HC Deb 19 December 1919 vol 123 cc953-5

Order for Second Reading read


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

This measure has been suggested by the learned judges in the County courts, and it has been passed through all its stages in another place. It is a Bill designed to meet a particular emergency which has arisen because orders for the eviction of tenants are frequently being made in cases where the tenant has no alternative accommodation, and it is strongly felt that this emergency must be dealt with before Christmas, and consequently before this House is prorogued. As hon. Members are no doubt aware, under the law as it now stands, if the tenant pays his rent and observes the conditions of his lease, he cannot be evicted except upon certain specific grounds, and they are set out in the Acts of Parliament. That is another way of saying that upon those grounds, if they arise, he may be evicted, and those grounds are three in number—firstly, that the tenant has permitted waste, or is guilty of a nuisance; secondly, that the premises are reasonably required by the landlord or by some other person in his employ; and, thirdly, some other ground which may be deemed satisfactory by the court making the order.

Those grounds have been further limited in one respect. In the case of the request by the landlord for possession it has been provided by the amending Act that if the landlord requires the reversion after September, 1917, the order could only be made if after considering all the circumstances of the case, including especially the alternative accommodation available, the Court considers it reasonable to make the order. The existing Acts are, therefore, framed in such a way that, except in the case of post-1917 landlords, the court has practically no discretion to refuse an order for possession if one or other of those specific grounds be established. In these circumstances, the continued shortage of housing accommodation has, in fact, resulted in a very large number of applications being made for orders for possession. For example, from January to November of this year, in one County Court alone, there were no fewer that 329 applications and the great majority of them were upon the second ground, namely, that the landlord required in the circumstances prescribed by the Act, possession for himself. The fact that the Court has no discretion to refuse an order if it is proved that the landlord required possession for any of the purposes named in the Statute, has led to orders being made in many cases, where it is strictly true to say that the tenant has no available accommodation at all. The result is what might be expected, and evictions have given rise to considerable and increasing discontent, and it is felt that at this period of the year and as the House is about to rise, it is necessary to deal with the matter by legislation.

Under the present Bill, which if it is enacted, will take the place of all the provisions of the existing Increase of Rent (Restrictions) Acts relating to orders for possession, the grounds on which an order for possession may be made are not substantially varied except in one respect. Instead of saying in the vague language of the existing law some other ground which may be deemed satisfactory by the Court making such an order, it is especially provided that the order may be made where the tenant by sub-letting the dwelling-house or any part thereof or by taking in lodgers is making a profit which having regard to the rent paid by the tenant is unreasonable, and the Court considers it reasonable to make such an order. I think the House will agree that it would be intolerable on the one hand that the rent as between the landlord and tenant should be kept down as prescribed by the Act, and none the less the tenant by sub-letting should be making a considerable profit and putting it into his own pocket.

Except for that specific provision the grounds are not varied, but—and this is the importance of the measure—a much wider discretion is given to the Court in all cases, and it is a definite instruction to the Court in the case of what I will call landlords' applications, to examine all the circumstances of the case, and in particular the alternative accommodation available for the tenants. The effect will be that if no alternative accommodation is in fact available, the Court will only be able to make an order for possession if the circumstances are quite exceptional. In order to meet the immediate emergency, the Bill further enables orders which have been made before the passing of the Act, but which have not been executed, to be set aside if they cannot be brought within the terms of the Bill, and further power is taken in cases for what I call landlord's possession to suspend the operation of an order on such terms as the payment of rent or mesne profits and otherwise as the Court thinks reasonable. Those are the simple and modest provisions of this measure. It is, in the strictest sense of the word, an emergency measure. It has passed through all its stages in another House, and I hope that this House at this period of the year, and in view of the fact that we are soon to rise, will think it right to pass the measure through all its stages to-day.

Bill accordingly read a second time.

Resolved: "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[Sir G. Hewart.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

[Sir E. CORNWALL in the Chair.]