HC Deb 17 April 1918 vol 105 cc491-532

Order for Second Reading read.


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

This Bill, to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading, is one of the many by-products of this great War. It is a Bill brought from another place and follows the Act of 1915. That Act very largely restricted the rights of landlords in respect of working-class dwellings, including the rent they could receive for such houses in respect of houses of the value of £35 in the Metropolitan area, £26 in the provinces, and £30 in Scotland. The House will remember the circumstances under which that Act was passed. There was a very great shortage of houses, seeing that from the beginning of the War very little building was accomplished. The fact that building material has been very difficult to obtain, as well as many other things, labour being required for many other matters, made this so. Money, too, is very difficult to obtain, for it is not desirable to spend it upon anything not absolutely necessary. Owing to the non-building of houses shortage goes on increasing every year to an almost alarming extent. In consequence of that shortage of houses and of the rush of munition workers into munition areas, there was a great demand for houses. This enabled landlords, very gradually, to seek higher rents for houses which they owned, until there came a state of things in some munition areas and in some parts of London in which, as rents went up, people were evicted from their houses. They would not pay these increased rents. A state of very great unrest was caused. People were evicted from houses. They felt the injustice of being asked to pay very largely increased rents for houses which they had occupied for many years at a lower rent.

That was a state of things in which it was absolutely impossible for the Government not to intervene. It would have been impossible for any Government not to intervene. The Government did intervene. They passed the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act, 1915. That Act, as everybody knows, stereotypes largely the rent which was paid on 3rd August, 1914. Tenants afterwards were placed in the position that, provided they obeyed all t he ordinary conditions of tenancy, were not a nuisance to their neighbours, paid the rent they had paid just prior to 3rd August, or on 3rd August, 1914, they were not subject to any ejectment orders. They could remain, and have remained, since in possession of their homes at the rents they paid in the prewar period. That Act was accompanied by a certain amount of inequality and very naturally with some amount of hardship. Obviously it would stereotype the rents paid, and you compelled landlords to accept the rents they received on a certain date. Some of those landlords had let their houses at a very low rate before that date compared with others who owned houses in the same neighbourhood. Some landlords had screwed up their rents almost to a rack-rent a few months prior to the date fixed by the Act, while others had let them at a low rate. All this the Government have had to take into account, and, as in many other matters, this Government constantly has to decide which is the greater hardship, and which you are going to meet, and they have to decide equitably in regard to these points. The Government came to the conclusion that it had no other course but to fix a standard rent, and they fixed the rent payable just prior to the War in August, 1914. There are those who objected to that Act because they thought it interfered with the ordinary law of supply and demand, and because they believed it was contrary to all laws of political economy. I ask them to think what really would happen in our great munition centres and areas if there had been no such Act passed, and if landlords had been able to take advantage of the great rush into certain constituencies at a time when there was an increasing shortage of houses year by year.

What would be the state of circumstances in which any Government would have found itself if it had not met the great complaint growing up crying out for some remedy against this increase of rents by landlords, because they saw an unusual opportunity had been offered by the War? I was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board, and my right hon. Friend who was then President introduced the Bill which we are now seeking to amend. At that time I was busily engaged in receiving deputations on both sides and hearing arguments as to whether the Government, were justified in interfering with the rents which landlords could exact. I came to the conclusion then that it was absolutely necessary for any Government, if it wanted to avoid disorder and strikes and general complaints from the people, to prevent landlords taking the unusual opportunity afforded by the War to increase rents, which, if they were not paid, they might have ejected people from houses which very likely they had occupied for the whole of their lives. The Act was passed, and although in some respects it may have acted unequally as between landlord and landlord, yet, upon the whole, the evidence we have of the previous Act shows that the hardship on the landlords, after all, was as nothing compared with the hardship which would have been forced upon the tenant if no such Act had been passed. I do not say that that Act was the most perfect one that could have been found, and if we were thinking the matter over now we might have made provision allowing the landlord to recover something to meet the increased cost of materials in cases where he had to undertake repairs. We might also have considered sub-letting at a price which enables the tenant to make a very large profit by letting rooms which they occupied themselves prior to 1914.

On the whole, the Act has served the purposes for which it was designed. It has fixed the standard rent to be paid as the rent which was paid on 3rd August, 1014. There was one exception made to the Act. No landlord could go to the Court and obtain an ejectment order provided the tenant had obeyed all the conditions of the tenancy and paid the standard rent. The exception made was that the landlord who could prove to the Court that he required the house for his own occupation or for the occupation of an employé, that landlord was excepted from the Act, and he could obtain an order for ejecting the tenant. That exception was put into the Act on the initiation of the Minister for Agriculture, who was then a private Member, but whose opinion on agriculture always carried weight in this House. He suggested that, after all, if we were requiring landlords and farmers to produce much more in the way of crops from the area they controlled, it was absolutely necessary that they should have the cottages at their command and should be able to obtain them from ploughmen and shepherds and people of that sort, and therefore it was thought necessary to exempt them from the Act, although those cottages might be occupied by the wives of soldiers and sailors.

Under those circumstances it was thought that a landlord should be able to obtain an order to eject a tenant and to recover possession of his house, whether it was for his own occupation or for the occupation of his employé. We little thought that that exemption would be exploited as it has been by people who never were intended to have the advantage of that Section. There are people even during the height of this War, in the grimmest crisis we have ever gone through, who in this respect are trying to find out how to drive a coach-and-four through this Act of Parliament, and who have tried to devise means practically abrogating the Act and preventing a great many people from retaining possession of their houses who thought they were sufficiently protected under the Act. What is the process? Whereas the landlord cannot obtain an increased rent from a tenant who obeys all the conditions of his tenancy, yet he can sell the house to somebody else, who can say, "I am the landlord and I want this house for my own occupation, not in connection with agriculture, or the farm, or anything else." The man merely says, "I am going to buy this house. I want this house-for my own occupation." There upon, the whole of this Act that we have passed for the protection of the tenant goes. The tenant is no longer protected. The man who has bought the house steps in and says, "You have got to go out." That is going on to an increasing extent, and there is a widespread demand for something or other which will stop what is, after all, really a gross violation of the whole of the intentions of this House in passing that Act of Parliament. I do not mean to say that these cases of purchase are all on the same footing. There are some which do not interfere very much with the tenant, but there are cases going on, not by hundreds, but by thousands.

I have gathered this from the evidence that has been adduced to me. I have had evidence from all quarters that this is going on, not in hundreds, but in thousands of cases. Men are going to landlords and saying, "I am perfectly willing to pay you extra rent for this house." The landlord says, "The Act excludes me from turning the tenant out, but you buy the house." It is bought by installments, so that practically the landlord gets an increased rent for the house. Under that process the tenant is ejected, although he may have been there for twenty years, and although the present occupier may be the wife of a soldier living at the front. He may be a munition worker, or somebody who is doing excellent work for the State in some direction or another. That tenant is ejected, and the person who buys the house comes in and takes advantage of this very clever strategy of defeating the whole of this Act. That hardship to the tenant is enormously increased in certain areas, notably in the neighbourhood of London, by the panic-stricken hordes of aliens, who desire to avoid the ambit of the bomb-throwing aeroplanes, and who go outside of London, particularly into the western regions, hitherto un visited by the Goth as, and who are perfectly willing to give very large prices for these houses quite beyond the means of the sitting tenant. It is all very well to say that, after all, the sitting tenant often gets the first offer from the landlord to buy the house. It is all very well to say that the landlord says to him, "I will offer it to you at oven a cheaper price than I can get from somebody else." That is not a sufficient answer. Over and over again it is impossible for the sitting tenant to buy it. He either has not the money or cannot obtain it, and sometimes he is too insecure in his position of employment. I have had case after case brought to my notice where the man has said, "It is all very well to ask me to buy the house but I am a bank manager and I may have to remove somewhere else, and I cannot buy the house." That is not a sufficient answer to this case that is made out.

Are the Courts at present powerless to prevent this evasion of the Act? I do not know that they are, but in practice they feel that they are, and they do not interfere. The result is not only a very largely increased area of real hardship and discontent on the part of those who have lived in these houses for a very long time, but a widespread dismay on the part of those who hitherto have not been subjected to this particular treatment lest they will be the next victims and lest in a few weeks' or months' time they may also receive notice from the landlord, "If you will not pay me an increased rent or buy the house, I am going to accept an offer and you will have to go." I hear of people not cultivating their small gardens because they say they are insecure and that this Act is no longer any protection to them. What is the remedy? It is not easy to close altogether the breach in the Act of Parliament. None of us would desire to prevent the existing landlord from recovering possession of cottages which are really needed for the purposes of agriculture. That is a right which ought to be preserved to him and it may be necessary to accept some Amendments to the Bill in order to preserve it. We think that this Bill will effectively put a stop to the evasion of the Act by the present practice of purchase which is familiar to the House.

We propose that from a certain date— the date given is 12th March, bat that is capable of alteration—the rights reserved to a landlord of obtaining an order for possession or for the ejectment of a tenant under Section 1, Sub-section (3), shall only be enjoyed by the existing landlord and by such landlord as shall become the landlord by devolution under settlement or under wills and intestacies. That will prevent the ordinary landlord of whom we complain from coming down to a district and buying a house and then going to the Court and ejecting the tenant for his own occupation and his own use. We do not stop purchase. I want to make that clear. Purchase will go on as before, provided that the purchaser is willing to wait until after the War or until the operation of this Act to obtain possession of the House. He can still purchase if he like to purchase, but if he purchases hereafter, unless he is a landlord by devolution or under a will or intestacy, he will not be able to obtain an ejectment order.


Why make the exception with regard to wills and intestacies?


The House will realise that as we protect existing landlords there is no reason why we should not protect the man who succeeds him, perhaps his own son, in his property. He should also be given the right of turning out the tenant if he wants the land for the purposes of agriculture. At all events, that will be the basis when we come to deal with the Bill in Committee. I have said so much in order to make it clear to the House and to those who reads one's speeches that, hereafter anybody who since 12th March buys a house, as thousands of houses have been bought, in order to turn out the tenant because the purchaser wants that house, either to escape air raids or any other purpose, while he will be able to purchase the house he will not be able to obtain possession of the house provided the tenant pays the rent and fulfils the ordinary conditions of the tenancy.


It is not quite clear to my mind whether the right hon. Gentleman's proposal covers the case, which is now very frequent, where a landlord gives notice to quit subject to the option of purchase to the present tenant. That is a case of very real hardship, which is becoming widely prevalent in this country.


He can give notice to quit, I know, but the notice to quit is inoperative. The tenant can say, "I am sitting here under this Act, and here I mean to sit. I am going to pay the rent I was paying in 1914. I do not intend to purchase this house and I defy you to turn me out under the Act." Any increase of rent cannot be recovered.


It is being done.


I am afraid there will always be people in this country who are ignorant of the laws designed to protect them, who at any rate have no knowledge of the protection which exists in an Act of Parliament. So long as that is the case there will always be people who will take advantage of the ignorance of those who do not know what their rights are as against the landlord. There are two main questions in connection with this Bill which will be debated. The first is, How far the Bill should be retrospective. That point was discussed in another place. Opinions were expressed both ways. The opinion was expressed that you have no right to make the Bill retrospective, that after all it was not criminal, and not even illegal, inequitable or immoral for a man to adopt this process and buy a house which suited him, and that, after all, the law allows it and it is not illegal. Another opinion was expressed that if Parliament is going to pass a Bill of this sort for the protection of tenants whom it is undoubtedly designed to protect, it ought to be carried further back that 12th March. We shall hear both those opinions expressed here. It is a matter for consideration in Committee what date should be put in the Bill. There are those who would shift it from 12th March to 15th March, and who would argue that no adequate notice was given to distant parts of the country, like Scotland particularly, that the Bill was not introduced until the 12th March, that no adequate knowledge of it could have reached Scotland, at all events, that therefore those who purchased houses on the 15th March might have been quite unaware that this Bill was intended, and that they ought to be protected. On the other hand, there are those who would argue that the date ought to be considerably antedated, and who consider that 1st January is a fair date. On that an argument might be deduced by Scotsmen, who would say that they have a system in Scotland whereby these notices are given some months beforehand, and which mature, say, on the 8th or 10th of May. I shall be instructed in Committee on that point. They will say that those notices ought not to be allowed to mature, and that if we are going to protect the tenants by this Amending Bill we ought to cast the protection wide enough to cover tenants to whom notice has been given but where the actual ejectment order has not yet reached them. It may be possible to find some solution of that problem by enacting that a date like 1st January should be taken, or by enacting that the Bill shall apply wherever possession has not yet been given.

Probably most of us would agree that where the ejectment has actually taken place and possession has been given, it would not be wise to disturb that, because it would be very difficult indeed for the purchaser—who after all was within his legal rights in making the purchase, and who probably has given up his own house—to be asked to step out of the house and find the tenant who had been ejected, and who might not be desirous of coming back to the house from which he has been ejected. There may be some ground for stating that it shall not apply to tenants who have been ejected already where possession has been given, and that the House will not go so far as to order anything like reinstatement. That is a point which we can discuss more, deliberately and minutely when we get into Committee. There is another very large question that will arise—namely, is the rental limit under the original Act to be raised? There are those who write to me to say, "You have protected all those who live in the Metropolitan Police area, who live in houses which are rented at £35 a year. You protect in Scotland all those who live in houses up to £30 a year, and in the provinces all those who live in houses up to £26 a year." There is a hardship of which we heard nothing when we debated the Act in 1915—I cannot find a trace of it in the Debates—which is really growing and becoming very widespread. It is being felt extremely by the smaller professional people and the commercial and business classes who live in houses ranging from £50 up to £70 or £80 a year.


Your predecessor him self fixed the limit, with the advice of his Department and the advice he had before him at the time.


I have not suggested anything to the contrary. Those limits were fixed by my right hon. Friend in consultation with myself and others. They were very deliberately fixed, it is quite true, after great consultation with some of us. The figure in the Bill which was introduced was enlarged by the House of Commons itself from £21 to £26 for the provinces, from £30 to £35 for the Metropolitan Police area, and I think it enlarged the Scottish figure. Anyhow, it did certainly enlarge the figures. I can find no trace in the Debates that the House at that time was aware of any difficulty in regard to those who inhabited houses above the limit which is generally thought applicable to working-class houses. Since then there has been an accumulation of evidence that professional men —it is very difficult to find a term to describe them—people who cannot afford high rents, say, running into three figures—I mean the smaller business, professional, and commercial men, and others—are suffering a very great hardship and have a real grievance at the present time through landlords coming to them and saying, "You have hitherto paid £60. I must now demand £80. If you will not pay £80, I must ask you to buy your house; and if you will not pay £80 or buy your house, out you go…" Perhaps there is no house anywhere near the neighbourhood which such a man could possibly get. I have consulted the authorities, and I find that the title of the Bill is so narrow that it would not allow that question to be raised in Committee, and Amendments to raise the limits of the houses to which the original Act would apply, and to which the amending Act therefore will apply, would be outside the scope of the title because they would not be relevant to the subject-matter of the Bill. That was rather my own opinion before I consulted the authorities. But while that is so, I would ask the House not to wreck the Bill because they desire to enlarge it and are not able to do so, but rather to use the Debates on the Second Reading and Committee stages to consider this question very carefully, to bring forward evidence as to how far this grievance really will exist, and to give information to the Government which will form the basis for consideration by them as to whether or not a further Bill is necessary to meet this larger area of housing and operate over a larger area in which increased rentals higher than those included in the Bill are charged.

I am very anxious to get the Bill quickly. It has passed through all its stages in another place where the rights of property are as strictly scrutinised and preserved as they are here. It is to my mind really wanted to stop this constant malpractice, because it is really a malpractice, contrary to the whole intentions of the House, which every day is causing suffering and hardship to a great many people. Therefore, I hope the Leader of the House will be able to give me time, even in these difficult days, to pass the Bill, with the will of the House, quickly through all its stages and to obtain the sanction of both Houses of Parliament to it. At the same time, it is quite possible that information may, in the course of the Debate, be afforded to the Government which may compel it to bring forward another Bill to apply the principle of the Act of 1915 to houses which are outside the limit of value imposed by that Act. It is, however, very difficult to find such a limit. The limit of £35 or £36 has been approved by the House, and it probably covers the vast majority of what are known as working-class dwellings. When you come to deal with property which demands a rent of from £60 up to £100 or £125 you are dealing with a different kind of property altogether. While I would rather be throwing in all my weight on the side of the protection of the tenant there is another side to the question, particularly when you deal with houses of a higher rent. Here is a case that has been brought to my notice. A man had bought six houses at the seaside. He gave £2,000 each for them. It was an extravagant price to pay. They had not been let for several years before the War, but the War brought a good many officers and people of that kind to the place. He was able to let the houses at £60 a year, not on lease but on the usual short notice terms.


£60 for a £2,000 house?

9.0 P.M.


That is all he was able to get at the time. It was a very low rent. For two of the houses he has a purchaser who would give him a very good price. The sitting tenants said, "No; we are not disposed to pay more than we are paying. We will not promise to stay after the War, we will not take a lease and we will not buy." Ought not the landlord in that case to be able to take advantage of the present market circumstances, although I admit they are caused by the War, and to let one or two of the houses to willing purchasers, even although that involved ousting the sitting tenants, who are undoubtedly in this case doing work in connection with the War? Directly you get to the higher class of property you have a different set of arguments and circumstances with which to deal. If, after we have accumulated evidence from the House and outside, the Government is induced to bring in another Bill applying to houses of a different character from working-class dwellings, there is a good deal of matter which will have to be debated and the rights of the landlords will have to be very carefully considered as regards the possibility of their accepting offers of purchase, and we ought to be as legitimately careful of their interests as of those of the tenants. I should be only too glad to hear in this Debate evidence from many of those who have taken a very great interest in the discussion of this question, and when we come to Committee I will very carefully consider such Amendments as may be put down. Meanwhile, although I know there are hon. Members who desire to enlarge the scope of the Bill, and to increase the number of houses to which it will apply, I hope the House will agree with me that we ought not, while grasping at the shadow of another Bill, to drop this very substantial measure, which, to my mind, remedies something like 90 per cent. of the grievances of which tenants in this country have every right to complain.


I welcome the opportunity which the introduction of this Bill gives us for dealing with a matter of such great urgency as it seeks to combat. I also welcome the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that he is not tied to the date mentioned in the Bill, but would be quite prepared to consider a different date. I also welcome the fact that he stated that he was anxious that those taking part in this Debate should avail themselves of this opportunity of bringing before his notice any other difficulties that had arisen in consequence of war conditions, so that the Government might consider at an early date the bringing in of a Rill of a more comprehensive character than the one now introduced. I think that the present Bill is of far too restricted a character, and that we shall require one dealing with this problem on a far wider basis. I recognise that the point covered by this Bill is one of great urgency, and that may be the reason for the Bill being of so limited a character as will prevent Amendments of a general kind being inserted. If I am correct in thinking that Amendments of a general character will be out of order, I hope that we shall get some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that at a very early date the Government will see their way to introduce a Bill of a much wider scope than the one we are now considering.

There has always been a housing problem in this country. I do not intend to go into the general question of the housing problem at any great length. Indeed, I do not intend to go into the general question further than to say that prior to the conditions arising which the Bill of 1915 was introduced to remedy, we had a great shortage of houses in this country, and that if we had never had a war we should have had to deal in a broad general way with the question of the housing of the people. War conditions have accentuated that difficulty enormously, and unless we take an early opportunity of dealing with the question, the country will find itself up against a very grave position of affairs. The party with which I am associated some time ago sent a memorandum to the learned Solicitor-General, pointing out the necessity for an amending Bill of a much more comprehensive character than the one we are now considering. They took the opportunity, in the course of that memorandum, of pointing out a number of the difficulties that had arisen as the result of war conditions, also dealing with some of the difficulties that had arisen in connection with the administration of the Act of 1915, which this Bill seeks to amend. I propose briefly to enumerate some of the difficulties that were pointed out to the Solicitor-General in that Memorandum. The first difficulty arises inconsequence of the administration of the Act of 1915, and that is the lack of clearness in the wording of the Act, which has led to a large amount of litigation, a far larger amount of litigation than the House is aware of. The second point is that tenants have no means under the Act if 1915 of recovering legal costs in which they may be involved in protecting themselves against threatened evictions by the landlord because of their refusal to pay the increased rent that is demanded. The third point is that in connection with the administration of that Act there has been in many cases threats of retaliation as to what will occur when the Act expires. The fourth point is that there has been a very general refusal to do the necessary repairs and cleaning to keep the property in good order. Then the difficulty has arisen in connection with key money being paid in very many instances, and in this way getting over the difficulty of increasing the rent.


The tenants take what is known as "key money."


It is largely a question of the landlord. We have had a large number of letters coming to us from all over the country pointing out the difficulties that are arising regarding the administration of the Act of 1915. In many cases the wives and families of soldiers are being evicted in agricultural districts. The head of the household, the lather, or the sons in some cases, have either voluntarily or by compulsion joined the Army, and they have gone under a general promise that so long as they were at the War their relatives would be kept on in the house, but, as time has gone on, evictions have taken place, and many more are being threatened with eviction. You have the same state of affairs in the industrial centers. There a very much larger number of these eases occur. I am sometimes very much concerned as to what will be the stats of matters regarding the housing difficulty when the War is over, because not only have you this temporary difficulty during the War, but in many cases, unfortunately, the heads of the household will not return, and consequently you will have the wives and dependants of those who have lost their lives having to face this difficulty now and also when the War is over. You have also the case of industrial companies. Our attention has been drawn to a number of these cases, of companies buying whole blocks of houses in industrial centres and threatening to turn out the tenants—in some cases they have been turned out, while in many others they have been threatened with eviction—to make room for their own workers, and turning them out in places where it is impossible for the present tenant, in the event of being turned out, to find housing accommodation. In a number of cases within my own personal knowledge they have had to store their furniture and go into lodgings or go and live with relatives. Unless we have this matter dealt with in a more comprehensive manner than this Bill gives us an opportunity of doing we are going to have the danger of the employer being in a position to affect workmen both in cases of dismissal and of trade disputes in this matter of evicting tenants from houses. Then we had the question of owners selling their property for the purpose of evading the law. In many cases the sale is only a bogus sale for the purpose of getting over the difficulty that this Act has imposed upon the owners of house property.

There is another phase of the same difficulty. I know of some cases in which the owner of the property has sold his own house and given notice to one of his tenants that he will require the house occupied by that tenant. I intend to put down an Amendment to deal with that difficulty, which I hope will be accepted, and with that Amendment I propose to make this Bill retrospective—to carry the date much further back than the date named in the Bill. If we are confined entirely to that point, then I think it is necessary that we should have the Bill made retrospective. There is a large number of cases in which sales have taken place and in which as yet the purchaser has not got possession, and the old tenant is still in possession of the property. The Bill should be made to cover these cases. I have not much to say against the idea to which expression was given by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill, that we could not very well ask that the case of the purchaser being in possession of the house should be covered. But I think that the Amendment should be of a character to cover every one of the cases where as yet the purchaser has not yet got possession of the house. I welcome the Bill. I hope that it will have a speedy passage through the House and that it will cover as many of these cases before we part with it in Committee as can possibly be arranged, and that the Government will at a very early date introduce a Bill of a more comprehensive character that will enable us to deal completely with every phase of the difficulties of the housing problem, which, unless we deal with it in a drastic and comprehensive manner, will leave us in a very great difficulty at the conclusion of the War.


The interesting speech which has just been delivered only shows how many questions there are involved as soon as we begin to tackle any question connected with housing. For my part, while one is apt to regret the limitation in the title of the Bill, yet I think that in the interests of the special objects for which the Bill has been introduced, it is perhaps as well that the title has been limited, if only to secure the prompt passage of the Bill which is the essence of the case, because if there is any delay, as there might be, by prolonged discussion, even for the purpose of improving the Bill in this House, tenants for whose protection the Bill is intended might lose their occupation, and new occupations might be created, and delay would operate against the first object of the Bill. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board for having taken tills matter in hand. I am one of those who believe that there is a very clear grievance which has caused much suffering, and is causing now a great deal of un-settlement for the want of some simple setting straight, such as this Bill provides. Therefore I hope that the Bill will pass as rapidly as is consistent with the proper consideration of it within its scope. The unsettlement that has been caused is not only in reference to single houses. In parts of the Midlands it is not only a matter of single landlords, but notices are being scattered broadcast in many districts which I have in view by societies or owners of large blocks of houses and of whole streets that they are prepared to sell.

There is another point. If there is any garden or allotment connected with the house this operates prejudicially against any tenant planting the garden. This is a very serious matter in present circumstances. Therefore, though there may not be many of them who run any real risk of being turned out, yet this creates such a sense of unsettlement and unrest that it is very desirable that the matter should be met as promptly as possible. Like most Members, I would like to see the date made earlier than that which is mentioned in the Bill. At the same time, we are grateful for having the Bill sent down from another place with a retrospective date in it, for if you are simply to leave in the date of the passing of the Act the effect would be an immediate hustle on the part of owners anxious to get sales carried through before the Act became law, and I am a little afraid that if the question of occupation was made the deciding point it might tend to hurry evictions, and we should need to guard against this. At the same time, I would be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill could see his way to accept some date like the 1st January this year, subject, possibly, to an occupation condition alongside of it. In any case, the experience gained with this measure, under possibly the limited value that has been mentioned, £26 to £35, will pave the way, if injustice is proved, to another measure being introduced with a still wider scope. I am quite satisfied that in the present emergency the House would do well to accept the Bill in its more limited form, for the sake of meeting the admitted evil, although at whatever amount the limited value is put, there will always be some district or other outside it. In some districts £26 meets the case; in my district around Birmingham £30 might meet it, but £26 does not. In these districts which are outside the Bill we must be content with what we find within the measure, and on behalf of my own Constituents, and others, I hope the House will give the Bill a favourable reception and prompt passage.


This Bill, of course, is very restricted in its application. Its tops a leak in the Act of 1915 which has been taken advantage of in too many cases to over-ride its intentions. I have recently had many complaints from Scotland as to the manner in which this leak in the Act has been taken advantage of, and I have had many communications with the Secretary for Scotland on the subject. So far, however, I have had no satisfaction whatever out of the Scottish Office as to whether or not they would deal with the matter, and I would impress upon the House of Commons the absolute necessity of doing something or other to improve the position of matters both from the point of view of the landlord and of the tenant. In Ayrshire, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire possibly knows that in his part of the constituency, though possibly not so much in his Division as in that of the hon. and gallant Member for North Ayrshire, there has been any amount of this sort of leakage. There have been wholesale purchases of houses in industrial areas, the people who occupied those houses have received notice of eviction, and many of them do not know in the least where on earth to find a house. Some of them have been in possession of their houses for about twenty years. In many cases these dwellings have been bought by concerns which are not carrying on business in the town itself where the property has been purchased, and altogether the state of matters calls for amendment on the part of those in authority. No doubt there are difficulties in the matter. No doubt some have bought their houses, many of them being workmen who have made bonâ-fide purchases of them from their savings out of the large wages they have been making since the passing of the Act of 1915. It would be rather difficult, perhaps, in such cases to apply special legislation. The difficulty, of course, is where possession has already been taken, but some means might be found to afford protection, at all events in those cases where there has been possession from the 28th May, which is term day. Of course, the whole situation is aggravated by the impossibility of getting houses at all, or of finding housing accommodation for those who are engaged in shipbuilding, which is so important at the present moment. It is desirable that it this Bill is to stop the particular trick, for it is really a trick, to get behind the Act of 1915, it should be passed promptly. It goes a very short way to amend the Art of 1914, which itself not show in its framing very much foresight.

As many hon. Members know, we pressed upon the Secretary for Scotland the extension of the scope of the Act of 1915, but the Secretary for Scotland, who was in charge of the Bill, strangely stuck to the measure, and would not listen to any arguments advanced in favour of extending its scope. The Clauses with regard to landlords have, no doubt, had an adverse effect on the whole situation. There should have been sufficient foresight to realise that the cost of repairs and the increase of prices and of taxation, owing to the War, would force everything to become dearer, and that difficulties of that kind would have to be met by the landlord himself, and to that extent, at all events, the remedy would have been that he should increase his rent, provided always that there was careful provision that he did not go too far. If that had been done, the landlord would not have tried to act as he has, and many people would not have been so harshly treated. They would still be occupying their dwellings, being willing, no doubt, to pay a little extra rent in order to be left alone. So far as the purchase of property is con- cerned, there are other things which also want redressing. In Salt coats there is a very common habit on the part of Glasgow people of acquiring small houses for the purpose of using them during the holiday season, or of letting them at rather exorbitant rents during the summer. Many in this place own not only their own houses, but other houses in places on the coast of Ayrshire, which they let during the holiday period. Many of the houses stand empty for the greater part of the year, and I suggest that some means might be found by which to render them available for industrial occupation, and nobody ought to own two houses in one place unless they are both being occupied. That, no doubt, is a difficult matter to deal with, but it is a very clamant grievance in face of the fact that so many people have been evicted altogether, and have no place whatever to go to. There have been many cases of that kind, and houses are standing empty, or are probably only occupied for a quarter of the year, or whatever is the period of the holiday. For the remainder of the year the houses remain empty, though they might be profitably occupied. All this I press upon the attention of the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who, I am glad to see, is in his place listening to the Debate. I am sure my right hon. Friend and the President of the Local Government Board will be quite ready to consider all those points. This is not a matter which brooks any delay. It is no good blinking the fact that there is a vast amount of unrest and dissatisfaction with the present position of affairs, and the sooner it is put right the better. I hope the Government will make an earnest effort to deal with the matter at the earliest possible moment, and I am sure they will do their best to meet the grievance.


Those of us who have taken a deep interest in this question during the whole time it has occupied the attention of the House must welcome with keen satisfaction the measure which has been presented by the President of the Local Government Board to-night. Like the previous speaker, I regret that it is not of a more comprehensive character, but I am quite willing myself, and I believe the House will also be willing, to allow, with the greatest alacrity, the right hon. Gentleman to get his Bill, as he has promised us that, if necessary, the measure shall be considered again on a broader issue. But while we have this Bill before us, we would like, if possible, within its scope, to broaden it on whatever lines we can. I think the whole opinion of all interested will be that the date in this Bill should be put back, as far as it possibly can be put with safety. The right hon. Gentleman, in his opening speech, gave us a very lucid account of the causes which had led to the Bill being required. I happen, like the other hon. Members who have spoken, to have had a very vast amount of experience as to what has taken place under the Act of 1915. We were all glad when that Act passed, and we all welcomed it with very great satisfaction. We had then a state of things arising, especially in the large munition areas, which some of us represent, where it would have been impossible for the rents to have been paid by the tenant if the increments which were being made by the landlords had continued at the rate at which they were going on. Therefore we welcomed the passing of the Act of 1915. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there was a proposition made by the right hon. Gentleman who is at present the President of the Board of Agriculture. He moved an Amendment for the purpose of enabling certain people, under certain conditions, to gain possession of their houses. I think it was that the words "reasonable possession" should be put in. That Amendment was moved in Committee, in 1915. Many of us criticised it, and while we accepted the position which the right hon. Gentleman put, that there might be cases in connection with agriculture where it would be wise and necessary that the farmer should be able to get possession of his cottage for his dairyman or his carter, we said that those words, once they got into the Bill, would be abused. The Act had not long been working before we found that this was the case. Actions of the most frivolous character were brought to get tenants out, because the landlord said he wanted reasonable possession. In many cases, I am glad to say, when they went before some of the best of our County Court judges, those judges turned down the cases and would not give possession under the Act. Then came the next departure, that of selling the house. To those of us who have had to follow the sales of these houses—and I could give you the local papers from my Constituency, with case after case, three and four cases at one sitting of the Court—we found the most extraordinary excuses put forward why the landlord, or the new landlord as he was called, should regain possession of his property, and the tenant be turned out, though at the time he might be working at one of the great munition works, and perhaps his whole family was also employed at the same factory. We have had cases which have been laughable. We had one case of a man who wished to obtain possession of a house which he had bought as he wanted to take his mother-in-law out of Deptford because of its being in an air raid district, and who wished to move to Bexley Heath. To anyone who knows that part of Kent, which is getting nearer and nearer the danger zone all the time, the reason was really farcical. Yet, that reason was accepted, and the tenant had to give up possession. I am not going to weary the House with the innumerable number of cases one has had. I only want to enforce, what has already been accepted, that you have had a state of things brought about by these, in many cases, colourable sales of property to parties in order to get possession. I think there was one slight error in the speech of the hon. Baronet who preceded me. I am not saying some of his argument was not good in another direction, but he said he believed it would be wise if, in the case where the rates went up, that the landlord should have an opportunity of raising the rent to meet any legitimate increase.


I said taxes.




I will deal with repairs afterwards. I thought he said rates.


I was thinking of Income Tax, as a matter of fact.


I beg the hon. Baronet's pardon. I did not understand him to mean that. I thought he meant the case of what we call compound property where a landlord pays the rates and taxes, apart from the Income Tax on his property, I did not think that he meant that the tenant—and I shall have to have a very great amount of argument on that point—should ensure to the landlord that he had the same amount of interest as he got previously, whatever income Tax might be put on by the State, because that would be a good thing to go on by people in other directions who would like to be assured that someone else would refund the extra money which the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted to take out of their pockets. There is also a question with regard to repairs, but I think hon. Gentlemen will have a very weak case if they start on repairs. The amount of repairs that has been done to small property is disgraceful. It is not a question of having to pay out more money than they did previously, because of the higher cost of material and labour, but the scandal is that they have neglected the repairs altogether, and I am sorry to say that, owing to urgency of other matters, the local authorities have not been able to look after this as keenly as they otherwise would have done. In many cases landlords actually have thrown back part of this extra rent which they desire by not doing repairs to a house which they ought legitimately to have carried out. So that, I think, is not a very strong case to go upon.

The right hon. Gentleman has asked us to help him to pass this measure, because he wishes it, as far as it goes, to stop the leakage under the Act of 1915. We all say that we are prepared to do it. But he also asks us now to give him any evidence that we have of cases outside the rent limit of the existing Act which might have to be dealt with. So far as my memory goes, he is quite correct in his statement that, at the time when we were all debating the Act of 1915, the issues which have now arisen so largely, and which loom so prominently in the public eye, were not in existence with regard to the higher rented property. At that time, fortunately for us, air raids had not become so frequent as they are to-day, and the scare of a certain section of the population had not developed as it has since done. Now we have all round the suburbs of London, and, so far as I can ascertain from the correspondence I have had, round other areas in other big places which are likewise affected, an attempt to get possession of the houses. A letter was sent to me to-day, which is of a most interesting character, from a gentleman living in Harrow, and I think I will trouble the House by reading it, because it summarises the cases which were admitted by my hon. Friends who represent these areas all round. I may say that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ealing (Sir H. Nield) wrote to me to-day, expressing regret that on account of his professional occupation as Recorder of York he could not be here, and hoping that I would bring this case before the House. This gentleman wrote me a personal letter: I have already discussed with you the very serious state of affairs as to the housing problem in this district (Harrow), and, indeed, in the districts all round London I am prompted to write you because I am now, much to my surprise, one of the many victims. I have occupied my house for eight years, and I need hardly say have regularly paid my rent, and yet a notice to break up my home is suddenly given to me. Why? Because of the great influx of people, including very many aliens, from the air-raid districts, who are offering large bonuses to get in. Everyone will rejoice that security should be provided for the low rental tenant, but why not security for all other tenants who faithfully fulfil their contracts? The middle classes are suffering as greatly for their loved ones, and are doing their part just as ungrudgingly in contributing in various forms for the upkeep of the War. Why should we not be protected also until this calamity is over? We pay heavier taxes, and a number of our houses go up to £60 and £70 per annum. He goes on to say that he has a son at home seriously wounded, and the only reason he is called upon to give up his house is because someone, who has never lived in Harrow, is prepared to pay a heavy bonus at the present time on purpose to get him out. I have also had sent to me an extract from the local paper in Harrow with a whole series of letters of correspondents complaining of the same thing. I have also in my hand another letter from a Constituent of mine who was got out of a lower-rated house. To my mind he was got out of it because, before I wrote to him and he had got legal assistance, he had committed a little fraud in his indignation against the landlord. Now he is living in a district outside this Act, and he is called upon to give up his house. He is manager of a large works which supplies the Government with some of the most important things required in connection with the War, and he cannot get another house in the district. He is therefore put to great inconvenience, and so will his employer be. In conclusion, I want again to thank the right hon. Gentleman for bringing in this measure, or, rather, the Government for starting it in another place, and to say we will help him as much as we can to get it placed rapidly on the Statute Book. I would ask him to keep an open mind with regard to Amendments to broaden the Act, and would ask him also that something more may be done in the direction of a wirier application.


Considerable complaints have been made during this Debate that the right hon. Gentleman has not introduced a more extended measure, but I am inclined to think that from the point of view of a rapid passage of his measure he has been very well advised not to attempt any very large measure at the present moment. I think there will be general agreement that some measure of: this kind is necessary to stop the leakage which has evidently arisen in the working of the Act of 1915, and I do not think there will be any disposition in any quarter of the House to refuse the necessary measure which will stop that leakage. But I am bound to say, throughout the Debate there has been very little tendency to consider the real causes, as they seem to me, of the complaints which are arising. It is not all due to the fact that aliens want to go out of London and other populous places in order to escape from the air raids. Nor is it true that landlords wish to evict ail tenants in order to sell their houses to aliens who want to get out of air raids. The causes are economic causes, which neither this Act nor the Act of 1915 is going to stop. Why does the landlord want to sell? I do not think the reason is far to seek. The right hon. Gentleman has instanced the case of a gentleman who bought a house rented at £60 a year for £2,000. If an opportunity comes to him to sell his house, are you not dealing a little hardly with him when you say he is not to sell because you say the tenant ought to get it at that low rent?

I do not want to be particularly merciful to any form of property owner, but? do want to treat property owners alike, and when it is complained that landlords wish to raise their rents, although I have not been throughout my political career a friend of landlords, I do ask why are rents alone not to be raised? Wages are greatly raised, salaries are raised the rate of interest is raised. People who have capital to invest get 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. now, and yet a landlord is not to be allowed to get more than 3 per cent. The rent is worth to the landlord only about half what it was before the War. Is he therefore, a very criminal person if lie sells a £60 rental house for £2,000, because he wishes to get his £2,000 and buy War Loan, and so receive 5¼ per cent. Without having tenants' complaints and so forth to deal with? I really think the House had better face the economic facts of the situation, and not imagine you are going to remedy a grievance which is not created by landlords, by throwing all the burden of what is happening on a particular class of the community. I make that defence, because it does seem to me that owners of property are being put into an unfair position by the attacks that are made upon them, and I say it the more readily because I have always belonged to a party which is supposed to assail the landlord. It is not fair to complain, when the country has sanctioned private ownership of land and real properly, if the owners of that form of property yielded to the economic tendencies of their time.

10.0 P.M.

The original Act did err in the fact that it did not allow rent to be raised when repairs were made. I think that was unfortunate. It is stopping repairs, and in order to get them done many tenants would be delighted to pay a little more rent, which would represent a fair interest on repairs. It must be remembered that the difficulties of executing repairs during the War are very great. Material is difficult to get, labour is scarce; and consequently it is not very easy for the best intentioned landlord to do for his tenant as he did in the old days. I want to urge the right hon. Gentleman that if the War goes on he will not have to be content with a measure for preventing the raising of rent or stopping the sale of houses. He will have to consider the question of providing houses for the people in neighbourhoods where houses are required. This country, in the past, has left the provision of houses to private enterprise, and the individuals who have undertaken it have recouped themselves by charging a rent sufficient to recover the income on their capital, the cost of repairs, and so on. But that is all gone. You are stepping in by legislation in a way which will prevent anyone investing money in building houses. Consequently, the situation is going to become steadily worse the longer the War goes on, and if populations change from one district to another the housing question will become more and more acute. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind, and if he tries to extend this Bill so as to deal with other points I hope he will be prepared, in the very near future, to bring in Bills which will secure that there shall be houses for people where they are required. Private individuals will be unable to afford to build houses in the future, and the private individual having been discouraged, it remains only for municipalities or the State to undertake the building of houses. I belong to a party which has not been particularly friendly to the landlord, but I doubt very much whether the municipalities or State will in the future, should they undertake the provision of houses, be exempt from those complaints on the part of tenants which have hitherto been directed against private landlords.


I am in favour of the objects of this Bill. There is only one matter I wish to refer to, and that is the question of date. If the Bill is going to be retrospective, I have nothing more to say on the matter beyond that it seems to me that it will be very difficult to make it retrospective, because so many cases have occurred subsequent to the 1st of January which are perfectly bonâ fide that it will be difficult to winnow the good from the bad. But if it is not going to be retrospective, I would suggest that the date should be not the 12th of March, but this 15th. It is quite true the Bill was introduced in another place on the 12th of March, but it was not in any way mentioned or discussed until the 14th, and, therefore, its objects and intentions could not have been known in the country until the 15th. It would not, therefore, be fair to bring a Bill of this character into force at a dale prior to that at which its intentions were known throughout the country. I have several cases—and I have handed one to the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill— of perfectly bonâ fide transactions taking place on the 13th of March, where the buyer of the property had given up his house on the 9th March. I think it would be very unfair if cases like that were not considered, and, therefore, I make the suggestion that if the Bill is not going to be retrospective the date should be the 15th and not the 12th March.


I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Leif Jones) for voicing the other side of the case, because up to the time he spoke we had only heard one side. I rather regret he spoke before me, because he has anticipated a good deal of what I intended to say; therefore, I shall content myself by endorsing largely what he did say. I am one of those who gave very cordial support to the Bill introduced in 1915, and I went about London advocating what was then somewhat unpopular in property circles. I thought it was a measure of considerable foresight on the part of the then President of the Local Government Board, and I do not agree with the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs that that Bill lacked a considerable amount of foresight. In 1915 we imagined that the War was going to inflict very great hardships on the poorer people of the country, that their earning powers would decrease, and that, as they would be in difficulties, it was desirable to protect them against the encroachments of so-called avaricious landlords. But what has actually happened? Things have turned out quite the opposite, the working classes are earning large sums of money. Men, women, and children are finding remunerative employment, and those who occupy houses are letting rooms at a remarkable profit. They put a few miserable pieces of furniture into one room, they then term it a furnished room, and they charge considerably more rent for it than they themselves pay for the entire house. This thing is going on all over the place. I do not regret that this Bill has been introduced to stop a coach-and-four being driven through an Act of Parliament which was seriously passed by this House I rather welcome it, but I do object very strongly to the full extent of its scope.

To say that a landlord shall not part with his property is to say a great deal, and I waited patiently while the right hon. Gentleman was introducing the measure to hear him introduce some qualifying words in that part, such, for instance, as the words "except with the consent of the Court." It is putting an extraordinary embargo upon house property throughout the country if you are going to say that a man shall not part with his property except under a settlement or will. Surely you are not going to put a stop to all building society transactions in this country? All people do not buy houses for occupation. Building societies carry on an enormous business. You cannot be surprised if in some districts certain so-called landlords—they are not landlords in reality, they only hold equities of redemption—you cannot be surprised if when some fur-coated, bejewelled denizen of the East End comes to them and says, "I will give you a good price for that house," they accept it. Although they are said to be protected against increases of mortgage interest under this Bill, they are not so protected in fact, they are being squeezed by the lawyer and are told that if they want to keep in the good books of the mortgage holder after the War they had better voluntarily increase the rate of interest. It is all very well to say that repairs are conspicuous by their absence, but the sanitary inspector is not idle and neither is the waterworks inspector, and if to meet their requirements you have to execute certain works you have to pay extraordinary prices in order to get that work done. A ceiling which cost 10s. to whiten before the War will cost a sovereign now. Wallpaper is prohibitive in price. Plumbing is prohibitive and repairs are accumulating against the man. Can you wonder that he has been tempted to show his ability—although he may not sit up all night to do so, as was suggested by an hon. Gentleman opposite—to drive the proverbial coach-and-four through the Act? Do not let the warmth of your hearts and sympathies run away with your heads. Make some provision, but provide that no man shall dispose of his property of this kind without the consent of the Court. Do not stop all transactions. The Government are not helpful in this matter. They paid I do not know how much to the Northcliffe Press for this advertisement. It shows an Englishman's house to be let or sold, and this is the way they deal with it. You are invited not to put your money in house property. It is a great mistake: You can only guess what a house will be worth in five, seven, or ten years. The neighbourhood may go down. New houses may be built with all the best and latest labour-saving devices to attract tenants. Your house may be left empty, and for every day that it stands empty you will lose money. Then it goes on to recount the great advantages of buying War Loan. None of us wants to discount that, but do not prevent a certain amount of free exchange and bargaining. If a man sells his house he will be very glad to put the money into War Loan. It will only be shifted out of one pocket into another, and I do not think the War Savings Committee will suffer at all. I do ask the House to get back to a fair amount of prospective in this matter, and to say that throughout the length and breadth of the land in all this class of property you shall not sell is going too far. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Bill does not say that…"] I have advocated the adoption of this measure to prevent the landlords using it for the ostentatious purpose of turning out a tenant. None of us want that, and we should all seek to avoid it; but I do press the right hon. Gentleman to accept, and I hope he will accept, a reasonable Amendment to the effect that no sale shall take place except with the sanction of the Court. The Court, being seised of all the facts and of the discussions on the Bill in this House, will not be at all sympathetic to the vendor. Such cases will only come before the Court if the vendor, the purchaser and the tenant agree, and if they do agree why should you step in here to prevent free dealing in the market?

I was sorry to hear that the right hon. Gentleman forecasts further legislation of this kind He told a story about houses at the seaside that cost £2,000, have been empty for years, and then let at £60 a year. We do not all live in Scotland. We cannot ail afford to shut our houses up during the winter and grumble because they are not occupied by the working classes. Go to Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Scarborough, Margate, or Ramsgate, and see what the state of the property market is there… This War has had a most curious effect on property. In the first year a certain neighbourhood goes up, and then, after a visitation, it goes down. There have been many, many ups-and-downs. The result of an air raid drops a neighbourhood down, and the result of a bombardment on the coast, or of too frequent visits from air raiders, is to depreciate the whole value of the property in the neighbourhood, and people have to come and ask for assistance. The right hon. Gentleman told us here to-night that houses of £60 a year have increased to £80 a year in rent. I should like to take him to many districts and show him where the contrary is the case. It is the people who have been paying £80 a year up to now who cannot pay £80 any longer. They are the people with limited and fixed incomes whom the property tax and other troubles of the times are hitting. They have to decrease their expenses, and it is the £80 and £60 a year houses that are depreciating, while the only class of property going up in value is this particular class. The right hon. Gentleman opposite just pointed out that you allow excess profits to be made, and remember that if some of these houses are sold at a hundred or two more than they were worth, the Government is a participator and is an excess profiteer, as it takes 20 per cent. of the increment value over the original valuation. Some of the troubles of the past are now coming home to roost. Some of the people who never dreamed of increment value have now to pay on it, and perhaps the little sums they are receiving from this class of property will remind the Inland Revenue that the cost of carrying on the Land Values Department is a little improving, although the money is not being obtained from the class from which it was originally intended it should come. For those reasons I think that if the right hon. Gentleman gets his Bill he should permit an Amendment which will say that no property of the kind shall be sold without consent of the Court. If he does that I think he will have gone far enough. He will have protected the people whom we set out in 1915 to protect. I think he will have succeeded in passing a very useful piece of amending legislation, but if he applies this to the property market as a whole he will have a position such as I am sure he cannot possibly realize because I believe that his officials and officers do not know the state of the property market.


I wish to say a few words in support of the hon. Member for Dartford. I have many Constituents residing in the district of Coulsdon and Purley who rent houses there of £40, £45, and £50 a year. They moved there for the health of their children some years ago, and all of a sudden the proposal is made by the landlord for them to purchase their houses at an exceptionally advantageous figure to the landlord. Then, if they do not feel in a position to do so they are told that he is bound to sell, perhaps to an alien, who has moved there to escape air raids. I have had my attention called to this again and again, but I do not like to ask for any great modification of the Bill. I have no doubt there are difficulties in connection with raising the limit, but I think the limit of £35 a year is too low for the protection of tenants of houses of this character. I think that houses of £40, £45, and £50 should be entitled to the same protection. A day or two ago I met a constituent, who drew my attention to another method of dispossessing a tenant. He said that his landlord came and offered him his house at a certain price, which offer he thought too high, and refused. He was paying £35 or thereabouts; at any rate, he came within the Act. The landlord, on this refusal, said, "Oh, well, it makes no difference. I have a house at Purley that I will sell, and occupy your house myself." It seems to me that something should be done to protect persons in that position. It is almost impossible for them to get other houses in the district once they are turned out. It is very hard to be told: "Unless you pay a high or, at all events, an exceedingly generous purchase price for your house you will be turned out." I feel it my duty to add a word to what has fallen from other hon. Members, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make some provision to treat such cases as these.


My Constituency is one of those which is very greatly affected by the evil at which this Bill aims. It is greatly interested in the Bill. The principal local authority in the district, the Watford Local District Council, has carefully considered the Bill, and I cannot say that they have accorded it a very enthusiastic welcome. The feeling in the district in regard to the Bill is that, firstly, it should be made retrospective from an earlier date, and, secondly, that the scope of the Bill is too narrow. It is regretted that it should be so drawn as to be incapable of amendment in the direction of raising the rental limit laid down in the Act of 1915. My hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone, who addressed the House, was understood by me to say that there was no increase of rents going on in the case of houses valued at above £35 a year. But what he said does not apply to Hertfordshire or Middlesex. There are at present a considerable number of cases of notice to quit in consequence of the exodus from London, and this is the case with £50 and £60 per year houses—and even higher—inhabited by commercial and professional men and by Civil servants, whose case I particularly commend to the notice of the President of the Local Government Board.

In my Constituency we feel very strongly that those tenants who are paying £50 and £60 a year should be considered in at least as favourable a light as those who are protected by the existing Statute. We also feel that this is an urgent question, and that delay in dealing with it is by no means desirable. There are many inconveniences and hardships at the present time which one can appeal to people to put up with, but this is not one of them. This is one which the persons affected—a very large class—desire to have remedied without delay. It is over a month since this Bill was introduced into the House of Lords, what I wish to impress upon the President of the Local Government Board is that the Leader of the House has power to give him time to deal with the matter. Let me quote a typical case which came before the judge at the Watford County Court. It related to a Mr. Harvey. The owner, who was a new purchaser, was applying for an ejectment order. The County Court judge said that as the law stood he had no option but to grant the order, the owner having made out a reasonable case for occupying the house. It had been stated that there was great difficulty in obtaining another house in Watford, and that a hardship would be inflicted upon Mr. Harvey. He, the judge, could not help that; nor could he take any notice of what the urban district council or the Government were proposing to do. He could only act according to the law. Cases of that kind are going on every week, from day to day, in the County Courts and I urge upon the Government the necessity of providing a better remedy than is contained in the Bill.


This is one of the cases in which undoubtedly there are many hardships, but it should not be forgotten that hardships make bad law, and you have to consider whether this Bill is going to do good or evil all over the country. I do not agree that the effect of the Bill will be to stop all sales, but it will stop sales where the owner is going to evict the occupying tenant. I think the speech of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Leif Jones), who cannot be accused of consistently supporting the wicked landlord or the property owner, during the years he has been in the House, and the fact that he has come forward as an opponent of this Bill and a champion of the rights of landlords—


I do not oppose this Bill.


My right hon. Friend does not oppose this Bill, but he thinks that it is an extremely bad one, and I agree with him, although I am not so sure that I shall go a little further than he has done and oppose this Bill. I am the owner of two houses, one at Yarmouth and the other at Maidenhead, and on the rents of those two houses I live. Yarmouth has been bombarded, with the result that I cannot let my house there, and the tenant took advantage of the fact that he can leave at a month's notice, and I cannot re-let. At Maidenhead my house is in great demand on account of air raids in London, and I am able to let my house there at such a rent which will secure the income which I had before when my house in Yarmouth was let. Now my hon. Friend says I must not do that. The result is that a tenant when he wants to go out can do so if it is to his advantage, but when it is to the advantage of the landlord that he should go out the tenant is to have the right to stay in. It is a case of "heads I win and tails you lose." It is all very well to talk about hardship. How about the man who has a mortgage on a house and is told that he will have to pay a higher rate of interest? That is equally a case of hardship. How about the man who used to buy mutton at 8d. a pound and is now charged Is. 2d.? If there is any elates which has benefited by the War it is the working-class. The working classes have had their wages increased enormously, and yet they come and say, "No, we are not going to pay an increased rent if it does not suit us to pay it." It seems to me that if the Bill is carried you will prevent people from investing their money in house property, which is the very last thing that you want to do. I have had a letter from the Eccles and District Property Owners' Association, which says: For many years past it has been the practice of thrifty working people to purchase, either for cash or through a building or other utility society, a house for themselves to occupy. The proposed Bill will not only effectually prevent this highly desirable business from being conducted, but will also stop thrift amongst a largo section of the community. The letter goes on to protest strongly against any such sweeping measure being introduced, the Clause with regard to aliens being considered sufficient. They also consider that the Increase of Rents and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act should be amended so as to allow additions to the rent, sufficient to cover the ever-increasing cost of labour and material for repairs. If you allow aliens in this country, you ought not to make provisions with regard to them different from those applying to anybody else; but as this Bill is introduced to meet the hardship arising from aliens leaving London owing to the air raids it would be sufficient if the Bill were confined to the case of aliens, as is suggested in this letter. There is, of course, the question of the increased cost of repairs. It now costs £1 to have a ceiling whitewashed as against 10s. before the War, as has been stated by my hon. Friend opposite. Undoubtedly, a considerable number of repairs ought to be done which are not being done. A certain amount of repairs must be done. If they are not done, the owner is subject to interference or to an order being made upon him by the sanitary inspector. He is compelled to do a certain amount of repairs. Personally, I should like to see the Bill rejected altogether, but as that is a happy state of affairs which I know will not take place, I should like my right hon. Friend to accept the Amendment suggested that this should be subject to the decision of a Court. The case could be gone into carefully, and the judge could decide whether there were reasonable grounds, for allowing a person to buy and obtain possession of a house. It is impossible under the title to introduce an Amendment with regard to repairs, and that being so I think my right hon. Friend ought to deal a little lightly with people who happen to own this sort of property and who, as far as I know, are the only people who are not allowed to reap any advantage that may accrue owing to a rise in value from a variety of causes, chiefly from the War. I differ from my hon. Friend opposite, who says that he did not oppose the Act of 1915. I opposed that Act to the best of my ability. I was very unhappy when my right hon. Friend's predecessor (Mr. Long) —I yield to no one in my respect for him, and I believed that he would do all he could to maintain the traditions of the Conservative party—introduced a Bill which I should have thought would have been fathered by someone far in advance of my right hon. Friend on my left (Mr. Leif Jones). It was pain and grief to me to object to that Bill, but I did it. I am glad my hon. Friend opposite (Sir J. Boyton) sees that, not for the first time, when I have been in a minority it has turned out that I have been right. I trust that my right hon. Friend, who I know does not want to injure property, will remember that if you touch one class of property you do a far worse evil to the whole community than you do good by remedying the sort of grievances that have been brought forward. Why should a man not pay a little more for his house? Where are you going to stop? I am rather surprised at my hon. Friend behind me (Sir S. Coats), whom I have always regarded as a champion of the rights of property. He says that somebody was offered a house at the market value that he thought the price was too high, and that he did not buy it. But somebody else did, and why not? If I want to buy a little cottage, I cannot get it at the pre-war price and have to pay more for it. Why on earth should not a person who wants to buy a house be able to pay a little more for it if he wants to? I do not intend to divide the House, because I do not think I should get anybody to support me, but I hope that when we come to the Committee stage some Amendments of the sort outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone will be accepted.


I had intended to move a reasoned Amendment to the Second Reading of this Bill, but in the circumstances and having regard to the course the Debate has followed, I do not propose to do so. Nevertheless, it will probably economise time if I put in the forefront of what I have to say the terms of the Amendment I should, in other circumstances, have moved. It would run, "That the House declines to proceed with the Bill until legislation has been introduced to allow the increased cost of repairs to be recovered from the tenant." I do not for a moment deny that grievances of a very serious character have arisen in connection with the working of the Increase of Rent Act, grievances such as those pointed out, in a speech of characteristic persuasiveness, by the President of the Local Government Board. I should, however, like to associate myself with what has just been said by the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), and, in passing, to point out that those grievances, as be pointed out in 1915, were almost certain to arise when the legislature was guilty of interference—as it was guilty—with such freedom of contract as at that time did exist. What is the position in which we find ourselves to-day? You have not so far deemed it prudent to deal in these Rent Restrictions Acts with large landowners or the large propertied classes who may or may not be able to afford the depredations of the State. You are dealing—this is the point I desire to urge upon the attention of the House—in this class of property with a very large number of small owners, not plutocratic owners, but owners of very small property, who have invested in many cases, as I happen to know, practically the whole of the savings of a lifetime in purchasing what they regarded as a reasonably safe form of investment, namely, this small property in towns. I am informed, on authority which I cannot possibly dis- pute, that there are a number of towns in the North of England where no less than 97 per cent. of the houses of this character are owned by men who are or have been working men themselves. I quote the figure to illustrate my point that it is not a question of the plutocratic owner, but of the small owner of small property.

You are dealing in many cases with owners who rely upon the rents of their houses as their sole form of support and you are also dealing with another class of investors. An enormous amount of improvement in housing conditions in many of the large towns has been brought about by philanthropic associations such as those which are associated with the revered name of Miss Octavia Hill. A very large amount of property has been purchased by these philanthropic associations, which are to-day finding themselves in very grave difficulties in consequence of the provisions of the Rent Restriction Act of 1915, and still more the amending Act of 1917. That on the one side. On the other side you are dealing with tenants whose wages have in the majority of cases been enormously increased. What are you saying to these small investors? You have said you shall not increase your pre-war rents. You have not yet said that to the owners of the superior class. You are further saying to the small owners, "if you have increased these rents in order to cover the cost of legitimate repairs—not structural, but other repairs, no more than sufficient to cover the reasonable and legitimate cost of repairs—thatincrease of rent shall, under the Act of 1917, be actually refunded to the tenant. The result is that repairs are on every hand being held up because the cost has become practically prohibitive. I could give details in regard to the increased cost of repairs, especially in some of the Northern towns, with which I am more particularly acquainted. In consequence of that increase owners have been compelled under these Bills to postpone repairs which were urgently needed in the interest of the tenants, and if these Bills remain on the Statute Book, as there is only too much likelihood they will, beyond the duration of the War, a very large number of small property owners will be reduced literally to ruin. We have been told over and over again that this is one of the many war emergency measures, but there is this difference between it and other emergency measures, that in the other cases you have allowed a reason- able return for actual out-of-pocket expenses which have been occasioned. In many cases the local authorities have compelled the landlords to carry out repairs. For these repairs they are not able, in a very large number of cases, to obtain any return whatever from the sitting tenant. I should therefore have been disposed to oppose this Bill, first, on the ground of the injustice which you are inflicting upon a very large number of deserving individuals who have invested their small savings in small property; also on the much wider ground of public policy. Those who are responsible for the guidance of public opinion in this country have been making appeals to the working classes und other classes to indulge in the virtue of thrift. Is this the way to encourage their thriftiness, to confiscate the savings which they have invested in a perfectly legitimate form of property? Is that the way you are going to encourage the thriftiness of the working classes? You desire, on the other hand—we all desire—to provide better housing facilities in the towns. Is this the way to encourage investments of money in house property? Is this the way to provide better housing facilities? Is this the way to induce the private investor to provide it? If I thought there was any possibility of support I should be very strongly disposed, as a mere protest, to divide the House on the Second Reading, but I shall not do so, for reasons which have been much better stated by my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury). I feel very strongly in sympathy with him and the hon. Member for Marylebone, and if they move the Amendments which they have adumbrated they can count upon my hearty support.

Colonel GREIG

I would not have intervened at this stage were it not for an expression which fell from the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) and the speech which we have just hoard. No doubt in pre-war times much that was contained in that speech would have met with acquiescence from all of us, but let me tell the hon. Member (Mr. Marriott) of a case which came to my knowledge the other day. A man in the trenches wrote to me from the front saying that his mother, who was ill, and his sister, who had to go out to work to keep her going, were to be evicted this month because a sale of their house had taken place. That is the sort of thing we are trying to prevent by this Bill. Economical theories and all those sort of things and free trade in houses and everything else, however much we like them in normal times, must go by the board now, when we Have got to keep our men at the front lighting for us. I am glad this Bill applies to Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir F. Ban-bury) said it was an air-raid Bill. It has nothing to do with air raids. The crisis is just as acute in Scotland on the West Coast, which is about as far and as safe from any air raid as anything can be in this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "So it is in Belfast…"] It applies everywhere. In many of these places there are large munition factories and there has been an increase of population. It is because building has ceased that there are fewer houses for the people.


I did not say that there was no demand for it. I believe that there is. All I said was that this Bill was brought in consequence of the agitation got up by newspapers in regard to air raids.

Colonel GREIG

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is not so. The hon. Member for Ayr Burghs suggested that the Scottish Office had been indifferent to this question. On the contrary, the question was becoming very acute in Scotland, and questions were addressed to the Secretary for Scotland some months ago, and the right hon. Gentleman in reply said that the Scottish Office were watching carefully the operation of the Act, and, if it were necessary, they would take steps to bring forward a remedy. That was long before the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs ever moved in the matter. The same sort of thing was happening in England. The Scottish Office were in contact with the English Office and watching the question extremely carefully. Naturally legislation of this sort would have to be a Cabinet, question. The speeches to-night of the hon. Member behind me and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe show that it is a most difficult and delicate question. We in Scotland were favoured with a communication from the Incorporated Society of Law Agents in Scotland, protesting against the original Bill. We also had communications from the same society protesting against this Bill. That shows that the whole thing was surrounded with very great difficulty, and the earliest opportunity of action was taken both by the Scottish and the English offices, because the crisis had become so acute in both countries that something had to be done. We are all delighted that this solution, limited though it is, has been found for this grievance, and look forward with some confidence to the grievance being considerably diminished.


I am very glad that we have had a little break in the three speeches which so pathetically set forth the woes of landlords under the existing system. The hon. Member for Marylebone advised hon. Members to go to Yarmouth and Ramsgate and other places where property has depreciated in value. If we were to go and visit Bailleul at the present moment we should not find property there at its normal value. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London used less than his usual weight of argument when he solemnly suggested that leaving out of account altogether what tenancies in normal conditions might be in Maidenhead and Yarmouth, the landlord would be perfectly entitled in the case of maidenhead to charge as much rent for one year, if he could get it, as he would charge for two in normal years.

That brings me to the point I want to press on the President of the Local Government Board. He said this Bill as it stands is an amendment of the original Bill, with these limitations of rent of very small values indeed, covering the vast majority of working-class tenants. He said, further, that if the higher rents were dealt with it was a very complicated question, and it would be very difficult to settle the value or legislate about it. I think, not that we have covered the cases that we ought not to have covered, for we have dealt undoubtedly with the property occupied by the majority of the wage-earning classes of this country, the classes whose wages have undoubtedly been increased enormously in amount, but we have left out the tenants who are small business people very often, who have suffered severely by the War, clerks and the like, whose salaries have not been increased, and, above all, with the wives and dependants of officers in the Army and Navy and mercantile marine whose husbands are away, and will, when they hear what is going on in this country, have an additional trouble and anxiety cast upon them. I am very sorry that the title of this Bill is so narrow, and that the Lord Chancellor decided to bring in, in another place, a Bill so limited that we could not even deal with the very Sub-section of the Clause of the Act which it is proposed to amend, as we could have done with it if the title had been merely to amend Subsection (3) of Clause 2 of the Act of 1915. Surely that would have been a narrow enough title, if we really wanted to deal with the question, and to stop the leak in the Act which we are amending. But the right hon. Gentleman has said that he would welcome the opportunity to hear the experiences of Members as to the case for making the Bill retrospective. So far as it goes that could be done, and that if a case was made out for extending the rent limit to meet cases, in many instances of far greater hardship than is covered by the small limited rental in the original Act, he would consider it, and he almost promised to deal promptly with it in another Bill. I am never very ready to hope very much from a promise of that kind in such congested times as these, but at the same time there is such a case, and such a consensus of opinion, with the exception of the speeches of the three hon. Members—even the hon. Member for Oxford wants another Bill—he would be glad to deal with the question, and open up the argument on the question of repairs. I have already sent to the President of the Local Government Board a letter I received from the captain of a merchant ship which, is working from Southampton, in dangerous war work. In his letter he complains: Surely we seafarers and our wives have sufficient worries in these times without the additional worry of keeping the roof over our heads. He says in his own case and in many cases in Southampton this process was going on, for his landlord offered him the house, and he adds: This in itself has a sinister aspect, for it is tantamount to saying, 'buy the house at my price, or be turned out.' If this was the case of a £26 house it could be dealt with under this, but the captain of a merchant vessel in the port of Southampton, with his wife and family, occupies a house of somewhat higher value than £26. Ten shillings a week is not a very high rent, and most of these cases are not covered unless we get a higher rent. Then, a few days after, the next time he came into port and had an opportunity of meditating the question among his fellow captains and officers of merchant ships, he sent me a memorandum, signed by fifty-three chief officers and masters, and the like, of vessels going out of Southampton, all saying that they agreed with the previous letter he had written. That is only one aspect of the case. I do not suppose there is one of us who has not heard of cases of the wives of men who are actually at the front or at sea, in the Army or the Navy, and I think it is really very urgent, considering the state of their income and of the incomes which their husbands in many cases have given up, to see that they are not turned out by the incursion of persons who very likely—I am not speaking of aliens—are doing very well out of the War, and who, in many cases, have reasons—some of them other than air raids, although the air-raid reason is quite a common one—for wanting to move to Maidenhead or Brighton, or some more salubrious spot than the immediate neighbourhood of London.

Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with the whole tenor of the three and a half hours' debate —three hours since the right hon. Gentleman finished his introductory speech—which has been sufficient to show him that it is necessary to introduce a further amending Bill at the earliest possible date. It can be a very short Bill, and there is no reason why it should not deal with the question of rates which has been raised by my hon. Friend. It must deal with the extension of rent value. There is another question it will have to deal with. The Wages Board have appointed a special Committee to consider the question of the economic rent of cottages under the Corn Production Act. The Committee has reported in favour of economic rents in every case. The Board has accepted the Report and sent it to all the district committees, and it cannot possibly be dealt with unless the right hon. Gentleman puts into his Amending Bill a provision which will not make it illegal to place cottages of less than £26 annual value on an economic rent, although they may hitherto have been let at 1s. a week. That is another question you will have to deal with, and there is no reason why the Amendment which has caused so much trouble, which was introduced into the Act of 1915 by the right hon. Gentleman who is now President of the Board of Agriculture, should not be limited to agricultural cases. That would also do a great deal more to stop another leakage. This Bill stops one leakage, but there are three or four more which are left to be dealt with.


May I ask the House to give me the Second Heading of this Bill to-night. It is important that we should get this stage, if possible, this evening. I cannot help feeling that those desirous of speaking will be able to make most of the remarks they desire to make on the Committee stage. The Bill has met with a very favourable reception to-night, and there was only one downright opponent, the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, who was in his very best pre-war and almost pre-historic mood. Otherwise, the Bill has been most favourably received, and, I think, the further points can well be met in discussion in Committee. Therefore, I earnestly hope the House will let us have the Second Reading to-night.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Hope.]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute after Eleven o'clock.