HC Deb 12 April 1920 vol 127 cc1459-62

Order for Second Reading read.


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

This Bill is one which, on the face of it, appears to be rather obscure, but in reality it is quite simple. The main purpose of the measure is to remedy a grievance which has arisen in Scotland under the provisions of the Rent Restriction Acts, as they apply to small dwelling-houses which fall within the scope of the House-Letting and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1911. Under that Act the owner of a small dwelling-house which is let to a tenant is responsible to the various rating authorities for the portion of the local rates which is imposed upon that tenant. The theory of the Act is that the owner can reimburse himself by collecting the rates from the tenant along with, and as part of, the rent which he pays. Now the local rates in Scotland are struck annually—very often after a considerable portion of the assessment year (which is from the 15th May to the 15th May) has run—generally about four or five months after. Under the Act of 1911 that created no real difficulty, because owners could adjust the rent which they imposed in the latter half of the year in order to compensate themselves for any rise in the rates before those rates were struck. Under the provisions of the Rent Restriction Acts, however, owners are only entitled to make an addition to the standard rent on the ground of increase in the occupier's rates after the rates have been struck for the year, and the increase cannot be retrospective so as to cover the portion of the assessment year which has already run. Accordingly, the present position is this, that where the occupiers rates have risen in any year, the owners, while remaining responsible to the Rating Authorities for the rates for the full year at the increased figure, are disabled by Statute from collecting the increase from the tenant during the earlier portion of the year. I am free to admit that this difficulty has arisen through inadvertence. I do not think the position of Scotland in this matter, and, in particular, the operation of the Act of 1911, was fully appreciated when the Rent Restriction Acts were passing through this House; but now the grievance has become very acute because, owing to the large increase in the rates for the present year 1919–20, as compared with the previous year, the burden laid upon the owners of these small dwelling-houses is a very serious and a very large one. I am told that in Glasgow alone the amount involved is estimated at £100,000. That is to say, that is the amount which the owners of these small dwelling-houses are called upon to pay in the name of occupier's rates, and which, under the existing law, they are disabled from recovering from the tenant.

Clause 1 of the Bill is designed to effect a remedy for this manifest injustice, which was not contemplated when the Rent Restriction Acts were passed, and under the provision of the first Sub-section any unrecovered increase in the Occupier's Rates proportionate to the period of his occupancy is made a lawful addition to his rent, and can be recovered from the occupier in the way of arrears of rent. That is the only effect of Clause 1 of the Bill. Clause 2 deals with an entirely different matter. It proceeds on the lines of what is known as the Statement of Rates Act, 1919, which passed through this House and applies to England only. Representations have, however, been made to me on behalf of occupiers of small houses that a provision such as that contained in Clause 2 of the Bill would be a valuable safeguard to those occupiers against the exaction by owners from them of additions to rent which are beyond those authorised by law. Accordingly, Clause 2 really applies to Scottish conditions the provisions of that Act of 1919. The third Clause is a penalty Clause, and deals with false statements and undue exactions if those statements are made or those exactions are attempted, and imposes a substantial penalty on those who make false statements or endeavour to obtain undue exactions. Such, in very short compass, is the purpose and effect of this measure which, put it to the House, will remedy what is a manifest injustice under which owners of small houses are suffering to-day, and, in these circumstances, I would respectfully invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.


I desire, in the first place, to express what I am sure are the thanks of the Scottish Members to my right hon. Friend for his explanation of this Bill, and to say at once that we meet it in no spirit of hostility, but with a wish to assist its passage into law. As a matter of fact, I think we have all recognised that it meets a difficulty of an unexpected character which arose, and which, if not met would inflict an injustice upon the owners of house property in Scotland. The two points which I desire to put very briefly have been raised by owners of house property in large communities, particularly in Edinburgh and also in other parts of the country. The first representation refers to the proviso of Clause I which deals with a claim which is irrecoverable, and a declaration to the effect that every lawful endeavour has been made to recover the amount claimed. House proprietors point out that, as regards ordinary borough rates in Edinburgh and elsewhere, there may be no great difficulty, but they suggest that it is rather different with the Education and Poor Rates, statutes with regard to which are more strictly interpreted, and it might be held that the amount was not recoverable unless a decree of the court or "diligence" as it is called, has been granted. They argue that a restriction of that kind in a Bill is somewhat drastic, and I hope it may be considered in Committee.

The other part is very much more important, and I think I am correct in saying that all Scottish tenants will welcome Clause 2, which clearly provides for a statement as to the amount of the assessment when the rent is demanded. A very great deal of unrest under the House Letting Acts in Scotland has arisen from the fact that, rightly or wrongly, there has been a widespread impression amongst the smaller tenants that, under the guise of increased assessments, they will be charged increased rents, and in poorer quarters that view is very widely and strongly held. House proprietors draw attention to a flaw or weakness in this clause. They say that, as regards annual or half-yearly notices, or even shorter periods, they have no particular objection to the statement of the amount of assessment applicable for the period for which the rent is requested. But when we get down to monthly lets, and very short periods like that, they argue that it is going to involve a great deal of clerical labour, and that it might be modified in some way to meet that difficulty. On that point I should like to say that personally I have no strong sympathy, but I simply present the case which has been put to me by many small proprietors of house property, some of whom are not so distantly removed from the Labour movement as we perhaps imagine. With that somewhat trifling criticism I desire most cordially to support the right hon. Gentleman, and to say that when this Bill gets to Committee we shall endeavour, not certainly to oppose it, but to improve it in any way we possibly can.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.