HC Deb 31 March 1919 vol 114 cc995-1004

B.—(1) Where the occupier of a dwelling-house to which the principal Act, either as originally enacted or as extended by this Act, applies, lets, or has before the passing of this Act let the house or any part thereof at a rent which includes payment in respect of the use of furniture, and it is proved to the satisfaction of the County Court on the application of the lessee that the rent charged yields to the occupier a profit more than twenty-five per cent, in excess of the normal profit as hereinafter defined, the Court may order that the rent, so far as it exceeds such sum as would yield such normal profit and twenty-five per cent., shall be irrecoverable, and that the amount of any payment of rent in excess of such sum which may have been made in respect of any period after the passing of this Act, shall be repaid to the lessee, and, without prejudice to any other method of recovery, may be recovered by him by means of deductions from any subsequent payments of rent.

(2) For the purpose of this Section "normal profit" means the profit which might reasonably have been obtained from a similar letting in the year ending on the third day of August, nineteen hundred and fourteen.

Lords Message:

The Lords insist upon their Amendment for the following resaon: Because it would be unjust to apply a different principle to the treatment of the letting of furnished and unfurnished dwelling-houses.


This Amendment insisted on as it is, raises a rather difficult question. As originally proposed and as still on the Paper, the Amendment was resisted from this bench upon the ground first of all that the method proposed of dealing with furnished houses was not practicable and would put on the County Courts, which was almost made a rent Court, a duty which it was impossible for it to perform, and, secondly, that the Clause was of such width as to cover many oases of the letting, say, of working-class dwellings and a room or two rooms furnished, and consequently to keep down the rent demandable for such room or zooms furnished, and that it was going much more into detail than the scope of the legislation had ever intended. There is no doubt about this, and I think the House felt this when the discussion took place over the Amendment, that there is a genuine grievance underneath this furnished let question, and I think the House therefore was of the view that if it could have seen its way to something practicable it would have been ready and willing to have put something of this kind into the Bill. The Lords have insisted on this Amendment. It is an Amendment which has an undoubted grievance behind it, but I am afraid it must still be admitted that the method taken to try and reach it is—perhaps I had better speak entirely for myself—exceedingly unlikely to have much practical effect. Therefore, in regard to the Amendment as it stands, I cannot recommend with any opinion of my own that it is likely to go far to touch the griev- ance which really however at bottom inspires it. But this I suggest to the House as perhaps on the whole the wisest course. As it stands this Amendment would apply even to the let of a house for summer quarters for a month or two. It would apply to occasional lets of a month or two, and obviously it ought not so to apply. A house that is let furnished, Say, for summer quarters, for a couple of months, perhaps let twice in that way in the course of a year, is a furnished house that has to bring its return out of four months' instead of twelve months' occupation, and therefore to apply this Clause to short lets of that character, all the more if the Clause were one likely to be really effectual, would be to operate substantial injustice. I therefore suggest that while, rather than have more discussion or dissension about it, we should accept the Clause, at least it means that we accept the principle of the Clause, and if it can be made available by anybody through the County Courts it will be available to be made use of, subject to an Amendment of it which shall exclude from its operation lets of two months and less. That will certainly have the effect of avoiding the injustice and extreme inconvenience of throwing open to question all such bargains as this that are made for a month's or two months' holiday for a family. Therefore what I would recommend the House to do would be not to insist in disagreement but, on the contrary, to add after the word "let" the words, "for a period exceeding two months." It will then read thus: "Where the occupier of a dwelling-house to which the principal Act either as originally enacted or as extended by this Act applies lets or has before the passing of this Act let for a period exceeding two months the house or any part thereof, etc." The effect of this will be to accept both the principle of the Clause and its letter but to exclude from it lets of two months and under.

Resolved, That this House doth not insist upon its disagreement to the Lords Amendment."—[Mr. Clyde.]

Amendment proposed to the Lords Amendment: In Sub-section (1), after the word "let," to insert the words, "for a period exceeding two months."—[Mr. Clyde.]


I should like to point out that it is a very extreme power, and it appears to me that if this is agreed to nobody will let a furnished house readily beyond two months at a time. Nobody will be able to get any security of tenure. The let will be renewed from time to time, I can imagine. The question of the abuse of furniture by tenants of furnished houses is one that must not be lost sight of either. I would refer to another matter that I hope to see put right. I have in my hand a letter from a man who sold his house in January and took a new one in the full faith that he would get into the new house, and now he is bound to fulfil his contract to the person to whom he let his house, and he is on the street and cannot get into a new house. There was a bond called up, and he has paid it and—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

That question does not arise here.


I think the House feels that there are many practical difficulties in this matter which it is not easy to overcome. I recall that on the occasion when we considered the Lords Amendment many of us felt that to a very great extent the Lords were right in their view, but the difficulties were so great that we hesitated to go quite as far as had been suggested by the Lords. I feel, and I think that many of those for whom I am speaking also feel, now however that the Lords Amendment ought to be accepted without the further qualification suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. So far as I know, the damage that may be done in the incidental use of furniture or in the abuse of the furniture in the case of furnished apartments must be paid for in addition to any other payment arranged for for the ordinary let, and if that be so, there is nothing in that particular argument used by the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House; but there is a great deal in his point, which I think occurred at the same moment to many of us, that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would incline every house-letter of a furnished house or furnished apartments to resort to the device of not letting the house at any one time for a longer period than two months. I think that the injustice which has become so common as to require us to deal with this question is greater than the practical difficulties that have to be overcome, and on the whole I would prefer that in the absence of any stronger reasons to the contrary the Amendment as suggested by the Lords be accepted.


I have had several communications in regard to this Amendment and with regard to the question of furnished apartments, and there is no doubt that there is a case that should be met if it can. I know the question arises about the lettings at seaside resorts and places of that kind, but my information is that in many cases in the towns there has been a very serious grievance. I had a case put to me the other day where a young professional woman had had her rent raised 4s. per week. It is no good meeting that statement by saying that that was because of the increase in the cost of food, because all these things had been taken into consideration previously, and the 4s. a week was put on the furnished apartments, and she has had to submit to it. Now, having put that case, which illustrates a grievance, I fully realise the great difficulty there is in dealing with it. Most of us who heard the Debate when the Amendment originally came before us, have tried, I suppose, to see whether we could think out a way in which this difficulty could be met. It is very good of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to have made the suggestion he has with regard to two months' letting, but I am rather inclined to agree with my right hon. Friend opposite that it does not help us very much. I do not want to resist the Amendment, if it is the best way to get out of the difficulty. I want to see a Bill in the best form possible put on the Statute Book as speedily as may be, but I can also realise that, while it is necessary to put in an Amendment, it may land us in a difficulty. I can fully realise the case to be dealt with, where, for a large portion of the year, people with furnished apartments have to let at ridiculously low prices, and therefore they want an economic rent when people rush down for their holidays. I wish we could have got over the difficulty in some other way. I shall not resist the Amendment that is suggested by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I am afraid it does not help us very much, and it might create other difficulties that might cause much trouble to get over.


I am sorry to hear the Lord Advocate say that the acceptance of the Lords Amendment would not help us to overcome the difficulty with which it seeks to deal. I do not think there is any doubt that there has been just as much profiteering in the letting of furnished lodgings as there has been in many other phases of our national life during the course of the War. And, so far as we are concerned, we should like very well to see some reference put in here that would make profiteering in the letting of furnished houses, or parts of furnished houses, impossible. The terms of the Lords Amendment under which those letting furnished houses get a 25 per cent, increase, is, I think, a fairly substantial sum towards meeting the risk that was mentioned by the hon. Member for the Springburn division of Glasgow (Mr. Macquisten). I think that if there is the difficulty the Lord Advocate has pointed out as to making this Amendment applicable so as to remove the profiteering, he should turn his attention to the amending of the Lords Amendment in such a way as would fulfil the object which their Lordships have in view. I am certain that the Amendment he has proposed to the Lords Amendment will not have the effect that he seems to have in his mind. I think it will have the effect that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Springburn. Instead of letting these furnished apartments for three, six and twelve months, they will let them for one month or two months, and in that way continue the profiteering. I have in my mind the case of a small house, the yearly rental of which was £17 10s. It was let furnished to another party at £8 a month on a quarterly let. Instead of letting that house quarterly, all that they will need to do is to reduce the time to two months. I think the Lord Advocate, if he has in mind the protection of those who make their living by providing summer quarters for people on holiday, would be well advised to put in some such words as would limit the effect of his Amendment to cover this purpose, and this purpose alone. I do not think that I could give him the exact words at the moment, but some such words as "except for summer holiday purposes" might meet the point. I do not think it would accomplish the object we have in view by saying "seaside resort," as people go to other parts of the country as well as to seaside resorts. But I would make an appeal to the Lord Advocate to see whether it is not possible to word his Amendment in such a way as would cover these cases and these cases alone, and accept the remainder of their Lordships Amendment so as to stop what profiteering can be stopped within its terms.


Is the Amendment of the Government intended to include the ordinary furnished lodgings arrangements whereby people can get rid of a tenancy by a week or month's notice, as the case may be? Is it meant to apply to people who have lived, say, in furnished lodgings for two years on a weekly or monthly tenancy? Would not the words exclude those cases which are really intended to be included? It is only a drafting point.


This would not apply to furnished lodgings at all. None of this legislation applies to a case where service is rendered.


Is my right hon. and learned Friend quite sure of the wording? The original Bill was supposed to apply to furnished houses. Every flat in London has a certain amount of attendance in regard to stairs, or lights, or something of that sort.


Of course, I quite agree there might be a case in which it would be difficult to say whether the service was such, just as there might be a case in which it would be difficult to say that the furniture was such, as to bring a house within the limit of ordinary apartments on the one hand or a furnished house on the other. But, so far as this Clause is concerned, it applies to a furnished house let as such, and not to furnished apartments or lodgings let as such.


Parts of the dwelling house.


Again, that is only true if let as a dwelling house. It does not apply to the ordinary case of a lodger who has a bedroom and a sitting room, and gets full service otherwise. As I said before, I am really trying to obtain agreement here. If the general view is, as it seems to be, favourable to accepting the Amendment as it stands, notwithstanding the candid warning I have given that it might do some harm, though not much, I am not going to stand in the way of the House in a matter of this sort at all. I cannot promise that the effect will be anything that the framers will have anything to congratulate themselves upon, because I do not think it will touch the effective difficulty. This Amendment has nothing to do with security of tenure at all. It is true that, in regard to small houses, there is security given to the tenant while this state of things lasts. Here there is none. Consequently, it is obvious there are few tenants who will care to face the proof in the County Court which this will impose upon them, in order to get a remedy, in order to alter the rent of a tenancy which will, inevitably, if that Clause be passed, be kept short in duration. The tenants will be able to apply the remedy which the Clause contains. I am very anxious for peace. I quite understand the general grievance behind, and although I cannot say that I think this will prove an effective remedy, since it seems to be the opinion of the House I will, with the leave of the House, withdraw the Amendment and allow the matter to stand so that the Motion will be that the House doth not disagree.

Amendment to the Lords Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—[Mr. Clyde.]


It seems to me that we are witnessing a most amazing display of legislative incompetence. This Bill has now had two Amendment stages in this House and two Amendment stages in the other House. The Lords have amended the Bill, and it has come back here and we are considering whether or not to disagree. We are not to insist upon the Amendment now after all these stages have been gone through. The Government quite blandly get up, and, having had their opportunity of dealing with the Amendment on several occasions in the two Houses, they tell us, that though they do not think that this particular way of dealing with grievances is the best, that they have no other to suggest. That is hardly fair to this House. In the other House, too, we have the amazing spectacle of the Government lamenting the possibility of convincing their colleagues in this House of the legitimacy and desirability of several such Amendments. It seems desirable that the Government in the two Houses should work together and should really understand what they want. They should take the trouble of framing Amendments to carry out what are the objects of the Bill, and of remedying the grievances which they themselves recognise to be real grievances. It is not possible for the Government to disclaim responsibility. If they do not think a good plan has been suggested they ought to provide a proper plan. They have placed those of us here in this position: We cannot disagree with the Lords Amendment because that will kill the Bill. If we agree with the Lords Amendment, then the outcome is these words with which we do not agree. There is a third alternative, and that is for the Government to produce an Amendment. The fourth alternative is to adjourn the Debate. I think the Government ought to take the trouble to work out their legislation properly to meet the grievances that they recognise.


I am sorry in many respects that the Lord Advocate suggests the withdrawal of this Amendment, because to some of us on these benches the point appears to be perfectly simple. We desire to protect, so far as possible, large numbers of the industrial classes who are compelled to take or let furnished houses for short periods. We wish to draw the distinction between the class of tenant with a furnished house and the occupier of furnished premises for a short time at the seaside for the purposes of a holiday. If the Amendment was altered on the lines suggested, namely, to make that perfectly clear that holiday premises were excluded, then we should get an Amendment that would protect the occupiers of small furnished houses for short periods, and a very large number of the industrial classes of the country. Might I respectfully press that upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman?


All these alternatives, in eluding some of those put forward by the Noble Lord, have not only been considered, but considered very fully, and I am sorry that it has not been found possible to suggest to the House what we thought would be a really practical solution of this question, with the kind of exceptions required, and which hon. Members very naturally would like to see. I am afraid that it has not been possible. May I also say, in reference to the speech of the Noble Lord, that it is possibly neither just nor wise to attempt to throw on the heads of the Government the responsibility for interference the real source of which may be found not here but in another place.


I am doubtful whether the Government have had a very clear view. An opinion was given the first day as to the working of this Act by, I think, the Lord Advocate himself. It was to the effect that this Act applied to furnished lodgings. That was true, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman came in somewhat hurriedly, and the Bill, as I have said before, was not in charge of a lawyer at the beginning. He gave us that view definitely and that view was never withdrawn.


The hon. Gentleman is wrong in that.


The right hon. and learned Gentleman was not here the next day. The Minister of Education was in charge of the Bill at that time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman no doubt on the third occasion did withdraw the interpretation. That is perfectly right. The fact of the matter is that the stages of this Bill were taken quickly, and we passed this legislation through the House without proper consideration, and without clearly understanding what the effect of the Bill would be. I very much doubt whether anybody knows exactly what the effect of this Amendment will be, so far as furnished lodgings or rooms are concerned. There was considerable force in what the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University said. In a Bill involving legal questions it is very important that the legal points should be considered and legal advice given to the House at every stage.

Lords Amendment: