§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House, being desirous of continuing the full measure of protection afforded to tenants by The Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, cannot assent to the Third Reading of a Bill which will deprive a very large number of tenants of all protection, will encourage landlords to exercise undue pressure upon their tenants by litigation and otherwise, and only continues the Law for a period within which there is no probability under the Government's housing policy of the shortage of housing accommodation being met.1790 This is the third Bill dealing with the housing problem introduced by the Government since 1st January of this year. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Minister of Health in the position in which he finds himself. The last Government never appreciated the housing problem of this country, and although the Minister of Health has a great deal of knowledge and personal appreciation of the housing problem, I do not feel satisfied that the Government has any greater idea of the difficulties of our people in this connection than had the last Government. My comments on this Bill are, that it presumes a sufficiency of housing accommodation by 24th June, 1925—only 23 months hence—a presumption totally unjustified. I see one hon. Gentleman opposite shaking his head at that assertion. If that assertion is wrong, how comes it that the Government includes a Clause in the Measure to decontrol houses within the next two years, notwithstanding that there is no hope whatever that the housing conditions can have bettered to such an extent that the ordinary law of supply and 1791 demand will operate at that period? The Minister of Health in speaking on the Housing Bill said that there was a greater shortage of housing accommodation in this country now than there had been even since the War ended. The War ended five years ago, and although the last Government did a little to deal with the housing conditions, they failed ignominiously to deal with the problem or even to realise that it was so acute as it was, and as it still continues to be.
This Bill in regard to the housing accommodation available gives preference to the rich, because it contains a Clause that if a landlord purchased a house at a given date he can secure possession of that house, as soon as this Bill becomes law, without finding alternative accommodation. That is a gross travesty of the duty of the State which is to protect the weak against the strong. This Bill endows for the first time the practice of subletting, which will almost certainly be used as a means of benefiting the profiteer and the exploiter. It provides an opportunity for the unscrupulous landlord to enforce a bad lease on the tenant under fear of eviction, and it leaves the licensed victualler and his family in a more precarious position than hitherto. It throws on the tenant a greater responsibility than ever for keeping the house in repair, and that at the tenant's own expense. The Minister of Health knows the situation in Birmingham well, and he knows the housing conditions in that great city, which are only typical of the housing conditions throughout the country, and I am surprised that he has not dealt more vigorously and ruthlessly with the man who owns property and does not keep it in repair.
This Bill hands over to members of the rich man's family the power of eviction over the poorest tenant. When I stated the other day that it was possible for a man and his family to buy up a whole village if there was a sufficient number of sons, daughters and other relatives, the Minister twitted me by saying that my ideas were fantastic. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the need for houses is so great in some parts of the country that this Bill will provide easy means whereby a man who has sufficient money to do it, and many of them have the will to do it, can buy property over 1792 the heads of poor people in order to satisfy the needs of his own family. The Bill lacks any provision for penalising the bad landlord, while it deals ruthlessly with the tenant who does not meet his obligations. The Labour party at no time, as is assumed in some quarters, has held the belief that every tenant is a saint and every landlord a sinner. There are bad tenants and bad landlords, good landlords and good tenants, and in passing any Measure this House must always have regard to those who are apt to break the law, whether they are tenants or landlords. This Bill fails to protect the hapless man and his family whose house rent forms part of his remuneration, and it still leaves him at the mercy of the employer landlord.
Some of us on this side had hoped that the power of the landlord—owners of property in which their workpeople lived would have been wiped out by this Measure, because we have always held it to be a bad principle that a man should have power over another man, not merely as his employer, but as his landlord as well. And though I am not a lawyer, I think that any man skilled in the technicalities of the law might find a loop-hole in this Measure in relation to the Truck Acts. This Measure transforms the County Courts of the land into bookkeeping and auditing offices for inept landlords. We had a short Measure presented in this House at the beginning of the year enabling landlords who had failed to issue correct notices of increases of rent to secure the rent what they ought to have received if their notices had been correctly made out. This Bill introduces and repeats that retrospection. I cannot see how the Government comes to deal so generously with the landlord who makes a mistake, so that the landlord is entitled under this Measure to claim hack-rent for two or three or even five years, simply because he was not adept enough to make out his notices correctly, while a shopkeeper who makes a mistake in a bill cannot come to a Court of law and claim the money which he ought to have received had he made out his Bill correctly.
§ Mr. DAVIES
If a workman did not make out a correct account for his piecework, it would be useless for him to go to 1793 a Court of law and say that his employer five or ten years ago did not pay the correct amount of wages. His employer could go to the Court and argue successfully that the workman did not claim correctly and therefore was not entitled to the money. Here you have a provision whereby a landlord can go to the magistrates and say that he made an error in the notice to increase the rent, and ask the Court to compel the tenant to pay the money that the landlord ought to have received if he had not made the mistake.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. Gentleman is a lawyer and can correct me after I sit down. I feel sure that the Minister of Health will not share his view because the Clause reads in the way which I have indicated. The Bill is clear; it allows retrospection in the payment of arrears of rent, which, in my opinion, is a very bad principle. But it sanctions by law the practice of charging for workmen's furniture as part of the selling price of the house. I know that that sort of transaction was practised before this Bill was introduced, but that an Act should be passed legalising such transactions is beyond my comprehension. We on this side condemn that provision wholeheartedly. This Bill will throw a great deal of work on the Courts of Law, and I am unwilling that the Courts of Law should be used in a biased and prejudiced way in favour of landlords. If justice means anything it means that landlord and tenant are on equal terms in a Court of Law. There is no provision in this Measure which allows a tenant who has been overcharged in his rent to proceed to a County Court and claim the return of the money. It is only the landlord who is entitled to claim.
Then this Measure is a contradictory Measure. Part II, in effect, is in direct contradiction to Part I. Part I states that the law will continue to control certain houses until. June 1925, but Part II says in effect that if certain circumstances arise, when this Bill expires, then Part II will come to the aid of certain classes of people. And so I submit respectfully that the provisions of this Bill are contradictory. I do not know what may happen if we have a change of Government before 1925. It would be 1794 interesting then to see what will transpire to Part I and Part II of this Measure. This Bill ought to have a different title. It ought to be, in my view, called "a Bill to admit the continuance of control, with power to increase rents." I presume that this Measure is supposed to operate in connection with the Housing Bill of the Government. I would ask the Minister of Health what figures he may have in his possession to warrant him in thinking that our housing problem will be solved by the time Part I of this Bill expires?
I gather that up to the present, under the Housing Bill, applications have been made to the Minister of Health for sanction for schemes to build not more than 20,000 houses. The Ministry issued a Circular at the end of last April inviting local authorities, private builders, utility societies and co-operative societies to come to the aid of the State and the people and build houses under that Bill. It will be noted that applications for not more than 20,000 houses are included in the schemes submitted to the Ministry since 28th April. If this is the rate of progress which will be made by the Government in providing houses for the working classes we shall want control not up to 1925 but to 1945. At the present rate, we shall not have settled the housing problem for the next half century, because we are at present short to the extent of 750,000 houses for the working classes, and the Minister for Health is audacious enough to bring forward a Measure giving power to decontrol houses in less than two years. This Bill does not, I submit, meet the case in the least.
Then there is an assumption by many hon. Members opposite, including, I believe, the hon. Member for Woolwich, that if we decontrol old houses we shall force people to build new ones. I think that the Minister of Health, on more than one occasion, has adapted that assumption. What houses are to be decontrolled? Not 10 and 11 Downing Street. They are always controlled by the State, though the people living in them are, happily, controlled by the democracy. The assumption on the other side is that if you decontrol a man's house he will be compelled, by circumstances, to build a new home for himself. That is the assumption. I am entitled to collect the ideas 1795 of other people and to base an assumption what I think they mean.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. Member for Woolwich is very well versed in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and he will there find many assertions made by his Friends to justify this view. If that assumption is not correct, why decontrol houses at all? The idea of decontrol, I repeat, is to force the building of houses. We shall not meet the housing shortage merely by a grant from the State of £6 per annum per house. The man whose house will be decontrolled is not the man who can afford to build a new house. I admit that there may be a few cases of hardship because a man who has bought a house cannot get possession. But we are dealing not with individual cases of that kind. This Bill deals with at least 90 per cent. of the population of this country. The law of property is so settled in the minds of those who have ruled this country, and property holds so much sway and has so much power over the person, that it behoves the Opposition to see that the tenant is protected against the law of property. The £6 subsidy is very much like the acorn; there is a frightful interval between the acorn and the oak. The housing proposals of the Minister of Health will not mature for many years to come. Part I of this Measure ought to continue in operation at least until 1930, the date that we proposed.
Above all, this Bill is a golden key to the rack-renters and an open door to the unscrupulous estate agent. If the Minister of Health has read the newspapers recently, he must have already seen reports of social disorder, not only in Scotland, where strange things happen, but in South Wales, in the town of Abertillery. A mob collected to demonstrate because a shopkeeper tried to evict a tenant and his family in order that he might secure the house for his own possession.
This Bill falls short of the requirements of the day. I have been astonished that the Government could not deal with this problem by providing more houses. They can spend money in foreign lands with considerable ease. In Bagdad, for instance, the Government spent as much as £40,000 on a single house. But that, of 1796 course, is for the aristocracy, the Governor-General, the residence of the rich. If the Labour party came into power, it would alter the policy of the Government to this extent, that a great part of the money that is now spent on Imperial affairs would be spent on educating and housing our own people properly. Hon. Members demand vaccination to prevent the spread of smallpox. What is required above all in this country is not sticking plasters on wounds, but to go down to the root of the problem and to provide every family in the land with a decent cottage in which to live. Until that is done, controlled rents are absolutely necessary. I trust that the House will vote for the Amendment as a protest against the ineptitude of the Government in dealing with the housing problem, which is at the bottom of many of our social ills.
§ Mr. WELSH
I beg to second the Amendment, not because I know anything about houses, for, unfortunately, I know more of the lack of houses. That is the difference between the mentality on the other side of the House and on this. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite know something about housing; we know something about the lack of housing. You can never know the shame and degradation that sear the souls of the people who live under the conditions that our people have to live under. You cannot understand that. This Bill does not touch it; at least it does not provide the means for a solution of the problem. As far as I have been able to understand the Bill, it merely provides more work for members of the legal profession. Real legislation should aim at simplifying the laws, but this Bill makes the law more complex. I would make a special appeal to the Minister of Health. When he made his statement in this House on introducing the Bill, I felt at times that he was more concerned, like some political Narcissus, in watching the reflection of his own splendid proportions in the pools of his political vanity and success. I appeal to him not to remember those things, but to remember the people outside.
We know, something about the lack of housing. The Under-Secretary of the Scottish Board of Health, a few days ago, pointed to the fact that there were thousands of houses empty in Scotland. I want to tell the House about some of 1797 the districts where we have more people than houses. In the town of Coatbridge, which is the Division I have the honour to represent, we have a total population of 42,459. There are 24.9 per cent. of the people who live with two to three persons per apartment in that town; there are 21.3 per cent. of the people who live with from three to four persons per apartment; and there are 25 per cent. of the people who live with more than four persons to each apartment. That gives you a total, in that town alone, of 71.5 per cent. of the people who live under overcrowded conditions. And no houses can be got. In the same Division we have the town of Airdrie with a population of 24,874, There 24.3 per cent. of the people live with from two to three persons per apartment; 17.3 per cent. live with three to four persons per apartment; and 22.9 per cent. with more than four persons per apartment. That is a total of 56.5 per cent. of the population of that town living under overcrowded conditions. There are the burghs of Lanarkshire—Motherwell, Wishaw, Hamilton, Rutherglen, and Lanark, the county town, which has the honour of being represented by the Under-Secretary of the Scottish Board of Health. It is my own district where was brought up. The Under-Secretary for the Scottish Board of Health knows, or ought to know, something of the conditions in the town of Lanark Itself. Out of a total population of 6,101 there are 40.8 per cent. living in overcrowded conditions. The county itself is divided into three wards, and the Middle Ward has probably produced more wealth during the past 100 years than all the rest of the country put together, iron, coal and steel being the principle products. The total population there is 214,426, and 22.8 per cent. of the people live with two or three persons per apartment; 19.6 per cent. live with three to four persons per apartment, and 26.6 per cent. live with more than four persons per apartment. That substantially bears out what I stated, that we know more than hon. Members opposite about the lack of housing, and we can speak with some experience and knowledge of the lack of housing when we find, in that ward alone, that 69 per cent. of the people are living in overcrowded conditions, while taking the whole of Lanarkshire, without including 1798 Glasgow, the percentage of overcrowding among the poplation is 64.8 per cent.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Fitzroy)
I must say the hon. Member has been given very considerable latitude, and he has made a speech which could be applied almost entirely to the Housing Bill. The two questions are very much mixed up together, and it is very difficult to divide them, but I suggest that the hon. Member should turn a little more nearly to the Bill now under discussion.
§ Mr. WELSH
The design and intention of the Government in this Bill was to provide a transitional period, at the end of which there would be, in all likelihood, a sufficiency of houses for the people, bus even though you were to appeal to every local authority in the country from the day the Bill is passed, to provide houses for the people in sufficient numbers, that could not be done by the time control ends in 1925. The problem is too big to be tackled in that way. Overcrowding is always followed by a high infantile death rate, and again we know something about that. I do not propose to go into it, although were I to give some of the facts relating to it I am satisfied they would shock the House.
§ Mr. WELSH
If there is a humane sentiment left in people it can be touched. and when you know that over 114,000 of these infants' deaths occur every year, it makes one feel very sore especially when one knows that 114,000 women's hearts are broken as well. It is a most unholy and indefensible position which no Government can justify. The human factor, apart from the economic factor altogether, is the most important. If a sufficiency of decent houses were provided for the people, you would save in the cost of maintaining the public health and, in the long run, you would not only gain economically by lessened taxation, but you would increase the status of the people, which is most 1799 important of all, and send them along that broad way which we all want to travel, stealing fire from the altars of the gods to reinspire humanity to new and greater things. That should be the aim of the Government, but it is not the aim of the present Bill as far as I can see, because it merely provides more work for members of the legal profession and makes complexity more complex for the people outside who will not understand its subtleties. I wish to make a final appeal. One human gesture on the part of the Government and Parliament, on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, would mean more to the people than all the legal jugglery of which we have heard during the discussions on this Bill. If I could by any means so touch that secret something in all of us, which would send hon. Members through that door to-night burning with a sense of the degradation and shame which we feel, having come through what we have come through, I should be proud and happy to go home, feeling that I have justified my existence You cannot provide houses in this way. It is too big a problem. It must be tackled as a national problem and in a way entirely different to that in which it has been tackled hitherto. Due credit must be given to you. You have led us to the heights of the ages; you have given us a vision and you are bound now to provide that world, the desire for which you have created in our hearts, and this Bill will not do it. Moses-like, you have led us to the place from which we can see the land of promise, a land clothed with the verdure of comfort, a land bounded by the hills of happiness, a land watered by the streams of fellowship and goodwill, a land dowered and radiant with the glory and beauty of God. I appeal to you all to go into the Lobby against the Bill or, if you cannot go with us against the Bill, at least refrain from going against the side which we are taking on this question. We must have houses, and this is not the Bill which will provide them, and the problem cannot be treated in this way.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I am sure the House has heard with much interest and sympathy the speech of the hon. Member who has just addressed it. With the exception of perhaps two statements in that speech, it will receive practically general assent. I do not think it can be said there is any party in the House, which does not deplore 1800 the present housing situation and desire a remedy. We only differ as to the method in which it should be clone. When the hon. Member, however, appeals to us to vote for the Amendment which has been moved with such skill and Parliamentary ability by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), has he considered what is going to follow? I confess I was surprised to find the Labour party, as the official Opposition, putting down a Motion for the rejection of this Bill. Surely they must be unacquainted with the present position of affairs and with what would happen, were this Amendment to be carried. The Seconder of the Amendment asked us to go into the Lobby with him. I do not see how anyone can go into the Lobby with him, because he must be aware that at the end of this month, on 31st July, the Rent Restrictions Act of 1920 comes to an end, and that means that all the protection given by that Act to the tenants of this country ceases. If we carry this Amendment, it simply means that every tenant in this country will be left with no protection at all. [An HON. MEMBER: You would have to do something then!"] The answer is, as the Mover of the Amendment knows very well, that, apart from the will, it would be a physical Impossibility to pass another complicated Rent Restrictions Bill between now and 31st July. What, then, have we to do?
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member should know that you cannot have Orders in Council unless you have some Act of Parliament which authorises them to be issued, and, therefore, I put it to hon. Members opposite that no doubt they may desire to make their protest against the provisions of this Bill, but that it should go forth that the Labour party are officially committed to end all protection is, I think, open to very severe criticism. Having made that observation, I want to turn to the terms of the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Westhoughton, but about which he has said very little. He desires the House to assent tocontinuing the full measure of protection afforded to tenants by the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Act, 1920.1801 I take it from that, that he desires the 1920 Act to remain on the Statute Book in full force, but that is a very extraordinary thing, coming from the party opposite, because I remember that when the Act of 1920 was passing through this House the people who objected the most to it were the hon. Members opposite. Yet, according to the Amendment that has been moved to-day, tenants apparently have a full measure of protection afforded to them by that Act. I remember that a very able and talented Member of the Labour party, the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham), moved the rejection of that Bill, and I also remember that another hon. Member belonging to the party opposite, the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. J. Davison), who seconded that Motion in very energetic terms, described the Bill, which apparently the Labour party now think so highly of, as the most iniquitous Measure ever introduced by any political party. Now we are apparently asked by this Amendment to maintain the Act which was the most iniquitous Measure ever introduced into this House. I also remember very well that there was a Division on that Amendment of the Labour party, but it is only fair to say that it was a very empty Division, and if hon. Members like to look at the Division lists, they will see that there were more Labour Members out of the Lobby, and not voting, than there were in the Lobby on that occasion.
If I may say so in all good humour and good temper, I rather think this Amendment is something like that which was moved in reference to the 1920 Act Obviously, we must have another Rent Restrictions Act, and obviously we must continue protection to tenants. Where we differ, very likely, is on the question of whether or not there shall be introduced at this time any measure of partial decontrol. That, I think, is the real issue that has divided the House. Hon. Members opposite desire to continue the absolute control offered by the 1920 Act until 1930, and the great division of opinion on the subject is that we, on this side, and, I think, hon. Members on the benches opposite below the Gangway, think it is desirable in the general interests of the country that, if possible, a measure of partial decontrol should be put into effect as soon as possible. Hon. Members of the Labour party want 1802 control continued until 1930. I cannot understand why 1930 should be a more wonderful year than 1931 or 1929. The obvious position is this, that until there is a sufficient number of houses in this country being built, partial decontrol cannot be put into operation. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has put forward a figure two years hence. It is a figure at which we must aim, but I do not think my right hon. Friend for a moment would say that if the position was as it is to-day, Part II of this Bill could be put into operation. There is a virtue, however, in putting in a fairly early date, because hon. Members who have studied this question at any rate will agree with me in this, that the real answer to all Rent Restrictions Bills and Acts is more houses.
That is the real way to solve the rent restriction problem, and how are you going to do it? I would like a concrete plan. I have listened with great attention to the hon. Member for West-houghton on more than one occasion, but I have never heard him put forward what could be called a practical alternative plan. I read the other day, with great interest, the official programme of the Labour party, as it was presented before their recent very important congress, and I looked up to see what was their practical plan for housing, how housing was going to be put right if the Labour party came into power. I think I am correct in restating their position in these words: They said that each local authority must, within three years, build sufficient houses in its area to satisfy the needs of every member of the community. There was this addition, that, so far as the money was concerned, none of it was to come from the rates, but all of it was to be found by the State. I think hon. Members opposite will do me the justice to admit that that is a fair statement, almost word for word, as to their practical plan.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Certainly. I am reminded that there was one further thing that was said, and that was that, as regards the rent of the houses, attention was not to be paid to the particular character of the house built, but to the income and capacity to pay of the people 1803 who occupied it. Those were the three main, practical suggestions of the Labour party in regard to housing. Every local authority must build sufficient houses in their particular area within three years. The date was fixed almost as strictly as the 1930 date which we are discussing to-day. How can that be a practical possibility? How are you going to compel every local authority to do that? If a local authority say they want to help the Labour party in their programme, are you in turn going to arm the local authority with power to compel the workmen in their district to build these houses? When my hon. Friend opposite says that 750,000 houses are required to be built in this country, and they are to be built within three years, I wonder where the people in the building trade, in the first place, are to come from to do it. That brings me to this point, avoiding phrases and all that kind of thing, which we can all use, when you come to hard facts, there is no real, practical alternative—though, perhaps, we could put in other matters of detail—but there is no real, practical alternative to the present plan.
Therefore, this Bill says that, till 1925, the present methods of control are to go on, broadly speaking, and, after that, gradual decontrol. I say, as I have said before, I shall be no party to gradual decontrol if there are not sufficient houses to justify it, but I do want to see the vicious circle broken, because, disguise it as you will, so long as there are statutory restrictions against houses, it is not the builder so much whom you are affecting, as people who finance the builders. Those are the people upon whom you have to keep your eye all the time. You have to think of the people who found money in the days gone by for builders, in order to erect the houses. A very large proportion of that money was not found by what you may call the great capitalists of the country. It was found by a very large number of what, for need of a better term, we call the working-classes. It was found by the building societies and by the trade unions. I should like very much some time to calculate the amount invested in house property by the trade unions; it would be a very surprising figure. I say we have got to get back all these people to lend money for the building of houses, and, in general terms, I believe you will 1804 not do it if people think there is to be constant interference. They would sooner put their money into other forms of investment.
It is for those broad reasons that I support this Bill. I confess, with regard to Part II, in many respects the proposals there are dangerous. I do not want to prophesy, but I venture to think these will be many more opportunities given to this House to discuss all the methods suggested in Part II. I am glad, at any rate, that one more opportunity for parliamentary discussion has been secured by my right hon. Friend agreeing that before setting up any machinery in connection with Committees there shall be a full Parliamentary discussion. For these reasons I broadly support the principles of the Bill, believing there is no practical alternative, and also believing that if I voted for the Amendment this afternoon, it would deprive the tenants of this country of all the protection which they are now enjoying.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Mr. FOOT
Since the present Parliament commenced its activities, Bills of one kind and another have been introduced, but no Bill, I think, has been introduced or discussed in this House which will affect so many people as the Bill under discussion. Of course, there are a certain number of people who own and live in their own houses, but, for the most part, the adult population of this country is divided into those who have houses to let and those who live in houses let by others. Although a large number of Measures are on the list, the course of which we watch from week to week, this Measure affects more closely than the others the ordinary daily life of the people. I know there are very many households where those who are living under the present housing conditions watch with a great deal of anxiety the passing of this Bill. I do not approach the question of this Bill as some Members do. I do not think it is possible in real life to divide the community into the grasping landlord and the suffering tenant. I think that, as a matter of fact, if we attempted so to divide the community, we should not be able to make the classification which corresponds to the actual facts, Having had some experience, in a provincial town, in trying to help, at inadequate remuneration, 1805 landlords and tenants out of their difficulties, I have generally found that human nature is pretty much the same whether a man owns the house or occupies it, and I have sometimes found that if a house is let to a tenant, and he lets to a sub-tenant, while the tenant complains that the landlord is beating him with whips you often find he beats his own sub-tenant with scorpions.
Approaching this Bill as being, I think, an honest attempt on the part of the Government to deal with a great difficulty, I want to make, first of all, the criticism that it was very uncourageous action on their part to give us this Measure by reference. We have heard from the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) again and again of the small owner—and there are many who have got one, two, or three houses—and as soon as he sees in the papers that this Bill is passed, and received the Royal Assent, he will purchase the Act of Parliament, and I hope his Member will not be in the vicinity at the time he reads it, and be asked to explain, for instance, what Section 6 means.
§ Dr. CHAPPLE
In Committee upstairs the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill promised that the Bill would not finally be left in this form, but that he would reconstruct it, and bring in the 1920 Act, as amended by this Act, and I hope that promise remains good.
§ Mr. FOOT
I had not the advantage of hearing what was said in Committee upstairs, but it is a grievous thing that the tenants and the small landlords should be given an Act of Parliament which, without professional assistance, it is quite impossible for them to understand. What is more, it is not merely that the tenant will not be able to construe it, but there are great differences among lawyers themselves, and some of those differences will have to be dealt with in a higher Court. Not only have we to take this Bill and the Act of 1920, but it is suggested we have to read with it the Rent Restrictions (Notices of Increase) Act. It will be a sort of jig-saw puzzle, and I think the Government will deserve blame, because, in passing a Measure of this kind, they have not given us something that can be understood without legal assistance. Reference was made by an hon. Member on this side to the necessity of legal 1806 assistance. This Bill will drive anyone who has anything at stake to secure such assistance. I do not think the lawyers of the House can object to that, but it is preposterous that a Bill intended to be understood by ordinary people should not be so framed that it can be understood by them.
I have been startled by some of the Clauses. I do not know how many times I read Clause 6, for instance. I certainly have read it many times, and I am not quite sure I understand it now. It deals with the power given to sub-tenants. I read it over slowly, and then I read it over quickly. I heard a very distinguished poet in this country, Mr. Walter De La Mare, speaking at a school function, and he said he had sat down to read a very strong philosophical article written by a highbrow. He concluded that it would need all his mental powers. He read the first paragraph very slowly, and could understand nothing of it. He read it again deliberately and slowly. He could make less than nothing of it. Then a thought came to him. He read it fast. As he read it fast a light began to break. It is quite impossible to understand what Clause 6 means unless you read it fast. Curses not only loud but deep, and particularly curses on the part of County Court Judges, will be heard in the land over this matter. Some remarks already have been made, in fact very scathing remarks, as to legislators responsible for the Act of 1920. I prophesy without any hesitancy whatever that what has been said about the Act of 1920 will be little compared with what will be said about this Measure, and particularly when those concerned come to deal with Clause 6. I am bound to say that, as I read it, I began to be afraid that there was some signs of brain softening, and I was very comforted to know that some more distinguished members of the profession than I had had the same difficulty.
I want particularly to refer to Clause 3 which, if it goes through in its present form—and there is no prospect of altering it now—would bring about the most serious disturbance so far as the law is concerned that deals with houses. I do not know what may be the intentions of the Noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, but there will be occasion before very long for an amending Bill. Take, for instance, Clause 3, Sub-section (1, f), where it 1807 states that a certain paragraph shall be substituted for paragraph (iv.) in the principal Act. I think I can in a few Minutes explain how this matter appears to me and appears to others whom I have consulted. In the principal Act of 1920 a distinction was drawn between the old landlords and the new landlords. In the old Act, the legislators of that time said that no one who wants to obtain a house for his own occupation, of which he is the owner, shall be able to get it unless he can give alternative accommodation, except if he was the owner before a certain date it will not be necessary for him to prove alternative accommodation. It also said that all the landlord, who had bought after that date, had to do when he came into Court was to say that it would cause greater hardship to him if his application was refused than it would cause to the tenant. That was a very great advantage. When solicitors advised landlords, upon this matter they put that question first of all to the landlord. "When did you become the owner" If his answer was that he become owner before 30th September, 1917, they knew he had a reasonable chance of getting the tenant out. If otherwise, they advised that nothing less than a dynamite bomb or an earthquake would have the desired effect. It was there we had a passage fair to the landlord, because the Government said: If a man comes along with this Act in force and buys a house, he buys it with his eyes open. In buying an occupied house he knew that he was giving probably £100, 1150, or £200 less than he would have to give if it were unoccupied. That was based upon a very wise principle. They said we will try to give the advantage to those who owned the house in the earlier years and if a man cares now to come along and buy trouble, and if he cares to buy a house in which there is a sitting tenant he has no right to assume that the legislature will come to his assistance. Therefore a date was given, and the owner before that time had the advantage when it came into Court. Now it is put the other way about. The Clause of the Act of 1920 has been struck out and another Clause has been put in. Let me read it—Where the dwelling-house is reasonably required by the landlord for occupation as a residence for himself or for any son or daughter of his over 18 years of age, and 1808 where the landlord or the husband or wife of the landlord did not become the landlord before the thirtieth day of June, nineteen hundred and twenty-two, the Court is satisfied that greater hardship would be caused by refusing to grant an Order or judgment for possession than by granting it.The word "before" is used instead of the word "after" in the previous Act of Parliament. In the previous Act of Parliament the advantage which Parliament intended to give was given to the earlier owner. Now this advantage, and a very important advantage, is given only to those who have bought since 1922. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] The Noble Lord opposite may disagree but I would ask him to turn to the Act of 1920. In Clause 5 of that Act there is a paragraph which reads:The existence of alternative accommodation shall not be a condition of an order or judgment on any of the grounds specified.Then it goes on to give the grounds. These were that the disadvantage of having to prove alternate accommodation was dispensed with in this Clause which is now to be struck out where the landlord became the landlord before 30th September, 1917. Then it was necessary only to prove hardship. How can it be possible to read this other Measure as being in substitution of that? If we take the words in their ordinary meaning:Where the dwelling-house is reasonably required … where the landlord or the husband or the wife of the landlord did not become the landlord before the thirtieth of June nineteen hundred and twenty-two.I submit that the only construction of that Clause is that the advantage of not having to prove alternative accommodation goes only to those owners who became owners since 30th June, 1922. The Noble Lord shakes his head. I have had an opportunity of talking this matter over with those who had daily experience of this Bill. My experience lately has been very limited. I have been occupied here instead of elsewhere. But I have discussed this Clause with those who have daily experience of the interpretation of this Bill, and the view that I have expressed is the view they hold. I am sorry that I have spoken after the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) rather than before. He is qualified to speak upon this matter. I shall be very much more reassured with what he says, seeing he has had experience in the daily interpretation of the 1809 Bill, than by others who in their several offices may have been called on to deal with this question for the first time. If the ordinary meaning of these words are to be accepted, they are exactly the opposite of what is in the Act of 1920.
I would ask hon. Members not to trust simply to what is said on this occasion by the Front Bench, but to look at this Clause and to remember that here is a Clause taking the place of one in the 1920 Act, and to ask themselves whether the construction I have put upon this Clause is one which is likely to put by other people. Again, I would venture into the realm of prophecy, and say that before long the Clause will be the subject of consideration in the Courts; that before long Judges in the County Court and elsewhere will comment upon the difficulty of getting clear language to bring about what is the evident intention of the House. I have drawn attention to what I believe to be an important matter which deals with the owner. There are in every provincial town in the country hundreds of owners who are waiting simply for the passing of this Bill. Some have already gone to the Court and lost their case, because they had to prove alternative accommodation. The Judge has very often expressed sympathy with them. They have had to wait until a new Bill comes in; until the new Bill passes. I cannot speak of London, but there will be thousands of cases—I am not putting it too strongly—throughout the country where, within a few weeks of the passing of this Bill, there will be the first steps taken towards litigation, or else there will be conference between landlords and tenants to see what, under the new conditions, is to be done. Seeing that this is the one thing to which attention will be drawn, and seeing that it affects thousands of cases, I think it is essential that it should be made quite clear. If the hon. Gentleman representing the Government will show me that my reading of the Clause is wrong, and that my hon. Friends who have advised me are wrong, I express the hope that it may be possible in another place to put down what is the clear Intention in such a way that it may be understood by those outside this House. I have made a very honest effort to understand the Bill and I have placed the construction upon it which I have expressed, but if it means something else to the Noble Lord in 1810 charge of this Measure, I think that very fact shows the necessity of putting in such words as will make it clear to those who will have to administer it.
There can be no justification for giving to the tenant, who may already have charged all he can to the under-tenant of the house, the opportunity of going round and putting 5 per cent. on each of them for himself. Seeing this Bill was intended as a temporary Measure, I think it is unfortunate that the Government should attempt to commit the House to the proposal to have reference committees. I am quite prepared to consider the question of rent Courts, and any machinery that would lessen the legal expense to which the poor tenant will be put. I am not prepared, however, to support this ambiguous proposal and this uncertain suggestion, certain only in this, that it will put on the tenant, not merely the expenses of the Court, but the expenses of the committee as well. I listened to what was said by the hon. Member who moved the rejection of this Measure, and I agree with many of his criticisms against this Bill. I am not, however, prepared to vote against the Third Reading, because I think we should be left in a position of serious difficulty if we failed to carry this Measure into law.
I am sure that those responsible for this Bill will come in for a good deal of criticism. It has been said that in one of the cities of ancient times it was the custom for the proposer of a new law to appear with a rope round his neck, so that if the community find afterwards that they do not approve of his Measure, they can pull the rope and deal with him in that way. Whilst congratulations may be given to the Minister of Health to-day for his work in connection with this Measure, I think we ought to wait a few months, and then I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, instead of all these congratulations there will be very serious criticisms by many people, and he will be really astonished to find what this Measure does in its practical working.
§ Mr. NEWBOLD
I am loth to intervene in discussions upon Bills dealing with the question of rent, but at this stags I do wish to make a few comments, more particularly upon the general lines of the Government policy. This Measure shows up the very admirable and very skilled statemanship of the governing class in 1811 this country. It is also remarkable for the successful way with which, under a cloak of sympathy and much talk about good intentions, it succeeds in covering up the very astute, and if I may use the term without being out of order, the very unscrupulous attitude of the Government.
§ Mr. NEWBOLD
I am sorry on this occasion for the forlorn and pathetic figure who ordinarily stands at that Box putting forward the policy of the Government in respect to rent and housing. I know the right hon. Gentleman means well. His own personal record in municipal life has been admirable so far as housing is concerned. He also has to his account a reputation inherited from a great past of municipal service rendered by his father, and for that very reason partly his own reputation, and partly the paternal reputation is of the greatest assistance to hon. Members opposite in giving them an appearance of having an interest in social reform.
Unfortunately, for the right hon. Gentleman and for the reputation of the family to which he belongs, he is only given a minor position in the Government, and while he may get, tributes to-day for the attempts he is making, I believe perfectly honestly, to deal with this problem, the very fact that he can get no money from the Treasury to carry through anything like a thorough going scheme of social reconstruction means that he himself, and those forces in politics for which he stands which are now going into decline, will in the course of the next few months, or at the most in the course of the next 18 months, stand hopelessly and finally discredited. I am of the opinion that during the recent reconstruction of the Ministry the right hon. Gentleman was put in his present position in order that the influences for which he stands in political life may be finally liquidated.
Why does the Government toy with this great problem in this way? Why do they show so small a desire to do what one would think would be the pride of the Tory party? It is amusing to me that the people responsible for the political campaign of the party opposite, who always claim to stand for the home and the guardianship of the hearth, the maintenance of true religion, private morality, 1812 and the authority of the family, should be so singularly inept as to be unable to and money for the purpose of giving a decent home life to the people of this country. They are singularly shallow in that they cannot see the wonderful political capital that they are giving to hon. Members on this side of the House, not merely to the Labour party and the Liberal party, but also to the Communists. Why is it that the Government have so little money to spare for this purpose? If we cast our eyes back over the history of the 19th Century we see the Conservative party claiming to be essentially the party which, in the past, has stood for social reform; whereas the Liberal party has stood for barren and empty political legislation. How is it that the heirs of Disraeli and the descendants of Chamberlain—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
As there is only a limited time for the discussion of this Bill, ought not speakers to be confined strictly to what is in the Bill on its Third Reading to-day?
§ Mr. NEWBOLD
I am trying, as I think it right to do on Third Reading, to confine myself to the general principle. Why is there so little money to-day, whereas there was so much money available in the 'forties and the 'seventies? There is no money available to-day for houses, because the governing class to-day no longer requires, as it did prior to the Imperialist period, to obtain its wealth and to acquire its income from the exploitation of the population at home alone. They are to-day able to derive their abstract income from the whole of capitalist exploitation. If they do not get wealth here at home, there are the toiling millions of India, there are the toiling millions of China, and there are the toiling millions of other parts of the world.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member to confine himself to the Bill which deals with rent restrictions. He must not discuss conditions in China, India and other parts of the world.
§ Mr. NEWBOLD
Unfortunately, this Rent Bill is part of a very deep and farseeing policy. They are economising because it is no longer necessary to 1813 pamper the population at home. They desire to make home life in Lanarkshire, in Birmingham, and in the great industrial cities of this country less pleasant than home life on the Canadian prairie and in Australia. They desire by a negative policy with respect to housing to encourage the young men and the young women who have hopes some day of marrying not to stay at home, but to go out to Canada where they may be put upon the land which the Canadian Pacific Railway is desiring to sell, and to Australia and New Zealand where they may be put upon the land owned by the Australian and New Zealand land companies, whose shareholders and directors I see many a time sitting on the benches opposite. Their negative policy towards housing is definitely calculated for the purpose of assisting that emigration campaign which is going to be the chief plank in their programme next year.
We have had statements made as to the lawyers. It is not so much the lawyers who have decorated the front Liberal Benches in the past and who are now relegated to the back benches; it is not so much those lawyers who seek to make their money in commercial cases prior to getting a cheap ride on an elephant in India. It is those people skilled in real property law, in the administration of the land laws, and in all questions affecting mortgages, who are going to profit by this legislation. There is a class still more important. After all, a lawyer is only a hireling. The most important class is the mortgage holder. and everything that this Government does, whether it concerns agricultural credits or housing credits, or whether it is concerned to diminish the supply of houses, is done to encourage private enterprise to come in, establish a business, and spend money, knowing, before it does it, that private enterprise has an inadequate amount of money with which to do it, and that private enterprise must come cap in hand to the three golden balls. Private enterprise must supplement its savings, if not with the money of the money lender, with the money of the banks, the insurance companies, and the investment houses. That is what is inherent in the policy of this Bill.
I was particularly interested in the point which was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot). I have taken an opportunity in the last few days of bringing it to the notice of the Minister, as I cannot help feeling almost certain that, if some mistake has not been made, some wrong wording has crept into the Bill which will give rise to great differences of opinion as to what is the intention of those who have drafted it. The hon. Member did not appear to me to go quite far enough. There is a further point in connection with Clause 6. Under Part I of the Bill, as it is at present drafted, up to 1925 any person may sell his house, and the purchaser, who becomes thereby the owner, can, under certain conditions as to alternative accommodation and otherwise, obtain possession. The strange thing is that under Part II after 1925 he cannot do that, but will have to go to the Court to ascertain whether it was in their opinion fair that he should get an order. The Court may not give such an order, and may, in fact, decrease the rent or otherwise alter the tenancy.
It must be perfectly evident to anyone accustomed to this housing problem that the principal difficulty in the ordinary sale and purchase of houses at the present time is this question of control. Consequently, if up to 1925 the buyer of a house feels that he can get control by purchase and can turn the tenant out, provided that there is other accommodation available, he will be encouraged to buy. After 1925, these very facilities are taken from him. I do not think that can be the intention of the Government, and it is a matter which they would be well advised to look into between now and the proceedings in another place. On the Report stage, I wished to move an Amendment dealing with this point, and suggesting that after 1925 a sale properly put through, and provided that the tenant had three months' notice, should counteract the effect of the Clause. Mr. Speaker, in his discretion, did not call that Amendment, and, therefore, nothing was done. I do not question that, but it is a point which the Government should carefully look into. The speech of the hon. Member makes it unnecessary for me to deal with the first part. I am glad to see him return, because I was greatly interested in his speech, as it dealt with a point which I think wants clearing up. There 1815 is this difference between the period up to 1925 and after 1925, which I feel confident the Government could not, and did not, intend should operate in that way.
As regards the Bill as a whole, I have listened with great interest to the speeches we have had from the other side, but I do not propose to follow hon. Gentlemen into the reasons which they have given against the Measure. Everyone knows that we want houses. It is a simple thing to get up and say that the Government should provide them, but no one suggests how it can be done except by the use of national money, which is to be given to a certain class of people. I do not desire at this very late stage to enter into arguments of that kind. No doubt there may be something to be said in their favour, but the point to-day is this, that if this Bill passes the whole position in the country will be in a state of chaos. Tenants will not know where they are, and the carrying of this Amendment would prevent another Bill being introduced. There are, of course, parts of this Bill of which I do not approve, but this is one of the most difficult questions Parliament has been called upon to deal with. It is so easy to say that the Government should do something. After all, the Government are ourselves, and whatever is done has to be paid for from our pockets. On the whole, I think I may congratulate the advisers of the Government on having produced a Bill which makes it possible to carry out a system of partial decontrol. I should have much preferred if the Government had fixed a date for effective decontrol. I am afraid that this Bill will raise considerable legal difficulties. It will prove very difficult to interpret it. It is extraordinarily difficult for the Government to produce a Bill which would be easier and simpler and which people could understand. I am afraid the public will not be able to understand this Measure, but, at any rate, by it a certain amount of hardship will be got rid of, and a period is laid down during which decontrol can be brought about slowly. I think it is the only possible Measure, under the circumstances, and I cannot conceive that any set of men would vote for the Amendment.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I agree with the observations of the last speaker. This Bill does present very great difficulties to 1816 those who will have to administer it, and I suggest it would present far fewer difficulties had the Minister for Health and the Noble Lord who assists him, been more ready to accept suggestion that were made on this side of the House. To-day we have had a further' insight into a point which I myself raised on the Report stage. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing this Bill said the object was to alter the date at which alternative accommodation was necessary to be offered in order to secure possession of the house. That is quite intelligible. We all know that under the old Act landlords, who were entitled to be privileged, were very hard hit by a system which was intended to be made applicable only to those who became landlords with their eyes open to the true situation. The old Act clearly provided that alternative accommodation should only be insisted upon in the case of landlords who acquired the property after a given date, but this Bill, by means of its clumsy wording, says that those persons who became landlords anterior to June, 1922, are not privileged, while those who became landlords after that date are to be made privileged
§ Mr. HARNEY
It is no use for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to assert that it is not so. Let us take the Bill and read it. It is, I admit, a bit of a puzzle to me. It is agreed, is it not, that what is desired to be done is to privilege the earlier landlord and to hit the later one. That is agreed. It is also agreed that the way to hit him is by requiring compliance with the conditions as to alternative accommodation. Now if the hon. and gallant Member will be good enough to look at the words of the Bill, I do not think he will contradict what I have said. If he will look at Clause 3, Sub-section (1,b) he will see that we are dealing with a house required by the landlord for his own occupation, etc., and it is laid down that it is necessary for him to satisfy the Court that there is alternative accommodation. That is clear. Is it not equally clear that there is no period mentioned at all? It is a general Clause. If the hon. and gallant. Member will look at the paragraph (f) of the same Sub-section, he will see that 1817 there an exception is carved out of the general rule and that alternative accommodation has not to be found. What is it that is carved out? It is that where the landlord, or husband, etc., did not become the landlord before June, 1922—and not to become the landlord before June, 1922, is to become the landlord after June, 1922—he is removed from the Clause which says that he must find alternative accommodation. The person who becomes a landlord after that date, in lieu of finding alternative accommodation, has merely to show that greater hardship would be caused by refusing the order for possession.
§ Captain ELLIOT
The original Bill said that you had to find alternative accommodation except in certain cases. This paragraph (f) says that you do not have to find alternative accommodation in certain cases. The first is where the dwelling-house is reasonably required by the landlord for occupation as a residence for himself or his son or daughter, and the second is where the landlord or the wife of the landlord did not become the landlord before the 30th June, 1922, and the Court is satisfied that greater hardship would be caused by refusing to grant an order or judgment for possession than by granting it. In the first case, if he became a landlord—
§ Captain ELLIOT
It says:and, where the landlord or the husband or wife of the landlord did not become … the Court is satisfied that greater hardship would be caused.There are two sets of cases. It may be that further clarification is necessary, but this is the statement. Here are two sets of cases in which alternative accommodation is not required, the first being that in which the house is required for personal occupation, and in which the landlord became the landlord prior to the 30th June, 1922. If he became the landlord after the 30th June, 1922, and requires the house for personal occupation, he will still not be required to provide alternative accommodation, but he is required to show the Court that greater hardship would be caused by a refusal to grant the order than by granting it.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I am not going to delay the House upon a legal controversy with 1818 the hon. and gallant. Gentleman, but I really think I ought to say one word more, because he is still suffering, if he will forgive me for saying so, from a little mental cloudiness. We are told that the Section in the principal Act goes, and that this Clause 3 is substituted. We have, therefore, to look at Clause 3, and it is impossible to deny that it says generally, "You, landlords, cannot acquire possession until you find alternative accommodation"; and it is equally clear that paragraph (f) creates an exception to the general rule that the landlord has to find alternative accommodation. All that we have to do is to convert that exception into the terms of the Act, and when you read the terms of the Act you will find that the exception to finding alternative accommodation runs in favour of the landlord who has not acquired the premises before June, 1922, and, therefore, in favour of the landlord who has acquired the premises after June, 1922.
§ Captain ELLIOT
I do not want to enter into a controversy on the matter, because the hon. Member is learned in the law, as I am not, and has had infinitely more experience than I have in the Courts, but that is the opinion of advisers whom I have consulted and who have great experience of the matter. If the hon. and learned Member is really accurate, then, naturally, I defer to what he says, but I do say that this is the opinion, not merely of myself, but of people whom I have consulted and who have infinitely greater legal learning than I have.
§ Mr. HARNEY
Perhaps that accounts for it. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will bear with me, I will go further, and point out that this somewhat aggressive obtuseness to suggestions from this side has not been confined to this one point, and I am now going to mention another point where they have been equally wrong. Clause 6 of the Bill is, as I understand it, a Clause which says, "Show me now a tenant who has sub-tenants, and I say that, just for that reason, that tenant can be loaded to the extent of 10 per cent. Show me the landlord that has a tenant who has sub-tenants, and I say to him that, just for that reason, he can load the tenant with one-half of 10 per cent. in 1819 respect of every sub-tenant." That is the effect of the Clause. It is an extraordinary Clause. I asked, not the hon. and gallant Gentleman, not the Noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary, but the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, "What is the purpose of that?" and the answer I got was this: "Because the landlord is to be subjected to his premises being ill-used by sub-tenants in whose choice he had no say, and, therefore, it is right that he should get some compensation for that risk which is imposed upon him." I replied, "That is logical, but what are you doing? Instead of giving the 10 per cent. to the landlord, the owner of the premises who has to bear the risk, you are, curiously, giving the 10 per cent. to the tenant who creates the risk." I could not understand that. Then the ground was shifted, and we were told, "Oh, but the real reason is this: You will observe that, if a tenant sub-lets the lot, the house is decontrolled; but if he sub-lets everything except a portion that he retains for himself, so far from the place being decontrolled, the tenant can load the sub-tenant, and the landlord can load the tenant." I ask, "Why is this?" and the answer was: "The reason is that in that way you enable the fullest accommodation to be obtained "; and I at once say, "Is not that placing a premium on overcrowding?" The answer was, "Not at all."
I again ask, on the Third Reading, is it compatible with the most fundamental knowledge, by the greatest simpleton, of human nature, to say that, in proportion as you screw yourself into a corner, and in proportion as you cut up into the greater number of pieces the remaining space, in the like proportion you can add on 10 per cent. in the case of the landlord, and 5 per cent. in the case of the tenant? If that is not giving a premium on overcrowding I do not know what it is. Then we come to the hon. Baronet the Member for Dumbarton (Sir W. Raeburn), who brings in his nice, innocent-looking Amendment, and the right hon. Gentleman turns round and, with a suave smile, says, "I am going to accept that if the hon. Baronet will make a slight alteration." When my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) said, "But we want to hear something more about this." and we had a Debate, it turned out that the alleged 1820 justification for this addition to Clause 6, to the effect that the landlord could call upon the tenant to give him, the landlord, particulars of all the sub-tenancies that the tenant had, and the amount of their rents, and that if the tenant neglected to do so he was subjected to penal consequences, was this: "Oh, you see, how is the poor landlord to know how many 5 per cents. he is to get if he does not first find out exactly how many 10 per cents. the tenant is getting?" Quite true; but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) stood up and said, "I am a little puzzled. I do not really know how you are going to serve the purpose in view by getting these particulars, because it seems to me that, if you want the particulars from the tenant in order to know the figure upon which you are to calculate your 10 per cent. and your 5 per cent., you want the correct figure." Of course we do; but are you going to calculate the 10 per cent. and the 5 per cent. upon the profiteering rent that the sub-tenant is paying? "No, not at all." What are you going to calculate it upon? "We are going to calculate it upon the lawful apportionment of the rent." "Then," said the right hon. Gentleman, "what is the use, under penal consequences, of saying to the tenant, 'You must give me figures as the basis of a calculation'?" The Noble Lord gave an answer that is as incorrect as what we have heard about alternative accommodation. He said, "There is a great deal of force in the right hon. Gentleman's point as regards the existing Act, because under the existing Act the landlord could never apply for apportionment, and under the new Bill he will be able to, and therefore the figures which would be supplied under the old Act could only be profiteering figures because the apportionment figures would not have been found out." Both propositions are in fact inaccurate, and if they both were in fact accurate they together do not form the basis of the explanation he has given. It is not a fact that under the existing Act only the subtenant can apply for apportionment. Under the existing Act either party can apply for apportionment.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Lord E. Percy)
Hear, hear—either the tenant or the sub-tenant.
§ Mr. HARNEY
The Noble Lord ought to know more about the Bill than an unfortunate hireling, as I have been called. May I draw his attention to Section 12 (3) of the old Act?Where for the purpose of determining the standard rent or rateable value of any dwelling-house to which this Act applies, it is necessary to apportion the rent at the date in relation to which the standard rent is to be fixed, or the rateable value of the property in which that dwelling-house is comprised, the county court may, on application by either party, make such apportionment.The Noble Lord now, with quick ingenuity, tells me there are three parties, landlord, tenant and sub-tenant, and "either party" means tenant or subtenant. Is that the point? Is the Noble Lord aware that in the interpretation of the Section tenant and sub-tenant become, for the purpose of the phraseology of the Act, tenant and the one party and "other party' there means either the landlord, without any enlargement, or tenant, enlarged into tenant or subtenant?
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Lord E. PERCY
The two parties who will have a right, under the Section the hon. Member has read, to apply to the Court are the landlord and the tenant of a dwelling-house the rent of which is to be apportioned. But the landlord, in the case of a dwelling-house which is part of a dwelling-house, is the tenant, and the tenant of that dwelling-house is the subtenant, and the landlord of the whole dwelling-house does not enter into it at all.
§ Mr. HARNEY
Where in an Act of Parliament you go out of your way to employ a word which has its ordinary grammatical meaning, and give it a special meaning, henceforth in interpreting that Act you have to read that word with that special meaning, and this Act has gone out of its way to say the word "tenant" shall have the special meaning of tenant and sub-tenant. Therefore, when we find that apportionment may be asked for by either party, one is the landlord, and the other is the tenant or sub-tenant. Does the Noble Lord see 1822 that? The persons who are responsible for the Bill, including the Noble Lord, are very complacent just now. They are giving a sort of sigh of relief and saying, "Our work is nobly done, and now this Bill starts off on its two years' march." I can make a prophecy. That two years' march will be a march to the Caudine Forks, where this Act will be beaten upon incessantly by every Judge in the land with perpetual batteries of caustic commentary on its bad draftsmanship.
My objection to the Bill—and I believe it is shared by all my colleagues of the Liberal party—can be summarised on two main features. First, it is a Bill of decontrol masquerading as a control Bill. Its very first operation will be to decontrol 100 houses now reckoned as controlled houses, and its succeeding operations will be that every house which from the hour it becomes law falls into possession becomes a decontrolled house, and they have arranged a machinery facilitating to the utmost degree the falling into possession of houses. It would have been bad enough if they merely took the Clauses of the old Act, under which the landlord could recover possession, and said: "Where before he could recover possession, we now will enable him, not only to recover possession, but to free the house." It would have meant an attack by landlords upon these recovered possession provisions 10 times as great as in the past, because now they have something to gain by it. But it goes infinitely further, with language so drawn that I can truthfully say invitation lurks in every line to the landlord to be guilty of evasion and dishonest conduct in getting rid of his tenant.
I said on the Second Reading that while the Bill was given forth to the country as a prolongation of control, and it was in one sense an extension of it, they had so carefully punched holes in the extended part that the leakage will well nigh exhaust it. At the end of two years we are to have brought into operation this system of Rent Courts. They do not trouble me in the least. In two years' time two things will have happened: No. 1. The whole country will have awakened to the fact that the problem towards which this Bill is a contribution is more acute than at this moment. The next thing they will be up against is the proximity of a General Election, and so 1823 far from our being troubled about bringing into operation the Second Part of the Bill, our attention will be directed to bringing in another First Part, which then will be shaped in the more mellowing outlines that the approaching General Election is likely to suggest. I could understand the Government saying: "We made a mistake by the initiation of this method of legislation in 1915, interfering with the flow of natural laws. We admit the mistake, and we will correct it now." That would have been honest. It might have lost them votes, but it would have gained them respect. At the Mitcham bye-election they flew a kite, and suggested that they were going to do that, but when the kite began to flutter in the breeze, and when the tail got to where the head ought to be, and the head to where the tail ought to he, they said: "Oh, no, we will get over it in another way. We will do good by stealth, and we will blush to find it fame. We will say to the country: 'We are giving you continued control for two years, and afterwards conditionally for five.' "Then they say to their supporters: "Do not mind. We have so arranged it that really it will be decontrol." That may be expedient, but I suggest to the Government that it is not straightforward. It would have been far better to have been straight in the matter. To tell me that the policy of 1915 was a sound policy and that the conditions today merit no change of that policy is a matter that I entirely fail to understand. The policy in 1915 was initiated because there was a shortage of houses and because there was widespread poverty. I am told that the normal house require ment is 70,000, and that for the last two years the normal building was 50,000. Therefore, how does an additional 40,000 diminish the house shortage?
I hope that in my small way, without splitting an infinitive. I have done something which, through not being a split infinitive, will not arouse the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, but will show to hon. Members that I, and hon. Members of my party, have honestly and conscientiously tried to understand this difficulty and to make a contribution towards solving the problem.
§ Mr. C. E. LLOYD
As one who has sat through the Debates on this Bill, I 1824 wish to make a few observations. One thing which must have impressed Members of the Government is the extreme diversity of experience in regard to housing in different parts of the country and the extreme difficulty of covering in legislation all the varieties of relation between landlord and tenant. We have had dinned' into our ears too much the Scottish aspect of the question and too little of the English aspect, and I propose to reserve my remark to the English aspect because it is one which deserves quite as much attention as the Scottish and has not perhaps received so much. If we could pursuade some of the Scottish Members to visit the poorer boroughs in England they would be surprised to find who were the landlords of the small property inhabited by the poorer of the working classes. It is fair to say that practically all those landlords are of the working classes themselves, and so even if there was a division in this House and the country as between the supposed rich landlord and the poor tenant that division does not apply substantially to the bulk of the cases in the poorer boroughs.
I cannot help feeling that, as time goes on, and as this complication of control continues, the burden of injustice, if any injustice is caused, will be rather on the landlord than on the tenant in relation to this Bill. It is only too clear how intensely intricate the legal questions raised by such legislation must be, and if nothing else were needed to illustrate the objectionable nature of any control of private property by the State, the devastating arguments between the various lawyers in the House are enough to show that this is not the kind of legislation to be encouraged. Instead of applying ourselves to real constructive legislation, we are inclined to tackle legislation which is a survival from the War, and all the time and energy which we devote to other legislation might be very much better devoted to more actively constructive legislation for actually providing increased accommodation.
There is no good to be done, I am sure, with a background of controlled houses. That background is a discouragement to any increased provision of houses, and I should have liked to ask the last speaker whether he really does desire to continue control indefinitely until the 1825 last man who could say that he wanted a house has been provided with a house. I believe that the right policy is the earliest possible decontrol of houses, and I am not afraid to support the element of decontrol which undoubtedly is in this Bill. On the contrary I am willing to support it, and I believe that the Bill will do justice to the working-class landlords who are anxious to secure the houses which they have built for their own families or for themselves. The Bill does not in any way reduce or increase the number of houses available. Every house will continue to be occupied and every house will probably be occupied by very much the same class of occupier. But the position will be gradually straightened out. I look forward to the further legislation which we have been promised, dealing with the clearance of slum areas. That will do much more than anything that has been done hitherto to find living accommodation for the very poor classes for whom practically nothing has been done by any of the Bills that have come before us.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
The Labour party propose to vote against the Third Reading of this Bill for the reasons given in the Amendment. Several Members on the other side of the House have expresssd surprise that we should take this course The hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) asked, did we not understand that the Rent Restrictions Act would cease at the end of this month? Another hon. Gentleman asked, did we not realise the chaos that would result. It is true that if we defeated the Government there would be political chaos and there are reverberations from results of that kind? But what could technically happen if this Bill were defeated? Already, once this year, hon. Members opposite have voted to continue the Rent Restrictions Act, taking one day to debate it. There is no reason why the Rent Restrictions Act should not be continued for one year, two years, five years, 10 years or as long as was necessary if this Bill failed. Therefore, there is very little in that point, The next thing that the hon. Member for West Woolwich said with regard to our party was that we had objected to the Act of 1920, and did we want to perpetuate it? Let us see what the situation is. Nobody is in love with the system of rent restriction. It is a clumsy expedient 1826 to meet a social crisis. What is happening is that the particular social crisis which it is meant to meet is becoming perpetual. There is a shortage of houses which is just as aggravated as ever. Our people, impoverished by high prices, unemployment and low wages, require more than ever the defence of the Rent Restrictions Act. What we feel on this side of the House—it is almost the only thing that we have before our eyes—is that if there is decontrol, whether on a large scale or on a small scale, it means the increase, and probably the doubling, of the rent of every decontrolled house. That is what we see and that is why we are afraid of decontrol. That is why we dislike this very small Bill. I admit that it is a smaller Bill than the one which the Government originally intended. quire more than ever the defence of the They were almost wedded to complete decontrol, but there were two or three by-elections which forbade the banns. Now we have this mean and bastard brat, but it has enough decontrol in its lineaments to remind us of the old liaison. Let us see what our objections are to the two parts of the Bill. We object to decontrol in detail. If wholesale decontrol was defeated in the country in the elections because it was going to increase or double the rents, a fortiori partial decontrol is going to increase the rents of the decontrolled houses.
That is the inducement which is held out before all landlords—that they can get their houses decontrolled. That is the incentive to the landlords, of which we are afraid. Of course they are going to get higher rents. Landlords are human. We do not make an indictment against the class, but they see ahead of them the opportunities which this Bill affords. They see that if they get their tenants out, necessarily there will be an enormous increase of their rents. In these circumstances the bulk of the landlords will do anything to get possession of their houses. On the other side the Minister says that the landlords are all reasonable men. Again I must refer the right hon. Gentleman to the experiences which many of us have had in large towns of the reasonableness of landlords. What we have found since the passing of the 1920 Act is that the landlords take the most they can under that Act and take it not very scrupulously. The other day I cited the 1827 case of Newcastle—which is by no means exceptional—and I cite it again, because I have actual and literal knowledge of what I am talking about. In three wards of that city, rents were put up, not only the legal 40 per cent., but 50, 60 and 70 per cent. over many of the streets. The tenants got some expert assistance, not actually legal assistance, and they recovered in the last year more than £3,000 from the landlords in those three wards. They were being swindled so absolutely that not one single landlord took a case into the Court against them, and some of the landlords had to stand out of their rent for 13 weeks, so much had they taken by this process of widespread extortion. That is the position with which we are faced—that the great mass of the poor people in our large towns know the way in which they are going to be treated. These people will not accept the standard of the right hon. Gentleman that the landlords are going to be reasonable all round, because they know that the landlords have not been reasonable. As I say, I make no indictment of the landlords in Newcastle or anywhere else, but hon. Members must understand the atmosphere which has been created. The minds of the people are influenced by the idea that this new law will give the landlord new opportunities of litigation against them in order to secure the higher rent which will follow decontrol.
If there is to be any alteration in the 1920 Act, the tenant should have more, and not less, protection. He should have more protection against the levying of extra rent on the ground of repairs. It is said there are going to be legal protections against the landlord levying this rent and not making the repairs, but it is a mockery to tell the poor to litigate in their scores of thousands. To mention Newcastle again—and the same thing occurs in other towns—there are 1,100 houses in that city officially declared by the corporation to be incapable of being made habitable, yet, on nearly all of these houses the people are paying the extra rent. You may say they have legal redress. These poor people in the slums of our country do not know how to go and get legal redress, and what I said the other day is the real truth. If the landlords are to continue with this right 1828 of levying extra rent for repairs, they ought to do the repairs first.
I come to the second part of the Bill, which is less immediately cruel, but it is more ultimately disastrous. There is to be decontrol beginning in 1925, unless we pass another Act. What are we going to do, I wonder. Is this merely a disingenuous postponement, or is it not? There is not a man in this House who does not know that the houses are not going to be ready by that time. Of course, they are not. However successful the housing schemes were, the situation would be in all its essence the same two years hence, as it is now. There is going to be no real difference. There may be greater hopes, but that is all. Then what is going to be done? You are just going through the same process again. Why did you not accept our Amendment and postpone it at least till 1930? You might as well have done that. I suppose there is a hope that you may then be strong enough to adopt the principle which some hon. Members opposite want at once—decontrol, and take all the risks. There are some who still want that, if only the elections would not go too much against, them. All I can say is that, if and when there is decontrol under anything like the present conditions, there is going to be very serious trouble in this country. A new situation has been created, and surely hon. Members opposite can understand. True, housing has been very bad in the past; true, millions of our people have lived under terrible housing conditions in the past; true, they have even had to suffer, when they have been living under these conditions, tremendous rises of rent, which they have not been able to resist, at different times.
All that is true enough, but what have you got now? For six or eight years the people have had legal means of avoiding economic exactions. They have become accustomed to legal protection against their landlords, and you are never going back from that. You are only going back from it under one of two conditions—first of all, that protection is no longer needed. It will be no longer needed if there are enough houses, but there is no prospect at all of that, and therefore two or three years hence, whenever this comes up for revision, there will be exactly the same conditions as now, except that the people will have become 1829 more accustomed to this legal protection. Why do not the Government, who are out for the defence of property as it is, begin to think ahead and wonder how they are going to deal with this problem, which is going to be precisely the same when they meet it two years hence, if they are still there? They might think of other expedients, because they will have to think about them. I suspect they will have to begin to think about Rent Courts, but, at any rate, all that we have to do is to oppose them at the present time, to oppose this policy of doing nothing, of leaving things as they are, except to make them just a little worse. We want to maintain the Rent Restrictions Act as it is, if we cannot improve it, not to make it worse, as you are making it worse. That is the reason why we are voting against your Bill. We regard the Rent Restriction Act as a clumsy raft, to save our people from submergence, and we want them to have that raft until they can reach their own land.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)
Whatever may be thought about the provisions of this Bill, no one can say it has not been amply discussed in the course of its passage in various stages through this House, and that is as it should be. This is a Measure which is going to touch, in their most vital interests, the great majority of the people of this country, and, particularly, the great majority of the poorer classes. Therefore, it is right and proper that every provision in it should be examined with the most scrupulous care, in order that all legitimate interests may be protected, and that, in circumstances which make it almost impossible to avoid some hardships, and even some injustices, no particular section of the community should receive undue advantage at the expense of the rest. At first sight, the interests which are at stake appear to be absolutely conflicting. The three primary necessities of life are food, shelter and clothing, although I do not know that everyone would insist quite so much on clothing in weather like this. But, in the face of all the circumstances, the tenants find themselves deprived of that freedom of choice which they have been accustomed to enjoy in the past in the purchase of the necessaries of life, and, indeed, most of its luxuries also. The 1830 restriction arises out of circumstances which are beyond the control of Government—circumstances which were created, or, at least, largely aggravated by the aftermath of war, and which have resulted in a shortage of houses, which amounts practically to a famine. In such circumstances as that, nobody can be surprised that tenants clamour for protection against a situation which would expose them completely to the mercy of the landlords.
On the other hand, what is the position of the landlord? For eight years now they have been subjected by law to limitations which have not been imposed upon any other class of property. They have had to share the burdens of increased taxation, of increased cost of living, of increased cost of maintenance, but they have not been permitted to increase their rents, except to a certain very limited extent, and they have not been able to get possession of their own property, even when they require it for their own occupation. On their side, too, then, one cannot be surprised if they ardently desire to see the total abolition—the prompt and speedy abolition—of all these hampering restrictions upon them. But although it seems difficult to think of any deadlock more complete than that I have just described, I think, if you take a longer view, it will not appear that the interests of tenants and landlords are quite so remote as might at first sight appear. If you could give back to the tenant his own freedom of choice in houses, he would have the best possible protection against the exactions of a callous or oppressive landlord. He simply changed his house as now he can change his shop if he is not satisfied with the service he gets. I do not think there will be any difference of opinion in this House upon that point. The real difference that divides us is: What is the best method of restoring to the tenant his freedom of choice. Hon. Members opposite believe that if you continue until 1930 the provisions of the existing Act of 1920 by that time sufficient houses will be built to allow decontrol. We on this side believe that as long as you continue these restrictions you will never get houses. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why not decontrol now?"] Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to continue my argument—that, as I say, is the whole basis of the difference between us.
1831 I am not going to argue the question again as to whether the imposition of these restrictions is the most powerful deterrent you could have to building. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) stated our arguments as they appeared to him. He thereby revealed his total inability to understand our case. He represented us as saying that to decontrol houses would mean that the man left would necessarily be forced to build a house for himself. That is a most grotesque travesty of our argument. We have argued it over and over again. We shall never get over the fact that, whether right or wrong, a man will not put his money into an investment which gives small returns and doubtful security. An hon. Member asked: "Why not decontrol now?" Whilst this Bill does something to increase returns it does not in itself do very much to increase security, because though it does for the moment control and restrict, not for two years, but for seven years, and possibly shorter if circumstances allow, the confidence of investors, destroyed and kept under by control, once having gone, cannot come back in a moment. If we were to cease control tomorrow, even then an appreciable time would have to elapse before investors would be satisfied that the situation was stable enough once again to safely resume their investment in property as they used to do. Therefore I protest that confidence is not going to be recovered at once, whether we have this Bill or not. There will be two minor issues in this matter of confidence. The first will arise in 1925. Hon. Members opposite have really expressed the view that when 1925 comes, instead of passing Part II of the Act, it will be necessary for the Government of the day to introduce a new bill prolonging Part I. I do not know what Government may be in power in 1925, but I would say this, that if any Government then in power prolongs Part I of the Act by a new Bill, they would deal a fatal blow at the confidence of investors, and they will, once and for all, make impossible a resumption of house building by private builders. I feel confident that will not happen. My hon. Friends opposite have continually spoken as if in 1925 all control was coming to an end. They have deliberately ignored the existence of. Part II of this Bill. Part II is a provision which is inserted in the Bill to make it possible for Part I to come to an end. It 1832 provides a sort of step between the full measure of control that is provided by the present Act and the final cessation of control when Part II comes to an end. It gives to the sitting tenants protection in 1925 against exorbitant increases of rent and against the whim or desire of a landlord to turn them out of their houses. It is the existence of these forms of protection in Part II which gives me the confidence that in 1925 the Government of the day will not feel themselves forced to prolong Part I, but will be able to rely upon the working of Part II. The second critical time will come just before 1930. As time goes on and as the date for the expiry of the second Part of the Act draws near it is clear that it will be possible in 1930 finally to get rid of the last remnants of control and then we may conclude that the feeling of security and confidence amongst investors will have slowly grown up and be finally established and the building of houses supported by the finance of private investors will once more come into operation.
The official Opposition have put down their Amendment for the rejection of this Measure in the form of a reasoned Amendment, and I take this opportunity of congratulating them upon the growing moderation of their views. When hon. Members opposite originally supported the rejection of the Housing Bill, they had seven reasons, but on this Measure they have come down three. The Mover of this Amendment did not confine himself to these three reasons, but he roamed at will over the whole range of the Clauses of the Bill. I hope I shall not be considered captious if I still complain of the quality of the objections put forward. But even these three reasons will not stand close examination, and I would like to consider each of them in turn. The first reason is that this Bill will deprive a very large number of tenants of all protection. Where on earth does the hon. Member for Westhoughton find that in the Bill? To which Clause in the Bill does he refer?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Let us see what Clause 2 does. It says that certain houses will come out of control when the landlord comes into possession but if the landlord comes into possession it means that 1833 there is no tenant. Can the hon. Member name another Clause which has that effect?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The Amendment declares that this Bill will deprive a very large number of tenants of all protection, and when the hon. Member is asked to name the Clauses which have that effect he is dumb and says he is not going to be drawn. I have demonstrated that Clause 2 will not bear out his description. It is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact. How can you say that it deprives the tenant of protection when there is no tenant. If that be the measure of the reasoning power of the Labour party, I am afraid that they have still a good deal to learn before they sit on this side of the House. I would like, in this connection, to say something about Clause 3, in spite of the fact that the hon. Member has not ventured to name Clause 3 as one which withdraws protection from the tenant. Some criticism has been made upon Clause 3 by a number of hon. Members this afternoon, and, particularly, its wording has been criticised with great severity by the pastmaster of draftsmanship, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney).
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
There is no excuse for not understanding this Clause on the part of anybody who sat through all the discussions in Committee, because hon. Members who did must be familiar, not only with the Bill, but with the Act which it amends. Of course, those who are not members of Committees and people in the country do not generally take the trouble to go very deeply into the provisions of a Measure of this kind. Some hon. Members have fallen into a number of errors because they have read the Bill but have not read the Act. It may be because I have had to spend so much time on the subject; but I am inclined to ask, like the child in the nursery rhyme,Do you really wonder, Jane,When it seems to me so plain?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I wish to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he admitted on the Report stage that it would have to be made right in the House of Lords.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I did nothing of the kind. I do not know what the hon. Member refers to. I offered an Amendment on the Report stage which I thought, perhaps, would make it clearer to those who did not wish to take the trouble to understand it, but the hon. Member would not have the Amendment.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I withdrew it because the hon. Member was not satisfied with it. Let me say, again, what is the meaning of the particular paragraph which has been criticised. It is apparently thought by some hon. Members—I think the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) was one who put the point—that under the Bill as it now stands some preference has been given to the person who became the landlord after 30th June, 1922.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
If hon. Members will carefully read the Bill, in conjunction with the Act, they will see that whether a person became the landlord before or after 30th June, 1922, if he requires the house for his own occupation or for the occupation of a son or a daughter over 18 years of age, he does not have to provide alternative accommodation. What he does have to do is to get an order of the Court for possession, and the Court will not give that order unless it is satisfied that it is just and reasonable to do so. The only difference between a per son who became the landlord before 30th June, 1922, and one who became the landlord after 30th June, 1922, is that in the latter case he has also to prove that greater hardship will be caused to him by refusing the order, than will be caused to the tenant by giving it.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member is really mistaken. The paragraph is not to be struck out, but alternative accommodation in certain cases is no longer to be required. It is provided that the words "existence of alternative accommodation" shall not be a condition of the order or judgment. We have a new paragraph in place of paragraph (iv)—it is paragraph (f)—and I cannot follow what the hon. Member means when he says the provision in the Act has been struck out which says that no alternative accommodation should be provided in these cases.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I cannot see that any alternative accommodation would be required in the case mentioned by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think in this particular case we required their opinion. It is perfectly plain.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I should like to repeat the undertaking I gave in Committee upstairs that when this Bill becomes law I will have the Act of 1920 reprinted and the Amendments made in it by this Bill substituted for the wording of that Act. I think that will be a great convenience to the general public. The second reason given by the hon. Member is that the Bill will encourage landlords to exercise undue pressure upon their tenants by litigation or otherwise. Where does the hon. Member find that in the Bill? If you take Clause 2 of the Bill you 1836 will find that where a landlord comes into possession of his house by reason of the fact that the tenant is in arrears with his rent, that is not to be a reason for taking the house out of control. Therefore, any inducement or incentive to the landlord to put undue pressure on his tenant is removed by the express provision of this Bill. When I find it suggested that this alleged encouragement to the landlord is a reason for rejecting the Bill, I feel inclined to ask whether the present Act has not encouraged tenants to abuse the security given to them by sub-letting at exorbitant rents, leading to deterioration of the house, without permission given by the landlord.
When I come to the last reason, it is that the Bill only continues control for a period within which there is no probability, under the Government's housing policy, of the shortage of housing accommodation being met. The hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan), who spoke last, followed the example of other hon. Members on that side of the House in speaking as if the Bill came to an end in 1925. I have already dealt with that point. I would now remind the House that, in the opinion of the Labour party, by 1930 there will be sufficient housing accommodation to make any further control unnecessary. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I take it that that is so, because, first of all, no Amendment has been moved, either in Committee or on Report, prolonging the period of control beyond the year 1930. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said in Committee that 1930 was the year that the Labour party desired. A colleague of the hon. Member opposite in the representation of Newcastle said that he was prepared to accept 1928 as a reasonable compromise; and the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) expressly said, on Report, that he believed that by that time, that is to say, by 1930, we should have in this country a sufficient supply of houses for the working classes. It is true that he made some qualification to that by saying:if the Government are prepared to apply the powers they possess in other directions as far as the price of building materials is concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1923; col. 1039, Vol. 166.]Quite so. But it is for the Labour party if they do not think we are applying 1837 those powers, to criticise us and to take what steps they think fit to make us do so. On the assumption, however, that we are going to apply those powers, if they be necessary, the hon. Member for Linlithgow, who, I suppose, is as well entitled to speak for the Labour party as anyone, expresses the belief that by 1930 we shall have sufficient housing accommodation in the country. I do not commit myself to that view. What I do point out is that 1930 is the date actually put down in the Bill for the final expiry of control, and that therefore it seems altogether inconsistent and illogical to make a ground for opposing the Bill the fact that it does not impose control beyond 1930.
Whatever may be thought of the Bill in this House, I do not think anyone can deny that in the country generally it has been recognised as an honest attempt to hold the balance fairly between the various interests concerned. Perhaps there is no provision in it that commands the approval of everybody, but on the other hand I think everyone can find something in it of which they can approve. For my part, and in that sort of temperament which never expects too much, and which only really begins to get uncomfortable when criticism is silent, I look forward with equanimity to the Division we are now about to take, and
§ with confidence to the future, which will be the only true test of the value of the Bill.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put, but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question."
§ Mr. PRINGLE
There are just two minutes, and I wish to say this, that the right hon. Gentleman has totally failed to meet the gravamen of the case, which has been put in the Debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney). A case was put in regard to the matter of alternative accommodation on the legal interpretation of these words, and I wish to point out—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide, divide!"]
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 212; Noes, 111.1839
|Division No. 290.]||AYES.||[4.0 p.m.|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Cadogan, Major Edward||Eyres-Monsell, Com. Rt. Hon. Bolton M.|
|Alexander, Col. M. (Southwark)||Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Cassels, J. D.||Fermor-Hesketh, Major T.|
|Apsley, Lord||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Ford, Patrick Johnston|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Sir Martin||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Foreman, Sir Henry|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Wilfrid W.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Forestier-Walker, L.|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick W.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)||Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot|
|Austin, Sir Herbert||Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Galbraith, J. F. W.|
|Baird, Rt. Hon. Sir John Lawrence||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Churchman, Sir Arthur||Garland, C. S.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Goff, Sir R. Park|
|Barlow, Rt. Hon. Sir Montague||Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Gould, James C.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Greaves-Lord, Walter|
|Becker, Harry||Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Greene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hack'y N.)|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Cope, Major William||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)|
|Bennett, Sir T. J. (Sevenoaks)||Cotts, Sir William Dingwall Mitchell||Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South)||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Croft, Lieut.-Colonel Henry Page||Halstead, Major D.|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Crook, C. W. (East Ham, North)||Harrison, F. C.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Harvey, Major S. E.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Hay, Major T. W. (Norfolk, South)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Daiziel, Sir D. (Lambeth, Brixton)||Henn, Sir Sydney H.|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Davidson, J. C. C. (Hemel Hempstead)||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)|
|Brown, Major D. C. (Hexham)||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Herbert, S. (Scarborough)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. Clifton (Newbury)||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hewett, Sir J. P.|
|Brown, J. W. (Middlesbrough, E.)||Dawson, Sir Philip||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank|
|Bruford, R.||Dixon, Capt. H. (Belfast, E.)||Hiley, Sir Ernest|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Doyle, N. Grattan||Hinds, John|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Du Pre, Colonel William Baring||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Burn, Colonel Sir Charles Rosdew||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Hood, Sir Joseph|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Hopkins, John W. W.|
|Button, H. S.||Evans, Ernest (Cardigan)||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)|
|Horne, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hillhead)||Morrison-Bell, Major Sir A. C. (Honiton)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Houfton, John Plowright||Murchison, C. K.||Russell, William (Bolton)|
|Howard, Capt. D. (Cumberland, N.)||Nall, Major Joseph||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Hudson, Capt. A.||Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)||Sanders, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert A.|
|Hume, G. H.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Sanderson, Sir Frank B.|
|Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis||Newson, Sir Percy Wilson||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster)||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Hurst, Gerald B.||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Singleton, J. E.|
|Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Nield, Sir Herbert||Smith, Sir Harold (Wavertree)|
|Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.|
|Jenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor)||Paget, T. G.||Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H.|
|Jodrell, Sir Neville Paul||Parker, Owen (Kettering)||Stanley, Lord|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Pease, William Edwin||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Kennedy, Captain M. S. Nigel||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|King, Capt. Henry Douglas||Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Perring, William George||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Lever, Sir Arthur L.||Peto, Basil E.||Tuyon, Rt. Hon. Geroge Clement|
|Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Philipson, Mabel||Tubbs, S. W.|
|Lloyd-Greame, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Lorden, John William||Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray||Wallace, Captain E.|
|Lort-Williams, J.||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Waring, Major Walter|
|Lowe, Sir Francis William||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.||Watson, Capt. J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Loyd, Arthur Thomas (Abingdon)||Privett, F. J.||Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)|
|Lumley, L. R.||Rankin, Captain James Stuart||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)||Winterton, Earl|
|Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Wise, Frederick|
|Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Remer, J. R.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Remnant, Sir James||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Manville, Edward||Rentoul, G. S.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Margesson, H. D. R.||Richardson, Sir Alex. (Gravesend)||Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward|
|Mason, Lieut.-Col. C. K.||Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)||Yerburgh, R. D. T.|
|Mercer, Colonel H.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Milne, J. S. Wardlaw||Robertson-Despencer, Major (Islgtn, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden)||Rogerson, Capt. J. E.||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Col.|
|Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Roundell, Colonel R. F.||the Rt. Hon. G. A. Gibbs.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Hardie, George D.||Pringle, W. M. R.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Harney, E. A.||Richards, R.|
|Attlee, C. R.||Hastings, Patrick||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hay, Captain J. P. (Catheart)||Ritson, J.|
|Barnes, A.||Hayday, Arthur||Robinson, W. C. (York, Elland)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hayes, John Henry (Edge Hill)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hemmerde, E. G.||Saklatvala, S.|
|Broad, F. A.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (N'castle, E.)||Salter, Dr. A.|
|Brotherton, J.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Hill, A.||Sexton, James|
|Buckle, J.||Hirst, G. H.||Shaw, Thomas (Preston)|
|Burgess, S.||Irving, Dan||Smillie, Robert|
|Buxton, Charles (Accrington)||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Smith, T. (Pontefract)|
|Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Johnston, Thomas (Stirling)||Snell, Harry|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Snowden, Philip|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Jowett, F. W. (Bradford, East)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Darbishire, C. W.||Kirkwood, D.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lansbury, George||Tillett, Benjamin|
|Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Lawson, John James||Tout, W. J.|
|Duffy, T. Gavan||Leach, W.||Trevelyan, C. P.|
|Duncan, C.||Lees-Smith, H. B. (Keighley)||Turner, Ben|
|Dunnico, H.||Lowth, T.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Ede, James Chuter||Lunn, William||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Edmonds, G.||MacDonald, J. R. (Aberavon)||Warne, G. H.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||M'Entee, V. L.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Fairbairn, R. R.||March, S.||Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.|
|Foot, Isaac||Morel, E. D.||Weir, L. M.|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Welsh, J. C.|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Muir, John W.||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Murray, R. (Renfrew, Western)||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Newbold, J. T. W.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||O'Grady, Captain James||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Groves, T.||Oliver, George Harold|
|Grundy, T. W.||Paling, W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Ponsonby, Arthur||Mr. Spoor and Mr. Morgan Jones.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Potts, John S.|
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.1840
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at Ten Minutes after Four o'Clock till Monday next (16th July).