HC Deb 03 April 1917 vol 92 cc1242-7

Sub-section (2) of Section five of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest War Restrictions Act, 1915, shall be amended to provide that the Act shall continue in force during the continuance of the present War and for a period of two years thereafter and no longer.—[Mr. C. Duncan.]

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

In moving this new Clause, I may say one of the reasons for it is this: It will be obvious to every Member of the House that, owing to the calling up of every fit male of the population of the country, there is very little, if any, building going on, and there is an enormous amount of congestion in the large industrial centres. It is felt that if the Act expires on the date originally fixed in the Bill, as soon as the War is over, and the time has expired, the rents charged by the landlord will undoubtedly increase to a very great extent. We think that the danger is a very real one, and we should like to ask the learned Solicitor-General whether or not the matter has received his consideration, and, if it has not, whether he will consider the matter, as it is a danger that I should say he, as well as we, are anxious to avoid in the future?


The Clause is not on the Paper, and I should like to have it read to the House; otherwise it will be very inconvenient to address the Committee.


I will read the Clause which the hon. Member has moved. [Clause 'read.] My hon. Friend asked me whether I have carefully considered this matter. I have done so, and a somewhat similar proposal, not in the form of a new Clause, but in the form of an Amendment. I cannot see my way to accept this Amendment to prolong the duration of the Act of 1915, which would make it more onerous upon many persons upon whom the present burden is imposed, and properly imposed, during the period of the War. I think it would be going too far to provide, as the hon. Member desires, that the duration of the Act should continue for two years after the War. I have endeavoured to the best of my ability to meet the Committee, but I am bound to say, in regard to this particular Amendment, that I do not see my way to accept it.


May I ask whether it is the case that this Act will not cease immediately peace is signed, but will go on like all other emergency Acts for some little time after the War, until such time as the whole of the emergency Acts will be put an end to?


I am very much in sympathy with the legislation that has been passed to prevent the increase of rents and mortgages during the War, and if it were merely a question of rent and mortgage interest, I should have sympathised with the proposal for extending this period for some time after the War. But there is another matter in connection with housing that must not be lost sight of, and that is the supreme importance of giving some stimulus to building operations immediately the War is over. It is a short-sighted policy to say that rent shall be preserved at certain pre-war figures for some time. To preserve those rents at that figure is to withhold an inducement to provide housing accommodation for the immediate needs of the people. It is not only desirable that the people who have got houses should be there, but that the industrial needs and the increase of the population should also be provided for. I think that the real way to deal with this problem is not by increasing this period of restricted rent, but by the Government being ready for taking immediate steps and being prepared with some schemes for solving the housing problem after the War. They cannot do that without considerable sums of public money at moderate rates of interest. If you extended this restricting covenant for two years after the War, it seems to me that no additional housing would be provided and in two years' time the evil would be greater than at present. I therefore cannot support the new Clause of my hon. Friend. I do trust the Solicitor-General will convey to his colleagues in the Government that no time ought to be lost in tackling the housing problem, and that they ought to prepare schemes for after-war housing, boldly designed, and that for that purpose considerable State provision is urgently needed.


On a point of Order. Will you kindly tell me why I am out of order in calling attention to the fact that forty Members are not present in an important Debate such as this?


It is in the discretion of the Chair—a count once having been called—as to what time he will allow another count to be ordered, as long as he is satisfied that forty Members are within the precincts.


I think there is objection in the House to two years' extension of the Act, and, although this is an Act we think a great deal of, there is a great deal of legislation we want to get rid of as soon after the War as possible. At the same time, there is this very important aspect of the matter to be borne in mind. It will be in many ways rather a difficult time immediately following the War. There will then be a good deal of dislocation, and perhaps there may even be troubles of various kinds, unless the problems are well handled. What is going to happen? We have had no building practically for three years. There is great congestion in many places like Sheffield, in regard to housing. If this Rent Restriction Act is suddenly taken off there will be a tremendous bound in rents and there will be a real difficulty created in many districts. I think that ought certainly to be looked to, and that we ought to see whether some remedy ought not to be forthcoming with regard to that rather difficult time. I entirely endorse what has been said by the hon. Gentleman, that we ought to face the question of building houses, and to get ready the moment we are able to do so to face the tremendous problem in regard to house building. The present difficulty is very great, and I would ask that, at any rate, the Government should look ahead and should recognise that, if suddenly rents begin to bound up at a time when the pressure of war and the reactions of war on the working people are removed, and when there may perhaps be increasing labour difficulties, they are creating a difficult situation, and that that problem should be guarded against by some foresight and by some imagination on the part of the Government


I would like to support what has fallen from the hon. Member for Sheffield (Sir Tudor Walters) as to the disadvantage of continuing after the War the special regulations made during the War on account of the War. They cover all kinds of rules and regulations applying to every class of the community, and they have been agreed to very often against the interests of the persons concerned on account of the War and from motives of patriotism, and with every sympathy for the object which is in the mind of the hon. Member who has moved the Amendment, I hope it will not be accepted, because it would be a very bad precedent to form. May I also press on the consideration of the Government what has been said as to the difficulties which may arise in regard to housing after the War? They will be considerably complicated by the fact that the pressure on housing accommodation which now exists will probably be very much altered when the War is over, because many places which are now congested may then become emptied, and many places which are now. empty may then become congested. It may therefore be well to consider whether anything can be done to meet that case, but I hope that nothing will be done in this House which might be considered as a precedent for continuing after the War rules and regulations which have been passed and arranged for on the distinct understanding that they were for the term of the War and for no longer.


I have pleasure in supporting what the hon. Gentleman has just said. I consider it would be a very serious thing if anything were done to carry on for one moment after peace breaks out any of the legislation that has been introduced during the War. If it were done in one case it would be very difficult not to do it in others, and when you consider the enormous amount of legislation which has been introduced during the War, including the Defence of the Realm Act, and the vexatious restrictions which we are all to-day most cheerfully accepting, to introduce a precedent for keeping on that form of legislation would be a most unhappy thing to do. I am sure hon. Members of this House, just as much as the people outside, are anxiou3 to enjoy that freedom and that liberty for which presumably we are fighting this War, and under these circumstances, despite the very excellent point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Anderson) as to the question of rents bounding up when peace comes, if it is so simple to pass a law now through this House to restrain rents, it will not be difficult then to find ten or fifteen Members to attend this House and get the Chairman of Committee to get through the Committee stage yet another Bill which will control the very point raised by the hon. Member and restrict the sudden booming of rents. Another thing is that there will be a redistribution of population in the country. Many towns, I know, during the War have had a large influx of population. Rents in the ordinary course would have gone up, but this has not been so. There is less competition for property and therefore not the inducement to put up the rent. Therefore I support the hon. Baronet in what he said, as well as the hon. Member for Sheffield, that it would be a very great mistake for this House to do anything to create a precedent continuing any emergency Bill that they now bring before the House after the cessation of hostilities.

Question put, and negatived.