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Clause 46—(Procedure Of Tribunal)

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 8 July 1954

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Lords Amendment: In page 36, line 29, at beginning, insert:

(1) Subsection (1) of section seventeen of the Act of 1920 (which empowers the Lord Chancellor to make rules and give directions for the purpose of giving effect to that Act) shall apply in relation to this Part of this Act as it applies in relation to that Act.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This is a point of some importance, and I think the House will feel that it helps us in the problem. It is a machinery provision to enable rules as to county court procedure under Part II of the Bill to be made by the Lord Chancellor under Section 17 (1) of the Rent Act, 1920. Without this provision, the ordinary county court procedure might be thought to apply. It was thought desirable to make the special procedure applicable to rent restriction matters provided for in the rules made by the Lord Chancellor. It has the effect of making the procedure simpler and cheaper. Applications are heard by the registrar in an informal atmosphere and the parties usually appear in person without being represented by either a solicitor or counsel. Either party can require applications to be referred by the registrar to the county court judge, but broadly speaking they are dealt with in a simpler way. We want to give power to the Lord Chancellor to provide the same procedure, which is less expensive and better for those cases.

May I ask whether these rules will have any effect on the timing of these proceedings, as compared with ordinary procedure in the county court? Earlier this evening we referred to the possibility of delay on the part of a landlord, but delays may be due not only to dilatoriness on the part of landlords but to an abundance of work falling upon the county court. Is any special provision to be made to deal with this new and possibly considerable work? Will there be anything in the rules which will enable this type of litigation—if it is to be called litigation—to be dealt with more speedily than some which, unfortunately, takes a considerable time in the county court.

I will, of course, bring to my noble Friend's attention what my hon Friend has said.

I am not an expert on county court rules, registrars or anything else, but I should like to ask one question. Will this allow the registrar of the county court to say that costs can be given to the tenant against the local authority if the tenant loses the case on the evidence submitted by the sanitary officer of the local authority? It is a very important point indeed. The tenant would not take action in the county court at all, nor would the landlord take action against the tenant, were it not for the certificate issued by the sanitary officer of the local authority. Under such circumstances, would it be possible for the tenant to claim from the local authority the costs which would otherwise be levied upon him because of the certificate of repair issued by the local authority?

I hope that the Minister may be able to clear up the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). I hope too that he may be able to take this opportunity to give some assurance that he is in touch with the Attorney-General with regard to the whole question of making legal aid available in the county court and that this mater is at least under active consideration. He will appreciate that the whole value of these proceedings and of the slight modification made in this proposed Amendment—to which we do not object—depends very largely indeed upon whether or not the tenant concerned can have the benefit of the legal aid scheme which everyone understood was to be made available to them at a later stage.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain what precise advantage this proposal will have for the tenant? The tenant is obviously concerned with the decisions, either of the registrar or of the court itself, to disallow a certificate of disrepair. Is there any advantage in the suggestion which the Minister makes in relation to the liability of the tenant for costs in the event of a certificate of disrepair being disallowed? Or is he now telling us that, instead of this matter being referred to the court and incurring all the legal consequences and costs involved, it may now be settled by reference to the registrar? If it can be settled by a reference to the registrar, could the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the effect of that would be on both the landlord and the tenant on the question of costs? If costs are to be just the same there is no advantage in this proposition, but if they are to be very much lower or non-existent there will be an advantage.

With the leave of the House, perhaps I may speak yet again. I am sure hon. Members opposite would not feel that this was an appropriate occasion to make a declaration of the intentions of the Government; nor would it be in order. In answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) and other hon. Members, I can say that the Amendment does not alter the rights, duties and functions of the court. All it does is to apply a procedure which the Lord Chancellor has applied since 1920 in rent restriction cases. If the Amendment had not been put down he would not have been able to make provisions similar to those which have worked successfully for 30 years. The object is to provide for a simpler and cheaper procedure in the first instance. The Amendment gives him powers to make regulations on similar lines in cases similar to those in which the procedure to which I have referred has been applied successfully for many years. I shall take account of all the other points which have been raised and note them as important contributions.

Question put, and agreed to.