HC Deb 19 April 1923 vol 162 cc2263-7
The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)

I beg to move, That leave he given to introduce a Bill to continue the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, and any enactment amending that Act, until the thirty-first day of July, nineteen hundred and twenty-three. The House is aware that I have in preparation a Measure designed to meet the situation which will arise when the present Rent Restrictions Act comes to an end, and certain Members have already foreseen that the time available for dealing with this new Measure is very short. After having looked carefully into the matter myself, I have come to the conclusion that it is absolutely essential to prolong the life of the present Act for a brief period, in order that we may have a sufficient breathing space in which to discuss the details of the new Measure which I propose to introduce. I need hardly say that the source of all my troubles is to be found in Scotland. All I mean by that observation is that the Act which comes to an end in England and Wales on the 24th June expires in Scotland on the 28th May. I would like to ask the House to consider for a moment what sort of a time-table that means, if we are to get through the new Bill in time. Whit-Sunday falls on 20th May, and, if I am to assume that the House desires to have some short rest from its labours, it, is clear that I cannot count on any time between then and 28th May. Therefore, the last day of Parliamentary time available to me would be Thursday, 17th May. At the very earliest, it would not be possible for me to move the Second Reading of the Bill before Monday, 30th of this month, and, if hon. Members will count, they will find that, excluding Fridays, that leaves me only 10 days of Parliamentary time for the Committee stage, the Report stage, and the Third Reading in this House and all the stages of the Bill in the House of Lords.


Make it retrospective.


That seems to me obviously insufficient time to deal with a Measure of this importance, even if I assume, as I suppose I may, that it will prove to be entirely non-contentious. If that be so, it only remains to consider how much more time we want, and I think perhaps I had better read to the House the Bill, which is very short and consists of only one operative Clause:— The Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act of 1920 and any enactments amending that Act shall continue in force until the thirty-first day of July, nineteen hundred and twenty-three. I think that will give me really a little more time than I shall require, but it is best to be on the safe side and to have a little more rather than a little less. I may be asked why it is that I have not been able to get this Bill into a little more forward stage. If that be made the subject of a charge against me, I would remind the House that I have been in office only just six weeks, and I have been very busily engaged with a Housing Bill and with a great number of other matters, some of them of considerable importance, and with which a new Minister must necessarily make himself acquainted. I certainly do not want to ask for any unreasonable latitude, and I appreciate the anxiety of the House and of the country to have the Government policy upon this matter stated at the earliest possible moment, but in the course of my comparatively short experience of Parliamentary life I have seen mote than one Measure brought into this House which was ill-digested, thereby causing us considerable waste of time afterwards in amendment and alteration. I do not want, if I can help it, to be responsible for any repetition of that sort of thing, and I am certain that the House will not desire to take any unfair advantage of a man who has been so short a time in office, but will recognise that the request which I am now making for leave to introduce this Bill is not only reasonable in itself but will eventually be to the benefit of all concerned.




Does the hon. Member rise to oppose the Motion?


Yes, Sir. I desire to oppose the Motion which has just been made, first of all, on the ground that if the House gives leave to introduce this Bill it will be condoning the culpable negligence of His Majesty's Ministers. We are delighted to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that there is to be a new departure in this particular branch of legislation, and that the House, so far as the principal Measure is concerned, is not to be under the necessity of discussing ill-digested legislation. That will be a novel experience for the House. We sympathise with the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman as a Minister of recent creation, so far as his present Department is concerned, but we are con- cerned, not with him personally, but with His Majesty's Government. His Majesty's Government came into office in the month of October. They have now been six months in office. They knew six months ago that this was an urgent problem. The Prime Minister knew that it was an urgent problem during his Glasgow election—he knew that it was the most urgent problem there—and the right hon. Gentleman has had more recent experience in regard to Mitcham. It is no use telling us that the Government have not decided upon their policy, because in the course of that election the Prime Minister made an authoritative pronouncement of Government policy for the guidance of the electors in that division, and I say, as they made a definite statement then, that there is no reason whatever why this Government should not have introduced a Bill founded on this policy long ago, and have given the House ample opportunity for its discussion. I say therefore that if we give the Government leave to introduce this stop-gap Measure we are condoning that culpable negligence.

That is not all. I am not merely objecting to this Motion by way of protest. I believe that this course is causing great inconvenience to the public. The existing Act comes to an end in Scotland on the 28th May and in England on the 30th June. For weeks pact questions have been put in this House to the Prime Minister, both by my hon. Friend opposite the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) and by myself, calling the attention of the Government to the shortness of time available, and all our representations during these weeks have been treated as of no account. What will be the effect of this stop-gap Bill? The public is to be kept for a still longer period in the dark as to the actual proposals of the Government. Even if this Bill be introduced now, people outside, both landlords and tenants alike, will be left in the dark as to what their position will be. They will not know whether at the end of the period they will be in a position to remain in their present houses, nor under what conditions they will be able to stay. I say therefore that to accept this Bill will be to allow the Government to defer still longer the announcement of their policy. This Bill not only condones negligence and it is not only causing inconvenience, but I say further that it is unnecessary. There is no reason why the Government should not tomorrow introduce their main Bill and have provisions in it stating that it will operate, as respects Scotland, from 28th May, and, as regards England, from the 30th June.


Tomorrow is a Private Member's day.


Well, on Monday. It would not need to be passed by these dates. It would operate when it came into force, and nobody would take action pending the enactment of that principal Act. When the original Act of 1920 was passed, that was precisely the course which was adopted. Certain provisions of that Act operated from the 31st March of the year 1920. Why could not the same course be adopted in the main proposals of the Government now? I say that it is totally unnecessary to have this legislation. The Government can introduce their Bill at once. They have ample time to pass it. They will be able to give the House full opportunity for discussion. This Bill is unnecessary. It merely enables them to prolong the delay, to defer their statement of policy, to keep the public in the dark, and to interfere with public convenience. On these grounds, I hope that the House will refuse to give leave to introduce this absurd stop-gap Measure.

Question, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to continue the Increase of Rent and Mortgage interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, and any enactment amending that Act, until the thirty-first day of July, nineteen hundred and twenty-three,

put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, Mr. Attorney-General, Captain Elliot, and Mr. Solicitor-General for Scotland.