§ A tenant of any dwelling-house to which this Act applies shall, on being so requested in writing by the landlord of the dwelling-house, supply him with a statement in writing of any sub-letting, giving particu- 1021 lars of the occupancy, including rent charged, and if without reasonable excuse he fails within fourteen days to do so or supplies a statement which is false in any material particular he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding two pounds.—[Sir W. Raeburn.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
I hope the Minister will accept this very reasonable Clause. The landlord cannot possibly know under this Bill what his tenant is doing in the way of subletting, and unless he does know, it is impossible for him to arrive at the amount that the tenant is required to pay him as a permitted increase under Clause 6. Therefore, all that is asked here is that when a house or part of a house is sublet, the tenant should give to the landlord a note of the sub-let. It is necessary in the working of this Bill that some such Clause as this should be inserted, because otherwise there would be a great deal of trouble in getting the particulars required.
The purpose of this Clause seems to be reasonable. If a landlord is not to be deprived of the powers and rights that he is to have under the Bill, it is necessary that he should be informed of any sub-letting done by the tenant in order that he may be in a position to claim his rights. I have, however, one Amendment to suggest, namely, instead of saying, "A tenant of any dwelling-house to which this Act applies," the Clause should read, "A tenant of any dwelling-house to which the principal Act applies." If the hon. Baronet would agree to make that Amendment, I would be glad to accept the Clause.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Before the Clause is read a Second time, I think it is very important that the House should know exactly what it is intended to do. This is a penal Clause, and we want to know what good it is going to do to impose these requirements upon the tenant, and why in all the circumstances this should for the first time be imposed upon him. I understand that there are two classes of case. There is the case where there is a prohibition against all sub-letting, 1022 in which case this new Clause could not arise, but where sub-letting has been allowed you are altering the contract and imposing a new term, and to that extent, therefore, you are guilty of retrospective legislation. You are legislatively introducing a new term into a contract made between landlord and tenant which was not there before, and, furthermore, for a breach of this new term you are imposing a penalty on the tenant. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Sir W. Raeburn) and the Minister of Health spoke about landlords preserving their rights, but what rights are they losing by the sub-letting at the present time?
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
I do not think the hon. Member has read the Clause. They are entitled to what they never had before.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The rent which the subtenant gives to the tenant has no relevance to the statutory rent which the tenant has to pay to the landlord under the Bill. That is a fixed thing. You have the standard rent, plus certain increases under the original Act.
I think the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) is at a disadvantage in this matter, and perhaps he will read Clause 6 while I explain that that Clause permits an increase both to the tenant and the landlord, and it is to be sure that the landlord gets his share of the increase if the tenant raises the rent to the sub-tenant that this Clause has been moved by the hon. baronet. I would further take the opportunity of referring the hon. Member for Penistone to Section 11 of the principal Act, where he will see a Section in almost identical terms, only it happens to apply to the landlord instead of to the tenant.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I can understand it in regard to the landlord, but, so far as I can understand, there is no real need for imposing this penalty at all. If there had been a necessity for a penalty, the proper place to have put it would have been as a Sub-section of Clause 6, where you are dealing with increases in the rent of sub- 1023 tenancies. This new Clause, standing by itself, seems to me to come in an improper place altogether, and if it is to be brought in relation to Clause 6, as to which I am not quite convinced, in spite of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, it should have been a new Sub-section of that Clause.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I quite agree with what the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) says. I cannot, myself, understand upon what ground a penalty is imposed upon a tenant for not giving particulars that the landlord, in many cases, has no legal right whatever to require. Suppose the tenant holds under certain circumstances that he is entitled to sub-let without the consent of the landlord. Is it not a very monstrous thing to say to a tenant, "Though you are entitled to sub-let without giving your landlord any notice, and without his consent, still, you may be sent to gaol if you do not comply with certain particulars"? I cannot see what is the necessity for this drastic enforcing on the tenant to do what is called for under this Clause. We have been told that it is in order to bring about compliance with the requirements of Clause 6, and perhaps the Minister will now be given an opportunity of explaining what has always puzzled me in reading this Clause 6. As I read it—I may be quite wrong—it means that, if a tenant sub-lets, then the tenant is permitted to increase the sub-letting rent by 10 per cent., and the landlord is entitled to increase the direct rent by half that amount. I could well understand a Clause being put in to this effect: "If you, the tenant, sublet the premises to a person in whose choice I have no say, and subject me to the risk of having my premises knocked about by a person of whom I know nothing, then, in order in some way to enable me to meet that risk, I am to be entitled to charge you, the tenant, some more rent." But I am puzzled to know why the tenant should charge 10 per cent. more to the sub-tenant for the tenant doing that which subjects the landlord to the risk, which alone justifies any higher charge of rent at all.
That occurred to me just now, and perhaps at the same time the Minister of Health would explain what really is the object of that Clause. I repeat what I 1024 got up to say, that I am utterly at a loss—up to this moment I have heard no explanation—to know why this most drastic punishment, this introduction of a penal Clause into apparently a civil Measure, is justified on the ground that a landlord may desire for his own private purposes to have information as to what a tenant quite legally does, and because a tenant chooses to say: "Landlord, mind your own business, and do not come prying into mine," the tenant can be sent to gaol. It is, in my opinion, a most unwarranted and wholly inexplicable Clause.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I do not agree in the least with the suggestion that the landlord is alone the profiteer, because we have had abundant experience of cases where the tenant of the landlord exploits the sub-tenants equally as much as the landlord exploits the tenant. I myself could give scores of illustrations, within my own personal knowledge, where the tenant himself is a worse profiteer than many landlords, and, because he knows the local circumstances, takes advantage of them. I gather that the only reason for this particular Clause is that Clause 6 enables the landlord to participate in the benefits of the tenant from the sub-tenant, and in order that those facts shall be known, and that a right proportion is to be allocated or demanded, as the case might be, some information must be supplied to the landlord, and it can only be supplied by the tenant. As I understand that to be the object of this new Clause, so far as I am concerned, I want to protect the tenant against either his own particular class or anyone else robbing him, and as I know this is done, I am inclined to support the new Clause.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
I quite agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has just said, in so far as he is concerned to say that he is as much opposed to profiteering by tenants against their sub-tenants as any other form of unfair use of opportunity, but what I cannot understand, and what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has not made plain to me, is what the effect of this new Clause is. If, as the right hon. Gentleman stated, it is solely to give some information upon which Clause 6 can operate, I should have submitted, with great respect, as a point of order, that it ought to come as a qualification of Clause 6. If it is a new 1025 Clause standing by itself, it appears to put a tenant under liability to criminal punishment if he fails to answer a question, which may be, from the public point of view, a perfectly good question to ventilate, but which, as far as I can see, gives no consequential right to the landlord whatever. What legal right follows to the landlord because he has ascertained the information? I am under the right hon. Gentleman's censure when he says we are under a disadvantage. I am myself: I do not follow it, and I cannot help suspecting there are a good many in the House at the present moment who do not understand what the landlord is going to get by putting this interrogatory, and what justifies punishing the tenant because he does not answer the landlord's question. I should be very much obliged if that could be explained. Of course, we are all perfectly willing that there should not be exploitation of his position unfairly by the tenant.
In reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I confess—of course, I did not put this Clause down—as far as I am concerned, it does seem to me that it would come better as an Amendment to Clause 6 than as a new Clause. If that course commends itself to the House, and my hon. Friend chooses to withdraw his new Clause, an Amendment could be put down in another place or later on to the relative Clause. Unless the tenant will tell the landlord what benefit he is getting from the sub-tenant, the landlord cannot be sure whether he is entitled to any increase himself. Therefore this Amendment is introduced, in order to give the landlord that information, without which he cannot obtain the right given to him.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
On the point of Order raised, I was originally in some doubt about the place to insert this proposal. I think it is made clear now that it would be much better if it came up on Clause 6, and, if that be the case, we had better not pursue it now.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I only wish to point out that the new Clause, as it stands, is by no means confined to sub-tenancies which come within Clause 6.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
In the event of this proposed new Clause being allowed to be 1026 moved in connection with Clause 6, will discussion be permitted?
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
I am perfectly willing to withdraw the Clause, and move an Amendment on Clause 6, as it seems to me to fit in better there.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.