36, and to insert:
Again, this is purely for clarification. There was some criticism of this Clause and we believe that this Amendment will enable us to get rather clearer wording."so much of the shared accommodation as is living accommodation."
I trust the Minister will not be so touchy on this occasion, when he finds it necessary, in the statute which he himself conceived and placed upon the Order Paper and has amended considerably on many occasions, to introduce an Amendment for clarification. I trust he will not regard it as some kind of lèse-majesté if the Opposition venture to intervene. We have no objection to this Amendment and we see no reason why it should not be made, but the Minister's view is that interventions by the Opposition are a kind of discourtesy. I think that is one view he would do well to withdraw.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 14—(Orders And Regulations)
I beg to move, in page 13, line 3, at the end, to insert:
The purpose of this Amendment is to reserve to the House, or to either House, some control over the regulations and orders made by the Minister. When a similar Amendment was moved during the Committee stage the Minister said he was unable to make any promises but he also said that he would look into the point again. He added:"and every such instrument shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a Resolution of either House of Parliament."
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this Amendment would not have that effect, because we are proposing the negative procedure and nothing would occur in this House unless some hon. Members were dissatisfied with the drafting or the substance of the Regulations or Orders made by the Minister and, consequently, moved a Prayer within 40 days. I do not think the Minister need fear, therefore, that there would be any unnecessary cluttering up of the business of the House. I know that this Amendment is an improvement upon the provisions of the Act of 1946. I do not think that it should be regarded as objectionable, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has favourably considered the proposal and will be able to agree to the Amendment."…but we do not want to clutter up the Business of the House unnecessarily."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 1253.]
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am afraid my mind is the same as it was when this was discussed—I think quite adequately—in Committee. Eighty-three per cent. of the population is already covered by the tribunals under the existing procedure, and all that this Amendment would suggest is that the remaining 17 per cent. should be subject to this annulment procedure. That seems to be rather straining at a gnat a little. If it were necessary to do this it should have been done before. This Bill is for the setting up of tribunals, and indicates the districts they are to cover. I do not see how it can be argued that for the remaining parts of the country to be covered we should have a different procedure.
The right hon. Gentleman has not referred to the provisions of Clause 6, by which he has power to make regulations with regard to the terms——
I must ask hon. Members to obey the Rules of the House. If they wish to speak twice they must ask leave and obtain it.
I apologise. I was really only asking a question. May I ask that question? Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to consider the position under Clause 6, because there he prescribes by regulations what local authorities are required to do in the preparation of the register?
Again, all the procedure with regard to the tribunals is, of course, of interest to us. I think it is true, as the Minister said, that a considerable portion of the country is covered by it. We had hoped that he would accept a previous Amendment of ours which would have enabled rules to be made by him; which would, of course, immediately bring up the very important question that these rules should be subject to Prayer. I think that the Minister is taking a completely different view from that which we are taking on this. We desire to register our point of view, but we dc not want unduly to delay the House, and so I think, in the circumstances, we shall not divide the House, although we cannot withdraw the Amendment.
Clause 15—(Application To Scotland)
I beg to move, in page 13, line 8, to leave out "Section eight," and to insert, "Sections four, eight and nine."This Amendment is consequential upon the first of the Government's new Clauses.
We now come to what we may call the "tartan and heather" part of the Bill. Could the right hon. Gentleman indicate in what way the new Clause to which he referred will alter the position in Scotland? As he knows, the position in Scotland is not at all the same as it is in England. I think he himself has said that it is very doubtful whether this Bill will have any real application to Scotland at all.
I do not think that really arises out of this Amendment, because the Amendment is purely a drafting Amendment to bring in various Clauses in place of the ones originally there. With respect, I doubt very much whether on this drafting Amendment it would be in Order to go into the whole merits of the application of the Bill to Scotland.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 13, line 11, leave out "Section six," and insert, "Sections three, six and seven."
This may not be quite the appropriate place, but at some point in this series of Amendments I think it would be only reasonable if the Lord Advocate or the Secretary of State were to indicate how the Amendments which have been made, and which we are now applying to Scotland, bear upon the problem in Scotland. I think it is only reasonable that those who read our proceedings later should not have to dodge backwards and forwards through the report of our discussions to find the application of these Amendments. It should be possible to have a succinct explanation of the way in which these Amendments made in the Bill, now being made to apply to Scotland, will effect the position there.
Would it not be more convenient, if the Lord Advocate proposes to explain, for him to do so on the next Amendment which seems to have more substance in it?
I am perfectly content with that suggestion.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in line 37, at the end, to insert:
"(4) Section (Special provisions as to premiums paid to a predecessor of the landlord) of this Act shall have effect as if for subsection (3) there were substituted the following subsection—
This is also consequential. It brings the machinery Clause into being with a view to defining the term "reversion" so far as it applies to Scotland.'(3) In this Section the expression "reversion," in relation to the grant, continuance or renewal of a tenancy of a dwelling-house means the estate or interest in the dwelling-house, which immediately after the grant, continuance or renewal of the tenancy belonged to the immediate landlord of the tenant under the tenancy.' "
I was only too ready to defer to your suggestion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that on some Amendment—it may be this or the next—some words of explanation should be given by the Secretary of State, but I do really think that in a matter so intricate, where the law differs so much in the two Kingdoms, such words of explanation should be given as to how these Amendments affect the position in Scotland. I do not think it is an unreasonable request to make, and I do trust that before we pass the Amendments relating to Scotland it will be possible for the Secretary of State or the Lord Advocate to give us some short survey of the matter.
I am not quite clear how it would be in Order on the Amendments I have been moving so far. They are purely machinery Amendments which adapt to Scotland what the House has already decided. This Amendment puts into Scottish terms what the House decided to do on the first Government Amendment tonight. I do not know whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would like us to describe the whole difference between the Scottish and English administration in this matter on these Amendments?
No. I do not think it is necessary to go into all those details. However, I did imagine that on one of these two Amendments, which appear to be of some substance, the right hon. Gentleman or the Lord Advocate might—it is a matter entirely for them—explain the application to Scotland of what the House has done in the previous Amendments in relation to England.
I wonder if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would make a little clearer what he wants in more precise terms. Is he asking for a rather general, over-all description of the two systems of law?
I speak again by leave of the House. I do so for the purpose of clarification. I do not wish to have a description of the state of the law as it differs between the two countries. However, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will bear me out when I say that we have been discussing tonight some Amendments of substance. We did not then ask for an explanation of their bearing on and application to the northern Kingdom, believing and hoping that when we came to the Clause applying them to Scotland it would be convenient to the House to have that explained then, when all these things could be brought together, and all the various Amendments which have been made by the Minister could be explained at once in their relation to Scotland. We are entitled to ask the Secretary of State or the Lord Advocate to give the House some short survey of how these matters will affect the position in Scotland.
I hesitate, not through any lack of willingness to comply with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's wishes, but because I feel that I should be entirely out of Order in trying to give an explanation of the effect of three new Clauses in this Bill on an Amendment which deals with one new Clause. The only effect of this particular Amendment, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate, is to apply in Scottish equivalent terms the English terms contained in the new Clause with regard to the special provisions as to a premium paid to the predecessor of the landlord. The effect is merely to translate into Scottish terminology, the terminology of subsection (3) of that new Clause. I do not think that there is any particular difficulty in that respect. We have merely used in this Amendment the translation of the word "reversion" contained in the new Clause as meaning:
That is the only effect of the Amendment. It makes it perfectly clear how this new Clause will apply to Scotland. If I may repeat the expression used by the Minister of Health, I feel that despite the seduction put forward by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, I should be out of Order if I went beyond the confines of this Clause."estate or interest in the dwelling-house, which immediately after the grant, continuance or renewal of the tenancy belonged to the immediate landlord of the tenant under the tenancy."
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 13, line 41, leave out from "(3)," to end of line, and insert:
"(4), (5) and (6) were omitted; and
(iii) there were inserted after subsection (2) the following subsection—
'(3) Section eight of the Rent of Furnished Houses (Control) (Scotland) Act, 1943 (which relates to certificates as to premises entered in the register kept under subsection (4) of Section two of that Act), shall have effect as if the reference to that register included a reference to the register kept under this Section '."
It occurs to me that it might be simpler, and it would get us out of the difficulty, if, these Amendments having been made to the Clause, the Clause as amended were put to the House.
That is not done on Report.
That puts us in some slight difficulty because we allowed the two earlier Amendments to pass, where references to this Clause were actually inserted, and the Lord Advocate now claims that it would be out of Order for him to attempt to give the House any general indication of the bearing of those Amendments on the two more limited Amendments which followed. I cannot say that I consider the procedure is satisfactory, or that we have had an explanation which this House is entitled to have when a Clause of great importance to Scotland, applying a Bill which has been moved in terms of English legislation, is sought to be written into the statute. I trust that the Lord Advocate, even on the last Amendment, will find it possible to make some sort of survey of the position as it is now left by the statute which we have before us; otherwise we are left in a very unsatisfactory position.
I cannot understand the complaints of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman about the procedure being unsatisfactory. I make no comment as to whether or not that reflects on you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
With the utmost respect it cannot reflect on Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Any reflection on the Chair would be totally out of place, and I am sure, Sir, that you would be the first to draw attention to it.
I always understood, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you were the master of procedure in these Debates. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had wished to get an explanation of the application of these new Clauses to Scotland, then when we were examining these new Clauses he might then have asked in what respect they applied to Scotland, and what differences, if any, there were. He did not do so. We should have been quite willing at the appropriate time to make the explanation. I say that in all sincerity to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.With regard to this particular Amendment, the explanation is perfectly simple. Under Clause 6, the new subsection (4) has been introduced applying Section 11 of the English Act of 1946, to the Register to be kept under that Clause. The effect of Section 11 of the 1946 Act provides that a certified copy of an entry in the register kept under that Act shall be receivable in evidence in all courts and in any proceedings. We, in Scotland, in the 1943 Act have a similar provision under Section 8 which provides:
The only effect of this Amendment is to apply the rule of Section 8 of the 1943 Act to the register which we have now incorporated under Clause 6 of this Bill."A document purporting to be a certificate signed by the clerk or other authorised officer of a Tribunal relating to any premises entered in the Register shall, until the contrary is shown, be deemed to have been signed by such clerk or other officer, and shall be sufficient evidence of the matter therein contained."
Amendment agreed to.
New Schedule—(Provisions As To Premiums Paid To A Predecessor Of The Landlord)
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.
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 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—"…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.]
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.
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.
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.
I rise to offer the congratulations of the country to the Minister—
The hon. Gentleman has no right to do that.
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:
[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:"It is astonishing the number of people who have already signified their intention of making applications as soon as the Bill becomes law."
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."Judging from some of the details with which we have been supplied there are some very bad cases to be dealt with."
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.
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.