Sub-section (3) of Section one of the increase of Pent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act, 1915, shall have effect as if at the end thereof the following provision were inserted:
For the purposes of this Sub-section the expression "landlord" shall not include any person who since the twelfth day of March, nineteen hundred and eighteen, has become landlord by the acquisition of the dwelling-house or any interest therein otherwise than by devolution thereof to him under a settlement made before the said date, or under a testamentary disposition or an intestacy.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to insert the words,and the provisions of the said Sub-section with respect to orders made, but not executed before the passing of that Act, shall apply to orders made but not executed before the passing of this Act, as if this Act were substituted for that Act under the said Sub-section.I have added the last sentence to my Amendment on the Paper. A very strong desire has been expressed in many 1406 quarters of the House that where an order for eviction has been made but not executed this Act should embrace those cases. I myself desire to accept the Amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Labour party, but as it was not in order, I have added those additional words to my Amendment.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
I think the House will agree that it is unfortunate that no provision has been made to meet the large number of orders for eviction which may have been executed before the passing of this Bill.
§ Mr. RENDALL
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the effect of his proposal upon a man who has bought a house and paid for it when the law was that he could get possession? That man paid his money on the clear understanding that the law allowed him to obtain possession, and, having got an eviction order by this Amendment, he is not to be allowed to obtain possession.
§ Mr. FISHER
This Bill is retrospective, and the effect of this Amendment makes it a little more retrospective.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
What are the words which the right hon. Gentleman has added to the Amendment on the Paper—I cannot gather what their real effect is?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The words which have been added are "as if this Act were substituted for that Act." That may be quite clear to the right hon. Gentleman, but I think we ought to be told what is the actual effect of the Amendment. I suppose there is something in "that Act" which, if we went through it carefully, we should find it embodied by putting in these words. The proposal is quite incomprehensible, and I hope my hon. Friend will tell us what is concealed in "that Act" which is going to be put in "this Act."
§ Mr. FISHER
I have already explained that if this Amendment be passed, a man who has purchased a house and has 1407 obtained an order which has not been executed may be brought into Court, and it will be left to the judge to decide whether that order shall be executed. The Court will ask themselves the question, "Supposing this Act had been passed, should we have allowed the execution to take place under this order?" and they will be guided by that. The Amendment on the Paper, without the additional words, would have been misleading. The object is to incorporate the words which were in the original Act, and which provided thatwhere such order has been made but not executed before the passing of this Act, the Court by which the order was made may, if it is of opinion that the order would not have been made if this Act had been in operation at the date of the making of the order, rescind or vary the order in such manner as the Court may think fit for the purpose of giving effect to this Act.My Amendment makes it perfectly clear.
§ Mr. MILLAR
The Sub-section quoted from the original Act deals with a very different set of circumstances from those dealt with by this particular amending Bill, which simply limits the definition of the word "landlord." I take it that the Court may rescind or vary any order which has been made if a man has become a landlord after the date of the 30th September. I think we should have an assurance that this matter is provided for in the Bill and that it is not going to be left to the discretion of the individual judge.
§ Mr. FISHER
The Court will operate under this Act as under the operation of that Act which is the Sub-section I have just read. The judge will say "supposing we had this Act in operation, should we have made that order." It will have precisely the same operation as under Subsection (3) of Section 1 of the original Act.
§ Colonel Sir CHARLES SEELY
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain what this Amendment means?
§ Sir C. SEELY
As I understand the position it is that if a landlord has enforced his right to get possession he stands clear, but if he has waited to give his tenant time to clear out then he is subject to whatever disabilities there may be under this Act. I can quite understand that it would be a reasonable thing to say that the Bill should be retrospective for a certain time, 1408 irrespective of whether the order has been executed or not, but I really should like to ask on what ground the right hon. Gentleman justifies an Amendment which makes the landlord or the sheriff who has not executed his order under the Act subject to further orders of the Court, while the landlord or sheriff who has been stern and harsh, and has seen about his order being executed at once, is left secure. If he has been kindly and has let matters drift on, hoping that the tenant would dear out, then he will be subject to these further rules. I quite understand the difficulty in which the right hon. Gentleman is placed, but hard cases make bad law, and this kind of legislation is somewhat doubtful policy from the point of view not of the landlord, but of the general public and of the interests of the country. I should like a little explanation from the right hon. Gentleman as to how he justifies the general meaning of this Amendment.
§ Mr. FISHER
That is a very different question. The hon. Baronet does not ask me to qualify or explain a particular Amendment. He raises the question whether or not we should adopt the policy in the Bill, and whether or not the House wishes to make a distinction between the man who has purchased and obtained an order but has not executed it, and the man who has purchased and obtained an order and has executed it. All along, in Committee, we took up the line that there was no intention actually to reinstate a tenant who had been turned out. There would have been many difficulties in doing that. The landlord might have given up the house in which he had been living, and it might be very difficult to follow up the purchase money. There is a great difference—and I am sure that the Committee saw it—between a man who has purchased a house and has obtained an order, but has not executed it, and a man who has purchased a house and obtained an order and has executed it; in which case the tenant would have to be reinstated. It was the general view of the Committee that we should not aim at reinstating tenants who had been turned out; but that we should aim at keeping in their houses tenants who were still in possession, although orders for their ejectment had been obtained.
§ Mr. PETO
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's recollection of what took place in Committee. As a 1409 matter of fact, I had an Amendment down, which, like a good many other Amendments, was ruled out of order. It said specifically that in certain cases—the case of a wife, widow, or dependant of an officer or man who is serving, or who has served in His Majesty's Forces—the ejected tenant—should be entitled to resume possession of, and to occupy, a dwelling-house. It is quite true that the Committee did not discuss that Amendment. It could not; because it was out of order. This Amendment is in order, because it precisely deals with that Subsection in the original Act that we are amending. It uses practically the same words. I do not like to hear that we are to consider ourselves precluded from dealing with very hard cases where people have been ejected and where they ought to be put back. Later, on the Third Reading of the Bill, I propose shortly to recapitulate some four or five matters with which it has been impossible to deal and which urgently require to be dealt with. This question of reinstatement is one of them. One would infer from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that this was entirely outside the scope of anything that Members present during the Committee stage had in their minds. There are cases where the ejection order has been executed which ought to be dealt with, and, while supporting the Amendment, I agree with the hon. Baronet that it is very illogical that a landlord who has been a bit slow, easy, and kindly and has not turned out the tenant the moment that he has obtained the power to do it should be placed in a position where the order can be revoked while the landlord who has been harsh and sharp and has turned the tenant out quickly is to be left in complete possession of the property that he has acquired by purchase exactly as if this Act had never been passed at all, and while the tenant, who may be the wife, widow, or dependant of a soldier who is serving or who has served in the War, is to be kept out of the premises.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
The object of inserting this Amendment, which was under discussion when the Bill was in Committee, was to extend the protection given by the Bill to those tenants against whom orders were pending, but had not been executed. The question of date, therefore, becomes of some importance. The critical date in the Amendment is "the passing of this Act." It seems to 1410 me desirable that the House should have some information as to what is the prospective date of the passing of the Act, because the longer the passing of the Act is postponed the further the critical date will be postponed, and more of these orders can be executed in the meantime. This Amendment is the only place where this phraseology "the date of the passing of the Act" occurs. I would, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can give the House some idea what will be the date of the passing of the Act and what are the Government's intentions as regards the procedure in another place and the remaining proceedings necessary to pass the Bill into law?
§ Mr. J. HENDERSON
In the case of a suspended order, the landlord has been put to certain costs. What is to be done with regard to that matter?
Mr. T. WILSON
I notice that the Bill as circulated had the date "12th March." While the Amendment does not go so tar as we would like, we fully recognise that it goes part of the way, and that when a line is drawn some are going to be hit rather badly. So far as we are concerned, we are not going to oppose it. Unfortunately, the Bill is extremely narrowly drawn, and we cannot get toe Amendments in that we would like.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. FISHER
I beg to move, alter the words last inserted, to add the words,Provided that this enactment shall not apply in any case where the court is satisfied by certificate given by or on behalf of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries (or as regards premises in Scotland by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland, or in Ireland the Department, of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland) that the premises in question are required for the occupation of a person engaged or employed in agricultural work urgent national importance.I said in the Debate in Committee that the right which a landlord had under the original Act to obtain possession of certain cottages for the purposes of carrying on the business of agriculture—cottages probably occupied by ploughmen, thatchers, and skilled agriculturists of that kind—should be preserved to any purchaser of that property, but the Bill, if passed as drawn, would preclude the purchaser of agricultural property from having the rights which were saved to the original owner of the property by the House of Commons when it passed the original Act. This Amendment will meet the general desire that 1411 was expressed that in these days, when we are so anxious that every acre of ground should be properly cultivated to its full value, the right should be preserved, not only to the present owner, but to any future owner of these agricultural estates to evict from certain cottages which are absolutely necessary in order to carry on the business of agriculture anybody—I do not care who it is—who is in possession. This Amendment will meet the desire that was expressed, and as it is consonant with the original Act I hope it is also consonant with the present wishes of the House.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I desire to congratulate my right hon. Friend upon having done now in terms the one thing we intended to do in the Act of 1915, but which we failed to do by the interpolation of a somewhat clumsily-drawn Amendment. This is to protect the agricultural occupants or servants of an agricultural tenant or landowner of a cottage, because it is part and parcel of his farm machinery. That was the case which gave rise to the whole of this trouble, which caused an interpretation to be put on the word "landlord," which enabled unscrupulous members of the public to use the word "landlord" in a different sense from what was intended, and which has made it necessary to have this amending Bill. I tried myself in Committee to get this Amendment made, but my words apparently were not sufficiently apt, and although I was told they were included by the Title, they were excluded by the scope of the Bill. However that may be, I am glad the opportunity has been taken to put right the very source of the mischief, and I sincerely hope the House will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. DENMAN
I beg to move as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, after the word "Ireland," to insert the words "or Minister of Munitions."
I should like to join the last speaker in thanking the President of the Local Government Board for meeting the general wish that was expressed in Committee and framing an Amendment which is in order. At the same time, I want to ask him whether he will not go a few inches further. He has met quite adequately the purely agricultural case. There is a precisely analogous case, that of munitions. There is the case which was brought up in Committee, of 1412 a man who was busily at work producing munitions of the greatest importance, who desired a. house close to his factory for the housing of his own employés. Under this Bill he will be absolutely unable, however urgent and necessary it is that he should obtain an extra employé, to house him close to Ms factory. I therefore move this Amendment, which would be followed later by another Amendment, leaving out the word "agricultural." The effect of the Amendment would then be that if either of the Boards of Agriculture or the Ministry of Munitions produce a certificate that the premises are urgently needed for work of national importance, then the landlord must give up possession. The addition is very slight, and although I agree that the cases will be comparatively few, sometimes they will be of such importance that I think we should wisely extend very slightly the elasticity given by this Amendment.
§ Mr. RENDALL
I beg to second the Amendment to the proposed Amendment. I do so because in Committee I made an attempt myself to obtain something of this kind, but the right hon. Gentleman was then adamant, and declined any sort of assistance to those who wanted to help men to obtain a house where they were doing work of national importance. All that will be necessary after this is to take out the word "agricultural." We know that in another place they declined altogether to allow the farm to have a Bill giving him fixity of tenure. Apparently the labourer is to have fixity of tenure. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman why he cannot accept this Amendment? We certainly want munitions, and we cannot have people making them unless they have houses to live in. If these munitioners are wanting houses and the houses are occupied by people not doing work of equal national importance, the ground for securing houses for munition workers certainly stands as good as it does for men who are going to plough the soil. The difficulty may be equally great, and the interest is equally great in both cases, and the law ought to be precisely the same in both cases. If the certificate of the Board of Agriculture is good enough to turn a man out of a house in a village, the certificate of the Ministry of Munitions ought to be good enough to turn a man out of a house in a town. I cannot see any difference 1413 between the two cases. The Amendment I moved in Committee was to allow the certificate of the Ministry of National Service to hold good in these matters. The Minister of National Service would be a sort of Court of Appeal from both the Board of Agriculture or the Ministry of Munitions who may want a man to be housed. That would be better than to leave the matter with one Minister, who might be influenced, perhaps, by his own Department or by those persons with whom his Department has to deal. Therefore, it was suggested that the Minister of National Service should deal with all these cases. The right hon. Gentleman would not have that. Now he has selected agriculture out of all the important industries of this country for favouritism. That is not fair. He certainly ought to accept this Amendment, and, if he does, he will go a little further towards making the Bill a just one. The right hon. Gentleman probably knows that the Ministry of Munitions has had the most tremendous difficulty all over the country in getting houses for the men they have to employ. Visiting committees have gone all over the country for months, if not for years, holding meetings, interviewing town councils, and doing all sorts of things to try to get houses. My right hon. Friend now brings in an Amendment which will not give the slightest help to the Ministry of Munitions, but which, on the contrary, will interfere with the work and prevent an employer of labour in a district where munitions are being made from providing proper housing for the men he employs. I cannot understand why that should be so. Therefore the Amendment ought to be accepted. It will make the Bill a little better than it is.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. R. GWYNNE
I support the Amendment, and I feel sure the President of the Local Government Board will see the reasonableness of it, because no one has been so unfair in turning out tenants in recent years as the Government Department concerned. In my own Constituency there have been cases of hardness and harshness, people being turned out without a thought and often quite unnecessarily. It has been positively a scandal. Many of them have been turned out, for works which have probably never been carried out, at a fortnight's notice, and when we hear hon. Members talking about landlords it is a case of Satan rebuking sin as regards the Government. It is not unreasonable to 1414 ask, if it is really necessary, that other national industries should be considered besides agriculture.
Mr. T. WILSON
I do not care a great deal about the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment as it is, but if he accepts this Amendment to it I shall certainly vote against it. The Mover has talked about munition workers, but it must be remembered that, in addition to munition workers pure and simple, there are men and women engaged in work of equal national importance. For instance, the owners of a big factory manufacturing shells and guns might reasonably require housing accommodation in the neighbourhood of works, and they might, and probably would, turn out men and women engaged in manufacturing clothing for the Army and Navy. It is far better to leave matters as they are as far as these people are concerned than to allow the proprietors of big works to evict tenants who are engaged on work of as great national importance as that which the men or women they wish to put into the houses would be engaged upon. Therefore, the Movers of the Amendment have taken a very short-sighted view of the situation. How many people are going to be affected by it? Not a very large number. Therefore, if in the neighbourhood of a munition works accommodation is required for 2,000 people and there are only half a dozen houses which can be taken over in the way suggested, why insert an Amendment of this kind, which would lead to injustice? Something more ought to be considered. In the immediate neighbourhood of quite a large number of munition works there live the wives and families of soldiers and sailors, and if the Amendment were accepted these women and children would be evicted in order to make way for munition workers. It is, therefore, most unfair to ask the House of Commons to adopt an Amendment of this sort which gives power to any Court to evict the wives and families and widows of soldiers who have fallen. Therefore I make a strong appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to say at once that he refuses to accept the Amendment.
§ Captain A. SMITH
With regard to the Government Amendment, I should like to be assured on this point: Are we to understand that in cases where landlords get men to come and work on their farm the wives and families of men already serving at the front or their parents or 1415 other dependants are to be displaced in order to make room for new men? If that can be done under the Bill, I shall vote against it as often as ever I can. With regard to the Amendment to the Amendment, I remember that on the Committee stage a lot was said with regard to housing. The hon. Member mentioned again the question of the Ministry of Munitions sending round visiting committees in order to obtain houses. I wish to acknowledge the great sacrifices which people have made in giving over their large houses in the interests of Red Cross work, and so on, but there are a great many houses whose owners have never offered to do anything of the kind with their property, and it seems to me hard that the people who are maintaining our industries now should always be the people who have to move from one street or one town to another in order to make room for people to come and do work of a particular kind. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Munitions that they should very carefully take into consideration the billeting of people in very large houses. If people living in close proximity to munition works, but working at another trade which may be very important from a national point of view, have to be constantly evicted they are not going to take it very kindly. Victimisation has always entered into this matter, and if it is left open that any man who can get a certificate from the Ministry of Munitions can buy whole streets of houses in order to house workers—he may not do it, but so long as it is left open victimisation and irregular buying in this manner can be continued, and I am rather afraid this Amendment is stretching the point too far. I again ask for a definite answer to my question whether the wives and children of men who are now serving their country or are killed can be evicted, and will the right hon. Gentleman make any representations with regard to commandeering, if necessary, very large houses for billeting people?
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I join with the last speakers in urging the Government not to accept any Amendment which may have the effect of dispossessing from their homes the wives, widows, and dependants of our fighting men. I have had many letters from widows and wives and families in my Constituency, very heart rendering letters in some cases, and they have put this question, which is very diffi- 1416 cult to answer. They have said, "Do you think it right that we should be turned out of our homes and left without any place to go to or to put our little bit of furniture?" In this matter we are dealing with far more than houses. We are dealing with homes. Even to very humble people a home is a home, and they feel that to be dispossessed is a great hardship. Very few of us can realise what it means for poor people to be turned out of their homes and be forced to move into a different locality.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I will merely say that, in consequence of the letters which I have had from my Constituents, I would urge the Government to listen to the cogent arguments which have been brought forward by previous speakers and refuse to accept any Amendment which may have the effect I have indicated.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I trust the right hon. Gentleman will stand to his Amendment as it is. Those who have followed the whole of the proceedings in connection with this measure are quite aware of the exception which was made and the Amendment which was allowed to be made to the Bill in 1915. We then had the case put forward, which has been repeated over and over again, with regard to the exceptional needs of agriculture. It is not that all cottages would be affected, but there were exceptional cases where dairymen or horse-minders must reside within a reasonable distance of the farmhouse. That was the reason for the Amendment of the Act of 1915 which has led to all the difficulty. Now we are asked to extend it. The right hon. Gentleman has brought down an Amendment, which he promised to do in Committee, which defines clearly what the exception is to be. Now we have an Amendment proposing that a certificate obtaining from the Ministry of Munitions should have the same power ns that obtained from the Board of Agriculture. There is no reason why you could not keep on adding Department after Department in that way. The most extraordinary argument ever urged in favour of this addition was that put forward by the hon. Member (Mr. Gwynne). He began by attacking Government Departments—there is a good deal in what he said— 1417 for the reckless way in which they have cleared out property, and then he supported the Amendment in order to give Government Departments still more power than they now have to acquire property. I thought that rather strange. Let us look at the case seriously from the munition point of view. Some of us have had a great deal to do with the housing of munition workers. I have never come across a single case where a place could not be got for a munition worker in a munition area, but I am quite aware that the condition on the other side has been so severe that the Minister of Munitions has had to get exceptional powers under the Defence of the Realm Act and under the Regulations to protect munition workers in the cottages in which they live. That extraordinary power which has had to be applied to certain munition areas is just required because of the converse of the arguments we are hearing this after noon. I trust, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will stand by the Amendment as it appears on the Paper.
§ Mr. FISHER
I think I had better recall the House to the very limited nature of the Amendment which I am proposing. First of all, the House came to the conclusion that in future no ordinary purchaser of a house shall be able to obtain an order for ejectment. He may buy the house, but he cannot obtain possession. An exception was made in the original Act of the landlord of an agricultural estate, and Parliament made it with its eyes open because it said: There may be cases where the landlords of an agricultural estate cannot cultivate it properly—this applies to large parts of Yorkshire and Scotland—unless he obtains possession of certain cottages. If he does not, he will not be able to house his ploughmen, shepherds, factors, and skilled agriculturists of that kind, and therefore he will not be able to farm his property to the very full extent which it is now desirable he should do. It was pointed out that although that right would be left to the man who now owns an agricultural property, yet if he parted with the property the purchaser would not have that right to obtain possession of these cottages, and might, therefore, not be able to operate the estate to its full value. There was a general expression of opinion with which I agreed, and I promised that I would, between then and Report, see whether I could put down any Amendment which would meet that case and 1418 would be in order. After considerable consultation with my advisers, we found an Amendment which met that case and which was in order. That is not a very easy thing to do under the title of the Bill. The effect of my Amendment is this: Supposing that the owner of an agricultural property sells that property to a bonâ fide purchaser who wants to cultivate the property for agricultural purposes, that new purchaser shall have this right, that if he wants a certain cottage for a skilled agricultural labourer and that agricultural labourer can obtain a certificate from the Board of Agriculture that he is a skilled agricultural labourer, and that he is needed for the cultivation of that estate, then, if the Court also finds that he is an agricultural labourer who is to be engaged on work of urgent national importance, the landlord shall be able to eject the occupier of that cottage, and obtain possession in order to place in as tenant the ploughman, shepherd or other skilled agricultural labourer. The hon. Member for Clitheroe may rest assured that this will operate in very few cases. The landlord, if he wants to eject anyone, must prove that the person he is going to put into that cottage has a certificate from the Board of Agriculture that he is the sort of person who is really necessary for the proper cultivation of that estate, and the Court must be satisfied that the person is going to be ejected for the sake of putting into that cottage someone whose work is work of national importance, and who is needed for the cultivation of that estate. I think that should meet the general wishes of those who have taken an interest in the passage of this Bill.
I am asked to extend this to munition workers—that is to say, that the Ministry of Munitions shall also be able to say: "We want that row of cottages in connection with munition work." The hon. Member who moved that Amendment says that he only wants me to go a few inches further. I am afraid it would mean going a few miles further. What would happen would be this, that the Ministry of Munitions might be able to say that they wanted a row of cottages for their workers, and the workers occupying might be engaged in building ships. After all, ships are just as important as shells. Where are we going to end if we start in that direction? If you can make out a case for munition workers, 1419 you can make out a case for those working in shipyards, and if you make out a case for the shipyards you can make out & case for the Admiralty.
§ Mr. FISHER
My hon. Friend's proposal would go further than he really wants to go. It would enormously extend the power of those who control munition workers, and enable them to affect other people who possibly may be engaged in work just as useful and necessary as the work of those engaged on munitions.
§ Mr. GWYNNE
My object is to curtail the powers of the Government. At the present moment they do this sort of thing without going through any formality or going to any Court. If the munitions people have to come to a Court to do it in this way we should get some advantage.
§ Mr. FISHER
I shall claim my hon. Friend's vote in support of my Amendment. I must ask the House to support me in my very limited Amendment, and to refuse to accept any extension of it.
§ Mr. PETO
I am very glad to hear that the President of the Local Government Board will not accept any Amendment to his Amendment of the nature proposed by the hon. Member for Carlisle. Not only would it be open, under the hon. Member's Amendment, for the Minister of Munitions to turn out persons who were engaged in equally vital national work, but there would be nothing to prevent one munitions contractor buying up a row of houses already occupied to a large extent by the workpeople of another munitions contractor, and getting into the position to carry out a contract to make profits by turning out the workers already engaged in the same industry by a rival contractor. I am sure the House does not intend to support that Amendment. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that his Amendment is limited to the case of an agricultural estate or farm changing hands by purchase, and that in such a case where the cottages are spread very thinly and situated on the actual farm which requires to be worked, it may be, and I believe it is absolutely essential that the new owner who becomes the landlord by purchase should have exactly the same 1420 power of cultivating his farm as the man who acquires a farm by inheritance. Twice in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks he said, referring to his Amendment, that it was limited to the man who was required to be engaged or employed in agriculture for carrying on the work of that estate. That is exactly how I would have liked to see this Amendment limited, but there is nothing in the Amendment to limit it in that way. I have tried to draft an Amendment, but I find difficulty in limiting it to the actual case one wants to deal with; that is, to give power to the new landlord, who probably in many cases will be the farmer who has bought his own farm, to get possession of cottages actually on the farm or close to it, which are required for the cultivation of the farm. The President of the Local Government Board, in his Amendment tries to limit it as much by using the words "a person employed or engaged in agricultural work of urgent national importance." All agricultural work is of urgent national importance. These are not really the limiting words we want. The limiting words we want would be such words as would apply the provision to agricultural labourers who were actually required for the work of the farm itself, not merely that they were engaged in agriculture. I think the words, in my Amendment go very much nearer to the object we have in view than the words of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment. I use the words, "Some person whose employment is necessary for the proper cultivation of a farm." I submit that those are much more apt words to carry out the meaning and tenor of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and I am somewhat sorry that he has not seen fit to move the words of my Amendment, because I think they are really more practicable.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We are not now discussing the main Amendment, but the Amendment which refers solely to the question of the Ministry of Munitions.
§ Mr. L. JONES
The right hon. Gentleman refuses to accept the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Carlisle, and I am not surprised, because it would practically knock the bottom out of the whole scheme of his Bill. At the same time he cannot deny that the argument of the hon. Member for Carlisle is perfectly logical. What is the position of the right hon. Gentleman in exempting 1421 agriculture from the operations of this Bill? It is that where an agricultural estate changes hands, it is necessary that the houses required for the cultivation of that estate shall also change hands, and be at the disposal of the man who has purchased the estate. Does not that apply with equal force to a colliery which has changed hands? If a man buys a colliery he also wants the houses occupied by the men who work at the colliery, and it is absolutely necessary that he should buy the houses at the same time as he buys the colliery. It also applies to a shipyard. A man who buys a shipyard would buy the houses of the people who work in the shipyard. Therefore I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to see that the same considerations govern the Amendment of the hon. Member for Carlisle as govern his own Amendment. I do not want to vote for this Amendment. On the other hand, I do not like the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, and I am very much astonished at the position in which we are placed in regard to it. This Bill was introduced on the ground that aliens were turning out people who were doing work of national importance.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is an argument more appropriate to the Third Reading. Let us dispose of the matter now before us.
§ Mr. DENMAN
In asking leave of the House to withdraw this Amendment, I would like to answer very briefly some of the remarks—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member is going to withdraw his Amendment, what is the use of arguing further about it?
§ Mr. DENMAN
Where it has been mis-described by various Members, I think it is only fair to the Amendment that it should be withdrawn with honour.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member does not wish to withdraw, the Debate can go on. If he wishes to withdraw, he can do so in a sentence.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment negatived.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to add the words, "Provided that this certificate shall not be applied to the case of dependants of serving, deceased, or discharged soldiers or sailors."
When this matter was discussed in the Committee stage, there was a great deal of sympathy expressed from all parts of the House in regard to the dependants of soldiers and sailors, and it was recognised that nothing should be done which would prejudice the position of the dependants of soldiers and sailors at present serving in the forces or the dependants of men who are deceased or who have been discharged after having done service in the Army or Navy. There have been already certain cases brought to the notice of Members of the House where the dependants of men who are serving at this moment at the front have been turned out of their homes in order to make room for the employees of particular firms, and, I believe, the same thing has happened in the case of the employés of firms. When this matter was discussed in Committee my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wiltshire (Sir C. Bathurst) specifically raised this point, and he, more than anyone else in this House, represents agricultural interests, and, as far as I can make out, he was quite prepared that an Amendment of this kind should go into the Bill to safeguard the interests of the dependants of soldiers and sailors. I sincerely hope that the Government may see their way to accept this Amendment, because they certainly expressed a great deal of sympathy with this view when the matter was discussed on a previous occasion. I feel sure it would meet not only with the general approval of the House, but also with that of the country outside.
§ Mr. WATT
Relatives. The original intention of this measure was to save the relatives and dependants of soldiers and sailors from being evicted, but the measure has spread far away from that, and applies to many other cases besides those of the relatives and dependants of soldiers and sailors. Under this particular Amendment exception is made in the case of agriculture, where a man has purchased a farm, goes into it, and desires to get possession of the cottages. That is the Government Amendment, and the Amendment I am now seconding is that in these instances of agriculture the exception should not apply where the persons to be evicted are the dependants of soldiers and sailors. I think the country realises, and certainly this House does, what it owes at the present time to soldiers and sailors, and I think it is the view of the House also that their dependants should in all circumstances be preserved in their homes. That should apply even in the case of agriculture. The effect of my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment would be that in agricultural cases you would not interfere with the relatives of these men while they are fighting at the front.
§ General Sir IVOR PHILIPPS
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to accept some limitation of his Amendment in words similar to those put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Major David Davies). It appears to me that the Amendment as put down by my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board is far too general. From the country point of view there are two distinct cases. There are always soldiers and sailors who are living in the village who have nothing to do with the farm, and under this Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman if any agriculturist wants to get more cottages—and there is not a single farm in the country which is not short of cottages—he can turn the whole of the women and children out of these cottages.
§ Mr. FISHER signified dissent.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but they can do so if they get a certificate.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
Yes. They may be in a cottage in any part of the country anywhere that is required for agricul- 1424 tural purposes. Unless there is an Amendment in some such words as now proposed, I anticipate that there will be a large number of soldiers' and sailors' wives and children turned out of their houses. We want, at any rate, to be satisfied that that is not the case. I shall certainly support the Amendment to the Amendment, unless my right hon. Friend can satisfy me that I am wrong in my contention.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I beg to support the Amendment to the proposed Amendment because I am sure it would be distasteful to everybody to see the widows and dependants of the men who are fighting our battles turned out of their houses. I wish to point out that the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed would make that distressing episode very much less frequent if it would not prevent it altogether, and for this reason: There are on most estates houses occupied in one case perhaps by a policeman and in another case perhaps by a man working on the roads. The first has a claim on the county authority to provide him with a house. The man who works on the roads has a claim on the local authority. Therefore where a farmer is pressed to get a house in order to put in a man to carry on the food production of the country it is far more important that he should have the power, which he will have under the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, to turn out, it may be, the policeman or the man working on the roads, so as to avoid turning out the widow of the agricultural labourer who ordinarily occupies the cottage which the farmer wants to put his man into. I support the Amendment to the Amendment gladly, because the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment will give the farmer an opportunity for obtaining that cottage. I should be very sorry to see any man, be he policeman or roadman, put out of his cottage, but they have claims on the county authority and on the local authority, and I think if the right hon. Gentleman accepts this alteration he will be doing what every one of us wishes to see, namely, to avoid turning out the dependants of the soldier or sailor, and yet he will enable the farmer to have the cottage occupied by another man who has no real claim on him, and thereby provide the labour necessary for the farm.
§ Mr. FISHER
I am quite sure that nobody wants to evict the dependants of 1425 the soldier or sailor. Many of us have shown an interest in the soldier and the sailor long before this War. The Amendment would scarcely affect the wives or dependants of the soldier or sailor. It would work in this way: First of all, it would only affect those who purchased property of this kind. The purchaser of an agricultural estate might find that he could not work a particular farm unless he had in his possession a particular cottage on that farm. He will say, "I want to get a ploughman and put him into that cottage." Then he finds he cannot get possession of that cottage, and he can then obtain from the Board of Agriculture a certificate that the cottage in question is required for the occupation of a person engaged in agricultural work of urgent national importance. That does not mean just for any labourer on his property. The man must be engaged in work of urgent national importance. He must obtain a certificate from the Board of Agriculture because he is wanted to be engaged in such work. Then he has to go to the Court and he has to ask the Court to give him an order to evict from that particular cottage a particular person, because the Court says that the person he wants to put in is a man doing work of urgent national importance. I believe the cases of the dependants of soldiers and sailors will be fully taken into consideration by the Court. I cannot imagine any Court not asking whether it is not possible for that landlord to obtain another cottage for his ploughman within a fairly reasonable distance of his work, and only giving possession when it is proved that without the possession of that particular cottage the farm cannot be properly worked. After all, personal hardships must give way to work of national importance at the present time. I believe that in the case of soldiers' widows and dependants we may safely leave it in the hands of the Court who have to decide this matter. This Amendment now proposed, if carried, would only affect a very few cases, and it would only be, I am sure, in cases of necessity that the Court would say that on the whole a particular cottage should be occupied by a ploughman or a shepherd rather than by a soldier's wife or children. I cannot imagine a Court coming to that decision unless it was satisfied that the soldiers' dependants could obtain fairly easily another cottage suitable for their 1426 family. I believe we may safely rely on the Court to take all the circumstances into consideration.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not agree with my hon. and gallant Friend (General Sir I. Philipps) that every farm just now is short of cottages. In my own district nearly every farm has unoccupied cottages. The cottages being empty, the wives and relatives of soldiers, usually coming from a distance, have been allowed to go in on the understanding that if the cottages are wanted for agricultural work they would go out. The effect of that is that whenever the cottage is wanted the person in question will say, "I may have said that, but I have changed my mind." Consequently it would render this Amendment absolutely useless. This Clause would be operatives only in cases where people have been allowed to go in because the cottage happened to be empty at the moment. If the Amendment is to be of any use there must be some confidence in the Court, and it must be left to the Court to decide whether a person is to be turned out in order to be replaced by someone doing work of vital national importance at the moment. No one wishes more than I to do everything to assist the soldier at the present moment, but there are certain misconceptions as to the position of soldiers' wives. To suggest that because somebody happens to be the wife of a soldier she is to be exempt from a law which applies to other people is to carry the desire to assist the Army rather too far.
§ Sir TUDOR WALTERS
I am sorry the President of the Local Government Board entirely refuses to adopt the Amendment. I do not feel at all happy in leaving this question to the Board of Agriculture in the ordinary course. Several cases which have recently occurred have induced that feeling. There are cases of very great hardship. There is one I heard of only last week. A man had bought a farm and decided to use the farm-house to live in during the summer. He therefore had to turn out the bailiff who had hitherto occupied it and to find for him another cottage, and the tenant of the cottage selected had to be got rid of accordingly. One can imagine in cases like that great hardship falling on the tenant of the cottage. In this particular case it so happened that the husband of the woman living in the cottage was a soldier on active service. 1427 If we are going to give the Board of Agriculture discretion to issue a certificate which will involve the eviction of a tenant simply to meet the convenience of the purchaser of a farm, I think that, at any rate, we should put in a restriction safeguarding the cases of wives and families and dependants of soldiers and sailors. I am not sure that I like the precise words of the Amendment. I should prefer to see some onus thrown on the Board of Agriculture, or on whatever Court is to have the dispensing power, to satisfy themselves that other cottage accommodation can be obtained for the wives and families of soldiers and sailors before they can be evicted. I can conceive many cases in which a farmer would very much desire to put a ploughman into a particular cottage now occupied by the dependants of a soldier or sailor on active service, and the farmer might find it easy to satisfy the Board of Agriculture or the Court that it was important he should have possession of the cottage. But if the onus were thrown on him to prove that the tenant could get a cottage elsewhere, it might be an inducement to him to use his influence to find a cottage for the person he wishes to evict, or some other cottage for the man he is going to employ. Remembering the conditions of country life, it is obvious that owners of estates have many opportunities for obtaining cottage accommodation which tenants do not possess, and I therefore feel very strongly that in cases where the Board of Agriculture is asked to give this dispensing power for the eviction of a tenant there should be some onus cast on the owner of the estate to secure some accommodation, at any rate, in the cases where the tenants are the wives and dependants of soldiers or sailors.
§ Mr. FISHER
The number of cases where a landlord might desire to turn out the tenant of a cottage who happens to be the wife or dependant of a soldier or sailor likely to arise under this Bill is not very large, and I doubt if it would be possible to find any words which would absolutely secure what is aimed at by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment. But after consultation with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, I can give an undertaking that the Board of Agriculture will not issue any certificate to any man by which he can obtain possession, for a ploughman or anybody he desires to 1428 employ, of a particular cottage without first considering whether it is a matter of grave national necessity from the point of view of carrying on the farm that he should obtain possession of the cottage. That will have to be most carefully considered, and at the same time it will also be considered whether or not suitable and adequate house accommodation can be obtained for the person proposed to be evicted. I hope that undertaking will satisfy the House, and I am assured by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture that the Board is really inspired by a desire to act in that spirit.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman cannot see his way to accept the Amendment. I quite recognise the anxiety to protect as far as possible the cases which are covered by the Amendment to the Amendment, and I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman give this undertaking on the part of the Board of Agriculture. But Boards of Agriculture come and go, and while we may now have a very sympathetic Board we may at some future time have a Board which has not the same sympathy with the particular cases it is desired to cover by the Amendment. I confess I do not like the right hon. Gentleman's own Amendment, and the only thing which would make it palatable to me would be the acceptance of the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider his decision. I do not think cases of the character sought to be safeguarded here ought to be left in a haphazard position. Proper provision ought to be made in the Bill itself to protect them, and the particular Amendment now under discussion can alone do that.
§ Mr. JONES
We are dealing with a very small class of landlords. These cases can only arise when an estate is sold after the passing of this Act, and, as it is hoped the Act will not have to remain in force very long, the number of estates coming under its operations will not be very large. Then, furthermore, it will be necessary to get a decision by the Board of Agriculture that a man is absolutely necessary to be engaged in agricultural work in a particular neighbourhood, and that the house is wanted for him. Further than that, it will 1429 be necessary to go before a Court and get it to decide that the matter is of urgent national importance and that the house must, therefore, be handed over to the landlord. This particular Amendment will apply only to cases where men are wanted to engage in urgent national work of agriculture, thus defined by the Board of Agriculture, when an estate has changed hands after the passing of this Act, and where the cottage as to which the question arises happens to be occupied by the wife or widow or dependant of a soldier or sailor. The right hon. Gentleman has given an undertaking that the Board of Agriculture will not grant a certificate in such a case unless it is absolutely necessary. Neither, I think, would a Court grant an eviction order in such a case unless it considered it to be absolutely necessary. I think, in view of that undertaking, it is unwise to press the right hon. Gentleman further. He has gone a long way to meet the universal feeling of this House that the dependants of soldiers or sailors on active service shall not be turned out of their houses, and I do submit that he has quite sufficiently safeguarded these cases in his Amendment and that it would be unwise for the House to further narrow it.
§ Mr. ALBERT SMITH
I feel very keenly on this matter, because I have known of scores and hundreds of cases where the dependants of soldiers and sailors have been evicted. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) told the House just now that soldiers wives are not always immaculate. Neither are our soldiers. But they are sufficiently immaculate to fight for this country in its present trial, and their womenfolk ought to be sufficiently immaculate for us to see that they are properly protected in the absence of their men folk. I want to see no stone left unturned to afford them sufficient safeguards. When it becomes a question of whether a cottage could be more usefully employed for agricultural purposes than by allowing it to be occupied by the wife of an absent soldier or sailor, it is very probable that in certain cases invidious distinctions may be drawn, and there are people in this country who will be likely to lay more stress on invidious distinctions as to character than they really ought to do. Personally, I cannot see what real objection there can be to adding these few words to the right hon. Gentleman's own Amendment. If a 1430 good landlord is not likely to take advantage of the Act to turn out particular tenants, there is no reason why his successor should not act in the same way when the estate changes hands. The proposed words are very simple, and I hope the House will insist on their addition to the Amendment
§ Mr. DENMAN
The arguments by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Leif Jones) might have been very cogent had they not already been answered by the President of the Local Government Board. I admit that as I came down to the House I was inclined to trust to the discretion of the Board of Agriculture in regard to granting certificates of this sort, but after what was said by the President of the Local Government Board on a previous Amendment I realised that the Department cannot always be relied upon. It is very important that the wives of soldiers and sailors should have their interests safeguarded, and I see no possible objection to the Amendment now proposed. I shall support it in the Lobby.
§ Colonel Sir HAMAR GREENWOOD
On a question of this kind I feel very keenly indeed. This is an Amendment moved in the interests of the dependants of the very people on whose sacrifices we are depending for our very existence. I cannot see any reason why these words should not be inserted in the Bill, especially in view of the fact that the Government with the best intentions, have on a number of occasions been compelled to break their pledges owing to the exigencies of the War. This makes it the duty of anyone who takes an interest in these people to support the Amendment and to relieve the Government of any power of discretion by putting what we intend into the Statute itself. I was surprised to hear from the President of the Local Government Board that the Courts were to have any discretion in the matter. It is not the business of the Courts to exercise discretion, it is their duty to carry out the law, and it is for us to put into the Statute that which the Court is ultimately to interpret. In order that there should be no difficulty in this matter, I, for one, am prepared to support this Amendment in the Lobby.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. L. Jones) that the Amendment 1431 of the Government raises rather a small issue. The question which arises, and which we are now discussing, only refers to an agricultural problem, but that seems to raise the issue as to whether it was necessary for the Government to put in the Amendment at all. What is the existing situation? The present holder of the property is presumably cultivating the land with the labour available. If he is not doing so, the Board of Agriculture can force him to do so. Why should the purchaser be put in a better position than the existing tenant or owner?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I accept that point, but, anyhow, I do not think either of them should have the right. Granting, however, that you are putting this in the Act, it seems to me to be very important that it you are going to do it you should safeguard by Statute the interests of the dependants of soldiers and sailors who are residing in these cottages. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that there is a case for that, because he has given an undertaking to protect the interests of these people. But what is the value of this undertaking? That is what the House has to consider. There is no real difficulty in inserting a statutory provision. It may be that the words of my hon. and gallant Friend (Major D. Davies) are not quite satisfactory, but, personally, I see no grave objection to them. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman merely takes objection to the phraseology, he has expert assistants who in a few moments could give him the correct legal phraseology and the apt words to the effect desired. Why, therefore, should it be necessary for the House to content itself with an undertaking, especially in view of the fate of so many Ministerial undertakings in the past? As nothing better than an undertaking is offered to the House, and as the offer of the undertaking proves that a case has been made out for the undertaking, I think the only right course is to go into the Lobby in favour of my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment.
§ Mr. PETO
In reply to what the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle) has just stated, I should like to 1432 say that he forgets one thing which ought to be present to all our minds, namely, that under the powers given to the war agricultural committees fresh ploughing-up Orders are being issued every day. Let us take one very simple and concrete case. A man buys a farm on which there are five cottages. The late owner found that with the arable area so far cultivated he could do with four cottages, and the fifth is occupied by the wife of a young ploughman who is now serving. An additional ploughing-up Order is issued, and it is absolutely necessary, in order to cultivate the land in this isolated district, that this cottage should be occupied by a person who is able to assist in carrying out the order for the ploughing up of the land. That is all this does. It gives the new purchaser exactly the same powers as the present owner has.
§ Mr. PETO
Certainly; it is more limited in that respect. The Department and a Court have to be satisfied as to the urgency of the case, which was not the position before. It is very easy to let ourselves be a little carried away by sentiment, and I really think that with the undertaking the Under-Secretary for the Board of Agriculture has given, and which has been made here perfectly clearly by the President of the Local Government Board, we can perfectly well leave this extremely restricted provision to be carried out and put into effect only when the urgent national necessity for increased arable cultivation makes it absolutely necessary to do so. I only rose because there seems to have been in several speeches recently delivered rather a tendency to say that if we are at all in favour of protecting the widow, the wife, or the dependant of the men who are fighting, we must go into the lobby against the Government proposal. I do not agree with that at all. I think we have to have some sense of proportion in the present time of crisis, and we must have some confidence, at any rate, in the administration of this urgent question of food production by the Board of Agriculture, and we must believe that they are going to do what is necessary in these rare cases—only to allow the Order where some reasonable alternative premises can be 1433 found for the occupation of the wife or widow. I do not believe for a moment that anybody will be turned into the street but I do say it is absolutely necessary, in order to carry out the provisions and policy of the Cora Production Act, that we should not reject, fetter, or cripple the discretion of the Board of Agricul-
§ ture, who are responsible to the country, by accepting such an Amendment as the one which has been proposed.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added to the proposed Amendment to the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 71; Noes, 123.1433
|Division No. 30.]||AYES.||[5.7 p.m.|
|Adamson, William||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Arnold, Sydney||Henderson, John M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Higham, John Sharp||Rendall, Athelstan|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Hinds, John||Richardson, Arthur (Rotherham)|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Rowlands, James|
|Barton, Sir William||Hudson, Walter||Smallwood, Edward|
|Bentham, George Jackson||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton)|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Sutherland, John E.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Jowett, Frederick William||Tennant, Rt. Hon. Harold John|
|Burns, Rt. Hon John||Kenyon, Barnet||Thomas, Sir A. G. (Monmouth, S.)|
|Chancellor, Henry George||King, Joseph||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Clough, William||Lambert, Richard (Cricklade)||Tickler, T. G.|
|Collins, Sir W. (Derby)||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Watt, Henry A.|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Maden, Sir John Henry||Wedgwood, Lt.-Commander Josiah|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. H.||Marshall, Arthur Harold||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||Millar, James Duncan||Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|France, Gerald Ashburner||Molteno, Percy Alport||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Morrell, Philip||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Gelder, Sir W. A.||Nuttall, Harry||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Gilbert, J. D.||Peel, Major Hon. G. (Spalding)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Geddard, Rt. Hon. Sir Daniel Ford||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||Philipps, Maj.-Gen Sir Ivor (S'hampton)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Major Davies and Capt. A. Smith.|
|Gulland, Rt Hon. John William||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)|
|Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Gretton, John||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Parkins, Walter Frank|
|Archdale, Lieut. Edward M.||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord C. J.||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Martin||Harmood-Banner, Sir J. S.||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest George|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Harris, Sir Henry P. (Paddington, S.)||Prothero, Rt. Hon. Rowland Edmund|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glos., E.)||Henry, Sir Charles||Randles, Sir John S.|
|Bathurst, Capt. Sir C. (Wilts, Wilton)||Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Beach, William F. H.||Herman-Hodge, Sir R. T.||Roberts Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Robertson, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Hills, John Waller||Robinson, Sidney|
|Benn, Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Bird, Alfred||Holt, Richard Durning||Sanders, Col. Robert Arthur|
|Boyton, Sir James||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Shortt, Edward|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Hope, John Deans (Haddington)||Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Walton)|
|Brassey, H. Leonard Campbell||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Staveley-Hill, Lieut.-Col. Henry|
|Bull, Sir William James||Hunter, Major Sir Charles Rodk.||Stewart, Gershom|
|Burdett-Coutts, William||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.||Stoker, R. B.|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Jackson, Lt.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Butcher, John George||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Sykes, Col. Sir A. J. (Ches., Knutsfd.)|
|Cator, John||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Cheyne, Sir W. W.||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Tillett, B.|
|Clyde, James Avon||Joynton-Hicks, William||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Clynes, John R.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Featham||Larmor, Sir J.||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Levy, Sir Maurice||Wardle, George J.|
|Colvin, Col. Richard Beale||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Lindsay, William Arthur||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Whiteley, Sir H. J.|
|Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, E.)||Lonsdale, James R.||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||McCalmont, Brig.-Gen. Robert C. A.||Williamson, Sir Archibald|
|Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Dawes, James Arthur||Macmaster, Donald||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (Yorks, E. R.)|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward||Marriott, John Arthur Ransome||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Falle, Sir Bertram Godfray||Meysey-Thompson, Col. E. C.||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Fall, Sir Arthur||Morison, Hector (Hackney, S.)||Wright, Henry Fitzherbert|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham)||Morison, Thomas B. (Inverness)||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Morton, Sir Alpheus Cleophas||Younger, Sir George|
|Foster, Philip Staveley||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr. Parker.|
|Greig, Colonel James William||Pearce, Sir William (Limehouse)|
§ Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Mr. PETO
I rise only to point out to the President of the Local Government Board and the House that although, in two respects on the Report Stage he has improved the Bill by meeting some of the points which were made in the Committee stage, it has not been within his power to enlarge the Bill, with its very unlimited scope, to meet some of the real cases of hardship, both on the landlord's side and on the tenant's side, which were pointed out again and again, not only in the Committee stage but on the Second Beading, as being matters which are urgently required to be dealt with. In the Amendment which the House has just passed we have dealt with the case of the orders for ejectment that have not been executed. We have made the Bill somewhat more retrospective in that particular; and we have just dealt with the case of cottages urgently required for carrying out the programme to increase arable cultivation or in any other increase of the actual cultivation of a farm. In respect to the first of these two enlargements, it was pointed out by several hon. Members that it really operated in a very unfair way, for it dealt with the purchasing landlord, who has taken an easy and a kindly view of his responsibilities towards the occupiers of small-house property after having obtained an order for ejectment in certain cases, but had not had to execute it, while the man really quick, who had got his tenants without the slightest consideration, was not dealt with at all. I believe that is one of the cases we have got to deal with, particularly where it concerns the wives, widows, or dependants of deserving soldiers or sailors, or men of the mercantile marine, living in ordinary houses in a town or seaport, as the case may be, from which they have been ejected simply for the sake of finding accommodation for other people, who certainly have no such right to be considered as these widows and wives of our soldiers and sailors. In such cases as that, where they have been ejected, we ought to have power to put them back. That, however, was not dealt with under this Bill, but the President of the Local Government Board indicated at an early stage that he wished to ascertain the views of the House, 1436 though he did not tell us positively that the Government would bring in a Bill with a less limited title to deal with cases of the kind I have now mentioned.
The question of the extension of the rental value was raised. It is limited to £26 under this Bill in England, in Scotland to £30, and in the metropolitan area to £35. The limitation prevents our dealing with the whole body of wives of officers in the Army, the Navy, and the mercantile marine. I mentioned at an earlier stage to the President of the Local Government Board a petition or memorial, signed by no less than fifty-seven masters and officers of merchant ships carrying on urgent national work from the port of Southampton alone, who are all either under notice to get out of their houses, or in fear of being served with ejectment orders. In those cases the rental value would certainly be more than £26 a year. In almost every case the rental value would probably be £40 or £50 a year. It is well known that numbers of houses in Brighton and various other seaside places have a rental of £50, £60, and £70 a year. They are occupied by the wives of officers of the Navy and of the Army, and are not covered by this Bill. Their occupants are not protected from being turned out in order to give accommodation to people who want to go to Brighton or to some other place, either to escape raids or because they desire a more pleasant place to live in. They travel up and down from town with season tickets, thereby using coal which it is sought at the present moment to economise. All these cases are not dealt with at all. Then there is the question of the policy of the Wages Board set up under the Corn Production Act. Again and again, in the course of the Debate reference was made to the question of putting the ordinary agricultural labourer in a cottage with an economic rent. It was held to be desirable to settle what was a reasonable economic rent for a cottage, so as to place the tenant in a position much more independent. I should not have alluded to that if it had not been that this question was submitted to a special Committee, which considered it and reported in favour of an economic rent and a wage being fixed sufficiently high to enable the occupant to pay an economic rent for his cottage. That Report has been accepted, and transmitted to all the district wages boards in the country—I am speaking of wages boards that deal with agricul- 1437 tural wages—and, that being so, clearly it is necessary that power should be given to raise the rent in those cases. It is not a question of ejectment at all, and it cannot be dealt with under this measure with its narrow title.
On the landlords' side, in the course of the Debate, it was pointed out that one of the questions in connection with increased rents or interest on mortgages, under the Act of 1915, was the cost of repairs. The cost of repairs has gone up enormously since the War, and I do not think that an increase of rent to cover that cost is an increase of rent of the sort that complaint is made of. I do not think the tenant would regard it as unreasonable if the landlords, who are appealed to by the sanitary authorities and others to keep their properties in a state of decent repair, charged an additional amount of rent to cover their out-of-pocket expenditure on the maintenance of their property in good condition. That is a matter, however, which could not possibly be dealt with in the Bill we have before us. I have enumerated several different things which it was impossible for this House to deal with owing to its having been decided in another place that this measure should be strictly limited to altering the definition of landlord in a single sub-section of a Section of the Act of 1915. I think, however, that there is ample reason for the President of the Local Government Board to bring in a Bill to deal with the cases to which I have referred. I ask him to deal with the cases of wives of officers of the Army and Navy, and of the Merchant Service, which are not dealt with at all in the limited measure before us. These people to whom I refer are subject to the chance of having the houses which they occupy being bought at extravagant prices for occupation by people who simply want to find accommodation in some area which is not subject to air raids. The tenants in these houses already are the wives of officers in the Naval and Military Services and in the Mercantile Marine, and they are the very people whom we want to leave in possession. We do not want to see them turned out, and, therefore, we have not really met the case at all about which there has been so much indignation expressed in the newspapers. Those cases are not in this Bill, which purports to amend the Act of 1915. But we welcome it, so far as it goes, particularly as it has been extended on the Report stage, and I hope 1438 that the President of the Local Government Board will be able to bring in a measure at an early date—not a long Bill, and I believe that he will be able to pass it in a day or two—and I do not think that he will find any opposition to such a measure.
§ Mr. MILLAR
While I also welcome this Bill, I agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken that it only represents a very small instalment of legislation necessary to deal with the situation which has arisen in various parts of the country. Speaking as a Scottish Member I can say that it has created a very considerable amount of interest in certain districts of Scotland, where the practice of eviction has been growing, especially within these later months. I have received a number of representations from various bodies, as well as individuals, on the subject, including the Middle Ward of Lanark, and several local associations, as to the immediate need for dealing with this question in Lanarkshire. I am very glad, therefore, that the matter is in the hands of so sympathetic a member of the Government as the right hon. Gentleman, who desires to meet the situation, so far as he can, in all parts of the United Kingdom. I strongly urge on him to go a little further. Personally, I am disappointed that this Bill does not deal with the question of the orders which have been issued, and which have been executed, before the date when the Bill was passed into law. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be in a position to tell us when that date is likely to be. I hope it will be very early—at any rate in the next day or two. My hon. Friend has just told us of a number of landlords who have undoubtedly executed their orders within recent weeks. It is a very great pity that on the introduction of the Bill some means were not taken to prevent any order being executed until the matter was thoroughly considered in the House of Commons. I know a number of hard cases which, under the Bill as it now stands, will not be dealt with as they ought to have been, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will, in a further Bill, promise that this matter, as well as the other matters which have been mentioned, will be dealt with.
Under the original Act I think we all agree further protection is required for those who are being evicted, and in the course of the Debate, I think in the Committee stage, reference was made several 1439 times to the action taken by the Ministry of Munitions in scheduling certain areas within which no evictions would be allowed except with the consent of the Ministry. I think it desirable that meantime the large industrial areas should all be protected by Orders issued by the Ministry of Munitions until further legislation is introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. I trust it may be possible to schedule the large munition areas in Lanarkshire with the other munition areas in England, so that no eviction will be allowed in any case without the consent of the Ministry. That will afford us at least some additional protection until we have a further amending Bill. I think the right hon. Gentleman has himself already indicated very clearly his desire to go further into this matter, and there are many of us who would like to force upon him in the present Bill some wider Amendments. We have not pressed them, in the hope that he will fulfil the undertaking he has given to the House, and that the whole question will be reconsidered in a further Bill to be shortly introduced.
§ Sir H. NIELD
With regard to the closing remark of my hon. Friend, I would like to say that I think the spirit of the House is that we would have been perfectly willing to force the Government if we could have done it, but those who have advised with regard to this Bill as introduced in another place have made it so cleverly narrow that we cannot do so. They know in the other place what it is to get a Bill through this House, and it is only punishing the House of Commons and getting the better of it by so skilfully preparing a Bill that we cannot have a prolonged debate upon it. I think we are perfectly willing, if it could be done, to enlarge the scope of the Bill very considerably. I do not think it is a virtue, but my right hon. Friend will admit that I was one of the earliest complainants, and that I began to worry him as far back as the first week in October, because these undesirables began to flee from east to west and to begin to trouble His Majesty's subjects as soon as the raids began. However, the mischief has not been cured by this Bill, though it has been very considerably ameliorated. There is still abroad a desire to make money—I suppose it is a desire that pervades all human nature except my Friend the Member for the City of London—and they are still trafficking in houses and in 1440 biggish houses in those districts which are called safe. I ought to have had with me a letter, but I have it in the precincts of the House, stating that a couple of hundred pounds has been boldly placed upon the purchase money of a house bought relatively lately because of its situation, and the tenant of which was given an opportunity of either purchasing it at an increased purchase price of £200 or else paying an increased rent of thirty odd pounds.
That is the kind of thing that is going on in certain districts where the landlords do not hesitate to take advantage of the peculiar situation in which the district is placed with regard to air visitations. I hope, therefore, that the Government will look upon it as a duty due to the House to introduce a Bill at the earliest possible moment There was a question answered to-day, if it was put, to the Minister of Reconstruction. I hope that the Committee, which this question intimates has been set up—my Friend asked whether its object was to consider the extension of this Act as amended by this Bill beyond the period of six months—willnot be used as a reason for shelving further legislation. I hope that no reference to a Committee of Reconstruction with regard to the continuance of this Bill will affect the Government's intention as expressed by my right hon. Friend to introduce another Bill which will deal much more widely with the mischief which is complained of. I agree with the Member for Devizes with regard to soldiers' wives not being evicted, though I should have thought that the undertaking which the Board of Agriculture was ready to give to my hon. Friend would have saved the division which has recently taken place, because there is no section of this House which is not desirous of giving ample protection to the dependants of those whom the soldiers have left behind.
One word with regard to unexecuted warrants. I have expressed myself before on this subject in agreement as to the difficulty of legislating by reference. It makes it extremely difficult afterwards for the Courts to interpret, because the Courts cannot take evidence of this Debates in this House or take the reasons and expressions of opinion made here, and that it very often happens that the object of the House is defeated for want of knowledge of its intention That is partly accounted for by the abolition of the good old practice of the Preamble, and I 1441 do venture to think that the Preamble of the old Act, which we used to refer to was of great use to the Courts. If the words "unexecuted warrants" be now inserted, and this Act is to be regarded as having been the principal Act—that is to say, to be interpreted as though the words now put in were in the principal Act—that would have the effect of preventing any landlord in the interval taking advantage of the ejectment law. It may be that there is some considerable difficulty owing to the various circumstances of different classes of cases, and it would be a great amount of trouble to the learned judges who are called upon to construe the Act as amended.
I venture to think there is a good deal to be said for the consideration that when this Bill has passed and has amended effectually the Act of 1915, those persons who have possession under an order made since the 30th September will feel themselves in a precarious position. It is their own fault, because, as my right hon. Friend admitted, these men took advantage of conditions which they knew they were not entitled to and under legislation which they knew would be amended as soon as it could be done. Therefore, they have only themselves to blame in the event of their finding that the ejectment orders are not effective as far as they are concerned. My impression is that that is what they will find, and that they will be put to the greatest inconvenience for having taken advantage of a condition of things which they knew perfectly well they were not entitled to. I conclude as I commenced by earnestly expressing the hope that the Local Government Board will proceed at once to consider whether, by the appointment of the inevitable committee, departmental or otherwise—I know not, and I care not except in the sense that I wish the matter pushed quickly forward—they can come to the conclusion that it is necessary to amend the law in general with regard to these matters, and that they will set to work to draft a Bill which, instead of being restricted, shall be as comprehensive as possible, so that the matter may be put once and for all on a satisfactory basis.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I leave my hon. Friend behind me to get the undertaking. I am content to know that the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to get this matter considered in all its aspects, and 1442 produce a really useful Bill in order that we may accelerate its progress, a Bill which will substantially amend the law, and put an end to that section of the community which is ever ready to take advantage of the necessities of the times, and put them in the position in which they ought to be placed. I think my Friend behind me has great ground for complaint with regard to the question of repairs. Repairs are deprecated just now. Necessary repairs to prevent further waste, yes; but I have known of a case where a landlord who was under an obligation under the Public Health Act to make up a road used that obligation on being called upon by the local authority, perhaps unreasonably in time of war, to pay for the making of the road—used it to try and secure an increased rent from the tenant in possession! Those are matters which can be dealt with in any Bill which is introduced. We ought to be able to put an end to the greedy spirit which has shown itself since the War began, particularly in some areas.
Mr. D. WHITE
I can hardly expect very much from this class of legislation because it is emergency legislation, and it does to some extent meet the emergency. But I would like on this occasion just to address a couple of sentences to the right hon. Gentleman who has piloted this Bill with so much consideration and with so much clearness to the House. The first case I would like to put to him which has arisen out of this legislation is one from Glasgow which I heard only this morning. I venture to put it because it suggests that there may be similar cases. So far as I can make out the facts, a person who was in the position not of a landlord, but of factor, appears to have given notice to the tenant that he wanted the house for his own use, claiming that under this legislation he was entitled to have it. One would like to know whether he had the power to do that because, if being a factor for a number of landlords is considered to make him an agent in the employ of every one of those landlords, it makes a very big hole in the protection which was to be afforded to tenants under this legislation. I know all these questions are somewhat complicated, but I hope I have made the point clear to the right hon. Gentleman. The second point is one which I have already mentioned in the Debate on an Amendment, but I would like again to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman, if I may, 1443 the protection afforded under this Bill under cases where eviction or ejectment orders are pending. The critical date is the passing of the Act, and, therefore, I venture to impress upon the Government the desirability of taking special steps to pass this measure into law at the earliest possible date.
§ Sir J. BOYTON
Some hon. Members have had nothing but praise to offer in anticipation of what the right hon. Gentleman is going to give in the way of legislation shortly. I only want to warn him that there are other views besides those which have been expressed in the course of the Debate. They seem to think, especially my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ealing, that house property is one which only enjoys the profits of mankind, and that in his own particular constituency landlords are committing the most unpardonable acts in getting as much rent as they can. My hon. and learned Friend is very keen about a bargain, and I wonder he has not taken advantage of the opportunity to purchase some of the premises on offer at Ealing. Only a little while ago, as I happen to know, he could have bought a house for £1,100 which had cost £2,200. I am surprised to find him so sleepy with regard to these bargains. There will be a number of other things to be considered, of which I am sure the President of the Local Government Board is aware. The Government to-day pays something like 5¼ per cent. for money, and most of the so-called landlords have mortgages, and their mortgagees ask unhesitatingly for a much higher rate of mortgage interest. It is no use going to your banker, for instance, and saying: "I want to borrow some money. Please let me have it at the old pre-war rate of 4 per cent." He will smile blandly at you, but will not let you have it. He will say: "You can have it at 1 per cent. above Bank Rate," or 6 per cent. Houses of the villa type, from £40 to £60 a year, are only occupied by tenants on a yearly tenancy, or three years' agreement, and the landlord has to do repairs, and we have heard in the various Debates on this Bill the enormous increase in the cost of these repairs, all of which has fallen on the landlord.
We have had a good deal of discussion in the various stages of this Bill, and I do not want to delay the passage of the 1444 measure, but I do want to warn the right hon. Gentleman that if he listens to the blandishments of all those hon. Members who only refer to one side of the question, he will find that he has made a very great mistake, and he must expect on any extended protective legislation of this kind a good bombardment from the many and varied interests connected with the vast ownership of bricks and mortar. And I do not envy him his difficulty. He has got to hear many classes, notably, as has been said during these Debates, the building societies throughout the country. They are going to have a lot to say. I sometimes doubt whether hon. Members are quite sincere in some of the statements they have made during the passing of this Bill. I cannot help thinking sometimes they are conscious there is a General Election coming, and they want votes from the tenants who are more numerous than the landlords, but the capital invested and the burdens which the so-called landlords have to bear will have to be taken equally into consideration fairly and justly with the claims which are put forward with such avidity on behalf of the tenants
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I want in a word or two to support the Third Beading of this Bill. In certain respects the Bill relieves the present situation. At the same time, it is of far too limited a character, and only touches the fringe of the housing problem. That being so, I hope the right hon. Gentleman, at a very early date, will introduce a much more comprehensive measure. Unless this is done, we shall have a grave condition of affairs at the end of the War. For years past the building of houses has not kept pace with the demand. At the present moment we are hundreds of thousands of houses short of the requirements of the population of the United Kingdom. In addition to that, there are many houses at present occupied that are really in an insanitary condition, and but for the shortage would be condemned. If the shortage of houses is to be fully dealt with in face of the present high cost of building, it can, in my opinion, only be done effectively by the Government themselves. The Government, in accepting such a suggestion as I am making, would only be extending the policy they have had in operation for some time past. In munition areas they have been making special provision for housing the workers who were taken to those particular districts, 1445 so that in making the suggestion that if this matter is to be properly dealt with it can only be by the Government themselves, I am making a suggestion that they should extend the policy they themselves have adopted. In suggesting to the right hon. Gentleman that he should at an early date introduce a more comprehensive measure than this, I am not unmindful of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman will be introducing a thorny subject, and that he will require to deal with both sides of the question. I think all of us who have taken part in these Debates are fully conscious of the fact that there are two sides to this question, and when you come to deal with it from a wider aspect than the present Bill provides we shall have to deal with both sides of the question. Meanwhile, I am pleased that this Bill has reached its Third Reading. It will relieve the situation to a certain extent, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take the earliest possible opportunity of introducing a much wider measure.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
This is a very small Bill to amend an Act passed only two years ago, and the Debate on this Bill has been made the opportunity for demanding further amending legislation. I think the cause both of this Bill and the demand for a further Bill is due to the inherent vice of the original Act. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) has spoken about looking at both sides of the question in any further and larger legislation, but it seems to me that if the Government and the House had looked at both sides of the question when the original Act was introduced and passed through this House they would have been saved many of the difficulties which have since confronted them, and which will continue to confront them, not only during the War, but after the War. When the original Bill was under discussion in this House, I think almost the only two Members who had the courage to protest against it were my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and myself. My hon. Friend below me (Mr. Adamson) says it is an unholy combination, but I think it will be found that when we are agreed we are right, and the experience of the intervening years has proved it. You are doing an open and flagrant injustice to people who own small house property in this country, in that you are preventing them, the only section of the investing 1446 class, from receiving an increased return on their investments during the War. You are doing that by legislation. You have allowed other people to have a certain percentage increase of their profits. You have done that with regard to coal and all sorts of property, but here you have a class of people who have invested their earnings in house property in this country, and those people are deliberately penalised by this House and prevented from receiving any increase. And that was done in face of the fact that the charges were increasing, and were bound to increase, as they have increased, during the intervening two years.
When you do a flagrant injustice to any class of people those people endeavour to evade your law. They think they are unjustly treated, and they think they are entitled to resort to evasion, and they have resorted to evasion. Hence this Bill. You may take it also that the action of these people in regard to the houses which are above the standard mentioned in the original Act has been due to the fact that they have been unjustly treated with regard to the smaller houses. Probably it will be necessary to deal with the larger houses. I am not sure whether the Government will deal with them. These are only middle-class people, who do not combine together, and do not strike. Of course, the original Act was passed because of a strike in Glasgow. It was not justice, but panic. The middle-classes will never create a panic anywhere; consequently they are likely to suffer this injustice and unfair treatment for the rest of the War. The hon. Member for East Marylebone (Sir J. Boyton) need have no grave concern about any further injustice being perpetrated in respect of the class for which he so ably speaks in this House.
I think it is a great misfortune that no recognition is made by the Government of the great increase in the cost of necessary repairs. I think the Government ought to face it, because undoubtedly at the present time necessary repairs are not being carried out. Large classes of property are falling into the condition of slums in all our great centres. You have every day and every week aggravated the housing problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife referred, simply because of your failure to allow a just treatment of these people who are bound, or who ought, to keep these properties in 1447 repair. I think that is the real question to which the Government ought to address its mind, and to face it fairly. I think possibly they might expose themselves to a certain amount of unpopularity by granting a concession to a relatively small and unpopular class. But, after all, it is not only a just thing, but it is an absolute necessity. I am not going to enter into the wider question to which my hon. Friend referred, but undoubtedly it is growing and urgent, and this Government and the preceding Government undoubtedly have to accept a large share of responsibility for the almost hopeless condition to which the housing question has been reduced during the past two or three years.
§ Mr. FISHER
I am sometimes tempted to say that a Bill may be said to be a good Bill if it fails to meet a certain section of its critics who say that it does not go far enough, and at the same time fails to meet that section of the critics who say it goes too far. If that be the criterion of a good Bill, I think I might almost say this is a good, practical measure. I know there are two schools of thought in this House. I have heard very eloquent speeches from them. One was represented by my hon. Friend the Member for East Marylebone, who evidently thinks that under no circumstances, even war circumstances, is it admissible to interfere between the landlords and the tenants.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. FISHER
I do not know what is the grievance between landlord and tenant that the hon. Member has in his mind. He probably belongs to a school which thinks that a measure of this kind is inadmissible, even in war-time. Then there is another school, to which apparently my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes belongs, who consider that a Bill of this kind might be a far more comprehensive measure. That view is shared by the hon. Gentleman who leads the Labour party; also these hon. Members hold the view that it might interfere much more widely and deeply with the national law of contract between the landlord and the tenant, now that we have interfered under this Bill. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down says that he joined with the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London in the Debate on the Second Read- 1448 ing of the original Bill—which we are now amending—and that they are now actually opposing this Bill strongly because it does injustice to the landlord. It is very easy to do injustice even in a Bill, and the hon. Member says he is opposed to injustice to landlords. I do not know what the hon. Member suggests we ought to do.
§ Mr. FISHER
I do not know what the hon. Member suggests we should have done to meet the very serious situation with which the Government of the day found itself confronted. What was that situation? It was no less than this: That on account of the shortage of houses—aggravated year by year because no houses were being built, and because the landlords of these working-class dwellings had the tenants in their power—these landlords were, indeed, in a minority—I do not say a majority of them acted as we say—but a minority were treating these tenants week by week by raising their rent and making them most miserable and most uncomfortable, and placing them in a state of insecurity; and because of this in certain districts we were threatened with riots, and almost revolution, in places like Glasgow and munition areas in the East End of London.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to my conduct on the original Bill. I desire to state all the facts. First of all, in the month of July, I called the attention of the Government to the likelihood of this difficulty arising before there was any risk of riot, and it was suggested that by reasonable action then, namely, by fixing a rental standard, that the matter could be dealt with. The Government, on the other hand, waited until these riots arose; then they had to make a concession which was unjust in order to satisfy the discontent.
§ Mr. FISHER
The only suggestion I have heard from the hon. Gentleman was to-day, which was that the Government should allow the landlords more money because it costs them more money to do the repairs. That is the only practical suggestion he has made.
§ Mr. FISHER
I myself, on the Second Reading of the Bill, admitted that had we had the knowledge on the original Bill 1449 that we had then we might perhaps, very wisely, have dealt with the question of repairs, and also with the question of subletting. But these various other suggestions would not have met the problem in the very least. I know still no practical way in which we could meet that very dangerous situation unless we had met it in the way of stereotyping the rent that was paid on 3rd August, 1914; unless we had taken measures to prevent purchasers from evading the original Act by buying the houses and then obtaining orders from the Court to enter into possession, notwithstanding that they were undoubtedly deliberately evading a law which this House passed for the protection of the tenants. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, on the other hand, has told us of many things that he would desire to see covered in this Bill. For instance, he would desire to see wives and relations of soldiers and sailors protected from eviction. Yes, but to pass a measure such as he has sketched must have taken a very considerable time. Take the point alone of the protection of the wives and dependants of soldiers and sailors. If they under no circumstances ought to be evicted from their houses—if that had been suggested in any particular section of the Bill—I am quite sure hon. Members would have risen up and said: "Are not other people just as much entitled to protection; is the wives and dependants of soldiers and sailors?" What about all those on work of national importance: those engaged in the shipyards, in agriculture, and so forth? What about Civil servants, who sometimes are deliberately kept from going into the Army because they are people of national importance with respect to their work? I am quite sure that what the hon. Gentleman suggests would mean discussion of extreme length even if these things were ever found incorporated in the Bill! I am convinced of this: from all I have heard on the Second Reading and on this Report stage, that the Government did wisely in framing their Bill that it should be a Bill on which very few Amendments could be moved, for this reason: the Government, as everybody knows, is in a very congested condition as regards legislation. They have a great programme of legislation in front of them. We all know the hon. Member for East Marylebone's awful warning as to what he is going to do if the Government should dare to introduce a comprehensive Bill which would 1450 deal with the many points raised by the hon. Member for Devizes. We should have a very warm bombardment from him and his friends. Such a Bill would on no account be a Bill which could be labelled non-controversial—one which we should be able to get through the House in the quiet, comfortable, little sitting of three, four, or five hours to which we are now accustomed on these Bills.
Therefore, I think the House will generally agree that if we want to apply this measure to 80 or 90 per cent. of the cases in which certain persons have driven hard bargains under the original Act we were right in limiting this Bill to working-class dwellings as denned in the original Act. I have enormous sympathy with those who are now living in houses of a rental value of £40, £50, £60 and £80 per year, who are now, and have been, subjected to their landlords coming and saying, "You must either buy your house or leave it." It may be that these men are not able, from various circumstances, perhaps by reason mainly of their occupation being unsettled, or the necessity of having to change their neighbourhood—as it may be in the case of bank managers—to buy their houses. It is very hard on them. On the other hand these houses, as a rule, are let on lease or by agreement, which is not the case with working-class dwellings. There is a landlord's case which might be made very strong in the case of these larger rented houses which cannot be made as regards working-men's dwellings. I have invited the House to bring before me evidence of hardship which may have occurred in cases where men were told, who had occupied these larger rented houses of from £40 to £75 a year, that if they would not buy the house they would be turned out. I asked hon. Members to give me evidence of hard oases that they might be discussed. I have taken note of the evidence which I have been able to collect. I will take care that it is brought before the consideration of His Majesty's Government. So far as this particular matter is concerned, it is hardly, however, a Local Government Board matter. Let me say that. As a matter of fact I hardly know how the Local Government Board took up the present Bill. I think it was the desire of my right hon. Friend, who is now Colonial Minister to lend a hand in stopping an evil which he saw which led to the Bill being taken up by my Department. The matter shall be thoroughly 1451 well considered. I can, however, make no promise on behalf of the Government. They have an enormous programme of legislation in front of them. Nor can I give any undertaking that any other Bill will be brought forward this Session. All I can say is that the evidence put before me shall be carefully considered by the Government.
I have been asked two questions, and with that, I trust, the Debate will be allowed to close. The hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for the Tradeston Division of Glasgow inquired whether a factor was a landlord within the meaning of the Act? I should say he is not a landlord for the purposes of this Act. If, however, a landlord were to endeavour to obtain an order for possession of a house for the use of the factor who is in his employ, it would be for the Court to consider whether it was a reasonable thing to require possession of that house for the use of the factor.
§ Mr. FISHER
That is a question which I would rather leave to the Court. I cannot conceive that the Court would give an order to two landlords for the possession of two houses for the same factor. I was further asked when will this Bill be passed into law? I cannot say exactly when it will receive the Royal Assent. The House will remember that this Bill came from another place, where it was very fully considered. I have no reason to think that our Amendment will be unacceptable to the other House. I have no reason, therefore, to think that the other House will occupy any length of time in reconsidering this Bill, or to think otherwise than that this Bill will receive the Royal Assent. One thing we may say. Many thousands of tenants there are who really lived almost in terror of being evicted from their houses—the houses which they have occupied for very many years. While I admit it may entail hardship on a few landlords, I hope and believe, as I have said, that on the balance this House, by this Bill, will have done much to relieve the hardships inflicted on these tenants. If we have done that, we shall have done something to stop up the gap which has been artificially created in an Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. J. HENDERSON
I consider this to be a very bad Bill. I quite agree that all 1452 those tenants who are in these congested districts and subject to these particular air raids and munitions demands ought to be protected. Everybody is willing to do that, I should say, in this House. Why, however, we should go beyond that, and go to districts where there is nothing of the kind, and insist that a man who happens to be a tenant shall remain whether the landlord wishes it or not, I cannot understand—especially as you provide no protection for this kind of thing. I know the popular idea of the landlord is a man who has a fur coat, drinks champagne every day, and so forth, but there are a great many landlords and landladies who are living upon the small incomes they get from their houses. What is the fact which I pointed out before in regard to these houses? Take the case of the house let at £25 per war the rent in 1913. Repairs to-day cost just three times what they were in 1913, so that a house paying 5 per cent. on the capital is now only paying 1 per cent. These people are subject to high prices of food just like everybody else. I am not at all sure that these men and women could not get places in the same town, but they cannot do it at the same rent; they object to pay any more, and they do not see the justice or paying a little more to these people who have to live on the rents which they receive. It shows how politics is getting fearfully mixed when we find a right hon. Gentleman who is a staunch Conservative getting up here and pushing a Bill of this sort through this House, which inflicts a great injustice upon a great many people. This Bill is slovenly drawn, and it ought to have recognised that the cost of all these things has gone up, and that articles that used to cost £2 or £3 a few years ago now cost £9 or £10, and this makes it impossible for some property owners to continue to get a living out of their houses.
I hope something will be done in another place in regard to these Amendments. I think you might give power to the Court to protect the landlord against a man who can easily get another house, and who is sitting at a cheap rent, and in such a case something towards the additional cost of repairs should be provided by means of an additional rent if the man is not to remain in possession. It is not fair to the landlords that these people should remain at the old rent when the landlords are subject to all these increased expenses and an increased Income 1453 Tax as well. I know the case of a house which was let at £30 a year; the repairs last year were over £12, and the Income Tax between £4 and £5, making altogether about £18. The house cost between £400 and £500, and what sort of an income is derived from that kind of property? In this case the tenant can stop on at the old rent until the War is over, and nothing can disturb him. There are a great many cases like that. In districts where the abuse complained of on the part of the landlords is rampant by all means deal with them, but this Act should not apply to the rest of the country, where such a state of things does apply, and this object could have been achieved if my right hon. Friend had scheduled the parts affected and left the ordinary law to remain in its common action throughout the country in places which are not affected with this particular mischief.
§ Mr. W. WATSON
I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman has put into this Bill the two Amendments of which he spoke the other day, which are undoubted improvements. I do not agree with the hon. Member who said that this is a bad Bill. It may be in some respects, but I do not think it goes quite far enough. I wish to refer to an abuse which undoubtedly exists. The purpose of the original Act was to prevent landlords profiteering on account of the War, but surely it is equally necessary and proper to prevent the tenants from profiteering. There are many cases where tenants, sitting secure in their tenancies, are able, by sub-letting and putting in perhaps a stock of furniture, to do the very thing which it was the purpose of this Act and this Bill to prevent. That is an evil which ought to be stopped as soon as possible. Owing to the tight rope which the right hon. Gentleman put round his neck in the title of this Bill, he could not deal with this point in this measure, and that is why I put down an Amendment. It is an evil which exists, and having in view the purpose of the original Act and this Bill, it is highly proper that this evil should be remedied at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. WATT
I desire to associate myself with those who have declared that this is an unfair measure. The original Act has had to be supplemented by this Bill. Nobody who took an unbiassed view of the Act passed a few years ago could have come to any other conclusion than that it is based on injustice. I think it is advis- 1454 able when we see inherent injustice in any case that we should speak out boldly, and I hope to do so now. Who can say that it was not unjust to provide in the Act of 1915 that a landlord should be prevented from raising his rent above the pre-war price? Who can say that it was otherwise than unfair and unjust that a bondholder or a mortgagor of property should be prevented from raising his rate of interest on loans above pre-war rates? In all branches of trade fixed prices have been established since the War began, but in no other case but rent has a fixed price been made where that price is the pre-war level. In all other instances where prices are fixed they have been considerably above pre-war rates, but only in regard to property in the case of rents has a pre-war price been fixed.
Under this Bill, where a man has purchased a house he is prevented from taking possession of it, and that is an extraordinary and sweeping proposal to pass in an Act of Parliament. Not only is that the case, but the proposal is retrospective, and that is very unjust. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) is already shouting out for a third measure, and my hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone has indicated that if the Government carry further this policy of spoliation it will be met with great opposition. Munition workers, engineers, and other workers are getting extraordinary advances of wages, and to say they are not to be called upon to pay higher rents in times of high prices is absurd. I believe the earners of high wages would not object to paying a small increase in rent, and I am sure owners of property would not object to paying a higher rate of interest. The original outcry for this measure was for the protection of the dependants of soldiers and sailors, and it was intended to meet the eases of evictions of such dependants that the outcry arose, and for that reason the Government initiated this measure. They have, however, failed entirely to satisfy that demand, and they have had to make the Bill much wider.
§ Mr. GWYNNE
A good deal has been said by some speakers about the dependants of soldiers and sailors, and it has been hinted that some hon. Members here desire to turn them out of their houses. I think that is a very unfair suggestion. I do not think any hon. Member of this House in any quarter of it would wish to see the wives or dependants of 1455 soldiers or sailors turned out of their houses, either now or in the future. I think it would have been better if the Government, in considering the whole matter, had seen fit to curtail their own activities in the way of turning people out of their houses, and not only the wives of soldiers and sailors, but other unfortunate people. I could give case after case where Government Departments, under the Defence of the Realm Act, have ruthlessly turned people out at a fortnight's notice, and left them without any compensation. One of the first acts of the Government ought to be to remedy these evils of which they are the perpetrators. I am sure we are all agreed that this rush of aliens out of London, which has the effect of turning citizens out of their houses, should be stopped. The whole Debate on this measure has been of too narrow a character. The President of the Local Government Board wishes to see this Bill through, but I feel that its effect will be to prevent people putting more money into building. Nothing could give a greater want of confidence than the effect of this Bill.
I have in my own Constituency come across several bonâ-fide cases where people acting in the ordinary course of trade have speculated in property before the War and erected cottages with borrowed money. The War broke out, and the houses had to be let at lower rents. Later on, there comes a great demand for these small cottages, and the builder who perhaps could then get out of them very well is prevented from doing so. He is faced with an enormously increased expenditure on repairs and with the necessity of finding the money to pay the mortgagees. He cannot sell the cottages, and he becomes bankrupt. Many people have come to me and said that if this course of legislation goes on it will be impossible for anyone to put another penny piece into the building of cottages. It is largely owing to the fact that builders and others have put up these cottages that the housing problem has not been much worse. I do trust that the right hon. Gentleman will do something to restore the confidence of these people who have put their money into these cottages. There are not only builders, but many working men among them. It is very difficult indeed to get anyone to put any money at all into the building of cottages, and, after such a discussion as we have had to-day, it will be practically impossible.
Sir GARROD THOMAS
I would like to add my appeal to the Government to have some regard for the landlord as well as for the tenant. When one hon. Member was speaking a few days ago about bad landlords, I heard someone say—it is true that it was said sotto voce—that there was no such thing as a good landlord. But one knows from one's experience that good landlords are quite common. Some concrete cases have been mentioned to-day, and I would like to add another. I happened to know an old man who was a builder and who built half a dozen cottages and a rather better house in which to live himself. He died and left his property to his two unmarried daughters These two old ladies are nearer seventy-five than seventy years of age, and all that they have to live on is the income from these small cottages. Up to the present, by earning a little with their needlework, they have been able to meet all their obligations, including their doctor's bills, so that they must be pretty honest people. But the times have changed, and whereas they always used to have a small margin to the good, now, owing to the fact that repairs cost more—the wind will come and blow off slates, plaster will fall, and various other repairs have to be done—they have a rather big margin to the bad. I had a letter from one of them a month or so ago asking me if I could see the Superintendent Collector of Rates so that they might not be punished. I found that I was speaking to a sympathetic ear, but the remark he made to me was this: "I cannot advise my committee to wipe off this for anything less than the full payment, because the moment that the door is open there will be such a crowd of people that the queue will reach from here to the railway station. There are heaps of people in exactly the same position." You may say, "What about the tenant?" One knows for a fact that there are tenants who are actually making money by sub-letting. Some tenants by letting two rooms are getting more than their full rent. I have risen merely for the purpose of appealing to the Government to have some regard for landlords such as those I have mentioned as well as seeking to protect the tenant.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.