§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
Mr. J. RAMSAY MacDONALD
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 cannot assent to the Third Reading of a Bill which is a, specially objectionable example of retrospective legislation, is inequitable both in its relief and its penalties, and is calculated to undermine public confidence.The House has now reached an important and interesting stage of this Bill, and the Attorney-General, I suppose, to-night expects to bring it safe to port. It is the first of a small fleet of Housing Bills, and the cargo in none of them is of very much importance. This one, however, has characteristics of its own. It is a very conspicuous example of class legislation. It is an attempt to do for what is called property that which the last Parliament declined to do, and which is only done because property has got the ear of the Government to an inordinate and an unjust extent. What is the cause of this Bill? Houseowners after the War made claims to be allowed to increase rents. They were well organised; they sent deputations to this House; they saw responsible Ministers; and Parliament, in its wisdom or otherwise, decided that they should be allowed to increase their rents, but it imposed conditions, and one of the conditions was that if a landlord increased his rent he had, first of all, to put himself in the position of an owner who is virtually in possession of his house. I suppose the Attorney-General will take the point that the houseowners have been taking, especially since the case was decided in the House of Lords, that the law was not clear and that the intention of the House of Commons was never plain. The contention is absurd. The law was perfectly clear, and the intention of the House of Commons was quite plain. Will the House allow me to mention that the "Property Owners Journal" printed a special red slip immediately after the 2200 principal Act was passed, reminding landlords that if they took advantage of the Act and raised the rents, they had to give the statutory notice to quit?
It was immediately after the Act was passed in 1920, but I cannot give the exact date. The "Property Owners Handbook" of that year issued a similar warning, and the journal called the "Justice of the Peace," commenting on the Scottish decision, said the interpretation of the Acthad hardly been the subject of serious dispute in England.That was after the Scottish decision. May I give another quotation from a certain Mr. W. H. Thompson, who is an authority upon rent and, I believe, writes legal text books upon it? At any rate, in 1920 he wrote a book which is called "The Tenant and His House," and in the very first page of this book he writes:The Act"—that is the 1920 Act—has not relieved the landlord from any restriction or obligation with regard to raising the rent, to which he was subject before the War, and it is important to bear this in mind. Before the War a landlord could not, by simply giving notice, raise his tenant's rent. He could give the tenant notice to quit (weekly, monthly, quarterly or otherwise, according to the terms of the tenancy) and then endeavour to arrange with the tenant to pay an increased rent. It is important to remember that this is still the position and before the landlord can add any of the increases of rent permitted by the Act he must have given or received notice to quit, or the old tenancy must be determined by some legal method. As an illustration, a tenant of a house to which the Act applies holds his house on a quarterly tenancy. If the landlord has not given notice to quit on 24th June he can only do so on the next quarter day (29th September) and can only raise the rent after 25th December next. If a tenant has a lease there can be no increase of rent during the lease. This point is only preliminary, but it is a matter of great importance. To put it shortly, the landlord cannot raise the rent on premises within the Act unless he would have been entitled to eject the tenant but for the Act.
Mr. W. H. Thompson. He is a solicitor, and the more obscure he is, the more absurd is it for those who profess to be legal luminaries to have taken any other view of the case. Moreover decisions upon the Act came frequently, or, if the word "frequently" be an exaggeration, they came more than once before the famous House of Lords decision. There was one in the well-known case of Newell v. The Crayford Cottage Society, Limited, which was given on the 13th February, 1922. Judgment was given for the plaintiff, but an appeal was made. In giving judgment for the plaintiff in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Bankes pointed out that the case of Hill v. Hasler in 1921 had established that the wordsin respect of a period during which but for this Act, the landlord would be entitled to obtain possession,meant not only the legal right to possession but also that the landlord had taken the necessary steps to obtain possession. He went on to say:He entirely agreed with that. … He thought that the words were perfectly plain, and that they meant, if the landlord had in fact, taken proper steps to obtain possession of the premises.Lord Justices Scrutton and Younger delivered judgment to the same effect. It was as a direct consequence of this decision that the tenant Kerr withheld his rent, and the legal processes were initiated which ended in the House of Lords. What I wish to emphasise is this. We have heard in this House a good deal about the poor simple-minded owner of a single house, who, for the purpose of political discussion, always happens to be a widow. We have heard a great deal of that type of houseowner, but that is not the representative type of houseowner. It is a well-known fact that there is probably no organisation outside the legal profession which is more perfect in its form than the organisation of house-owners in our large cities, more particularly in the city from which has come all the trouble, namely, the City of Glasgow. There, the houseowners are highly organised. They have lawyer advisers and legal secretaries, and there is not a twist or turn of the law relating to house property that is not at the finger ends of these gentlemen, who receive very ample salaries, and undoubtedly earn them, in 2202 looking after the interests of the houseowners of Glasgow. Does any hon. Member, legal or lay, tell the House that the wording of the Act was misunderstood or overlooked by some of the greatest experts on house law in the country? It is too much to ask us to believe that. The fact of the matter is—the explanation is—that the landlord adopted a slipshod method of doing the work, never thinking that the matter would be taken into Court and settled against him, and then at the last moment he found he was "had."
If ever knowledge of law must be assumed; if ever it was unsafe for the Courts or this House to assume that an Act of Parliament duly entered upon the Statute Book is not known by the people who come under its operations, this is a case where it is unsafe to make that assumption. Moreover, when Parliament did make up its mind to legislate, how was it legislating? My first contention is that it had no right to legislate at all except to rectify the law, if this House made up its mind that the law was bad. The houseowners have no grievance in justice. They have brought their troubles upon themselves, and if this House is going to discriminate at all between houseowners and tenants, the discrimination ought all to be in favour of the tenants, who really require all the assistance they can get against the houseowners. But the first thing the Government did when the House of Lords declared what the law was on the subject., was to proceed to legislate retrospectively. When this matter first became a subject of public discussion I found, to my amazement, that all the organs of conservative and constitutional opinion seemed to accept as a dictum which nobody would ever question, that legislation must be retrospective. When I ventured to protest and to point out that this was an exceedingy dangerous method of rectifying whatever wrong might have been disclosed by the House of Lords decision, I have the most lively recollection of the wild Bolshevist attack which came upon me from the other side.
Surely it stands to reason that retrospective legislation should never be resorted to except in the most exceptional circumstances. I am not going to make a fetish of the word "retrospective"; I am not going to regard it as some inspired word, which we 2203 must put before us in letters of gold, and from the rectitude contained in which we must never allow ourselves to depart. I know perfectly well that occasions must and will arise when an injustice has been declared and when in rectifying that injustice the amending legislation must have a somewhat backward look. Yes, but that must be done very sparingly, and with much circumspection. There was the case of the Scottish Church property raised, I think, when we were at the Report stage. I do not know if an Englishman would regard the legislation which was passed after the House of Lords decision in the Church case as retrospective legislation but I am perfectly certain that a Scotsman knowing the facts and substance of the case, would never regard the Scottish Church case as a case of purely retrospective legislation. The cases were totally different, and the retrospective part of that legislation was infinitesimal and gave it no feature.
I know we must not allow ourselves to be led into a discussion of theological problems. Nothing would delight me more, but I do not like the smile on the face of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Hillhead Division of Glasgow (Sir R. Horne). I am sure he is thinking of the pitfalls he would drag me into if I would only follow that prompting. No, in that case it was a totally different question which was settled by that Act of Parliament. It was a question there of whether the churches in the evolution of their life under new conditions and movements affecting theological organisation, and declarations of faith and belief, were to be bound for ever by a dead hand, which legally had to be accepted. The moment the living organ of public opinion—the Legislature, the House of Commons,—was made aware of the circumstances, then the Legislature was bound to give living justice rather than enforce dead law. That was the real principle involved in that Act. So far as retrospective legislation is concerned, there is one great test. The first test is that the injustice which has to be removed by the retrospective legislation should be more substantial than formal, and applying that test to the present case, I ask whether, as a matter of fact, the extra rents which were 2204 charged under the legal form—by that I mean without notice to quit having been served—were, as a matter of fact, in other respects legal or would have been legal but for that omission. I have no consciousness at all of speaking from one side of the House when I make the statement that there is no question at all that the houseowners took advantage of the 1920 Act to impose rents which, even if they had given the notice to quit, would have been unjust rents under the Act of 1920. I will not go over the various justifications for increasing rents that were embodied in that Act one after another, but I will take only the question of improvements. I gave an instance the other day, when I was taking part in a debate on one of the Amendments during the Report stage. I have had simply piles of letters—from John o'Groats to Land's End, when this controversy was a little bit hotter than it is now and when this Bill was a little more prominent in the public mind—from tenants pointing out how unjustly their rents have been raised and how, in raising the rents, the houseowners have declined or have neglected to do their part of the bargain. Take the question of improvements. I have a letter here from an Edinburgh solicitor, who says:It is a matter of common knowledge that many, if not most, of the landlords of house property who have received 25 per cent. increase on the rent to keep their property in tenantable repair have failed to fulfil their obligation in this important respect. Much of the work that has been done by proprietors has been forced upon them by the sanitary authorities.I gave a case from my own constituency, the only case I did give, and I will repeat it to-day, because it is typical. One of the villages that I represent here is a, small mining village up on the hills above Port Talbot, a place of the name of Bryn. The housing accommodation there is very poor, and if these houses were in a town they would be slums of the most magnificently perfect type, but being up on a hillside they are more or less tolerable. In 1900 the rents of those houses were 8s. per month and 6s. per month. There are two grades, even of those miserable contraptions called houses. The 8s. 1900 rent has now become £1 14s. 2d., and the 6s. rent has become £1 11s. 5d. per month. Recently, under the 1920 Act, the last increment in that rent has been made. 2205 The rents I have given are including the increment that was made under the 1920 Act. All the increases raising the rent have simply been by a typewritten note saying that the rent would be raised so much from such a date. No repairs have been done. In one neighbour's house the kitchen window dare not be touched, as the frame would drop to pieces, it is so rotten. Some of the neighbours have to place baths on the stair landing to catch the water when it rains. The houses should, in fact, be pulled down.
May I quote another case, as I think it is very important that this House should understand that this is no question of merely technical notices, but that our objection to this Bill is not merely that we do not want to undo any injustice that may have been done by a mere technical failure to give a notice, but that in substance, and inextricably mixed up in that, is the neglect of the houseowner to do his duty under the 1920 Act privileges which he received. I will give one further quotation, and in this case it is a quotation from a letter which a tenant himself sent to his landlord. It refers to a London suburb. I will be more specific and say that it relates to a house in Harlesden Road, and this is what the man wrote to his landlord on 31st January, 1923:I have resided in the above house for 17 years. About 12 months ago, owing to the filthy condition, I gave you notice that it was not fit for human habitation. You replied, 'Look out for another house as soon as possible.' The premises are more filthy now.There had been no skylight for six months. It had rotted and had been blown away by wind. Snow and sleet, with rain, poured down each side of the wall, a miniature Niagara Falls on either side, one flooding the landing and overflowing on to the staircase, the other at the head of the stairs running from top to bottom. It was necessary to go to bed with an umbrella opened over one's head. Sashes had been nailed up for want of sashlines, preventing, ventilation, and paper hanging from the walls due to damp.It was only after calling in the sanitary inspector that these repairs were effected and the copper rebuilt, but no papering of interior, painting, or ceilings have been whitened in the living rooms or bedrooms for many years, as the inspector stated it was outside his power. The bedrooms have only been done up once since the house was built 19 years ago.…Owing to your neglect I and my family suffered in health, I from cold from the cutting winds through the skylight, both downstairs and under the doors whilst in 2206 bed, followed by colds, congestion of the lungs, pneumonia, and absence from business. … It was the most serious illness of my life .… and I now call upon, you to contribute towards the expense of doctoring and linseed poultices by returning overpaid rent.Under the Rent Restrictions Act I have paid you increased rent, but you have spent no part of it, as intended by the Act, in keeping the interior clean. I am advised that all the increased rent paid is illegal, as you failed to terminate the tenancy by serving notice to quit at time notice of increase was served.The House will see the substance that is behind what appears and what has been stated by a good many hon. Members as being merely an objection to a technical point. Therefore, my first test is this, that if retrospective legislation is to be resorted to, it must not be legislation which removes illegalities like that. I can follow the Attorney-General's mind, and I know that technically the statement that I have just made is wrong, but the Attorney-General knows very well that the type of people dwelling in these houses have no security and no protection by mere legal technicalities, and that what he has put into this Bill to protect them will have no effect, because they cannot possibly take advantage of the provisions which he puts in. What has happened is this, that taking advantage of the 1920 Act, it may be of its legal technicalities, but for twelve months and more large numbers of organised tenants were fully aware of those technicalities, and took advantage of them for the purpose of rectifying this, and the effect of this Bill, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, is to upset all that, and to make payments made, which were never made good by the landlords fulfilling their obligations, legally irrecoverable and lost so far as the tenant is concerned.
Another test of retrospective legislation is this, that it never ought to be carried by a mere party majority, and that is what is going to happen to-night If the Attorney-General had come here and persuaded this House on both sides that retrospection was necessary, then this test would be met, and it would justify itself, but what is he doing? He will put on his Whips to-night, and every loyal member of the Conservative party, whatever may be his private opinion, will follow his Whips, because it is a Vote of Censure on his Government if he does 2207 otherwise. We know that very well, and we are not blaming hon. Members for what they are going to do. Of course, there may be exceptions, but what I argue and press upon this House is that, if we are to pass retrospective legislation, it must not be passed by a mere party majority, one party going into one Lobby in consequence of its Whips being put on, the other parties going into the other Lobby, either because they have a keener sense of justice, or because they are merely proposing to make party capital out of it. Whatever the motive may be—I will make a present to hon. Members of that—unless there is at any rate some measure of agreement between all parties in this House before retrospective legislation is forced on the House, then that retrospective legislation ought not to be passed.
The other test is a corollary from the second one. There must be an admitted justice in the retrospective legislation. There must be some sort of fair play. What is the proposal in this Bill, from the point of view of justice? When the House of Lords decision was given we all admitted—I admitted in the very first statement I made upon the judgment—that it was going to involve grave injustice, and I made the suggestion, which I regret was never taken up, that the organised house owners and the organised tenants—because both sides were organised—should meet their representatives, discuss their respective situations, and come to an agreement about legislation, which then might be retrospective. That was not done. The house owners believed that they had sufficient strength with the Government to force a complete retrospective Bill through the House of Commons, and I am sorry to say they have been more than successful. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Oh, yes, they have. What has been done? There are two ways—at any rate, there is another way than this—by which an agreement could have been reached. Surely an essential to an agreement was that every tenant and every house owner would have the same justice meted out to him. That is surely elementary. You cannot, in decency, go and select a certain body of tenants and, on the other hand, a certain body of house owners, and say to the tenants, "If you have kicked up a row, we are not going to touch you," 2208 and to another body of tenants, "If you have foolishly paid, we are not going to give you anything back." Any legislation that ought to have been even looked at by the Government is a legislation that would have imposed responsibilities equally upon all tenants on the one hand, and upon all house owners on the other. That was our suggestion. One of the suggestions made was that all payments made by the owners in respect of rates should be recouped from the tenants, and that other payments should have to wait. That would have been a compromise which would have applied fully to all.
What is the compromise of the Government which the hon. Member is going to support to-night?
I will anticipate the hon. Member by stating it first. The compromise was this. You do not try justice, you do not try fair play. The poor widow, who has figured so largely in the Debates here—on the Second Reading upstairs, and down here again—whose tenants refuse to pay her her increased rent—
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for showing how unjust is the Bill, which, I suppose, he is going to support. It is, surely, an impossible position for hon. Members to take up. First of all, they use the poor single homeowner, the poor widow, as a sort of lay figure to get at our hearts. Then the legislation which they support is legislation which says to the widow, "If you have had no rent you cannot get it; nothing at all." My hon. Friend opposite must square his own conscience, between now and 10.30 or 11 o'clock, because he is going to go into the Lobby to declare that this widow is going to get nothing at all, although he says, in substance, that she ought to get it all.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
I did not say that. You said that she would get nothing. She can get her standard rent legitimately. This Bill does not deprive her of it.
The hon. Member interrupted me. I do not want to go into the matter. That was what I said first of all, when he corrected me. It does not affect the substance of my argument, that there is no justice in this Bill; that you have selected the tenants to whom you most object—the tenants whose action was made the subject of assault after assault in the newspapers, who were charged with being all sorts of blackguards and scoundrels for engaging in a rent strike—and that they are going to get off. The tenants who paid—quiet, decent tenants, who, wanting to keep the peace, paid a rent which they felt was not a just rent—are being deserted by every hon. Member who goes into the Lobby to-night in favour of this Bill. On the other hand, the landlord, the hard landlord, who screwed out his rent; the man, the type—I am not dealing with the individual, but it is that type of landlord who has been creating so much trouble in our congested towns. It is the hard man, the man who has got a splendid organisation of factors, rent collectors, and so on, who has threatened, and threatened successfully, that if every halfpenny he claimed were not paid he would turn them out into the road—that man got his rent.
The hon. Member is a far more simple man in his interjections than I am sure he is in his mind. He knows perfectly well that at the beginning of this agitation the tenants did not know their rights. It was only after the organisation became strong that they stood by their rights in that respect. It is this type of householder, who got his rent by hook or by crook, that hon. Members opposite are going into the Lobby to-night to say he shall get that to which the highest Court in the land has said he is not entitled. Again, the decent, quiet, soft-hearted owner, who, in so many cases, said, "Very well, look here, we will not quarrel; give me your standard rent, give me the amount that you have agreed you ought to give me, and we will square it up amicably and like friends, as we have always been, as soon as the matter is finally settled," did not get his rent. Hon. Members are going into the Lobby to-night to say that he will never get it. That is the equity and 2210 the justice of the compromise which the hon. Member says has been effected in this Bill!
I also object when they settle this principle. It is an absurd and unheard of principle, and I hope it is a principle that we shall never hear of again in legislation in this House. Then, they have to fix a date. There were varied reasons for fixing dates. I think a very reasonable way would have been, for instance, to have fixed a date when, say, the Court of Appeal gave its decision. I put it to hon. Members round me, and to hon. Members opposite: Supposing we had been house-owners, and had seen a case settled by the Court of Appeal, which showed that up to that time we had not been carrying out the letter of the law, and which indicated, unless we carried out the letter of the law, that in regard to the whole of our rent position, so far as increases were concerned, not one halfpenny that we were getting was really being got in a valid way, what should we have done? Is anyone prepared to get up and say, "I, as a house-owner, under those circumstances, would have gone on doing nothing at all"? Not at all. The house-owner who, after that, neglected to put himself right with the technicalities of the law, ought to have been asked to bear the consequences of his neglect. So you could have fixed that as the date. You did not do that; you thought it was too hard a burden for the house-owner to bear.
The Government might have even fixed, and just as legitimately, the date on the day when the Bill was introduced here, because it is perfectly well known, when Members opposite, and their Government, make up their minds to declare anything, that they have a majority to enable them to do it. Therefore, the definite introduction of the Bill might have been taken by the country as a warning of what was to happen. They did not even do that. I remember perfectly well my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, rising from that seat, in a most humble sort of way, and saying, in an off-hand sort of tail which he put on to his sentence, "Yes, of course, it will be retrospective." I did not take it seriously, and I do not believe many hon. Members took it seriously. It was just the sort of thing Ministers very often say, with a smile, to pass off a matter which is, for the moment, before the House, so that they may get on to 2211 another question. But the Government has taken up this perfunctory and offhand aside, and made it a sort of sacred statement, and from that, the law, as provided for in this Bill is going to operate. Again, I would say to the Government, if that is the way they are going to legislate, if that is the way they are going to determine the milestones from which they are going to date a measure, it is a slipshod way of doing things, and if this House is wise it will not support it in the Division Lobbies this evening.
I have another point to make. The Bill was never necessary in its present form; it is objectionable, because it has introduced the method of retrospection in the broadest, the crudest, and the most objectionable form. It does not do justice to the compromise. The settlement is not a settlement that has got the least shadow of justice associated with it. I have one further objection to take to the Bill, and it is this: Where are we going to have any feeling of security now in the administration of a law which is not commonly accepted, which is the subject of agitation, which is the subject of protest, and which, perhaps, divides parties? Up to now we have kept things going. With all our controversies and all our divisions of opinion—Tories, Liberals, Labour; various views; one school in the majority one day, and the opposite school in the majority the next day—the genius of our politics, the genius of our legal administration has always been that we all assumed that whatever changes were made they would only be made after a declaration, and would not go back to undo the decisions of the previous authorities.
This Bill completely upsets that. Your Law Courts' decisions are no longer secure. We can go back upon them. We have got a thousand and one grievances of this kind. When you bring a new point of view to bear upon social justice, when you abstract from your general conception of social justice ideas about the working classes such as those which have grown up and have returned 144 of us to this side of the House, then much of your old administration is—I might almost use the word, offensive—it has got far too much of the characteristic 2212 of class about it. You do not agree with us. I know. The question is, are we honest? If we are, it is part and parcel of the full, the complete conception of our social duty that we should vindicate certain opinions and certain principles, and advance on certain lines. Supposing we begin applying that feeling and that line. Supposing we have got the power to do it. You have started this most reprehensible precedent in this Bill. What right have you got to complain if we follow, if we adapt it to our own opinions, if we apply it to our own ideas? You give the method, we create the application. You start the germ, we pursue the conclusion. I profoundly regret, I regret with all my heart, that this Bill has ever been brought before this House.
Finally, there is another thing. I have sat here for a few months—I am not going to introduce any matters which are not germane to the Debate to-day—but I have watched hon. Members, for instance, when the deportation questions were before us, and I have observed a sort of new idea that the convenience of a majority is going to settle constitutional questions. There is no question of legal form; there is no question of what I might call rational red tape. There is no question of establishing precedents for the purpose of giving security, for establishing in the heart of each of our citizens the sense that at any rate there is a certain process that has got to be gone through before he is condemned and sentenced. Again, you are upsetting all that. I am perfectly certain that when hon. Members go into the Lobby to-night in support of this Bill, they will go in simply as party followers. I am perfectly certain that when hon. Members support this Bill in the Division Lobby to-night, it will be with a sad heart and some misgiving. Hon. Members are not sure of this Bill; hon. Members do not like this Bill; hon. Members are apprehensive of this Bill. It goes from this House without the least authority of justice; it goes from this House without the least imprimatur of fair play or of agreement. It goes from this House backed by nothing but a mechanical majority, and hon. Members know that legislation like this, turned out into the world deprived of any 2213 garments of dignity such as this goes out, is bad, and I repeat my hope that it will never be repeated in the lifetime of this Parliament.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I do not propose to detain the House more than a very short period in addressing myself to the final stage of this Bill. The reasons for reticence, if not for complete silence, at the present time are comparatively obvious, because if ever a Bill was properly and deliberately considered and thrashed out and argued in all its aspects, I think these circumstances apply to the Bill which the House is at the present time considering. Even the native genius and Parliamentary ability of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) has not been sufficient to endow this argument with any new features, at least in so far as they were relevant to the subject to which he addressed himself. There is only one thing in his speech which I regret. He made a reference to this legislation as a species of class legislation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"!"] If my hon. Friends opposite will think for a moment, they will see that that argument can scarcely be addressed to the House on the present occasion, because, in point of fact, this legislation is in favour of no particular class. The decision of the House of Lords had an effect upon a certain portion of a particular class. It said that landlords who did not serve a certain notice to quit could not obtain the increased rent. But how could it be said to be class legislation when landlords who did give notice to quit are freed from the decision of the House of Lords?
So far as I am concerned, I think I may claim to look at this Measure with some detachment and certainly with none of the mechanical characteristics to which the hon. Member for Aberavon referred. I do not propose to go into the Lobby as a mechanical supporter of the Government on this Bill, but nevertheless I do propose to support its Third Reading. I made my position, I think, clear upon the Second Reading of this Measure. In referring to that matter, I should like, if I may, to take up for a moment an observation which was made on the Report stage by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I am sure he did not make it deliberately, and he was making so witty and amusing a speech 2214 at the time that I did not wish to spoil my own enjoyment or the enjoyment of the House by interrupting him to correct him. He referred to what he called my somewhat belated interest in this matter. In point of fact, I spoke on the first occasion when an opportunity was available, namely, on the Second Reading. No other opportunity was available to me until the Report stage, because I was not a member of the Standing Committee. Accordingly, I think the hon. Member who made the remark will agree with me that my interest in the Bill was not belated, but that my attention has been devoted to the Bill ever since its inception. Then the hon. Member gave me notice to quit from my constituency because of my attitude to this Bill. I take it that that notice to quit comes from the party to which he belongs. I regard it therefore as a challenge from the Socialist party and, if that be so, I accept it. I had the pleasure of beating a Socialist candidate at the General Election of 1918, and his experiences ther evidently were not such as to lead the Labour party in Glasgow to believe there was any encouraging prospect in setting up a Socialist candidate at the last General Election. I am glad they are recovering their courage, and I assure them it would be the greatest pleasure to me to meet in my constituency a representative of those theories which, so far as I am concerned, I feel no doubt in my own heart I can refute in the presence of my own constituents. The more of them I hear the better I will like it.
§ Sir R. HORNE
That is exactly what I desire. On the Second Reading of this Bill my speech was to the effect that the time to deal with this matter was on a Bill intended to continue the restriction of rent, and that I believed such a Measure was necessary and advisable. I said also, however, that it was a claim for an equity which was not otherwise available to the tenants. I need not labour the point of its being an equity, because, as the House readily sees, all this type of restrictive legislation puts the owner of house property into a different position from that of the seller of any other commodity. The man who sells tea or sugar, or boots, or anything else, is entitled to charge as much as he can get; he is not restricted in the 2215 price he places on the commodity in which he deals. You have chosen to do something different with the owner of house property, because you have said that there is some equity that ought to be established in favour of the tenant in the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves. If you ask for an equity, surely also you must grant one. If you are to restrict the landlord in his rent, you must also recognise the position in which he has been put. You must recognise the equity in favour of the landlord and give him justice.
The hon. Member for Aheravon, in the course of his speech, reiterated many times that the law had been perfectly clear. He dealt with a large amount of evidence from contemporary writings in various journals in order to prove his point. Indeed, his speech was so much of a legal character that I began to feel consoled in my heart that he had not been a competitor with me at the Bar, which we would both presumably have joined. But all these things are entirely unconvincing to those who remember the reality of the position in this House when the Measure which gave rise to the present difficulty was passed. The hon. Gentleman says the law was entirely clear to the mind of everybody, and yet two out of the five very distinguished judges in the House of Lords took an entirely contrary view to that of the majority. I agree that that does not upset the decision; it does not even qualify it, but it does not allow my hon. Friend to say that the law was so clear that everyone could understand it.
§ Sir R. HORNE
One of the most distinguished judges who took an opposite view was Lord Dunedin, who is one of the most eminent Scottish jurists of recent years. The two Ministers who were responsible for the Measure then under interpretation in the House of Lords, both of them men of political antecedents which would justify us in believing that if there was any prejudice on their part it would be in favour of the tenant rather than of the landlord—both of these Ministers have asserted their view that the interpretation put on the Measure by the House of Lords was entirely contradictory 2216 to the view they then held. More than that, I would direct the attention of the House to the fact that the very character of the Bill in itself made it appear that a notice to quit was entirely unnecessary. Not only so, it was contrary to the main idea of the Measure itself. The idea of the Measure was to allow a tenant to sit still, and prevent him being evicted. Yet by a technicality of the law, or rather a technical interpretation of a particular phrase, it has been held that a notice to quit was necessary. In these circumstances, it cannot be said that the law was clear. But I think it can be asseverated with great confidence to the contrary, that nearly every man who voted in this House for the Measure when it was passed agreed with the interpretation which was then put upon it by the Ministers to whom I have referred.
The hon. Member for Aberavon realises how weak his position is when he begins to argue on the technicalities of the law, and has sought to put forward an equitable point of view in respect to the tenants' rights to have improvements made. His argument, as I understood it, ran thus: He said the landlord was bound to make improvements, but that unfortunately, many of the landlords did not make any improvements at all and therefore should not be entitled to get increased rent which was only justified if the improvements were done. But see what the position is. It is not the landlords who have not done the improvements that he seeks to penalise. He says that if the landlord has served his notice to quit, whether he has done any improvements or not, he is to be allowed to keep his money. On the other hand, if he has made the necessary improvements and has not served notice to quit, then he is to be penalised. How can the hon. Gentleman put forward this argument—he will correct me if I am not stating correctly what he said.
I was assuming that in the state of the existing law where the rents have been illegally raised, the House of Lords decision allowed the tenants to recover by deduction. Now they have to take their landlords into Court. My point was that the cases that cannot be brought into 2217 Court for practical reasons are so innumerable that, as a matter of fact, the protection given by this Bill is only on paper and has no substance.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says as to the character of his argument, but if that is all he means, then, obviously, he does not touch the question raised by the Bill at all. The question raised by the Bill is whether or not we are, in the case of landlords who gave no notice to quit, to allow them a remedy as against the decision by the House of Lords? This question of improvements, as now stated by the hon. Gentleman, obviously is irrelevant, because it does not touch the case at all as to why no notice to quit was served. Therefore, his point, as he puts it now, really raises no question of equity upon which he can plead that this Bill ought to be thrown out. As I have said, I propose to support the Third Reading of this Bill, though I think it is far from being an ideal Measure. It does not propose to exact rents retrospectively from people who did not pay until 1st December. With a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said as to the question of retrospective legislation I entirely agree. I think it would have been very difficult, unless under circumstances which I have described, where you were giving equity for equity in another Measure, to have said that the people who did not pay shall now be compelled to pay what the House of Lords have decided they were not bound to pay. I think that would be a very difficult, position to take up, but as the hon. Gentleman has said there are precedent for even as difficult a proposition as that. He has referred to the Scottish Churches Bill. I confess I should have had very much more pleasure in discussing with him the theological questions which were raised in that great controversy than in now applying my mind to the more sordid subject; but we are dealing to-day, as in the legislation of the Scottish Churches Bill, with a subject which is, after theology, perhaps nearest to the heart of the Scotsman, namely, money questions.
§ Sir R. HORNE
What that Measure really did, after the House of Lords had decided that part of the property of the 2218 United Free Church should go to the Free Church, was to say that that property should be given back to the United Free Church. What the Scottish Churches Bill did was to take away the property which the House of Lords by its decision had assigned to the Free Church and give back the major portion of it to the opposite side in the controversy. You have there a case in which you clearly had retrospective legislation. But, undoubtedly, as the hon. Gentleman has said, you cannot make too much a fetish of these precedents. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to make too much of a fetish of precedents in this matter, for, so far as I know, speaking from memory, the hon. Gentleman opposite himself took an important part in the earliest legislation which was considered necessary on the rent problem, and I think, if I mistake not, he was responsible for insisting upon retrospective legislation in connection with this very matter as against the decision of the Court of Appeal. I am not at all surprised when he says you cannot make too rigid a rule on one side or the other; but once the Government had arrived at conclusions that the people who had not paid ought not to be compelled to pay as a result of the House of Lords decision, then I think we were bound to go a step further; that was to treat equally all the people who had paid their rents. For my part, I find it very difficult to justify treating those who have paid their rents in a totally different way from those who have not. It seems to me to be a proposition very difficult to defend. That a man who has been fair and reasonable and met his obligations should be penalised by so doing, and that a man who has avoided his obligations, should at any rate, not be compelled to pay what is justly due, is a great scandal. I think it would only have been right if the Government had taken a far bolder course. Seeing the mistake was one for which Government itself was responsible, in the circumstances they should have met the whole charge of this error.
The Government have not seen fit to take that course, and anything I have been able to say in urging such a remedy seems to have fallen on unsympathetic ears. Accordingly to-day one is put in a difficulty. Either you have to support 2219 this Bill or take the course which my hon. Friend suggests. The Government course is at least to do some meausre of justice in the situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] The course proposed by the Front Opposition bench is that we should leave matters as they are. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, I have heard nothing constructive unless hon. Members consider it a constructive policy that you would allow a landlord to get back the rates he paid in connection with the increased rents. That, after all, is no remedy at all. It is an infinitesimal consideration in relation to the great question with which we are dealing. Accordingly one has to decide between meeting the case as the Government propose or doing nothing as proposed from the Socialist benches. In these circumstances, I have no doubt at all upon which side I shall vote; my mind is quite made up. The hon. Member, in a very eloquent part of his speech, spoke of the sense of insecurity which has been created by modifications which the Legislature seeks to make upon legal decisions. I entirely sympathise with that point of view. He said it leads to injustice, it leads to unrest, it leads to disquietude. I entirely agree. But there is one thing which leads to more unrest and more disquietude, and that is when you have a sense of injustice which nothing is done to remedy. Here, at least, the Government are trying to remedy the injustice in the greatest measure which they themselves think it possible to do. I do not think they go far enough, but I would rather do some justice than leave a great injustice without remedy.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was not nearly so clear in his mind on this question when he was facing the electors at the recent Election. I can remember quite well how I quoted a pronouncement against the principle of retrospective legislation made by the eminent gentleman when I was addressing my electors. But having secured a footing—a rather difficult thing for a member of his party to do in the City of Glasgow—and the next election being apparently far away, the right hon. Gentleman can now be quite clear in his attitude that, the public 2220 memory being short, the public will have forgotten about it when he is next facing his constituents.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I shall be glad if the hon. Member can point to any utterances which I made in the election which are different to those I made to-day. If he can I shall be very much obliged to him.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I must confess that I have not before me the actual words of the right hon. Gentleman, but there is dearly impressed upon my mind the attitude which he adopted. That attitude was one of placing before the public the dangers and far-reaching character of retrospective legislation.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
The suggestion the right hon. Gentleman put forward to the public was that almost anything would be better than that. It is quite true that in a way he has put out similar suggestions to-day, but his sincerity may be judged by the fact that he intends to go into the Lobby and vote in favour of that menace and that dangerous course of which he warned the public in November of last year. We may note the security that he has obtained in a favourite corner of the City of Glasgow. He quoted the Election of 1918. May I remind him that it was easy for a Member holding his political views to get a seat almost anywhere, Glasgow included, at that wonderful election. But a great deal of water has flown down the Clyde since the 1918 election. The sun which has arisen in the East is not going to be confined to the East; it is travelling towards the West. Even the Western Division may not, at the next election, be that secure and safe corner which it was at the last in 1918.
May I, at the outset, express the wish to register what I suppose will be, perhaps, the final, but at any rate an emphatic protest, against the whole nature of this Measure. Parliament to-day is engaged upon a very dirty job. The right hon. Gentleman used one word which I think aptly described the character of the Measure which is now being forced through the House. He described it as "sordid." I do not think it could be more aptly described than to say that it 2221 is a piece of sordid and unromantic robbery. It is a mean form of robbery. It is the robbery of the poor by the rich. It is the robbery of the weak by the strong. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman or any of his friends on the other side of the House questions the legal right of the tenants to increases which were improperly imposed. The right to the return of those increases has never been questioned, and is, indeed, beyond question. Their legal right to those increases at the moment is as strong as the right of any hon. Gentleman opposite to his capital, or to any hon. Gentleman opposite to his land. When the right to have those increases returned cannot be questioned, the Attorney-General and his friends turn the question on to another point, and in fact the right hon. Gentleman says, "We do not question their right to the increases, but we want to know how that right was acquired," and they turn the question on to how the right to these increases was acquired. Is that a test only to be applied to the poor, or is it to be applied generally? In future are we to be at liberty to say that the mere possession of a thing is not sufficient justification for its retention?
It is not enough to prove that you have the right to that property at the moment. We are entitled to ask how you acquired the right, and if you acquired the right to your capital in a way that docs not suit our wishes, or in a way that we do not approve of, we are entitled, according to the precedent you are setting up to-day, to ask you to hand over that capital because you never had any moral justification for its possession. As I pointed out on the Second Heading of this Bill, that would be a simple method and test to apply to the ownership of land. Let us apply that test. I wish the class for which hon. Gentlemen opposite speak in this House were prepared to apply that test to their possessions. I am prepared to apply that test to the right possessed by the people for whom we are now pleading. It is quite true Parliament intended that that increase should be imposed, and it was generally admitted that there was a condition attached to the imposition of the increase.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Billhead Division (Sir R. Home) stated that to have given notice to quit 2222 would have been contradictory and useless, and it would have alarmed the people. He said:: "You cannot eject them from their homes, and, therefore, there would be no sense in telling them that their tenancy was terminated." I question all that. If when you terminated the tenancy and intimated the increase of rent they refused to accept the terms of the new contract, or to pay the increased rent, then, according to the Act under which you are operating, you are entitled to eject them from their homes, and to say that there is no sense in terminating the tenancy, or to say that the notice to quit is useless, is not true. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hillhead Division said that we should take the interpretation put on the Act by the majority of the owners, but what did they do? Are you legislating here for the majority of owners? Did they not give notice to quit, and are you not legislating therefore only for a minority? If we are to take the interpretation put upon this matter by the majority, it was that a notice to quit was necessary.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I never said anything of the sort, and the hon. Member is misquoting me. I am not conscious of having said anything of that kind.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
The right hon. Gentleman said that we ought to take the interpretation which the majority of the owners put upon it; at least, that is according to a note which I took down.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am sure that I never used the phrase, "The majority of the owners," because I do not know what it means.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
What I have said is the interpretation which I put upon it, and I think it will be borne out in the OFEICIAL, REPORT of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I tell the Attorney-General that the Government themselves had given these tenants notice to quit. Within half-a-mile of my own residence there are Government houses managed for the Government in Carlisle and Lanarkshire, and every tenant there got the notice to quit, and you say the Government's Measure never intended notice to be given or was considered necessary. The Leader of the Opposition, in moving the rejection of this Bill, made a point of the advice given by the House-holders' 2223 Association to their members, that they considered a notice to quit was essential, but in the face of all that the minority neglected to give the essential notice to quit, and on what grounds are you now defending the minority Is it that a plea of ignorance of the law justifies the breaking of the law? Is that what you are now laying down? If that plea was put forward by a member of the working classes in a court of law, how long would it be tolerated by eminent legal gentlemen prosecuting in a court of justice? Would they not say that everyone was presumed to know the law, and if a person breaks the law ignorance is no justification, and he must take the consequences? In this case these men not only broke the law by neglect, but after the law was clearly demonstrated to them, and right up to the present moment, they have obstinately refused to obey the law.
Is there any doubt about the law now? It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hillhead Division stated, that we Judges in another place have given their view against the decision of the majority, but he also knows that two sheriffs in Dumbartonshire 18 months ago decided in favour of the tenants on the point as to whether the notice to quit was necessary. He also knows that four eminent Judges in the Court of Session, where he for a long time was a brilliant star, unanimously gave their decision in favour of the law as it was ultimately decided in the House of Lords. But in spite of all that, his political clients at any rate went on ignoring the law, and they go on still, and stubbornly refuse to comply with the Act of Parliament. It seems to me that it is only the rich who can defy the law with impunity. If a section of the working class continued for 12 months to stubbornly defy the law of this country we should have all the agents of capitalism engineering their destruction. They would be prosecuted and imprisoned, but merely because these men in the main happen not merely to be political supporters of the party opposite, but happen to be members of the class for which this legislation is being passed and not of the class by whom it is being opposed, they continue to stubbornly defy the law and dictate to the Government, and they can do so with impunity.
2224 I am perfectly satisfied, and so is the majority of this House, that if we were all free agents in this matter, if there was no Government whipping to make hon. Members opposite go into the Government Lobby, if there was no class whipping of the Government into their present policy, you would not engage in the dirty work on which you are engaged this afternoon. The tenants won their present position after very costly litigation, and now Parliament steps in to rob these poor people of the fruits of their victory. You cannot justify the course you are now taking. The Attorney-General, when dealing with this matter in the course of the discussions in this House, spoke in reference to the class of tenants who have recovered some of the improperly imposed increase as if he were giving these people some concession. On the Report stage the Attorney-General said:They are to be allowed to retain all they recovered up to the 1st December, and all they have recovered up to the date of the passing of this Act will go into a pool and that will be paid by instalments which have been generously extended over a period of four or five years.One would almost think that the Government were giving something to the public, instead of being engaged in the robbery of the poor. Every penny of that belonged to the poor, and they recovered it before the 1st December, and it was their own money, just as much as hon. Members' fees are their own money and just as much as your capital or your land is your property at the present moment. To say to these people, "We are going to take it from you by instalments," is just like the Attorney-General coming to me and saying, "I am going to rob you; I will first take your watch, I will then take your coat, then your vest, and then for a considerable period I will allow you to retain your shirt. Look what a generous robber I am. I am not taking these things all at once, but being imbued with a kind and generous spirit, I am only going to rob you by instalments." Before I pass from that point, may I say that you are giving nothing at all away to the people who have recovered their money? You never could take it from them, and so you made necessity a virtue, and allowed them to keep that which it was not in your power to recover.
2225 May I remind the House again that a large number of these people whom you are robbing are living in insanitary dwellings. There are over 13,000 of them in the City of Glasgow, many of them living in the Hillhead Division. We are quite tired of describing the condition of these people. The Attorney-General says, "We have provisions in the Bill by which those who live in insanitary houses will be able to have their increases returned." The people who live in those houses are in the main the poorest of the poor, and they cannot be relieved from the necessity of paying these increases unless they are prepared to embark upon a course laid down by the Attorney-General which would involve them in an expenditure of £20. If these people had £20 they would not continue to live in those houses at all. I want to say in all sincerity that this Measure is a degradation of the British Parliament. When I listened to-day to the beautiful prayer with which our proceedings commenced, and I thought of the work that lay before us this afternoon, I thought that that prayer might have been just as appropriately used at the beginning of a business meeting in a coiners' den or a burglars' cave. I felt that there was no sincerity at all, because I knew that on the other side of me were ranged men who intended to employ this after noon in a sort of political pocket-picking. I knew that whatever reverence was due to this House had been built up by men who were more honest than the class who control it to-day. I knew that this House would never have considered legislation like this had it been composed of men who took an impartial and generous view of their responsibilities. It could have been only considered by a House which had been captured by the company promoters, the concession hunters, and the title-seekers who had made the British House of Commons the head offices of the capitalist system, the sort of cathedral of exploitation. When I thought of the reverence that I and other new Members coming to this House were expected to have for it, and when I thought of the uses to which this House was being put, when I thought of the millions of fine lads who are being crushed in our country by the operation of this system and of this House, I felt that I owed no reverence to this House. I felt that my people owed no reverence 2226 to it, and I am convinced that the passing of this Measure will do more to open the eyes of the people to the real use to which Parliament has been put than anything that capitalist society has done during its existence in this country.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I had not an opportunity of saying anything on the previous stages of this Bill, and, indeed, to-day is the first time that I have had the advantage of hearing the Debates upon it. Accordingly, I should like to express a few thoughts which have occurred to me on the subject. As I understand the Bill, its central idea is that the liability for these increases is to be determined, not by the true interpretation of the existing Statute itself, but by the state of mind of each particular tenant. If a tenant believed that the increase was due, then it was due; if he believed that, it was not due, then it was not due. The Attorney-General, with very commendable ingenuity, has in this way endeavoured to show that a Bill which is, in fact, retrospective is psychologically not so. The whole of his piece of legislation is framed upon three propositions, one being that, on the 1st December last, everyone must have known that the present Measure would not only be introduced but would be carried into law, and the second being that everyone who paid the increase before the 1st December paid it because he believed it was due; while the third proposition is that those who did not pay before the let December refrained from doing so only because they believed it was not due. Now, with a view to pointing out the real retrospective and vicious character of the Bill, I should like to examine a little closely these three propositions.
Taking the first, why does my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General assume that, after the 1st December, everybody must be taken to have known that this Measure would be introduced and would be carried? Because, he says, the Prime Minister answered in the House of Commons, two or three days before that date, certain questions. Are we to assume that the general public are so interested in our affairs that, for once, they turn aside from reading the football or racing news to read the Debates in this House? And if we are to assume that they have that serious sense, as I 2227 suppose they should have, of their public duty, why are we to suppose that they would understand, from the answers given by the Prime Minister, that this Measure would be introduced? I have read those answers, and I confess, speaking for myself as possessed of ordinary intelligence, that I never should have come to the conclusion that any such qualifications or discriminations would be made as we find in this Bill. Even if they did read the answers, and did understand them to have that meaning, why are we to suppose that what a Minister of the Crown says is to be introduced will ultimately become law? Why are we to abandon, at all events the fiction, that there is some connection between the conclusions arrived at by Parliament and the arguments used in the course of the discussion? There is such a thing as an Opposition, and it sometimes does happen that the proposals of the Government are not carried into law.
Taking the second proposition around which this legislative structure is built, the Attorney-General presumes that all those who have paid did so because they really believed they were obliged to pay. Is that true? To a certain extent it is. It is not the habit of ordinary persons to make payments which they believe they are not bound to make; but then there is a certain number of people in the community who do not very particularly inquire, but who, when they receive an account, assume that it is in order and pay. Is that, however, any reason why they should forfeit what they have wrongfully paid? If I pay my gas bill, which is £12, misreading the amount or misinterpreting—taking the parity of the reason with the act—the figure "12" as "13," with equal force the Attorney-General could say, "Oh, you have paid £13; no harm is done to you, because you really believed that the £13 was due." Is that any reason why I should not be able to get the refund of the £1 that was, in fact, overpaid? Psychologically, I have only lost that which I thought I should lose, but actually and legally I have lost more than I should have lost.
Let me now take the third proposition, that, those who did not pay before the 1st December only refrained because they believed that they were under no obligation 2228 to pay. Does my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General really think that society has reached that degree of moral perfection when we can say of all persons who withhold payment of debts that they did so because they were under an honest misapprehension as to whether the debt was due? The great bulk of tenants, I should say, who have refrained from paying, did so, not because of any mistaken belief, but because they said, "We are not inclined to pay until we are forced to pay"—and they happened to be right—or they had not the money, or there may have been various other reasons. To presume, however, in reference to one class, that they paid because their mental state was that the amount was due, and, therefore, they have lost it, and to presume, in reference to another class, that they refrained from paying simply because their mental state was that they need not pay, and, therefore, we can excuse them now, is a fantastic distinction which, if my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General will allow me to say so, rather suggests that he would have been quite as distinguished as a metaphysician as he undoubtedly and deservedly is, both as a lawyer and a Parliamentarian.
I, for one, fail to recognise any justice or any propriety in the distinctions that deface, in my humble opinion, this Measure. The logical and proper course was to make the Bill either retrospective from the date of the last Act or prospective from the date of this Measure; and; if that choice, which is the only choice that logically we could put before ourselves, were submitted, at all events to me, I should have no hesitation in saying that the proper course is that it should be prospective from the time this Act is passed, and that the retrospective character should be entirely wiped out. It is a mere platitude, of course, to say that retrospective legislation is bad. Of course it is. Retrospective legislation is interfering with rights after persons have altered their situation on the basis of those rights. Take the case of a tenant who fancies that he is not obliged to pay a certain amount of money. He does not pay, and he adjusts his whole domestic budget upon the fact that he has not paid. To ask him to pay up that money now, is to ask him to dislocate and embarrass the whole of his domestic arrangements, which, in the case of a poor household, might seriously injure him and bring endless 2229 misery to himself and his family. That is one reason, of course, against retrospective legislation. But there is another reason, and I do not think it has been mentioned before, or, at any rate, if it has, I was not present. In fact, as I have said, I have not been present at these Debates until to-day, so I am probably saying many things that have been said before. Another reason that occurs to me is this: There is always a great temptation to any Government to correct, ex post facto, errors that it has made, and every Government is only too ready to avail itself of precedents established by the Opposition as a justification for the course it wishes to take. If, therefore, you multiply precedents, it may be the Tory Government to-day, it may be a Liberal Government to-morrow, it may be a Labour Government I do not know when—
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I would share the blame between them. Once there are many precedents of this kind, every Government in power will be only too ready to take advantage of them when it suits its interests to do so. I was greatly struck by an observation of the Leader of the Opposition that the fair test as to whether the conditions would justify retrospective legislation is this. Has the error been of a character so universally recognised, has the injustice done been so obvious that there is no division in this House and that we are quite unanimous? I myself strongly think that where there is a division of opinion, where there is no unanimity in the views of a body such as this House is, is a most dangerous thing to institute retrospective legislation.
The Attorney-General said, I think quite truly, that the interpretation given to this Section of the 1920 Act by the House of Lords is wholly opposed to what was contemplated by Parliament and by the draftsmen. Let that be so. But if that is to be put forward as a ground for justifying retrospective legislation, no one knows better than the Attorney-General that there are year after year in our Courts hundreds of instances where Judges find themselves obliged to fit circumstances into Sections of an Act of Parliament which were never dreamt of by Parliament 2230 or by the draftsmen, and this is of course inevitable. What has occurred in this case is really only one of 100 instances I suppose this very year, because when we are framing an Act of Parliament and the draftsman afterwards tries to throw our ideas into rigid and formal language, all that we and he can do is to try to conjure up that class of circumstances that we can conceive, looking into the future. Neither we nor the draftsmen are superhuman, and it must and does occur in the majority of cases that we fail to envisage in our general words all the circumstances which in the working out of life subsequently come to pass. The Judge, when he comes to deal with it, adopts an entirely different point of view. He takes the particular circumstances that counsel bring before him. He concentrates upon them and says, "Can I stretch the wording of this Act of Parliament to cover the circumstances?" Sometimes he can, and sometimes he cannot, and accordingly it comes about, and must continue to come about, that the actual intention of Parliament will be very different from the intention it is presumed to have when the Judges merely interpret the words used. That is all that has occurred here. The only knowledge I had of this Debate to-day was that when I had a vacant hour to spare I read a speech of the Attorney-General—I knew it would be lucid and clear—to understand what the Bill was about, and the view I carried away from that speech was that the only justification that a very able and ingenious Gentleman could find for this retrospective legislation was this. When the Act of Parliament was drafted all those then concerned in it intended that the notice contained in the Schedule should be all that was necessary. The Judges have said something more was necessary. It is not for me to say whether they were right or wrong, but they were apparently right, because it was not three against two, it was two against three and all the prior Judges who have dealt with these cases. The only ground for this, I will not say novel, but very dangerous and exceptional legislation, is that we find that our Judges have given an interpretation to our Act which is contrary to what were our real wishes, and say, "We will now pass an 2231 Act of Parliament referring back our real wishes to cover the period which has intervened."
I do not make any pretence to grow eloquent on the wrongs of the poor in this matter at all, but I can well sympathise with the speech of the hon. Member who spoke last, because he is brought closer to the real working out of this Measure, and as I understand from him, there are in Glasgow, and I suppose in other large towns too, a large number of very poor tenants who have felt that they were under no obligation to make these payments, or at any rate, have not made them. Now, to come down suddenly and say to these poor people, "Although the House of Lords has said you were right, we, Parliament, retrospectively say that you were wrong, but, out of mercy to you we will let you have some, but the bulk of it that you have paid over you must lose for ever." His next-door neighbour, who has not been so ready to pay up, who, perhaps, has been one of those who have adopted the not unusual habit of saying the best way to get out of paying 20s. in the £ is to delay as much as you can, is favoured by the Government and the unfortunate one who makes a habit of saying, "Here is my weekly wage, I will clear off all my obligations, I will have a clean slate, I will answer the description of what is called a decent, straightforward man who pays up," is the man who is to suffer. I am entirely puzzled as to why such a discrimination is made. There should be no such discrimination against the deserving class and in favour of the undeserving. I find myself rather in an awkward position because, coming into this House the other day rather hurriedly, I was told there was a Division on and I went into the Lobby. I made a few inquiries, but not sufficient, and I subsequently discovered that I had voted against the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), and now I am speaking and going to vote in the sense of that Amendment. It occurs to me that perhaps the two votes can be reconciled in this way. If the hon. Member's Amendment had been carried it would have left the Bill a meaningless framework of verbiage, and therefore it may have been right to say we will leave the part of Hamlet in the play. If you take out the part of Hamlet there is no play left, when we come to 2232 oppose the whole thing. That is what I will do by my vote.
§ Sir ERNEST POLLOCK
The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill made an interesting speech, but he will forgive me if I pay little attention to that portion of it in which he described matters which I think are not comprised in the Bill at all. He referred to a class of property which we all deplore—slum property, property which, as fast as we possibly can secure it, ought to be removed and rebuilt. He referred to a particular tenant of a house, which was very much out of repair. He did not tell us what the landlord had to say on the other side. He spent a considerable time in speaking of matters which are not strictly relevant to this Measure. I will, therefore, go to the arguments he presented, even if they were somewhat obscured by the nature of his language and the enthusiasm he had for a somewhat different Measure regarding property. I think, substantially, his objection to the Bill is that it is retrospective. He gave us indications of what would justify the House in passing retrospective legislation. He gave us certain tests, and he criticised the Bill as to the actual date from which the sums paid are recoverable and the like. But the real burden of his speech, disengaged from matters which are more or less irrelevant, was that it was retrospective. He ended with what I might call a certain number of minatory Clauses. He told us no law was safe, and that it was a reprehensible principle, and that if you start the journey, when another party gets the chance they will follow upon that journey. If you begin to threaten an Englishman or a Scotsman, you immediately bring him on to his legs and he will throw back the threat and will not be afraid of it. I was a little surprised that so experienced a politician should engage in those minatory Clauses. I am going to recall a recent instance of this reprehensible legislation, a case in which retrospective legislation was passed at a time when the hon. Member was in the House himself. I need not go too far back. I go back to 1917. It is not a case of any law being safe. The House of Lords gave a decision, and you immediately wiped it out. It is not a religious matter. Indeed, it is what some hon. Members might think an irreligious matter. It had to do with the relations between landlord 2233 and tenant in what is called "the trade." A decision was given by the House of Lords in 1915 in the action of Watncy, Coombe and Co. v. Berners, and we immediately passed a Section to repeal a Section of the Act of 1912 on which the decision in the House of Lords was founded. It was repealed. Another decision was given in the course of a year or so in the Court of Appeal, and that showed that the repeal that we had passed was not sufficiently effective. Thereupon in 1917 we passed another Clause in order to wipe out two decisions, one of the House of Lords and one of the Court of Appeal, and to get rid of the whole thing. In 1917 we passed a Clause in the Finance Act:It is hereby declared that the repeal by Section eighteen of the Finance (No. 21 Act, 1915, of Section two of the Finance Act, 1912 (which relates to the distribution of payments on account of liquor licence ditties in certain cases) operates and has always operated so as to extinguish any liability to make payment in pursuance of the said Section two, after the date of the repeal, whether or not the liability existed before the date of the repeal.That was a dreadful case of retrospective legislation. It went still further and said:Provided that nothing in this Section shall affect the validity of any payments actually made between the date of the repeal and the date of the passing of this Act.That meant that all the injustices of those who were ready to pay and did make payment and of those who were unwilling to pay and did not pay, were left where they were. They got exactly the same provision as in the Bill. Did the hon. Member protest then against this wicked system of retrospective legislation?
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
Did he protest and say that we were on the slippery slope? Did he say then that this was a reprehensible principle? In 1917 we were still preserving the principle of not dividing, so that it would be unfair to put upon the hon. Member blame that he did not divide the House at that time, but as far as I can recollect there was no speech from him warning us that we were adopting a principle that ought not to be adopted. I offer that as an illustration of the fact that this House acts upon 2234 common sense. In the three speeches we have had against the Bill no alternative has been suggested. I do not think it has been maintained that a very considerable difficulty had not arisen. Certainly a large number of persons felt that an injustice had arisen in consequence of a decision which they did not expect; but it is really going too far for the hon. Member to raise his finger now and give us this great caution. Again and again the House has passed retrospective legislation, and it will pass retrospective legislation again.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
It has happened in the course of the last six years, and it will happen again, because this House will retain for itself the principle of common-sense. When I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend who last spoke, I listened in vain to hear that he had any alternative. He said that the date had been improperly fixed. One class of person may choose one date, and another class another date. That is a comparatively small point. His next point was, did those who did not pay do so wilfully or had it been a question of negligence? Once again you have the case which is dealt with in the words which I have quoted:Nothing shall affect the validity of any payments actually made.Was there a misapprehension or a mistake? The situation had to be dealt with in some way, and to say that this Bill is the wrong way because it is retrospective is to say that you are not prepared to grapple with a real difficulty. Then came the speech of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley). He recalled what most of us have been impressed by, namely, the prayers of this House, and gave us a moment of self-revelation. I suppose he was referring to the prayer in which we desire to lay aside all prejudices, and so on; but he will forgive me if I tell him what impression that piece of self-revelation made on my mind. It was this, that instead of thinking exactly of the beautiful words in which he was joining, he thought that the work that was 2235 to be done that afternoon by his opponents would lead to a result which he deplored, and that those who were opposed to him in this House would be engaged in a manner which he regretted from the party point of view. That is the impression which he left upon my mind. I am sorry that that should be the impression, because I feel sure that in recalling so lofty and inspiring a part of our proceedings, he had intended to lift my mind up to something higher and better. Perhaps on another occasion he will be able to correct that impression. Are we not really, in using that sort of language and in trying to press this principle of refusing to pass retrospective legislation, turning our backs on a great number of precedents?
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I have given a precedent. If the hon. Member does not appreciate it, I must decline for the sake of the House to repeat it. Time and again this House has in the past dealt with the situation that has arisen and it will do so in the future. You have to deal with the situations that arise from the point of view of common sense. You have to choose some date on which the Act of Parliament should come into force, and you have very often, in a rough way, to leave a certain number of inequalities unsmoothed. You must deal with the matter in the best way you can; and it is no answer to say that perhaps some slightly better way as to date or amount could have been found, while at the time you are trying to impress those outside with the feeling that this is class legislation. The real object in making speeches of that kind is not to convince those who are sitting in this House, but to convince those who may have an opportunity of reading the speeches outside and who may be glad to find that something has been added to class prejudice.
Mr. T. HENDERSON (Tradeston)
I cannot pretend to speak with anything like the ability of most speakers, but as one who has been sent to this House to oppose this pernicious Bill I can say a word or two about the attitude of the Government, and the injury that will be done to the poor working classes of the constituency which I represent. I have a letter in my possession which does not 2236 come from an owner of house property. It comes from one of the victims of this Bill, if it be placed on the Statute Book. It is from one who writes for the first time in her life to her Member of Parliament, asking him to do all that he possibly can to prevent the Government from passing this Bill. If I could bring about any alteration in the Bill I would appeal with all the power I possess to the Attorney-General; but I am convinced, after listening to the Debates, that no appeal from this part of the House will have any effect.
I recognise that this Bill is class legislation. I believe that the Government is dancing to the tune supplied by rather wailing instruments belonging to the propertied classes of this country. I believe they are doing it in the same manner that the Government acted which brought in the original Rent Restriction Act. There are some Members of this House who took a prominent part in the agitation that made it necessary for the Government of that day to pass that Act. I never believed, neither do I believe now, that the Government of that day passed that Act because thy believed in the justice of the Act. They passed that Act because of the pressure behind, and the necessity of having the machinery of destruction placed at the service of the armies of this nation. The working classes were being exploited by those claiming to be patriots. These men were saying to the working classes, "Do send your sons to France in the service of your country. You who are not able to go will remain behind in the workshop to produce munitions of war," and while we were doing that, the factors were raising the rents upon the working classes.
Again and again we made representations to the Government, but they heeded us not. Then the working classes on the Clyde, to their credit, refused to pay any rent until something had been done, and in 24 hours, the shortest notice on record, we forced the Government to take steps to put the Act upon the Statute Book. Hon. Members of this House who think there is no trace of humour in a Scotsman would do well to listen to an extract which I will read from one of our local newspapers, and when I have read it I am convinced that it will be unnecessary for me to suggest to the Government that not only should rents not be fixed, but it is my humble opinion—and I am convinced 2237 of the justice of that opinion—that no rent should be paid at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Do hon. Members think that they would be justified in asking men and women to pay rentals for the kind of property to which I am about to refer—property which I know only too well. Probably Members on the other side have the same knowledge of this kind of property. I am going to read not from the Socialist Press, but from the local Press. The extract is entitled:Hovels in Kinning Park.It says:The worst group is undoubtedly to be found in 73, Maclean Street. This tenement consists of 34 single apartments in a most damnable state of dilapidation. The apartments are exceedingly small, but the tenants are being charged 10s. per week for the privilege of being allowed to live in them. The unfortunate inmates, if they are of a sporting disposition, do not require to go big game shooting in Africa. Their hunting instinct finds full outlet within the walls of their home, as the place is infested with large sized audacious bugs. Museums which make a practice of collecting insects are asked to send a collector to Maclean Street and they will get some rare specimens. The factors of this bug farm"—and I am giving them a free advertisement this afternoon—are Sandeman and Brown, West Regent Street, Glasgow. These houses were papered at the factor's expense when Tutankhamen was a boy. Since then nothing has been done.Thank of 34 tenants paying 10s. a week each for such rooms, and you are imposing on them increases of rent and the impossibility of getting a sanitary certificate from the health officer in Glasgow.
Here is another case—98, Blackburn Street—where the rats are running about by the hundred. They have sent word to the sanitary authorities, and some small attempt has been made to cope with it. When the factor himself was spoken to, his reply was, "Feed the rats, and perhaps they will trouble you less." The tenants said, "You are going to get no rent, and if you come down to this property we will set the rats at you." He never came back. I am not going to make threats against this Government. They are too powerful for that, but I want to warn them that the men on the Clydeside, who have suffered the horrors of unemployment, will not be coerced into paying the rent, which hon. Members opposite say they ought to be forced to pay, by any property owning class.
2238 Is it right to ask them to pay 10s. for those single rooms? That woman who wrote me is a widow with five children. She has scraped and worked day in and day out. She has paid the rent to the factor believing that perhaps, by some intricacy of the law, she might be evicted from her home. Then there is another tenant who has been working most of the time, and who has placed his rent in the bank. Now it is said by your Bill that that widow who has starved herself to pay the rent is not to get anything back from the factor, and the man who has been Forking is not to be compelled to pay anything to the factor. There is no justice in this. On the banks of the Clyde they are organising as they never organised before. The Government perhaps are aware—they have plenty of spies at their command—but we are prepared to do all we can to resist this Bill if it is put on the Statute Book. I ask you to consider what you are doing, and to see to it that people who live in those conditions are going to get a fairer chance than they have ever had before.
§ Mr. W. HUTCHISON
A great deal of time has been spent on the discussion of this Measure on the Second Reading, in Committee, on the Report stage, and this afternoon, and I am afraid that Members of the Opposition in their fervid eloquence have lost the perspective of the Measure. They should remember that this is not a case of some particular law of the land having been interpreted by a law court, and that retrospective legislation is introduced to alter that, because, after all, these Rent Restriction Acts are only temporary measures affecting a particular class of the community and for a specific purpose. The specific purpose is this: Parliament said to tenants, "If you want permanency of occupancy so long as the Rent Restriction Acts continue you will pay increased rent." Both landlords and tenants accepted that as equitable and fair, but some ingenious people discovered a legal flaw in the position of the landlord. That ingenious person was supported by a House of Lords decision. This new Bill admits the proposition that the House of Lords' decision must stand, and it stands in so far as those tenants who have not paid the increase of rent are concerned. Therefore, it is not retrospective legislation in that respect. The next point is that, though some tenants have paid the 2239 rent increases, this Bill says that these increases which have been paid are not to be recoverable. The House of Lords did not decide that such rents were recoverable. These increases would not be recoverable at common law. They are only recoverable by Section 14 of the Act of 1920, and that Section is a retrospective Section, because it begins with the words "whether before or after the passing of this Act," and so on.
So what happens under this Bill is that the Attorney-General allows the House of Lords' decision to stand, so far as unpaid rents are concerned, and then cancels the restrospective Section of the Act of 1920, and all this commotion is made by the Opposition because they see possible capital to be made in the constituencies, out of what, after all, is a very simple matter, when you come to analyse it in the light of common sense and reason. The Attorney-General's and the Government's point of view is that the House of Lords' decision misinterpreted the intention of the legislature, and they have sought to make that right and they have not made it restrospective before the decision of the House of Lords. As from the 1st of December we are going to alter the law on this subject, and make it be what it was understood to be by all parties, until somebody started this legal question. The effect of this Bill is to do justice, by respecting the House of Lords' decision on the one hand and by intending not to have retrospective legislation so far as the 1920 Act is concerned on the other. It is a perfectly fair Measure. It is not a landlords' Measure, because it does not give him the right to recover the rents unpaid to him. It cannot be called a tenants' Measure, because it does not give the tenant the right to recover the rent which he has paid. Therefore, it is not a class Measure because it does not give the whole to one or the other. The Leader of the Opposition has admitted the principle that he would not have thought it unfair or unjust to have had a restrospective Measure, had it not been for the position regarding the repairs or improvements which the landlord had not done.
§ Mr. HUTCHISON
The remedy is there for the tenant and is very simple. Apart 2240 from the general proposition which was laid down in the Act that the landlord must have the house habitable, Section 25 of the Act of 1919 provides further precautions against a landlord getting rent for a house that is unhabitable or unfit for human habitation. Again in Section 2 of the Rent Restrictions Act there are many provisions by which the tenant can suspend the operation of the increase of rent on this score. If the opposition is because of the position of the landlord in regard to repairs the tenants, or the local authority, have a remedy, and if the repairs are not carried out the tenants need not now pay those increases. There is a large section of the community with which we must have some sympathy. In Scotland there are numbers of small people who have saved money, and their principal investment was in houses of this sort. These people are suffering. It is not correct, as the leader of the Opposition said, to say that this property is in the hands of large proprietors. Large proprietors have cleared out of this class of property long ago, and the majority of the owners in Scotland are small owners, and to these people justice must be given. If I could find an alternative way, or if any hon. Member could show me another way of righting the wrongs which have been done other than by this Bill before the House, I would be prepared to vote for such an alternative, but until now I have heard no indication or suggestion as to the way in which they would remedy this rather than accept the Bill. I would choose the considered measure of the Attorney-General rather than the general criticism of hon. Members opposite.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
On the Second Reading of this Bill I expressed on behalf of myself and those associated with me, the reasons why we thought this was a bad Measure which should be opposed. Since then many attempts have been made in Committee to get the Measure amended. On the whole, the Amendments have led to very little. The point which the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) made as to repairs was pressed in Committee, and is a point which members of the Labour party have put very strongly. We have got very little sympathy from those who are conducting the Bill. But that is really only a side issue. The question as to how far the repairs have been done, and whether, if they have not been done, 2241 there should be deductions made, does not go to the root of the matter. The last speaker advanced the most curious arguments I have ever heard. I do not know whether the Attorney-General is very grateful to him for the support which he has given. The hon. Member pointed out the cardinal defect of this Bill, which lays it down, for the first time, I believe, in English law, that the man who has not fulfilled his obligation of paying his rent is to be let off scot free, and that the man who has honestly paid his rent is not to be allowed to recover what he otherwise would not have had to pay.
I never yet have understood this extraordinary piece of legislation. All the quibbles about this not being retrospective legislation in one way and being retrospective in another way, leave me quite cold. This is a retrospective Measure. It is entirely a retrospective Measure., It is extraordinary to hear the argument that, because someone started a law suit, and a body called the House of Lords, which is the highest Court in the land, agreed with the litigant, that decision must be disregarded, and that we must now legislate in favour of the litigant who was defeated. That is what we are doing. I never expected to hear that argument from Conservative Benches. The House of Lords is the highest tribunal of the land. The Attorney-General's claim was not, upheld by the House of Lords. Quite apart, from the merits or demerits of the particular case, it seems to me to be an innovation and principle that it is dangerous to adopt—that the House should reverse the decision of a tribunal of that kind in favour of one litigant who has lost. I often wonder whether, if the landlord had succeeded, the Government would have introduced a Bill in the contrary sense?
§ Sir A. MOND
I can quite understand that if the landlord had won the case there would have been no need to legislate. I can understand that from the benches opposite. But there is another aide to this case. It is not in the least accurate to say that this was the kind of action which was brought by some obscure person. When I was at the Ministry of Health this problem 2242 occupied me and the Secretary for Scotland for a long time. There was a series of cases in Scotland and in England, with most conflicting decisions, and to my knowledge there were large numbers of people who did not bring actions in the Courts because this test case was in progress. In this Bill you are striking at the principle of test cases It has always been an accepted principle in this country, when litigation has been carried to the highest Courts, for the parties who were interested to suspend their principles and actions in order to save litigation, and then the decision of the highest Court has been applied as the general law of the land. That alone has prevented thousands of actions from being brought. It was assumed that the people who had not brought actions would be entitled to take advantage of the decision of the House of Lords.
That is where the unfairness of this Bill comes in. I should have thought that the simple, straightforward and honest way would have been to allow the tenant, who does not often get the advantage in litigation with the landlord, to have the advantage which may have been given to him by some misinterpretation of an Act of Parliament—an advantage given to him by the Court to which the landlord had appealed. It is a very dangerous doctrine to argue the interpretation of Statutes from discussions in this House. That practice has been ruled out in every Court of Law. In no Court of Law can you use the Debates in this House as an interpretation of a Statute. To upset a decision as to the interpretation of a Statute passed by this House, and to go behind that interpretation because the Attorney-General says that Parliament meant something else, horrifies me as an innovation. Perhaps I am old-fashioned and conservative in some of my views on legal matters. I always felt that in a matter of this kind we should let the law take its course. On the one hand you hear of the poor landlords, the small landlords, who will suffer if they have to repay rents which they ought never to have received. Nobody doubts that they ought never to have received those rents as the law stood. I do not agree with the hon. Member who said that the rents are not recoverable. Why are they not recoverable? 2243 As far as I can read the decision of the House of Lords, recovery would be possible if litigation were started.
Representations were made to me by the Property Owners' Association, when I was Minister of Health. Representatives of that association made it quite clear that they were afraid of having to repay the rent that they had received. I had any number of representations at the time, but I could never see that they were based on any equity. What is the equity in the case of a man who receives money which he ought not to have received? Is it right that he should ask the House of Commons to legislate so that he may keep that money? That is what we are doing. The only argument I can find in favour of such a course is that Parliament intended he should receive this money, that Parliament drafted a bad Statute, that the House of Lords decided that the landlord ought not to receive the money, and, therefore, that we ought now to do things as we originally intended. If that is to be our course, what of our legislation is to stand; what Act is there that does not want changing?
It is not the first time that a Court of Law has decided that an Act of Parliament means something different from what Members of this House thought it meant when they passed it. There are hundreds of cases of the kind. If in every one of those cases we are to re-legislate, it will produce immense insecurity in the law, for the decisions of the highest Court will no longer be binding, and no lawyer will be able to advise a client that they are binding laws. That is a very serious thing in itself. In addition, you cannot have the knowledge that, when you pass this Bill, the House of Lords, in further litigation, will not come to the conclusion that the Bill means something different from the Attorney-General's statement of its intention. It is a kind of labyrinth into which you are asked to embark yourself. I object, again, that the Bill is ill-conceived. It is clumsily executed, dangerous to the Commonwealth, and unfair to the tenants who have already paid more rent than they ought to have 2244 paid. I and those associated with me will certainly vote against the Third Reading.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
The last speaker has been quite consistent in this matter about the retrospective aspect of this Bill. I gather from him that he would take no steps whatever to rectify the inequitableness of a legal decision which certainly has produced very inequitable consequences in many parts of the country. My right hon. Friend is quite consistent. If I remember aright what he has just told us is very much what he said in that celebrated Memorandum which was published at the request of the Solicitor-General. But when one turns from the position of the right hon. Gentleman, which is quite understandable, even if one cannot have much sympathy with it, having regard to the great injustice which he would cause to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, I suggest that he and his friends are really estopped, by what has passed on this subject, from taking up the position they have, because by a series of Amendments and by the speech of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. MacDonald) to-night, they have given away entirely any opposition to retrospective legislation as a matter of principle. The Labour party produced an Amendment under which it was quite prepared to accept a date somewhere in February; the Bill could be retrospective, but was not to date back beyond February. The Leader of the Opposition this evening mentioned another date. It was the date of the decision by the House of Lords or the decision in the lower Court. That is what I gathered from his speech.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
If the hon. Gentleman disclaims that view, I will accept his disclaimer, but as a matter of argument he can hardly say that this is a matter of absolutely wrong principle, and at the same time be prepared to accept varying dates which give away the principle altogether. At any rate, that is my view of it. Is the Bill really retrospective? There is something to be said on the question whether or not it really is retrospective. When I read the Prime Minister's pronouncement on the subject 2245 I thought he meant the proposal to be absolutely retrospective, right back to the Act of 1920. I think most people took that view. In one sense the Bill is not retrospective at all. The Prime Minister spoke on a certain date. As from that date, he said, "this Bill is to be retrospective." As a matter of fact he has made the Bill date from the day on which he made his announcement. It is open to argue that in effect there has been nothing retrospective at all about the Bill. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that anything in the way of legislation that is really retrospective 1s undesirable. We have been told there are reasons why it might be made into a matter of precedent. We have had illustrations given from those benches and these showing that it has been done before, but, personally, that does not remove my objection to retrospective legislation. I do suggest, however, that by adopting the day on which the Prime Minister's statement, that he meant to deal with this question on a retrospective basis, was made, it might fairly be argued that there is nothing retrospective in it at all. The Leader of the Opposition said that in any event these rents approved by the Act of 1920 were unjust, and I gathered that he thought that as they were unjust rents there ought to be no facilities given for their collection. I do not quite know how the figures were made up, but he quoted a case of an 8s. rent rising to £1 14s. 6d. What was the date at which the 8s. rent started?
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
Some of it would be, at any rate. I would like to deal with the point that the rents granted by the Act of 1920 were so inequitable that no facilities ought to be given by the Courts or this House for their collection. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman remembers what were the facts with regard to the way in which rents have been allowed to increase during the War. The total average increase in rents on working class dwellings since the War is given in the "Labour Gazette" for this current 2246 month as 50 per cent., and in that same official document it is stated that of that 50 per cent. one-half is attributable to the rise in rates which the landlord has had to pay and one-third is attributable to the cost of repairs in cases where the landlord was responsible for the whole of the repairs. That is to say, that with the exception of 7 per cent., out of which has to be paid the increase of mortgage interest, the whole of the increase of 50 per cent. which has been permitted by the legislature since 1915 is taken up by these matters to which I have referred, and out of which the landlord himself will get no benefit whatever.
When the hon. Member points out that the rents permitted by the Act of 1920 are so unconscionable, I wonder whether he remembers what transpired between 1915 and 1920? By the Act of 1915 no increase was permitted, except 6 per cent. on actual improvements made and the rates. Therefore, from then until the Act of 1919 was passed, that was all the landlord was permitted to take. He had to stand all the racket of the extra, cost of living and the extra cost of repairs at a time when the cost of living was rising to something like 170 per cent. in this country and wages were proportionately high. Froth 1919 on he was permitted to take, in addition to the matters I have just mentioned, 10 per cent. by way of increase, and it was not until the War had been over two years that he was permitted to have the increase provided by the Act of 1920; namely, the 25 per cent. allowed for increase in the cost of repairs and 15 per cent. for the extra cost of living. The one thing out of the whole of the increases permitted during the last eight years from which he was entitled to benefit or profit, namely, the 15 per cent. in the rise of the cost of living, has only gone on for the last three years. I put these figures forward simply because the hon. Gentleman has attacked the basis of the 1920 Act and has sought to make it appear that the landlords were obtaining, and had the right to obtain, unjust rents. If the hon. Member says he did not state that they were unjust rents I accept his disclaimer, but my recollection was, that he said that those increases permitted by the 1920 Act were unjust and unconscionable.
I would like to pass from that point to one other made by the Leader of the Opposition, and that is with reference 2247 to the fact that the Government rejected what he called the compromise suggested by him. This Bill is undoubtedly a compromise. It starts with being a compromise, and shows all the signs of being a, compromise Bill in its passage through the House. The hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) and the hon. Member for Woolwich (Sir Kingsley Wood) thought it did not go far enough in favour of the landlord, my hon. Friends opposite thought it went too far in favour of the landlord, and the hon. Member suggested something in the shape of what he called a compromise between those two views. But the compromise between the two parties put forward by the Government is a compromise in which five-sixths of the matters in dispute have already been awarded to one of the parties, namely, the tenant. The tenant has only to pay the rent, in those few cases where he has to pay additional rent at all, from the 1st December last. That is five or six months, but for two and a half years prior to that he has not to pay the rent at all if he has not paid it. If he has paid it, of course he is simply paying his due.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
If he has not paid his rent during the two years he keeps it, and if there is anything that gives effect on one side to something in the nature of a compromise I suggest it is the Bill as it stands. On the top of that, the Leader of the Opposition suggested a little more, that very nearly one-half of the one-sixth which the Bill gives to the landlord in these circumstances should be taken from him, that the only thing that should be allowed him should be the rates, the 50 per cent. which is attributable to the rates. That, of course, really means that out of the one-sixth which the landlord is to keep, the other five-sixths having been already awarded by the Government Bill to the tenant, one-half is proposed to be taken away under the guise of a compromise. I have heard the word "compromise" applied to a good many strange things, but I cannot quite see in what way the compromise suggested by the hon. Gentleman can be described in any sense as more equitable than the compromise in the Government Bill. It 2248 simply loads the scale of technical, as against equitable, justice which has already been weighed down against the landlord more in favour of the tenant. I should be very sorry to argue this question from a class point of view for I have been touched, as everybody has, by the description of the conditions in slum areas which one has heard from the other side of the House. Of course, there are slums in other places than Scotland, some of us have seen them, and have regretted that they should exist. I fail to see, however, that you do anything to improve slum conditions by making an inequitable arrangement because the person lives in a slum area and not in a better part of the district. Surely the best way to attack these conditions is through another Bill which is in Committee at the moment, and other Measures which may follow, not by mulcting or by dealing unfairly with one of the parties to an ordinary transaction. While I sympathise with the situation in places that include some close to my own constituency, where conditions are quite as bad as those described by hon. Gentlemen opposite, I fail to see that there is justification for trying to cure that by the kind of suggestion one has heard from the other side of the House.
I only want to deal with one other point in the hon. Gentleman's speech, namely, the question of the notices. I gather from what he said that he thought the landlords, or the lawyers who had been stupid enough not to give notice ought to pay for it, that there ought to be no sympathy for them, but that they should be left to suffer any consequences that flow. He was not in the House at the time that the Bill of 1920 was passed. I was, and as I have some knowledge of the subject, I followed the Bill fairly closely. I had not the vaguest idea that there was any intention that there should be a notice to quit served when that Bill was being passed. It was not for a long time after the Bill was passed and it had been brought to my attention on several occasions that I came to the conclusion at last that it was necessary, or at least desirable as a matter of precaution, to serve a notice to quit. What was the reason that impelled so many not to serve that notice? The decent landlord, having decent relations with his tenants, was very undesirous of disturbing their minds at a time when there was great housing need 2249 in the country, and it was perfectly clear that if tenants did go they could not get in anywhere else. Those landlords were very undesirous of disturbing the minds of their tenants. There is another reason. To be valid, a notice to quit must be definite and permit of no qualification, and it is exceedingly doubtful whether the notice, had it been served by a landlord who stated in it, or in any communication that went with it, that it was merely formal and not intended to be acted upon, would be held to be a valid notice to quit at all, and I know that that point was in the minds of many landlords and advisers of landlords in this country at any rate. Whether that was so in Scotland I do not know. For that, and for other reasons of that kind, many owners of property and their advisers decided not to serve these notices to quit. It was unfortunate for those who did not do so. I do not quite understand why it was that in Scotland it was neglected when it was done in England so freely.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
I do not think that was the case, but I do not propose to go into that point. It seems to throw some light upon the boasted superiority of Scottish education as against the uneducated Englishman. At any rate, there remains the fact that the whole question has been treated as if it were a Scottish question. It certainly originated in Scot—land, whether or not it was the tenant who showed this extreme keenness and found this flaw in the Act, but somebody did. Somebody was keen enough to find it out in Scotland and I am not quite sure whether hon. Members of this House were not among the people who did find it out and who made use of it in the way it was made use of. I do not think in the end it will have done so much good to the poor people who have been affected. I am going to support the Bill; I think it is absolutely essential for the reasons which I have given and I think it would have been exceedingly difficult for anyone to have found a way of dealing with the situation which would have been more satisfactory unless they had gone the length suggested by the hon. Member opposite and said that there should be no 2250 relief at all and that the parties concerned having got into the difficulty should be left to stew in their own juice. Short of hat it does not seem to me that there is any more reasonable way of dealing with the matter than is proposed in the Bill.
§ Mr. J. JONES
It is not inappropriate that one of the principal representatives of the house property owners of London should have delivered the speech to which we have just listened. I happen to represent a district in the East End of London where most of the landlords are almost ashamed to ask for the ordinary rent, never mind having the cheek to demand increased rent for the slums in which 40 per cent. of the people in my constituency are living. We have heard a great many technicalities this afternoon, and I was reminded, as I listened, of the saying that when lawyers fall out honest men stand a chance of coming by their own. We have had an argument here as to whether or not the law Courts are the proper legal tribunals of the nation. When the law pleases us and suits us we erect monuments to the lawyers, but when the law does not suit our purposes, then the law is of no use, and the constitutionalists become revolutionaries. I am not arguing against those on the other side, because, personally, I agree with them. In the time to come, I hope to be able to introduce some retrospective legislation to hand back to the people the things of which they have been robbed, and I shall be able to quote this Measure as a justification for my policy when I become Lord Chief Justice.
What has happened in connection with this matter of rent? You passed an Act of Parliament in 1920 which said that in certain circumstances certain things should happen. You passed that Act because the landlords all over the country were taking advantage of their tenants on account of the shortage of housing accommodation, because the rents were being forced up and the people began to resent it. They threatened to strike, and even in my own district, in the Victoria and Albert Dock area, the men threatened to stop work in a critical moment of the War because rents were being forced up, and the Government were compelled to take action to stop the rapacity of people who pretended to be patriots. They were compelled to use the power of the nation to prevent these people from taking 2251 advantage of the poverty of the people. In that way the Rent Restrictions Act was passed. I was here, and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down was here, but he does not appear to remember the Debate which we had upon that Act.
§ Mr. JONES
The hon. Gentleman must then remember that we drew attention to that particular portion of the Act which dealt with the giving of notice. If the hon. Gentleman's memory is short, I am not responsible. I can give him the facts, but I cannot give him the means of understanding them. We on these benches drew particular attention to the notice that was required, and that part of the Act was singled out by us for particular notice. The hon. Member opposite knows as well as I do that all these Measures dealing with rent and rent restriction were not carried because of sympathy with the poor, but were carried in order to save the nation in an hour of great danger. The Act was not carried in order that rents might be kept down, but for the purpose of ensuring that the men fighting at the front were provided with the means of carrying on their campaign. The Act provided that people should have certificates to say that their houses were fit to live in. How many people have those certificates, and how much repair work has been done? I would undertake to say that in the East End of London 30 to 40 per cent. of the houses have not been repaired during all the period from 1920 to 1923. The work is not being done, and if the tenants ask that something should be done, a Polite refusal is given to them. The local authorities were largely composed of the class of people who talk about the right to raise rents.
I know nothing about the meaning of these technicalities except in so far as I have had to pay increased rent. The landlord can get increased rent and can claim it, but the tenant cannot get back the extra money which he has paid under duress. Many tenants do not know the law. They have paid increases without knowing whether they were legally justifiable or not, yet we are now told that this is to be not a Rent Restriction Act., not an Act to relieve the tenants, but an Act to excuse the landlord. It had better be termed the Landlord's Whitewashing Bill. The other evening I said it was hog 2252 wash and that is what it amounts to. We hear a great deal in this House about the Members upon these benches representing class interests and talking about class war. Here you are, when wages have gone down 50 per cent. on the average; when the working people have sacrificed £700,000,000 per annum in wages, and you are asking for the right to increase rents. Wages down, rents up—and then you talk to us about class war. You may charge us with preaching it, but we charge you with practising it, and by the carrying of legislation of this character you are robbing the poor for the benefit of the rich.
So far as I am concerned, and so far as I have any influence in the East End of London, I will resist this kind of legislation and I dare any of you to come down into Silvertown and try to collect this back rent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Send a policeman."] Yes, I know you will send a policeman, because you have not the pluck to go yourselves. You know as well as I do that nearly half the men there are unemployed, and you are going to ask those men to pay back rent as from the 1st December. Otherwise you threaten them with eviction. You get on with the evicting. I am an Irishman, and I have fought evictions before now, and I will fight them again, if there be any attempt made to try to evict the people whom I represent in the interests of people who never did anything for us. Do you know that in my district 250 out of every 1,000 children die before they reach the age of 12 months? Then you are going to ask us to pay back rent on the top of the 40 per cent. increases you have already charged and you come here and claim to represent the people. You do not represent the people. You rob the people. Here is an Act of Parliament passed under the Constitution and the highest Court of the land decides, under it, that the tenant is right and the landlord is wrong. You pretend to represent constitutional government and yet you propose a Measure of this kind and you tell us in effect that what the law says is wrong and what the property-owner says is right. Property, property, property! It is all property, and the more I hear of it the more sick I am of it. But I ask you to realise that you are doing a dangerous thing. We are asked to obey 2253 the law, and we are willing to do so provided you give us a fair chance and a square deal. But this Measure is an attempt to evade the law, and I hope it will be rejected by the House because it is an insult to the people and a deliberate attempt to place a heavy burden upon those least able to bear it.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
I do not wish to appeal to passion, as has been done by some previous speakers, but I would like to approach this subject in a thoroughly dispassionate way, and I will be quite frank in what I propose to say. When this Bill went upstairs to Committee it gave very little indeed to the landlord. Here let me ask what is the landlord class affected by the Bill? I do not know of any capitalists who invest their money in tenement property. There are far easier and much better invest-merits. The people who write to me from time to time about what is happening now are people who have evidently risen from the ranks. Their letters declare—their handwriting and their grammar declare—that they do not belong to the capitalist class.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
I am indicating the kind of people who are affected in this case, and I suggest that, we have not done half enough for them. What did the Bill do when we first dealt with it here? It was retrospective to 1st December and there was a period put to the payment of instalments. Upstairs in Committee the instalment period has been prolonged to the passing of the Act, which just means that at the present time there are hundreds of landlords who are not taking a single penny of rent at all, neither standard rent nor increase of rent. An hon. Member opposite has talked about the organisation of the landlord class, but I give credit to those who represent the tenants for having a, very complete organisation. They are doing what we used to know in the old Fenian days. They are having a plan of control. In those days it was called the "plan of campaign," and the rents were not given, but held up. What is happening just now? I have got the circular issued from Clydebank, telling the tenants that they are not to pay any rents to the landlords, but that they are to pay them into this 2254 self-constituted party, and that body will no doubt yet blossom out into a body of control.
The Bill gives very little to the landlords. I do not agree with some of my hon. Friends who have said that the Bill is not retrospective. I own up to its retrospectiveness, and its retrospectiveness is this, that those landlords who have collected rents which they would not have been able to collect under the Kerr v. Brydc case will not be liable to be sued for a return of them. When I get complaints and suffer censure from some of the landlords because we have done nothing for them, I say to them, "It is largely your own fault that we need a Bill like this at all." In that, I agree with the Labour position, but I want to modify that statement a little. I acted in this case, not as an owner of property, but as chairman of a building company, and when the Act was first passed no one—I do not care who contradicts me—believed for a single moment that a notice to quit was necessary for an increase of rent. I make that statement advisedly. The very first time the case was tried was in Glasgow, when the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) was sued for his rent. Someone on the other side said that he could not appeal, but the fact was that that case was so stated that if was taken out of the Small Debt Court into the Sheriff Court, where it can be appealed. I am not, however, blaming the hon. Member for not having appealed.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
That is not the point. The point is, that when landlords saw that their interpretation was upheld by a Sheriff, they were so far lulled to rest, but when the case went one stage higher, not in that action, but in another, they might have taken the alarm then and sent in the notice, and they might also have sent in the notice when the House of Lords decision was given. Why they did not do so has not been explained altogether to my satisfaction, but the hon. Member who spoke just now has given a reason that swayed some of them. It swayed the company of which I was chairman, because I said, when the lawyer told me that he thought a notice to quit should be sent in, "That is a horrible proceeding to take, because these people on whom we are going to serve the notice 2255 will believe that we are going to turn them out of their houses." We got over that difficulty by sending a messenger round with the notice to quit, saying that this was a mere formality which we were told had to be complied with, and that there was no fear of their being put out of their houses. If that had been put into the notice itself, I agree that it might have vitiated the notice altogether.
However, be the landlords, or some of them, careless and to blame, or be they not, so far as what I have been saying goes, that is no reason why an injustice should be done. I know that my hon. Friends on the other side say that the injustice is all the other way, but let us look at that for a moment. I went through all the stages of the Bill that led to all this trouble in 1920, and during the period preceding the Rent Restriction Act wages were very high. Were the landlords getting any share of that? No, they were restricted, and it was a just complaint of hundreds and thousands of those landlords that they should be singled out of all the community and stuck down to the 1914 return.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
Therefore, when that Bill came before Parliament and in Committee, I never really heard any very strong protest against the raising of these rents. I know some hon. Members of the Labour party object to the rise being so great, but, on the whole, I must say that they were fair enough to realise and to accept the argument that the landlords were entitled to something. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It is no use saying that now, but your representatives were on the Commit-tee as well as ours.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
The hon. Member knows very well that we protested against the increase of rents, and never accepted the right to increase rents.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
I was not speaking of the Clyde only, but of the country generally, and I was referring to Members on that Committee of the political complexion of the Labour Members, who by their action admitted that some increase was necessary. I say this advisedly—and I do not care who contradicts me—that there was not a soul in this House, or, I believe, in the country, who believed that that Bill made it necessary for a notice to quit to be served on the tenant before an increase of rent could be obtained. Suppose that a Member had got up and said in Committee, "I do not like the look of a phrase in the Bill; it might lead to it being necessary to serve a notice to quit," I could understand another hon. Member getting up and saying, "What a farcical argument to use! Did anyone ever hear of such nonsense?" I do not believe it would ever have been altered upstairs in Committee, because nobody ever dreamed it would have that result. At any rate, the decision of the House of Lords was given. I acknowledge—and this is where a great many tenants have a grievance, and it is not doing my political side any good—that tenants have a grievance when they see those alongside of them who refused to pay the increase of rent getting off scot free and those who paid being unable to recover it.
I quite acknowledge that that does not seem either logical or fair, but at the same time I would remind the House—and I have taken great pains, in regard to these matters, to get information from factors and others who I know will give correct and honest information—that a great many tenants, acknowledging that the landlord was entitled to an increase, have neither sought to recover, nor do they uphold the doctrine that they ought to get back, that which, with their eyes wide open, they agreed to pay at the beginning. It is all very well to talk of this, as some hon. Members have done, as though all these persons who paid had it in their minds, and in fact argued with their landlords, that they were paying now because if a decision in favour of the tenants should ever be given, that money would be handed back. I have never come across a single factor, or tenant, or 2257 landlord who could corroborate a statement like that. I believe that some tenants, chiefly in the Clyde district, will take advantage of this position, but I know many others will not take advantage of it, whose only complaint is—and it is a very human one—that they do not like those who, they think, have done wrong getting off, while they are not doing so. I do not think that will do my side any good at the present moment, should an opportunity arise to test it. In regard to what has been said about retrospective legislation, this is the first time I have ever heard such an amount of praise given to the House of Lords, and I am sure that if the House of Lords were done away with—
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
The Law Lords used to come under the same condemnation. I would remind hon. Members of what was said about the Law Lords after the Taff Vale decision. I remember that well. They were black-guarded right and left, and it was talked about as Judge-made law. Did they ever rest till an Act was passed by Parliament upsetting that altogether, and putting on the Statute Book what I shall never cease to declare was one of the most wicked Acts ever passed by Parliament, namely, the Trade Disputes Act? I will say here what I said on my own platform in Dumbartonshire. I know quite well that I may be jeered at, but I do not mind that when I know that I am talking honestly. I say that if the case had been reversed, and I had seen what I thought was the same injustice being done to the tenant that that decision of the House of Lords causes to the landlords, I would have taken up the tenants' case just as much as I am taking up the landlords' case now.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
It has been said by hon. Members opposite that we have entered on the reprehensible course of retrospective legislation. As I have said, I own up to the fact that it is retrospective to some extent, but is this the first time that that has ever been done? Is this the first time the Labour party have ever taken part in a discussion of this nature? Has it always been a case of 2258 the Labour party being so much against retrospective legislation? I will give an example, for it is no use speaking only in generalities. The Rent Act of 1915 was retrospective. It decreed that contracts made before or after its passing were to be brought in, and that the rent agreed by consent between landlord and tenant before that Act came into operation was to be set aside. That was pretty hard on the landlords. A case came before a Court, I think, in Birmingham, where a tenant sued a landlord for the return of the rent he had been paying between 1914 and the date of the Act, and the tenant succeeded. The case was taken to the Court of Appeal, and the Court of Appeal decided adversely to the tenant. When, shortly afterwards, what was called the Courts (Emergency Powers) Bill was brought into this House, which covered many things that were retrospective, the Labour party then insisted that something should be done to put this matter right, and into that Act was introduced a Section which, in spite of the Court of Appeal, and in spite of that decision which the landlord had got in the Court of Appeal, provided that the tenant could recover the rent for the period in question. I should like to read to the House the words that were used at the time. The present Lord Chief Justice was the Solicitor-General then, and he said:That case"—referring to what I am alluding to—as I have now ascertained, arose in Birmingham. The learned judge of the County Court in Birmingham decided the matter in favour of the tenant. His decision was upheld by the Divisional Court, but it was reversed by the Court of Appeal. It was reversed, and if I may say so, rightly reversed, by the Court of Appeal upon two grounds, (1) that the Act was not retrospective, and that the limits of time were exceeded in that case, and (2) because the money had been paid, not in mistake of fact, but in mistake of law, and therefore was not recoverable.Then he proceeded to sayI cannot help thinking that the grievance to which my hon. Friend has referred is a grievance which ought to be dealt with and should be dealt with fairly by legislation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd April, 1917; col. 1077, Vol. 92.]He went on to say that he had found words which he thought would carry out his contention. These words were included, but it would take too long to go into that.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
The House of Lords made some little modifications which really, in effect, did not destroy the retrospective character of the Bill, but which seemed to whittle down or safeguard it somewhat. The Bill came down here again, and the present Leader of the Opposition immediately took exception. He asked the Attorney-General to explain to the House the real nature of the change that had been made since the Bill had gone up to the Lords. He said, "I object to the changes, and I insist upon the words which were taken out being restored. Sir Gordon Hewart, as he was at the time, said that though he did not like retrospective legislation, he did not see any particular objection in this case, and he was glad to be able to meet the wishes of the hon. Gentleman. He used these words:The House of Lords has made a compromise upon that. I do not think that anybody who has made a study of the matter will deny that among the arrangements which were made with regard to the increase of rent or interest there were many purely voluntary arrangements." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1917; col. 702, Vol. 95.]That case to my mind is on all fours with this. There was a decision of the Courts that the Act was not retrospective, and therefore the money could not be recovered. That was deliberately changed, and a Clause was inserted in the Courts (Emergency Powers) Bill, which gave the tenant power to recover. This is the same sort of case as that. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] There is this difference between the oases however. In the Birmingham case, the Act under which the claims arose was perfectly clear. It was in no way retrospective; but in the case of Kerr v. Bride the decision was on a mere legal quibble and not on the equity or justice of the case. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Some hon. Members have said to-day, and the Leader of the Opposition has said, that there can be no doubt as to what was the legal meaning of the 1920 Act; but as the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Horne) reminded the House, some little time ago, there was very considerable doubt as to whether there was any need to issue notices to quit, and that in fact Lord Dunedin's strictures were very severe indeed. He asked, what was the use of 2260 serving a piece of waste paper, when one knew perfectly well it could not be applied? I do not believe, in their heart of hearts, my hon. Friends on the opposite side have any other conception about that decision of the House of Lords than that it was a very hard one upon the landlord.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
No, the Attorney-General has never said he liked it. He stated quite clearly that this was the only way to deal with the question. It would be a monstrous thing if, after what has happened, we were to leave the case in this position, that hundreds and thousands of actions for recovery of what was invalid rent could be entered upon, with defences varying in many of the different cases. While I regret extremely that the landlords did not take the remedy into their own hands at the right time, yet most of them did not act from any defiance of the law, as was suggested by an hon. Member on the other side. There was no defiance of the law. Most of them acted as they did because they did not know it was the law. The others, when they were told it was, did not wish to terrify and frighten their tenants. They believed that the tenants had a fair sense of justice, and would not take advantage of a decision which they did not expect. None of these people who paid had the ghost of an idea that some day the House of Lords would say, "You need not pay." Therefore, while this Bill is not completely just or even logical, I see no other or better way of acting. Like some of those hon. Members who have spoken from this side, I would rather see something done, in the way of an even imperfect remedy, than that the cost of an enormous amount of litigation should be incurred in the country as would be the case if nothing were done to relieve the situation.
I know there is some note of triumph on the part of the Opposition. I notice the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood), speaking in Edinburgh on Friday night, took great credit—I think he deserved it—for what the Labour party have wrung out of the Government. In 2261 other words, they have wrung out of the Government an instalment period until this Act passes, which will be probably this month or next month. In the interval, many of these tenants who, while they have been drawing rent from sub-tenants to an amount double that which was due to their own landlords, have paid nothing. I only draw the attention of the House to the face that the very hero of the great ease in the House of Lords was himself guilty of that. If he had not been guilty of that, I am precious sure that when I make a statement like that I should be called to account if it were untrue.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
This is the first occasion on which I have ever heard, in this House or in any other place, of benevolent landlords. I remember, when I was a boy, working at a trade, my father being idle and out of work, that the factor came round collecting the rent. So far as we were concerned at home, we never had any benevolent factors. I am perfectly sure if the hon. Gentleman who spoke last would attend the Glasgow Sheriff Court, on any Tuesday or Thursday, between 10 and 12, he would see how benevolent the factors in the City of Glasgow are. He would find in the Sheriff Court hundreds of people, women and children in particular, drawn from all quarters of the city, crowded together in a heated atmosphere, and pursued in the most relentless fashion by factors. He will then neither have the cheek nor the courage to come and try to talk to this House as if there were any generous factors in the West of Scotland. The thing is not true. When you consider, with all the unemployment in the great City of Glasgow, that the class which has the least to its credit is the factor class, and that is nothing at all.
I went through the columns of a very notable journal in this country to-day, a newspaper which, in everything you read in it, is the Conservative paper of this country, namely, the "Morning Post." On 28th November, I found a letter from a very eminent Conservative. He is a man who, if he had been in this House, would, in all likelihood, have occupied a position on the Front Government Bench. He is a King's Counsel for Scotland and—I say this without any ill-feeling to those who now occupy legal positions on the Front Bench—none of them have had his experience in the Courts, nor have 2262 they his legal knowledge. I read a letter in that paper from Mr. Macquisten, who was formerly the hon. Member for Spring-burn, and who took part in this legislation. He says the fact was that the landlords were legally advised by eminent lawyers to issue notices to quit. They were told, on legal advice, to do so, and they chose to ignore that advice and not to do it. In my own union occasionally we have demands made on us in connection with our funds. Very often it involves legal responsibility, and we consult our solicitor. What kind of sympathy would the executive of a trade union get from the Law Courts if they chose to defy the advice tendered to them by their solicitor? It may be argued, as it was by the last speaker, that two out of the five judges said that the law did not operate on a notice to quit. If hon. Members were consulting two lawyers, and one told them that the safest course would be to issue notices to quit, and that those notices to quit would only cost a 2d. postage stamp, plus printing, would they say that that course, being the safe course, ought not to be followed?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Here we have, as Mr. Macquisten well said, the most rapacious and bloodsucking—he does not use that word, but I venture to submit it. He asks in his letter, what is the cause of the trouble in Scotland? In 1915, and at the end of 1914, when this country was fighting in the War, the landlords took advantage, not merely of the munition workers, who might have been earning a little extra wages, but of the soldiers' wives who were left at home. Heedless of suffering, or anything else, these people started a campaign to increase rents. Those are the kind of people whom the last speaker told us were too kind and decent, and feared they might intimidate if they issued notice to quit. In Edinburgh, the factors, acting on same legal advice as was given in Glasgow, issued notices to quit.
There was no panic among the tenants as a result of that. Yet you tell these landlords that they are really within the law. In the past, they have been bolstered up by succeeding Parliaments. Each Parliament has been a land lord's Parliament, and the last experiment of the Coalition Government led them to believe that, no 2263 matter what they did, that Government would see them through. They chose to ignore the whole law of the country, and they went further. They chose to ignore, since the judges issued the decree, the effects of that law. For my part, I have listened to speeches on the other side asking us to get away from the, technicalities of the law. They say we are only arguing on legal points. I wish Members would rise above the technicalities of the law. I heard the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), who spoke with amazing cheek and impudence, if I may say so. He has only spoken on four occasions, and he has attended on few occasions in this House, and the only occasions on which he has spoken have been to defend the factors in this Chamber. He has defended the landlord class against the people of this country. I wonder how these persons can do that.
I have a brother who is a constituent of his, a true blue Conservative, and he is anxious, as even the true blue Conservative is, to have his money hack. He went to hear my hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. J. Stewart). Mr. Cooper, the Unionist candidate, had on every hoarding in St. Rollox a bill in which he told the electors, "Vote for Cooper, and the Unionist party will see that justice is done to the tenant." That was done in St. Rollox. In Hillhead my brother attended both the Conservative and Liberal meetings. The Independent Liberal candidate was a whole-hog Labour man, and my brother decided not to vote for him He proceeded then to hear the right hon. Member for Hillhead, and he deliberately came to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to oppose any retrospective legislation. Go to the populous areas of the division and ask the people who attended the meeting, and they will tell you that the Independent Liberal candidate was the only candidate who sided with the landlord class. Here the right hon. Member for Hillhead comes and speaks for the landlord class. One would think to hear these men that they were briefed by the landlords to appear for them here in the same way as they do in the Courts. I do not mind whose side I am on. I do not mind rising above the technicalities of Acts of Parliament.
2264 What will be the effect if you pass this law? I have heard of poor landlords and of the effects on certain people. May I remind the House that there always has been a good law—"the greatest good of the greatest number." That has not been a bad thing in the main. How many landlords will lose any food or clothing if this Bill be rejected? How many landlords in Scotland or England will not sleep to-night because of evil thoughts of lack of nourishment to-morrow if the Bill be rejected? Not one landlord will go foodless, houseless or clotheless because of the evil effects if this Act be not passed. In my constituency, five children die for every one that dies in Hillhead, not because the parents are less moral, not because of lack of virtue, but because of the horrible social and housing conditions that this generous, decent crowd have imposed on my people for centuries. When you have these conditions causing the death of these children, do you not think that you have a duty to them, and not towards the people who kill the children? Frankly, I admit that you will carry your Bill to-night, but remember that movements have arisen out of less things than this in the past.
For my part, I do not care for your law because it is neither right nor just. The moment law ceases to be right and just it is oppressive, and it is not worthy of respect by the masses of the people. I will defy your law in my place, and I will urge my people to resist, no matter what the consequences may be. You have no right to impose this law. These people have been out of work in many cases, and, with the nine months' rent which you say they will have to refund, they have bought boots for little Johnny who is at school; they have bought food for themselves, and now you are going to enrich an already rich class, and these people will have to deny themselves food for the next nine months in order to make them richer. I am not having it. I am going to oppose it. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Sir W. Raeburn) tells me he would have supported the tenants under certain circumstances, but he says, whenever a strike takes place, that the strikers are wrong and the bosses are right, whenever a dispute with the tenant and lord-lord takes place, that the tenant is wrong and the landlord is right.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I am under no delusion. The other night, in a perfectly fair way and without abuse or anything else, I tried to get the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill to come even half-way. I asked him to compromise if he could do nothing else for the sake of our people, but to that he turned a deaf ear. But I am appealing neither to him nor to his Government any more. The hon. Member who sits for Kelvingrove (Mr. W. Hutchison) has made some attempt to bolster up the position of the factors. I would have said to him if he had been here that I would not mind leaving my relatively safe seat in the Gorbals Division and fighting him in Kelvingrove. I know who would win. In any case, I am making no further appeal to the Government. You have decided to carry this Bill, but the other step rests with those who have to refund the money. For my part, I trust that some day ere long this excellent example you have shown us will be used, with ill-effects towards a class of people who have neither humanity, decency, or anything else towards the working people of this country.
Mr. SAMUEL ROBERTS
As one of the class who has neither humanity nor decency, I want to say a few words on this Bill. We have to listen sometimes to rather hard words from Members opposite who seem to forget that we on this side are returned by the votes of working people the same as themslves. If it were not for the votes of working people who believe we will deal honestly by them, we would not be here. Those people go on returning us by increasing majorities, and thus show the confidence they have in us. I have listened—I cannot say it has been a pleasure—to the debates on this Bill. I have heard almost every word that has been said about it, not only in this House but in the long and weary hours in the Committee upstairs, and sometimes my mind went back with envy to the days when this country was ruled by the Emperor Hadrian and when he built an impassable barrier from the Solway to the Tyne, as his historian said—I have taken the trouble to look up the passage to obtain the exact geographical indications—in order to restrain the yet untamed barbarians of Caledonia.2266 If that historian had been alive in the year of grace 1923, it is very probable that he would still have left in the words "as yet untamed." As I said, I have listened to all the arguments. I think I have heard them many times over. So far as I know, I have no personal interest whatever in this Bill. So far as I know, my constituents have no interest in the Bill. I have never had a letter from them at all about it, and I think I can try to look at it from an impartial and, may I say, from an English and not from a Scottish point of view. When this Bill was first read and introduced, my first feeling was one of somewhat flinching against two of its aspects. I objected, when I first saw it, to the fact that it did go in for retrospective legislation, and it may be rather a paradox to say so, I also felt, at the same time, that, seeing it did go in for retrospective legislation, it should have gone in for it thoroughly. That is the old feeling, I suppose, that one might just as well be hanged for stealing a sheep as for stealing a lamb.
After the consideration of this Bill for many hours in Committee and in this House, I have come to the conclusion that this Bill is a necessity. I admit it is an unfortunate necessity—unfortunate not because of anything that is the Bill, but because of the set of circumstances which gave rise to the Bill. During the various discussions that have taken place, Members opposite have applied every abstract idea by which to test this Bill. They have weighed it by every possible test and found it wanting. They have weighed it by the test of law, equity, justice, which I suppose we can say is a combination of law and equity, by humanity, by morality, and by logic I think the Bill is probably a very fair one, and is not guilty of the charges made against it except in one respect, and that is in regard to its logic. It certainly cannot plead not guilty when it is accused of not being a logical Bill—if we mean by logic a scrupulous adherence to consistency. But if one were to measure all things, or even run our lives with a scrupulous adherence to logic, I think we should all have more than enough to do. I want to test it by common sense.
I will take that adjective of the hon. Member, "decency," along with the one I was going to use, 2267 "common sense." I will put two questions which I had in mind, and will try and supply the answers. First, what would be the exact effect if this Bill was not passed in its retrospective form? The second question is: If it is passed in its present form, what actual injury is it going to cause generally or to the individual? I want by way of hypothesis to say that I take it for granted that the 40 per cent. increase was intended by Parliament to begin with, and consequently it is a reasonable and fair increase for the landlords to receive.
Very many classes of the community were prevented in 1920 from obtaining the fair market value of what they had to sell. The landlord class that has been attacked so much has been the one class which up to now has been sacrificed by the State for the good of the community. They have been the only class that have been sacrificed, and are still sacrificed at the present time. They alone are compelled by law, are so restricted by law, as to have a fixed price which they shall receive for the commodity they have to offer. All other controls have gone. This is kept on for the good of the community because it has been considered rightly or wrongly—I think probably rightly—that it would have caused too much disturbance in the country if all the controls had been taken off in 1920—or even now. That being the only class that has to bear sacrifice is entitled to this 40 per cent. which Parliament intended to give them, and which Parliament at that time considered reasonable. That being so, I will try to put a few questions. What will happen if the Bill be not passed? The minor effect would be that those people who have not paid their rent—the "rent shirkers," if I may call them so—would have achieved their object and would have retained in their pockets the money they at present retain. That is only the minor effect. The major effect would be that it would be a direct encouragement to a far larger class which up till now have paid, and could, if this Bill were not passed, immedately to claim back from the landlord the 40 per cent. increase over a period of about two years as well as the increased rates over and 2268 above that. So you can see that it is a very large money that already has been paid over to the landlords; a fair amount paid to them for services rendered, and an amount which if it were retained now by the tenants would mean that in a great many cases the landlord would go without rent for a year or perhaps more. The hon. Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Buchanan) and who has immediately vacated his place, as is the custom of many hon. Members who speak from the opposite benches—
On a point of Order. I do not think that that remark ought to be allowed to pass unchallenged.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Gentleman opposite has no knowledge whatever of the reasons which induced my hon. Friend to leave, and he has no right to act upon an assumption.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
The hon. Gentleman said that he has never been out of the House, that he has been here all the time, and that would appear to close the incident.
I apologise to the hon. Member with the greateest of pleasure. The hon. Geentleman says he was here. I did not see him opposite when I was addressing the remarks I did.
I will apologise about that too. I will do anything to please hon. Members. I was going to say that the hon. Member for the Gorbals Division said that nothing was too hard for the landlords. If that is his point of view, and the point of view of hon. Members opposite, argument becomes impossible. We might as well hang the landlords straightaway and have done with it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do you really mean it?"] Well, that is what the hon. Member 2269 said or suggested. He said that nothing was too hard for the landlords. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I would appeal to hon. Members to have some consideration for the difficulties of the Southron!
Hon. Members opposite are accustomed to say such nasty things about on this side, and accustomed to receive such gentlemanly replies, that sometimes when they get a straight blow from the shoulder they do not seem to like it. It is difficult to try to carry forward a consecutive argument on a rather difficult subject under the circumstances. The point I was trying to make when I got a little bit diverted from my course was that the major effect would be that this large number of people would not probably be able to receive any rent at all for a long period, it might be a year. We have heard a great deal about the landlord class, and about the rich and the poor. I should like to say to hon. Members that up till about two years ago I was a practising solicitor. I cannot be accused of any personal interest in the matter now, because I have entirely retired from, practice. [HON. MEMBERS: "Made enough out of the law!"] I am afraid that what I made out of the law would not have enabled me to be here. Before I left the profession, I was engaged in buying and selling for clients in respect of property which comes under the Rent Restrictions Act, and I can say with absolute confidence, and I challenge anybody with experience to deny it, that the vast majority of people with whom one dealt in selling and buying small property, which we in Yorkshire call cottage property, were people who either themselves had started in the world with nothing, or else were the immediate descendants of those who had started with nothing. I said they were buying and selling property of this description, and there were very many of them, and if they are to be deprived of their income, even for one year, they would have to apply themselves for Poor Law relief.
Why are these people to be so severely punished by being deprived of all rents and all means of livelihood for a whole year because the last Parliament made a mistake? A mistake was made in the Act of Parliament, and I cannot understand the attitude of the National Liberal 2270 party, who are equally responsible with our party for the wording of that Act. I cannot understand hon. Members opposite saying that they are not prepared to repair the mistake that was made in that Act. Some people say that the best course to pursue is, if Parliament makes a mistake, let them pay for it, but it is not possible to get at the actual individuals who voted in favour of that Bill and it would resolve itself simply into a question of putting the loss on to the taxpayers. I think that course was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hillhead Division (Sir R. Horne).
Although many of these people may be perfectly willing that the money they have paid should remain in the pockets of the landlord, and although they may not wish to make any claim upon the landlord, once it became known that the Treasury was behind the landlords—there is always a temptation to dip your hands into the coffers of the Treasury—those people who would not think of making a claim on the landlord would not hesitate about making such a claim if they thought the landlords had the Treasury behind them. If that is the only alternative to this retrospective Bill, I am afraid that I can see no other course to pursue than that of supporting this Bill as it stands. With regard to the hardship, we admit there is going to be hardship, if the Bill is not passed, upon the property owner or the landlord, but where is the hardship going to lie if the Bill is passed? I take it that it is admitted that the 40 per cent. increase is fair and reasonable and what Parliament intended the tenants to pay. At any rate, that is the hypothesis I am proceeding upon.
It is stated that so much of the increase was for interest and so much for repairs, but I am not going to be drawn off in regard to that question. Under this Bill there is a right of action which will not cost £20, as has been stated, because you can gel the local authority to make the application on behalf of the tenant, and I am sure the local authority in Glasgow would only be too glad to do anything for hon. Members opposite. As a matter 2271 of fact, the question of repairs does not enter into this matter. Let us consider for a moment the two classes of tenants. Those who have not paid are going to gain considerably by this Bill over and above what is fair and right. They are going to gain all the rent which they kept in their pockets up to December, which Parliament said they ought to pay. That they can retain. With regard to what has happened since December, there, again, they gain because, instead of paying it down, they are going to be allowed to pay it by instalments ranging over a period of three years. Now I come to those tenants who have actually paid, and I think it is fair to argue that they are not suffering very much. Their complaint is that of the just man who pays his dues when he sees his neighbour, who has not paid his dues, getting off easier than he has done. It is like the complaint of the elder brother at the feast of the fatted calf, or of the labourers who received a penny a day whether they worked for 11 hours or for one hour.
The sort of questions asked across the Floor of the House as to individual religious belief are questions which no hon. Member opposite would like to have put to him. We have heard something about conscientious objectors. With regard to the decent and honest people who have paid their rent they are in the exact position that Parliament intended them to be originally, and according to the tenets of honesty and decency they do not suffer at the present time. I contend that neither class of tenants to which I have alluded will suffer under this Bill. The injury which is suffered is only the one class of landlord who did not get his money up to December. They are going to be the only people who will suffer under this Bill, and they are really the only people who are going to be hurt.
In conclusion, I want to restate quite plainly what appears to me to be the obvious reason for the somewhat hysterical opposition to this Bill. Hon. Members opposite say that here is a chance of obtaining something for nothing on account of a technical mistake 2272 in the Act, and they attempt to obtain for their supporters a windfall or a lucky penny. Like a pack of hounds on a hot scent they immediately fall upon their prey. They have tasted blood, and they get something even under this Bill, and this outcry has really all arisen because the present Bill is preventing them from devouring the whole of their victim. It is the cry of resentment after being whipped off.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
The hon. Member who has just sat down has asked us to apply the standard of commonsense to this Measure. May I say that it is because we have applied that standard that we are opposing it, in fact it was from hon. Members sitting above the Gangway that the first suggestion of an equitable settlement of this matter came in Committee of this House. I, for one, was very glad to support them in that, and I should like to remind the House, and the hon. Member who has just spoken, that, instead of being all the time after the landlord's blood, those hon. Members proposed one after another of a series of Amendments in Committee which were calculated to treat the landlord in a most equitable fashion, and to provide that, where moneys had been actually applied, either in payment of rates, in structural repairs, or in mortgage interest, consideration should be given to such circumstances in this Measure. I oppose this Bill for two reasons, which I desire to state very briefly. Firstly, I regard it as a thoroughly unjust and inequitable Measure. There was the possibility of making it a fair Measure, and those of us who put forward that point of view in Committee received no encouragement whatever from the Government or those who represent it.
The suggestion made was that, where moneys had been paid over to the landlord, consideration should be given to whether those moneys had been applied in good faith, in the hands of the landlord, to the payment of rates or to structural repairs, from which the tenants might have benefited: and had that been approved, and had some equitable code been devised, as was urged upon the Government, either by machinery which would have enabled the parties to go to the Registrar of the Court or to put the individual case for consideration before some form of tribunal, it might have been 2273 perfectly possible to work out a settlement which, I venture to think, would have been fair to all the parties concerned. I would remind my hon. Friend that such a proposal was actually made in Committee by those who spoke against the Bill, many of whom are sitting in the House now. Before I pass from that, may I say that the suggestion that some consideration for the difficulties which had arisen should be given in a larger Measure, which would deal with the whole future of rent control, was put forward by no less an authority than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) in his speech on the Second Beading, in which he did not disguise his dislike of the Government's proposals. Like my hon. Friend who has just spoken, he appears to have been driven to accept an unpleasant necessity—I think the words my hon. Friend used were "unfortunate necessity"—as justifying what I venture to describe as a very unfortunate and very unjust Bill.
The second point to which I desire to address myself is the effect of this Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament, upon the traditions of our Courts and of the Legislature. We have heard the monstrous proposition that we are no longer to regard the decision of the highest Court of Appeal in the land as notice to all citizens of this country as to what the law is. It has been put forward by Members of the Government that, instead of the decision of a Court of Appeal, we are now to listen carefully to what is said on the Front Government Bench as to whether or not there may be a possibility of legislation of a retrospective character being introduced at any particular moment. That is an entire subversion of all our legal traditions, and I protest against it as a lawyer, as well as a Member of this House and a citizen. I feel certain that in the country it will be felt that the Government have taken a very unfortunate step, which they will have reason to regret in future years, because they ask that their voice in this House shall take the place of a decision of the Courts of the land in giving notice as to what the law is at any particular moment. Ample notice was given. Let us be perfectly clear about that. I do not want to go into all the points which, I believe, have been discussed already by legal Members of the House with regard to judgments, 2274 but we can go back to 1921, when there was a decision in the Divisional Court in Peizer v. Federmann, which gave notice to all lawyers as to what the construction of this Act was likely to be in face of the particular Clause as to notice. Speaking as a Scots lawyer, I would remind the Solicitor-General, and also the Solicitor-General for Scotland, whom I am glad to see here, that, in a textbook issued in Edinburgh in the year 1920, by one of the best known authorities on the subject of this particular Act in construing the terms of the 1920 Act, and particularly the Clause which was the subject of interpretation in Kerr v. Bryde, it is stated:Strictly construed, the words just quoted"—that is to say, the words "except in respect of a period during which, but for this Act, the landlord would be entitled to obtain possession"—mean that as a condition precedent to any increase of rent the landlord must give the requisite notice to terminate the tenancy, and thereafter serve the statutory notice of the increase of rent.To that text-book free access was to be had by all those who desired to consult the views of lawyers who had studied this question. I should like to know how many lawyers in Scotland gave the advice, in order to safeguard their clients, that they should, in order to avoid any possible question arising, follow the safe and strict construction in order to safeguard the interests concerned. I venture to think that not only was that done in a great many cases, as the Solicitor-General for Scotland will know, but there was a series of decisions, following upon the original decision, which gave notice from time to time as to what the law was likely to be, or as to how it was construed in the Law Courts; and when we come to the judgment of the Court of Session, where there was a unanimous decision on the part of the Scottish Judges, there was ample notice given, at any rate, to all landlords in Scotland. I sincerely hope that the protest which has been made on this occasion by those who desire to see our legal traditions maintained, and that due weight shall be given to the judgments of the highest Court in our land, will be pressed in this House. I foresee the time when the Government will find it to be a very unfortunate precedent that they should 2275 seek to pass a Bill which is founded upon a suggestion of retrospective legislation in this House and which is opposed to the judgment of the House of Lords. Ample notice was given, and those who had not given the notice should have taken immediate steps to safeguard themselves. On these grounds, thinking that it is a thoroughly unequitable Measure, and, further, that it is a Measure which might have been put into a far better form had it been combined with the later Bill which the Government could have introduced, and in which suggestions could have been made for a complete equitable treatment of the whole situation, I shall oppose the Bill.
§ Mr. GALBRAITH
This Bill and the grounds which have been urged in opposition to it raise a very important question. Everyone will recognise the grave and general importance of the question which has been raised with regard to retrospective legislation. Listening, as I have had the pleasure of doing, to the greater part of this Debate, it has struck me that many of the hon. Members opposite have really argued the question in this way: they have said, in effect, that retrospective legislation is undesirable, that this Bill introduces retrospective legislation, and that therefore this Bill is undesirable. With the utmost respect to reasoning of that kind, it occurs to me that if the matter is considered a little more closely it will be seen that there is a grave fallacy underlying that argument. In the first place, may I direct attention to what is the real reason that underlies the objection to retrospective legislation. Primâ facie it is undesirable for the simple reason that when persons have regulated their actions by a definite and correct view of the law, it is obviously impolitic and may inflict grave hardship if an Act is passed altering that state of the law as from a pre-existing date, and thereby affecting the state of the law by which members of the community may have been guided in their acts and their conduct. It has, however, I think, been recognised for at least 50 years—this, I hope, will be some comfort to the hon. Member who spoke last—that there is one well-established exception to that objection to retrospective legislation. It is that where a considerable number of 2276 members of the community have under a common honest mistake considered that the law of the country is, in respect to any particular matter, in a certain state, and then it turns out that that view is mistaken, it has long been considered that it is more in the interests of public policy that that mistaken view should be confirmed rather than that the law as it afterwards turns out to be should be carried into effect anti thereby cause general confusion and lead to a multiplicity of actions.
If hon. Members opposite like to consider the question from the point of view of principle rather than of platform advantage they will find the principle which underlies retrospective legislation laid down in 1870 by the late Mr. Justice Willes, delivering the judgment of a Court composed of seven judges, in a case which attracted a great deal of attention at that time known as Phillips v. Eyre. That was the case of the Governor of one of our West Indian Colonies who, in the course of repressing an insurrection, found it necessary to commit all sorts of illegalities. He was afterwards sued in this country and he set up as a defence an Act of Indemnity which had been passed by the Colonial Legislature, and in delivering the judgment of the Court, Mr. Justice Willes, in a very well known and classical passage, laid down the principle which underlies retrospective legislation and the cases in which it is justified. I should like to read two short passages to show the way in which the law in regard to this matter was laid down by that very distinguished judge. He said:Retrospective laws are, no doubt, primâ facie of questionable policy, and contrary to the general principle that legislation by which the conduct of mankind is to be regulated ought, when introduced for the first time, to deal with future acts, and ought not to change the character of past transactions carried on upon the faith of the then existing law.That is a general principle that no one will dispute. He proceeds:But to affirm that it is naturally or necessarily unjust to take away a vested right of action by Act subsequent, is inconsistent both with the common law of England and the constant practice of legislation.Having dealt with the question of the common law of England, he goes on to say with regard to what he has called the constant practice of legislation: 2277Turning to legislation, the same principle becomes more manifest from the multitude of instances in which it has been applied.Then in a passage which is of extreme relevance, he says:One instance of retrospective legislation, obviously just, to render valid the acts of persons who have fallen honestly into error, and by which infinite actions were killed in embryo, may suffice.There is a very clear and definite statement by a very learned judge of what is the real principle which underlies the objection to retrospective legislation and the principle which underlies an admitted exception to it.
It seems to me the real question in this case is, aye or no, was there a common, honest mistake among a considerable number of His Majesty's subjects with regard to what was the law on this question. We start with regard to that matter from this point. In the first place, it is plain that Parliament at the time it passed the Act of 1920 considered that a notice to quit was not necessary. In fact, when one considers the matter for a moment, that must be obvious. A notice to quit is a means by which the landlord, against the consent of his tenant, is entitled to determine his tenancy. Under the Act of 1920 the notice in question was a notice which the landlord could not validly give and which the tenant, when it was received, was entitled to disregard, so that in no true sense could it be said to be really a notice to quit, and if one has regard, not only to what took place in this House during the passage of that Act, but also to the evidence produced by the Attorney-General on the Second Reading of this Measure with regard to the opinion of the draftsman and the opinion of the Minister who was in charge of it, it is plain that Parliament did not consider that a notice to quit was necessary in order to enable the increase of rent to be obtained. But the matter goes further than that. That view was taken not only by the Minister who had control of the Act of 1920, in a pamphlet which he issued shortly after it was passed, but also was the view adopted and put forward generally in the country by the very astute advisers of hon. Members who sit opposite. May I remind them of a document which had a very wide circulation, called "The New 2278 Rent Restrictions Act of 1920," issued by the National Labour Press, Limited. It starts upon a note of black and unrelieved gloom and it proceeds in this way:The new Rent Restrictions Act is supposed to protect tenants against imposition by landlords. Framed and passed by this profiteers' Parliament, it is naturally weighted heavily on the side of the property owners. They will take full advantage of their opportunity.The note of gloom proceeds:and there seems to be plenty of scope for employment of lawyers. Whether the Act will be worth much to tenants depends upon their vigilance and militancy.That observation may be perfectly correct, but how is the vigilance and militancy carried out in the observations made in this pamphlet upon the question of notice of increase? The portion of the pamphlet dealing with notice of increase framed upon the principle of vigilance is to this effect:Four clear weeks' notice in writing must be given, after 2nd July, 1920, by the landlord of any increase coming under (a), (b), (d). For increase on account of increased rates (c), one week's notice is sufficient. The extra payments begin at the expiration of the notice.So it is perfectly clear that the view taken by the framers of this pamphlet, who were quite rightly advising the tenants to be vigilant and militant, was that the extra payment began at the expiration of the notice of increase. There is not a shadow of suggestion in the pamphlet, from beginning to end, that notice to quit was also necessary. They were advising the tenants, and if it was in the minds of the framers of the pamphlet at the time that any notice to quit was necessary, I think that would have been stated. I am satisfied, rightly or wrongly, that there was in this case an honest mistake among a considerable number of persons in regard to the necessity of a notice to quit, and that that mistaken view was largely acted upon, and if that be the case this matter is brought clearly within the well-established exception to the rule that retrospective legislation is undesirable.
I should like to deal with two points raised by the hon. Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond), points which it appears to me were not well justified. In the first place, he suggested that in this Bill the Government were legislating in favour of one 2279 litigant who had lost. That seems to me an entire misconception of the position. What the Government are doing is carryout the admitted intention of Parliament in passing the Act of 1920 and giving effect to what Parliament intended should be done by that Act, but which, owing to a misapprehension or a mistake of the draftsman, was not in fact properly carried out. It appears to me that it is not an unreasonable thing that this House should give effect to what was the clear intention of its predecessors. The right hon. Member for Swansea asked whether legislation of this kind would have been brought in if the landlords had won the case. Obviously not, and for a simple reason, because if the landlords had won the case of Kerr v. Bryde, the admitted intention of this House would have been given effect to and would have been carried out, and it would have been unnecessary to pass this Bill for the purpose of giving effect to the real intention of Parliament. Looking at the matter broadly, this Bill comes within well established and well-recognised principles, and because I take that view I propose, without hesitation, to vote for the Third Reading of the Measure.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. R. MURRAY
I do not wish to traverse some of the points which have been covered very satisfactorily from this side of the House, but I do not hesitate to share to the full in the feelings entertained by some of the earlier speakers with regard to the basic injustice which this new legislation brings upon the tenants. Essentially it is a landlords', a property-owners' Bill. Essentially, the purpose is to secure for the property owners certain profits and gains to which the law of the land, as it now stands, declares that they have no right. Therefore, I should like not merely to raise a voice on behalf of the section of tenants who are being defrauded of what is justly and fairly theirs but also to point out that the new legislation is just as harsh and as inequitable to a section of property owners as it is to a section of the tenants. If there had been any real desire on the part of the Government to take advantage of the suggestions made from this side of the House, reasonable conditions could have been made and passed into law to secure to a considerable 2280 number of property owners, who are not going to get anything under the new law, something like fair play and equity.
As the Bill stands, we have a clear division between two sections of tenants; on the one hand, between those tenants who retain that which they have already kept in the form of rents, and another section of tenants who have paid and receive nothing. In the same way we have a division between the property owners. In the ensuing year we shall have a tremendous agitation on the part of the tenants who have paid their rents, and who are to get nothing, and we shall also have on the part of the property owners who are losing, a great deal of agitation and unrest. Even at this late hour, I would appeal to the Government to go back upon their foolish policy and to try to secure some better Measure for dealing equitably with both sides, so that the tenants who have paid and the tenants who have not paid shall be placed on something like equality, while the property owners who have received and the property owners who have not received will be treated alike.
The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Sir W. Raeburn) wanted to cut the ground from our objection against this Bill as a piece of retrospective legislation, by pointing to the Taff Vale decision. No one can really suggest that the Taff Vale Bill was retrospective. It is true that it undid and altered entirely a law to which the labour forces of this country objected, and put a new law in its place; but it did not go back to some pre-date and penalise individuals because of the new form of the law. There has been no such effort on the lines of this Bill before. The right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) stressed very largely the fact that property owners were the only people who throughout the War were not given the opportunity of charging the utmost possible profits they could for their commodity. He said that retailers and sellers of different commodities were permitted a considerable amount of latitude which was denied to property owners. The commodities which the other people were supplying were commodities created and brought to the market within a comparatively short time, but the commodity which the property owner was retailing was a commoditiy which had been created a long time, and in most cases the new 2281 rents which he desired to charge were out of all proportion to the original cost of the building, and, above all, to the cost of the upkeep of the building and to the repairs which he was justly expected to carry out.
We have had painted by the other side, by successive speakers, a vision of a factor with wings. I do not know whether there are any factors with wings in England or Wales, but in Scotland we have never recognised that appendage on any of the factors we know there, or it there are wings they are of the hard and horny variety which suggests connection with some other than the angelic regions. Factors have never been particularly benevolent or kind and they will not be so under the new Bill. What we foresee with alarm is the growth of a great deal of opposition and antagonism between the property owner and the tenant, and it is going to extend. You have had it so far between the property owners and those who have stood up on their side for what is the law of the land, and have refused to pay the increase demanded from 1920. Under this new legislation you are going to provoke that hostility between the factor and property owner and those who have conformed to the law in the past and who have paid.
That section of the tenants is going to discover that they are mulcted in sums which their neighbours have retained in their own hands. If we are not prepared to shout from the housetops that this defiance should be given to the law, at all events I am not going to do anything to restrain it, and I foresee the growth of hostility on the part of large sections of the tenants who will defy this Act. What are the Government going to do about the matter? If only a few people refuse to pay the increase sanctioned by this law, there will be evictions, and people will be turned out. But if hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands make up their minds to defy this inequitable, unjust, indefensible law, what are the Government going to do to restore equity and secure law and order in this country? I point out this great danger which lies in front of all classes, and I appeal to the Government to remove it. I ask them to do something to continue the respect which has always existed in this country for law, believing that it will deal equitably between man and man and class and class, and that it 2282 will not do what this is going to do, give to one and hold back from another.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
May I remind the House, in view of what has been said by hon. Members opposite, that the property owner was not the only person in this country who was restrained from raising prices during the War. The Government for their own purposes restricted the selling price of coal, and the mining community suffered accordingly. Instead of colliery wages following the rise in prices of coal, they have fallen. The Government of the day made up their mind to restrict the power of owners of property to raise rents, and in order to do that they passed the Rent Restrictions Acts. Unfortunately, these Measures were passed, as some people said, in a hasty manner. I cannot understand hasty legislation. It may be that the last House of Commons was so well disposed that it was possible to get legislation through in a reasonable time or it may be that Members were all of the one view, so that there was no difficulty in passing legislation. If the Government want to put this matter right then they ought to promote a new Bill making it illegal to get increases from the date of the passing of the Bill, but instead of doing that they say that the payments that certain people have made up to the 1st December are to be retained by property owners, and the other people who did not pay are to go scot free.
The only justification for that is the fact that the Prime Minister made a statement about that time that legislation was likely to be passed. On the last occasion when I spoke on this Measure I referred to the suggestion that hon. Members always pinned themselves down to any statement made by a Prime Minister in this House, and that because the Prime Minister stated a thing, then legislation was to take place from that date. I do not wish the Prime Minister ill; I would like to see him back in his place and enjoying health. But you have no guarantee that he will be Prime Minister when this Bill becomes law, and you have no guarantee that he will be back. When I was younger I was a very keen politician, and I remember reading promises of the wonderful things which we were to get according to certain Prime Ministers. I remember a promise about three acres and a cow. I remember somebody else speaking about making this a land fit for heroes, and the 2283 wonderful promises which were made to soldiers and other Service men as to their conditions when they came back. All those promises have been scrapped. The only thing you refuse to scrap is the latest promise made by the latest Prime Minister.
I do not want to say that hon. Members opposite are any worse or any better than we are, but I do suggest that if they were left free in this matter there would be very little doubt about the result. Rightly or wrongly we believe that they represent the interests of the property owners. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If they do not, they will support us in rejecting this legislation. Is there a single hon. Member opposite who made any statement other than that he was fighting for the owners of property? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] Will any hon. Member attempt to justify retrospective legislation in connection with this matter? I listened to the last hon. Member who spoke reading out a circular trying to prove that some labour body or housing association did not say anything about any notice to quit. There was no need to read that. The Government were owners of houses on this side of the border and they gave notice to quit. I suppose that the greater number on this side of the border gave notice to quit. I do not know anybody who did not know that he would require to finish the tenancy. But they very stubbornly refused, and some people seemed to make light of that refusal. A contract is a very serious thing. If two parties enter into a contract, that contract cannot be broken unless by notice given. Taking a house at a certain rental is fixing a contract. If you intend to alter the rent you must first end the contract. The landlords failed to do it, and in some cases they have not yet done it. Instead of doing it they have come to hon. Members of this House and have exerted their influence to get the Government to cover their defects. It will be a bad day for this country when the Government goes aside in that way to further the interests of any one section of the community.
There are many people who have suffered by the War, and they have had to put up with it. Think of the people against whom you are legislating. They gave up everything at the call of their country. The sons and, in some cases, the fathers went. Now you are loading the 2284 dice against them. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I am amused to hear hon. Members say, "no, no." I say that you are loading the dice against them in every case. Supposing that an hon. Member opposite in his business was affected because the Labour party was able to pass a Bill which said that for five years he had been making too much profit and that it was necessary for the State to get back some of it. He would say some bad words. These people for whom I am pleading carried out their contract according to the law. Now, you say that certain things must happen. The Government have committed themselves to this ridiculous legislation, but I tell them that they are not out of the wood yet, but are rather only at the beginning of it. There are as many loopholes in this Bill as there were in the last Act, and you will not be able to say that this Bill was passed in a hurry. I have no doubt that when you get this Bill through the House, and we put it into the hands of the lawyers, they will be able to find holes in it.
It would be much better if you kept faith with the people. If you intend to give an increase in rent, promote a Measure for that particular purpose. You have no right to legislate retrospectively in this way. I know that the Attorney-General is a very able man in his profession. He says that this Bill will compel people who have refused to pay the increased rent hitherto to pay it as from 1st December. I do not believe that the law of this country will take up that position. I believe that there is yet something in our constitution to protect people from a Measure of this kind. It may suit you now to take the view that you hold, but it will be very bad for you at some other time. If you thought over this question carefully you would realise that it would be better to withdraw the Bill. I represent mainly a mining community. The miners have paid everything that was asked of them, for they had no option. They made protests and we made protests, but the increases were taken off their wages week after week. This Bill says that they are not to get back those payments. I hope that even now Members on the other side will realise what this Bill means. Retrospective legislation is a bad thing, and it is worse when it is tainted with class-feeling.
I believe that, as far as you are concerned and as far as the people you claim 2285 to represent are concerned, it is the beginning of the end. There are two sections in our party. Sometimes you say that we are all the same, but I repeat that there are two sections in our party. There are men who believe in carrying out great changes by a process of evolution. There are other men in our party who say that you people will not obey the law when it is passed against you, and that the only way to make an alteration is to adopt different tactics. [HON. MEMBERS: "Revolution!"] I know that you all laugh at revolution—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It is a very serious matter. Some men seem to think that it is easy to go against the law when it suits them to do so, and they have it in their minds that they can challenge the rights of the common people with impunity at any time. I want to warn them that that is a very bad thing to claim. Moreover, is it worth the candle? All that is at stake here is from £2,000,000 to £3,000,000. I hope that the Government will reconsider this Bill, and I appeal to hon. Members to show their independence by assisting us in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. SPARKES
It is always well to speak from the abundance of one's heart, but I prefer to speak from the abundance of another organ, therefore, my contribution to this Debate will be very brief. I am unable to respond to the appeal made from the other side, because in my opinion it proceeds from an ignorance of an elemental fact with regard to the functions and dignity of the House of Lords as contrasted with this House. The House of Lords in its judicial capacity is not the highest Court in the land. The highest Court in the land is the High Court of Parliament, in this House assembled, for whom we so fervently pray in the incomparable Litany of the national Church. That being so, the whole fabric of the Opposition falls to the ground. We on these benches are not going to be terrified at the awful consequences that may ensue if we embark, following precedent, on what has been called retrospective legislation because we know that the official Opposition is pledged to a ruthless and remorseless campaign of retrospective legislation, whether we resort to it or not. Have they not broadcast their intention to attack vested interests in every species of property?
§ Mr. SPARKES
I ask whether you can put these rents that you say have been taken away from the tenant by retrospective legislation higher than the vested interests which you yourselves are out to destroy? The only difference is that vested interests with the Labour party are not sacrosanct when they belong to the landlord classes, whereas they are untouchable when they belong to the people who are erroneously supposed to be the poorer. The fact is, as is emphasised by evidence from my own constituency, that a large majority of tenants are much better off than their landlords, and there is the scandal going on of tenants sticking in houses and realising very large incomes by sub-letting at figures very often far exceeding the rent they pay, or refuse to pay, to their landlords. The Labour party are not out to destroy the feudal system, not always.
§ Mr. SPARKES
That is not so. They are destroying all the benefits, emoluments and privileges of the feudal system, but are seeking to add day by day to the burdens, and in that way they are preserving the feudal system. It is their hatred even of the very word "landlordism." I am not going to accept on behalf of the back-benchers on this side of the House the sordid, miserable issue as to whether this Measure does or does not give rise to retrospective legislation. The only issue we accept is, "Is there a wrong to be righted?" and we are convinced that there is. We say that the primary functions of the High Court of Parliament are to reveal, revise, and, where necessary, reverse decisions of any Law Courts, and we are not to be diverted or turned aside from that resolution, but shall do what we think right without regard for any wretched party, political, shibboleth such as retrospective legislation.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I want to make a final attempt to appeal to the Attorney-General. I want to try to let the House understand how it comes about that we have had the legislation which is under discussion, how that the landlord, the factors, who have been so nobly defended by Members in the Government at the 2287 moment, from 1915 up to the beginning of 1916 harassed the widows and orphans of the men who had been killed in battle and threw them out of their houses into the streets of Glasgow, how we had to defend them and at the very risk of our lives, how conditions became so very serious that we eventually defied law and order in Glasgow when I led 1,000 men in from Parkhead works and took over the Sheriff Court, and gave the Sheriff the bag. That could not be allowed to continue, and what was said anon to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George)? He sent Lord Hunter up to Glasgow to make inquiries into what was the matter, and Lord Hunter was not a fortnight back here in London before an Act was placed on the Statute Book of the country providing that for the duration of the War and six months afterwards there would be no increase in the rent. It was not, as some hon. Members have tried to demonstrate here, a kind of philanthropic landlord class or the kind of Government that was in power that introduced the Rent Restriction Act. It was sheer terror. They had to choose, had the Government of the day, between loosing the War and satisfying the Clyde workers at that time. They could not afford to fight the Germans and fight the Clyde workers, so they decided:fac's are chiels that winna ding.to placate the Clyde workers, and they could not placate them without giving the same concession to all Britain. Therefore, it became an Act affecting all Britain. It is the same class, this kind, generous class, this class about whom the widow and orphan were trotted out. I was before the Lords and heard the plea that was put up by the representative of landlordism in the other place. I went and listened to all their plea. I heard Dunedin, that donnering, wandering auld man, stating the case on behalf of the landlords and factors. Listen, and I will recount it. He said this. He was appealing to the other four Lords who refused to agree with him because he was absolutely blethering.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It is not in order to asperse the decisions of a Judge except by a formal Motion before the House.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
If I transgress, you can pull me up. I am going on till you do pull me up. He appealed there on behalf of the widow and orphan, and as I heard him, you would have thought that it was my people he was appealing for. But it was the landlord and factors he was appealing for.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
As I understand the hon. Member, he is aspersing a judicial pronouncement by one Law Lord in the House of Lords. That is absolutely out of order except upon a definite Motion.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am only using the argument that led up to that. I think I am entitled to use that argument. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I have taken legal opinion on that, and I ask your decision now.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I have already ruled that if the hon. Gentleman is speaking by way of criticism and adverse comment he is out of order. If he quotes the words of the decision only, then no doubt he will be in order.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
It is for you to decide whether I am quoting it with comments or otherwise. As a result of the decision of the Lords, this Measure has been brought forward by the Government. We fought this right up to the Lords, and I want to tell the Attorney-General that the people in my constituency are as keen on this matter today as they were at the beginning. A week ago to-day I held a meeting in Dumbarton at three o'clock in the afternoon when between 4,000 and 5,000 people were present. They brought me back to Scotland last week-end, and on Sunday I held a meeting in Clydebank when there was an audience of over 10,000 interested in this matter. It is a very serious matter. Be warned in time. That was a very useful warning which you got from the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Sullivan).
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member must not refer, even to his most cherished colleague, by that name.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I thought I had corrected it by mentioning that he was the member for Lanarkshire. I want the Attorney-General to keep this fact in his mind, that he is dealing with a people 2289 who have hammered this question inside out for over seven months. It is not a matter of a moment, it is a matter that has been hammered out by a thoughtful race and not a flippant people who can be turned by any wind that happens to blow. They believe that, unless you make some further concession, they are being seriously wronged—particularly, as I pointed out in Committee, the people who did not take our advice. It is not the people who have acted as I have acted—because I have not paid any rent in order to eat up the increases which were paid illegally according to the decision of the highest Court of my native land—but the people who rested their confidence in you, who believed you would do justice no matter what it cost, who believed that justice would be done should the heavens fall and who believed that there was a sense of honour in the English speaking people—the people who did not listen to the voice of Labour warning them—these are the people whom you are turning down. I hope when a reply is being made to us from the other side due regard will be had to that fact.
In my constituency there is a place known as the "Holy City," built by Sir Robert McAlpine, and I ask hon. Members to come to my constituency and see it for themselves. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would come to the places to which I could bring them it would alter their outlook because I do not believe they are void of feeling, and I believe if they knew and understood the conditions under which the people live, move, and have their being, then they would understand our appeal. What do we find in that "Holy City." If you drive a three-inch nail into the partition of one of the houses, the people next door can hang pictures upon it. [Laughter.] I knew hon. Members would laugh, but it is a fact. The people have got to paint pictures on the wall because there is no room for hanging them. That is one of the men on whom you have bestowed honours—Sir Robert McAlpine, another friend of the right hon, Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. I wish hon. Members could only see these rabbit hutches. When this place was taken over by the Clydebank Council, close on 60 of these houses were condemned as unfit for human habitation; yet all these houses are again occupied and these are houses 2290 on which this increase has been put. Believe me, Mr. Attorney-General, that is the type of man for whom you are legislating.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that is the type of man in favour of whom the Government is going to legislate and not on behalf of the widow and orphan. My colleague who sat beside me in the Glasgow Town Council, Donald Fletcher—Bailie Donald Fletcher now—a factor, told me that if we got our way, if we got going right on until the retrospective Act came into operation and everything was forgiven, that he would lose between £70,000 and £80,000. Was he a widow or an orphan? He thought that would be a knock-out to me, but I said to him, "Donald, you will no' lose your ham and eggs for breakfast," and he said, "It will no' come to that, David." That may all seem comical, but behind it there is a tragedy. The picture of the widow is being painted for the simple-minded men opposite. That was the intention of the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Sir W. Raeburn). He was playing on your simplicity when he talked about the widow and the orphan being affected. I assure you that such is not the case. On a previous occasion I read a letter—which was printed in the Press—a letter sent me from a soldier in hospital who had been wounded five times while serving in France and was a wreck lying in Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow. The letter stated that the factor had come and taken away part of his furniture, and unless the rent was forthcoming was going to put his wife and five children out in the street. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] I will give you the name and address, again, of the factor who did that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give it now!"] Brown, Bath Street, Glasgow. [An HON. MEMBER: "Only one of many!"]
These are the cases, and you wonder why we are angry, and why we get excited about the matter. It is because we, who have been turned down, are the men who have defended the widow and orphan, defended the soldier's widow, the soldier who gave his all in order to defend his country, whom you promised—and I 2291 believe you were sincere at the time—that you would stand by him, and this is the way he is being stood by. Those who struggled to pay that increase in rent are now being turned adrift, and the landlord and factor are walking away with the swag. I believe the landlord and the factor have a case, and we have admitted that all along. We extended the right hand of fellowship to the landlord and the factor in Glasgow, and we said, "Let us come and commune together, and see if we cannot find a way out of the difficulty." We were reasonable. We could have gone to our people and told them to pay no rent, and they would have paid no rent, and there is no power on earth which could make them pay rent if they made up their minds not to pay. It is quite a different thing from grocery goods, from ham and eggs. You have to go into the grocer's shop and buy half a pound of goods, but you do not go and buy half a pound of houses. In the case of a house, all a man has to do is simply to stay in the house and pay no rent, and the British Army could not have made him pay it. You would think this was a new matter, this harshness of the landlords and factors, but let me quote the national bard of my country:I've noticed, on our Laird's Court dayAr' mony a time my heart's been wasPuir tenant bodies, scant o' cashHoo they maun thole a factor's snashHe'll stamp and threaten, curse and swearHe'll apprehend them, pin their gearWhile they maun staun wi aspect humbleAn' hear it a' an' fear and tremble.That is going away back to the time of Burns, over a 100 years syne, and the factors still continue. You have a glorious opportunity to amend all these wrongs that have been done to our people in the past and that are still being done at the moment. You have an opportunity now, and I want to appeal to you in all sincerity. I know that you are willing, if you thought it was right. I know that you are capable. I do not wish to flatter you in any way, and I am not going to flatter you. It is not my line to flatter, but I believe that if you were big enough, here is an opportunity for you to stand forth as the champions of the poor in Britain to-day. Talk about reconstruction! 2292 Here is an opportunity to reconstruct Britain, to raise hope in the hearts of the common people, that those who are in power, while we may differ from them, when it is put to them will not see the poor downtrodden and turned on the street, as they are at the moment. Therefore, I appeal to you.
Mr. HASTINGS: It must be apparent that there are some hon. Members to whom this is a very real and pressing question, and undoubtedly it is of much greater importance in some constituencies than it is in others. I wish to say quite frankly that in my constituency there is not the feeling about this Bill which there obviously is north of the Tweed, but there is one matter with regard to it with which I am being faced regularly, and I am satisfied that many other Members must equally have been faced with it from time to time. There is, in my constituency, a very genuine belief that this Bill is directed against one section of the community and in favour of another. I am sure a great many Members, whatever their views may be, must have met in their constituencies innumerable people who have expressed that view. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am quite satisfied that many have. I have myself, and I am certain that a great many have—not all, perhaps, but some—at any rate, many of those whom their constituents may think take a very sympathetic view towards one section of the community, and perhaps are more easily approached, or their constituents think, rightly or wrongly, that they are.
I am going to ask the House, and the Attorney-General in particular, to see whether there is not a great deal of truth in that view, and a great deal of justification for it, before I suggest what I am going to do about the merits of the Bill itself. Just see what is the position of a more or less uneducated tenant at this moment, and what it has been all this year, because we have got to realise—at least, I realise—that the ordinary tenant is not in a position to go to law. He does not understand the law. He simply takes it as it is given to him, and believes in it. There were many tenants in my own constituency who for the first time realised there was any question under this Act when they heard a discussion about the decision of the House of Lords, and they thereupon went to a solicitor, or, if they 2293 could not afford that, one of their friends went to a solicitor, and they received advice, which was good advice, advice which I am satisfied the Attorney-General would not think for a moment was not absolutely good legal advice, and that was that the rent that they had been paying in many instances, if there was not a notice to quit, was illegally obtained and could be recovered. To most of those people they made it perfectly plain that they could not recover it—they could not go to law—and they were told that they could recover it merely, and legally, by not paying the rent as it became due. They did that in innumerable cases.
I would like to point out that it is a tragedy for a person suddenly to be called upon to pay back rent. It is an impossibility for people who are working at the present low rate of wages even to pay their existing rent, and to be called upon to pay months of back rent is an impossibility. The position, then, is this, that these very people have now, to my knowledge, done this very thing. They have now asked under this Bill what the position is, and whether or not they are entitled to keep the position they had at law. The answer has been given, "No, you cannot. This Act says that money which you, in fact, were made to pay illegally, you cannot recover back, and the money which you have sought to deduct perfectly legally you have got to repay." The very person then, to my knowledge, has said to his adviser, "But is the landlord in the same position? Does he have to repay the money which he has illegally retained?" He has been advised, "No, he can keep it." Can anyone doubt for a moment that not only he, but literally thousands of people all over the country, have a really genuine feeling that that is deliberately intended to benefit one section at the expense of the other. They may be right, or they may be wrong, but can anybody doubt that that feeling exists? Of course it exists, and every hon. Member must know that there are enormous numbers of people in his constituency, rightly or wrongly, who have that feeling.
May I ask the House to consider what is the justification now for this retrospective action? Consider, for a moment, what the history of the thing is. I am going to refer to a document, as an hon. and learned Member opposite referred to 2294 a document. It is not a statement by a Member of the Government, ex post facto, long after the matter has happened, stating what his recollection is; but a document written at the time by a Member of the Government who was responsible for passing this very Act. Just see what the excuse is for this restrospective legislation? Everybody in the House knows perfectly well that retrospective legislation is abhorrent to us all. I am quite satisfied every lawyer would say the same, and that every hon. Member who is not a lawyer would say so. Right from the beginning of this Act, practically, every Court in the country has decided that a notice to quit was absolutely necessary. I can only speak in this matter from what I have been told by learned friends of mine, who practice in the County Courts, that all the County Court Judges in London, without exception, have decided that this Act did require a notice to quit, months before the House of Lords' decision, it was decided in England and in Scotland.
We know what, in fact, happened in January, 1922. That is over a year ago. Hon. Members will recall that when this was debated before, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) spoke against this Bill, and the Solicitor-General then produced a document which was placed on the Table of the House. That document is, of course, in the possession of us all, and I want to refer to it. It is vital, and I am sure hon. Members will agree with me. It is perfectly true, and well known—and I, amongst others, have got to face the fact—that there is one thing in which all hon. Members of the House heartily join, and that is their dislike for lawyers. One cannot forget that the Attorney-General is a lawyer, and that when he sits on that Bench he is generally surrounded by other lawyers. I am sure he will agree with me that if you go into a Court of Law, and there seek to discuss a Statute, the one thing which no junior in practice will venture to do is to discuss what the House of Commons intended when they passed the Statute. That would never be permitted for a single moment. Why not? Because nobody knows what the House of Commons intended to do. Even when there are Divisions, nobody knows what they intend to do; but when there are no Divisions, certainly nobody knows. In fact, I remember that one hon. and 2295 learned friend of mine, who is a Member of this House, has already admitted that on this Bill he has gone into the wrong Lobby by mistake once. No doubt, it is very difficult, sometimes, for hon. Members who come up rather late to be quite certain of knowing what they are going to do.
Therefore, for anyone to pretend that he knows what the House of Commons intended is perfectly futile. It is not only the case with an Act of Parliament. If you are construing a contract—and hon. Members opposite are often very anxious to remind us of the sacredness of contracts—you cannot say what the parties intended when they made the contract. The only ground on which you can ever vary it is by saying that they mutually agree that they have made a mistake. The right hon. Member for West Swansea was a member of the Government when this Act was passed. I invite the Attorney-General's attention to this, that, so far as I know, there is no document he has produced at all, of any member of the Government, which is in any way contemporaneous, which would tend to show that any hon. Members in the House did not intend this Bill to be brought out and to come to the result we now know it to be. We have got the document—a very careful memorandum—by the then Minister of Health who, I think, was the President of the Board of Trade and a member of the late Government when this was passed. It states his view about this in 1922, and he in no way suggests, for a moment, that this Bill did not carry out the intention of the House when it was passed.
This was a private and confidential memorandum, which could not have been overlooked; which nobody could have seen; addressed by himself to the Cabinet in power at the time. I have it in my hand. It is quite true that the right hon. Gentleman is not a Member of the Government now, and is prepared to go into the Lobby against the Bill; but he then was, as we know and as the Solicitor-General has pointed out, suggesting to the Government that they should introduce the same sort of retrospective legislation which the Government are introducing now. Something, no doubt, has occurred since to make him change his view. No one suggests for a moment that a Member 2296 of the late Government is not entitled to change his view, and so long as he changes it by voting in these Lobbies we do not object to the change. We are entitled, however, to say this. Here is a Minister of the Crown writing out, in his own handwriting, his view about this Act of Parliament. One hon. Member told us that it was admitted, by statements made by hon. Members opposite, that this was a mistake. I venture to suggest that that is a travesty of an admission. Would the Attorney-General, outside the House, for a moment, if he were in a Court of Law, admit without question a statement which somebody made some years afterwards as to what he intended before? Nobody would suggest it was not true, but the very first question he would ask would be, "You say you did not mean this, was it ever present to your mind at all?" Probably the answer would be, "It never was," and unless he could have all the other Members, who may have supported this, because it was present to their minds, how could anybody say it was a mistake? When we get the President of the Board of Trade, in his own words, saying what this Bill meant, can it be suggested by the Attorney-General that this was a genuine mistake? I am going to read it. It is only two lines. The right hon. Member quoted the Section under which the dispute had arisen—Section 31—and his comment upon it is this, not, as you expect, that it was a mistake, and was never intended that it should be so mistaken, but this:The effect of this provision is, of course, to prevent any increase of rent during the currency of an existing agreement between landlord and tenant.There is the view put forward in writing by the Minister of the Crown to his Cabinet 12 months ago, and in the very document in which he is recommending the precise form of legislation which the Attorney-General is suggesting now. The words are not exactly the same, but the meaning of the learned Solicitor-General was that the right hon. Gentleman, in opposing this Bill now, was going in direct contradiction to what he was supporting himself in 1922. The right hon. Gentleman who put forward this Measure stated in terms that the object was what the House of Lords said it was, because there had been numerous decisions in that respect. That was known 2297 before the House of Lords gave their decision at all, in January, 1922, and now at this moment, when the present Government desires to introduce a retrospective Bill, they come forward and say it is admitted a mistake was made.
The whole basis of the Solicitor-General's argument and also the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General was that the reason why this Bill should be made retrospective was because there had admittedly been a mistake made. I venture to suggest to the Attorney-General that some time he may consider this: how can he venture to hope that, if the House of Commons were asked what were their intentions, anyone present would have been able to say what was meant? Therefore, this is an attempt to put something right that was obviously a mistake made by another Government. I say with all seriousness to the Attorney-General that I object to the principle that the House of Commons is entitled to say that they are retrospectively to repeal an Act of Parliament simply and solely because they think a previous House of Commons has made a mistake. I think it would be little short of a legislative tragedy if that were done Some people regard this Bill as a sort of indemnity. It may be that, at some, time, this House will have to consider an Indemnity Bill proper, and. I venture to suggest that it would be a very unfortunate thing if ever it should be suggested that any House is entitled to use its majority, which in this House is sufficient to carry any Bill the Government wants to carry, if it is to be suggested that this House is entitled to say that, because a Member of a late. Government tells us now that they never intended the result that has been achieved, that on that ground and that alone the House would be entitled to pass retrospective legislation.
There is no doubt whatever that there is the gravest hardship inflicted by this Bill upon a section of the community. How does the Attorney-General and how do any hon. Members who are seeking—and I believe they are endeavouring to hold the balance evenly in this matter—how do they think that these people in Scotland can pay this rent? How do they imagine that a person who cannot pay rent now is going to pay the amount of increased rent that is in arrears? 2298 Although every man has been taken to know the law, how could anyone suggest that every man on the Clyde knew what the Prime Minister said in Parliament last November? They could not have known what legislation he was to produce. You could not suggest that, although everybody is supposed to know the law, everybody is supposed to know what a Minister says in the House of Commons. When the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) makes his speeches to this House, his observations are often met with laughter, but he feels, and feels rightly, that these people for whom he speaks cannot pay those rents. Is it seriously to be suggested that these people, every one of them, have to pay this money back again and are seriously to be made to do it in this way? I sincerely ask the Attorney-General to think for a long time before he puts forward a system of retrospective legislation based on an alleged mistake of a previous Government.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Douglas Hogg)
Unfortunately, I have had to speak, both in this House and in the Committee room upstairs, a great many times upon what is a very short Bill, containing one, really operative main Clause and two minor or subsidiary Clauses, and I feel some little hesitation when I find myself about to inflict another speech upon a topic which I have discussed very fully both on Second Reading, on Committee stage, and on Report stage, and when I find that the points, about which I must talk, because they are the points which have been dealt with in argument, are points on which I have already had a great deal too much to say. The hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition, in his Amendment to the Third Reading Motion, has set out quite fairly what all through has been the principal objection raised against this Bill. He has said that this Bill is a specially objectionable example of retrospective legislation. I want to say at once at the close of this discussion, so far as this House is concerned, what I think I said in my opening sentences when introducng this Bill on its Second Reading, that nobody pretends that retrospective legislation is a desirable thing in itself.
Anyone who asks this House to pass retrospective legislation has to justify 2299 that request. It is not in itself an answer merely to say of any Bill that it is retrospective. The hon. and learned Member for East Surrey (Mr. Galbraith) in his speech quoted cases in which it had been pointed out by a learned Judge—by no less a Judge than Mr. Justice Willes—that retrospective legislation had often been passed by the House of Commons. The objections to retrospective legislation are I think fairly stated as follows: First of all it is said—and rightly said—that it is not right, where people have been induced to act upon one particular view of the law, which is the correct view, to turn round and alter the law to their detriment. Secondly, it may be said that where Parliament has arrived at a deliberate decision upon the question at issue between the great parties in the House, it is not right that a subsequent Parliament should reverse the decisions so arrived at. Thirdly, it may be said where a man has deliberately defied an Act of Parliament, defied the law in order to gain an advantage for himself, it is not right that Parliament should allow him by retrospective legislation to retain that advantage.
I hope in the course of the observations which I am going to submit to the House to satisfy hon. Members that those canons are not infringed by the Bill which we are asking the House to pass. The Leader of the Opposition began his argument by saying that the meaning of this Statute was always perfectly plain, that there could be no doubt that a notice to quit was necessary, and that anybody reading the Statute must have known it. He cited a pamphlet issued by some property owners' association, and a book written by a solicitor, which expressed the view that notice to quit was necessary. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Eastern Surrey (Mr. Galbraith) for his part cited a pamphlet written by a tenants' association, which expressed no such view, and referred only to the notice of increase as being necessary. But it does not rest merely upon the opinions of individual associations. I have, first of all, judicial authority for pointing out that it was not clear. As has been so often said, two out of the five Law Lords, so far from it being clear that notice to quit was necessary, held, in fact, that under the Bill notice to quit was not necessary. One of those five Law Lords, 2300 one who agreed that notice to quit was necessary, went out of his way in the course of his judgment to point out that the language used in the Act was, to use his own expression, misleading. [AN Hon. MEMBER: "Who was that?] Lord Atkinson. I hope hon. Members will realise that I am not saying that the decision of the House of Lords was wrong. I am not suggesting that. What I am saying is that it is impossible to contend, in my submission, with any sort of plausibility that the opposite view was not, at any rate, a very natural one to take. If we are going to take the decision in Scotland, let me once more remind the House that the decision given, so far as I know, was a decision given in Scotland that notice to quit was not necessary.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
The hon. and learned Member who has just summed up the case for the Opposition said that it was impossible—to use his own words—to go into the question of what Parliament meant when it passed this Bill, and he said quite truly that in a court of law you had to look at the statute itself and not at the discussions in the OFFICIAL REPORT. We are not trying now to construe this statute, but we are trying to correct a defect which has been exposed by the construction of the statute. When my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Hastings) said that lawyers were net popular in this House, I could not help wondering whether one of the reasons was that lawyers, when they came to be statesmen, could not forget their legal habits. The hon. Member went on to quote from a memorandum which was issued in January, 1922, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) which was published as a result of the previous discussions in this House and he quoted from the beginning of that pamphlet the sentence in which the right hon. Gentleman said,The effect of this provision is, of course, to prevent any increase of rent during the currency of an existing agreement between landlord and tenant.My hon. and learned Friend read that as if it helped his argument, but I think the House will appreciate that it does just the opposite. That was the object of the provision, which was that, 2301 whereas Parliament was saying in 1920 it was legal to increase by 40 per cent. existing rents, it was not applying the increase to cases in which there was an existing bargain between landlord and tenant, and it was owing to that bargain and not to the Act of Parliament that that tenant was entitled to remain in possession. That is the meaning of the words which were quoted, and I will quote one or two other sentences a little later on in his memorandum. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea goes on to say—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Certainly, I will read it. It is as follows:Thus, in the case of a weekly tenancy, the tenancy must first be terminated by a notice to quit, which, if given, converts the tenant into a 'statutory tenant' at the expiration of the notice. Not until he has become a statutory tenant can the permitted increases of rent under the Act be demanded of him, though the Courts have held that a notice to increase the rent may be given simultaneously with a notice to quit, provided, of course, that the former does not become operative before the latter has expired.That states quite accurately, I think, the grievance that was being brought before the Cabinet. He goes on to say:I am, however, informed that the great majority of landlords have been under the impression that notice of an intention to increase rent given in the prescribed form, was the equivalent of a notice to quit in all cases where a month's or a week's notice to quit, as the case may be, would have been sufficient to terminate the existing tenancy"—that is to say, that no separate notice to quit was necessary. This impression, says the right hon. Gentleman,was not, in my opinion, an unreasonable one.Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman had not the same legal acumen that the hon. Member for Aberavon was claiming.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
Certainly, in 1922, even after all these decisions. In January, 1922, after the decisions had begun to be given, the right hon. Gentleman is bringing the matter before the Cabinet in order to point out that the great majority of laymen had not thought that any notice to quit was necessary, although the hon. Member for 2302 Aberavon says they must have all known it; and the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that in his opinion and experience, and in the circumstances in which the Act was passed, that impression was not unreasonable.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member made use of an unparliamentary expression, and I must ask him to withdraw it.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
Certainly. I read what I did because I thought it was the only relevant point, but I am anxious to read the whole. It is as follows:This impression was, in my opinion, not an unreasonable one, since"—the right hon. Gentleman goes on to give his reasons—notice of an intention to increase the rent payable under the existing tenancy might well be regarded as notice of an intention to put an end to that tenancy.I think the right hon. Gentleman's reasons were, as usual, very excellent ones. I agree both with his reasons and with his conclusions. The only thing I regret is that, though in January, 1922, he arrived at those conclusions, and went on to recommend legislation on lines not dissimilar from those which we are now recommending, he should announce his intention to vote against our Bill in May, 1923.
2303 That, then, was the first point which the hon. Member for Aberavon made. Now the suggestion is made—I was sorry to hear it made again—that the only cases in which we support or introduce retrospective legislation were where the landlords' interest was concerned. May I remind the House once again—I hope for the last time—that in this very Bill you have enshrined the retrospective provision which was first enacted in the Emergency Provisions Act, 1917, and is now in Clause 14 of this Bill, whereby Parliament deliberately reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal which had been given for the landlord and against the tenant, and enacted that where before or after the passing of the Act tenants had obtained moneys which could not legally be exacted, they should be entitled to recover them from the landlord, although at common law they had no such right.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is only by virtue of that enactment that any tenant has even any claim to get money back apart from the Bill we are now bringing in. But for that this question would never arise. [Interruption.] No, the hon. Member is mistaken. The Lords' decision did not decide that the tenant should get the money back. It decided that the extra rent was not recoverable by the landlord, which is quite a different thing. The second vice of retrospective legislation is when it reverses a deliberate decision arrived at by Parliament. It is, I think, obvious to every Member of the House that nobody in the House of Commons or, I suppose, in the other place, had any idea when they were passing this Act that they were imposing upon the landlord an obligation to give, or on the tenant a risk of receiving notice to quit before he could give notice to increase the rent. One has listened in vain for a suggestion of there being any use to anyone in such a notice. The Lord Justice even, in the very case the hon. Member for Aberavon referred to, spoke of this in his judgment in terms of utmost regret as, to use his own expression, an idle and useless formality, and, in fact, so it is. The only hon Member I have heard challenge 2304 that suggestion was the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) who pointed out at an earlier period this evening that where a landlord gave a notice to quit at the same time as the notice of increase, if the increased rent was not paid the landlord was in a position to get an ejectment order against the tenant. How that can be suggested to be an advantage to the tenant, I cannot tell. So that whatever else is clear in this obscure Statute, or in this controversy, this at least must be beyond dispute, that it could not help the tenant to be given a notice to quit, and that it could not help the landlord to avoid giving such a notice. The only explanation why the landlord did not give it must be either that out of consideration for his tenant he deliberately abstained from unnecessarily unsettling his mind, or else, what I think was probably the real explanation in the great majority of cases, because he never dreamt any such notice was required. It is idle, therefore, to talk of reversing the deliberate decision of the House, because it is obvious this House never came to any decision on the matter at all. The hon. Member for Silvertown spoke of the fact that there had been in his recollection a discussion about the necessity of serving notice. He is quite right, but the notice that was discussed was the notice the Act rendered necessary, the notice to increase, and though I have looked carefully in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I am unable to find any Member in any part of the discussion ever suggesting the necessity of a notice to quit.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is not a point of Order. The hon. Member may make an explanation if the Attorney-General gives way to him.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Member will understand that I am not in the least challenging the bonâ fides of his explanation, but I have looked in the 2305 OFFICIAL REPORT, and I have been unable to find it. It may be that I have over-looked it. I do not pretend to be infallible.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The only discussion that I can find is on the question of the notice of increase. What encourages me to think that perhaps the hon. Member has been mixing up some other discussion, is that in his speech to-day he said that the object with which the Act was passed was to assist the men who wanted munitions in the trenches.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Member nods assent. That Bill was passed in July, 1920; therefore, I think the hon. Member must be mixing up some other discussion.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is not a very big point. Another point which the hon. Member for Aberavon made, a point emphasised by more than one subsequent speaker, was that in many cases increases of rent have been demanded which, apart altogether from any question of notice to quit, are not justified under the Act of 1920. The hon. Member referred to a certain village, and he also referred to the case of a house at Harlesden Road, in which there was no notice of increase as prescribed by the Act, and where the notice was merely that the tenant would have to pay more rent. This Bill does not validate any increase of rent for which notice has not been given in accordance with the Act of 1920. It is only where there has been a notice of increase that is valid that the Bill says that the notice to quit need not be added to it. If the notice of increase is in itself given in a form which does not comply with the Act of 1920, the hon. Member may be perfectly happy—and I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Wallsend (Mr. Hastings) will assure him—that this Bill does nothing to make those notices good.
I pointed out that the effect of the Bill is to throw all these cases back into Court.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
My hon. Friend is mistaken in thinking so. The effect of the Bill is not to touch these cases at all. They remain in exactly the same position as if this Bill were not passed. Hon. Members once more gave descriptions of premises, which I am sure were given with real feeling because of facts which they have witnessed with their own eyes, and which they feel very deeply. They gave descriptions of houses which were not fit to live in, and in regard to which no rent, and certainly no increase of rent, ought to be exacted. This Bill does not touch that question.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I would remind the hon. Member that there are provisions which we are bringing forward in regard to slum areas, and some of which we have in the Housing Bill which we are now discussing in Committee. During the discussion on the Report stage more than one hon. Member pointed out that there was a difficulty in getting the suspension order which is given by the 1920 Act and by this Bill in cases where houses are not in a proper state of repair. It was said that it was too expensive a matter for the tenant, and that he does not understand how to do it. I cannot give any definite pledge about it at this stage, because obviously any alteration in this matter will have to take place on the main Rent Restriction Bill which is going to be introduced after Whitsuntide, but I should hope that there was a way of getting out of the grievance. I strongly dissent from the proposal put forward last week that the sanitary authority should be turned into some form of judicial body. I think that that would be altogether a mistake, but I think that it might be possible to provide that where a tenant could obtain a certificate from the sanitary authority that the house was not in a proper state of repair, he could use that fact as a defence against any claim by the landlord, and could use the certificate as primâ-facie evidence in support of his case. That would go a long way, at any rate, to meet the objection that has been raised opposite. The House will understand that I have no authority to make a promise to do this. I have submitted it to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, and he 2307 promised it very sympathetic consideration, and I have great hopes that something on those lines may be done.
I was a little disappointed at the attitude of the right hon. Member for Swansea, who considered my attitude towards Amendments in the Committee with regard to houses which were not in repair as being unsympathetic and showing a lack of appreciation of the problem. I was sorry to hear that, but I was a little consoled when I looked through the nine days' proceedings and saw that on only two days was the right hon. Gentleman present at the Committee, and that on neither day was that Clause of the Bill under discussion. Another criticism which has been levelled against our proposals, a criticism which has come from both sides, is with regard to the date which we have taken, the 1st of December, 1922. It is said on the one hand that if we are going to be retrospective at all we ought to go right back to the date of the principal Act, and that it is not fair that the man who has paid his rent up to December, 1922, should be in a worse position than the man who was in arrears at that date, who gets off the payment of arrears. That is a very natural criticism, and a legitimate point. There were two reasons why the Government adhered to that date, one, perhaps, theoretic and the other practical. The theoretic one is based upon the reasoning by which retrospective legislation has been so rightly condemned, because the ground of objection is that it is not fair where a man has acted on a particular view of the law that you should afterwards change it and put him in a worse position than if the law had not been what he knew it was.
If we were to say that people who had withheld their rents because they knew those rents were not due, were nevertheless now to be made to pay them, we should undoubtdly by infringing that principle. Our view is that, logically and rightly, we ought not to give way to the suggestions which have been made, that we should put these people in a worse position by reason of this legislation. The other reason is a practical one, suggested in an interruption which I have overheard. Under this Bill, if it becomes law some time within the very near future, 2308 there will be arrears of rent, in many cases from 1st December, for nearly six months. If we were to say that in addition to this there was to be a large sum of arrears before 1st December, in practice I do not think that the landlord would ever get the money and you would be putting on the tenant a burden which it would be impossible for him to bear. On the other hand, the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last said that we were doing that already, because, he stated, "You are saying that the tenant, who already is hard put to it to pay his rent, shall have to pay up months of arrears when he has not the money to do it." If we had not foreseen and dealt with that difficulty we should have been open to criticism, but hon. Members will see, on looking at the Bill, that we have foreseen and dealt with the difficulty, because we have provided that only a small instalment shall be paid week by week, and we have in Committee so reduced the amount of the instalment that it will take, as far as I am able to reckon, something like five years for the arrears to be paid off. That, of course, is a very long period over which the extra sum has to be paid, but it indicates, at any rate, that we have done our best to meet the real difficulty and not to impose an impossible burden on those who have chosen to take advantage of the decision since 1st December and have withheld their rents altogether for six months.
I think I have exhausted the matters about which I wanted to speak. I am very anxious not to go over ground which we have traversed more than once. I do not pretend that this Bill is a Bill which I would like to have to introduce. The problem with which we have to grapple is not a problem created by this Government or by this Parliament: we have been faced with a difficulty which is none of our making. We have to find what we think a fair and equitable solution.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is perfectly true that we took the job in hand, and that is why we are trying to pass the Bill. We recognise that it is for us to find the best solution that is possible. We have given careful and anxious consideration to the matter and we have reached the 2309 view that this is the best and most equitable solution upon which we can hit. We have at least the satisfaction of knowing that no one else has been able to propose any other. It is even said to us by hon. Members opposite that it is our own friends who will suffer, and that it is our own cause which is rendered unpopular in Scotland. Whether or not that is true, whether or not, when for months and even years to come, those who have been regularly paying their rents will see their neighbours who have not been paying regularly, having to pay a larger sum by reason of arrears—whether when that happens they will not realise that it has been the best policy to pay regularly, I am not so sure. But if it be true that the effect of introducing this Bill is to do us harm in Scotland, and to hurt our friends rather than our foes, at least it seems a little inconsistent of hon. Members opposite to declare that this is brought in as a Measure of class legislation in order to help landlords. In truth, this is an honest attempt to solve an admittedly difficult problem. I believe it is the best solution that we could find. I have heard no solution to set against it from any bench opposite, and I ask tire House, having heard the whole discussion, and having considered this Bill, as it certainly has, at considerable length, to arrive at a decision upon it.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] There are a few moments available, and I do not intend to make an application of the closure necessary. I only wish to make one or two observations which have been suggested by the final defence of the Bill by the Attorney-General. I think Members in all quarters of the House who have followed the course of the discussion on the Bill, not only on the floor of the House but in the Committee upstairs, will agree that the Attorney-General has well acquitted himself of what to him has been an uncongenial task. It is well, however, that in the circumstances we should realise what exactly he has done in the terms of his own admissions in that closing speech. He has admitted that retrospective legislation is bad, and that retrospective legislation is not only repugnant to the spirit of our law but to the tradition of Parliament, and to his own instincts. What, then, is the excuse and justification that he has given for the present essay in retrospective 2310 legislation? [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I was summing up, not unfairly, I think, the effect of the Attorney-General's admissions, first of all, his objection to retrospective legislation, and I was going on to consider—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I was going on to quote, on his own admission, what are the practical effects of his overcoming these objections to retrospective legislation. The practical effects of this Bill are, first of all, that arrears over a certain period of rent will be capable of collection by the landlord over a period of five years. That is the result of his overcoming the objection to retrospective legislation. That is in theory, but when he states that that is the theory on which the Bill is based one may take it as a certainty, in view of existing conditions in the West of Scotland, that the arrears in fact will not be collected. I think the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Sir W. Raeburn) will admit that to be the case there, so that we are reduced to this absurdity, that we are now making a precedent in retrospective legislation which he does not profess to defend, which nobody on the other side can justify, and from which nobody is going to benefit. On the other hand, a certain sense of grievance will be created among a very large mass of people and a precedent will be made for action on the part of other people, by means of retrospective legislation, to obtain results of which hon. Gentlemen opposite will highly disapprove. After all these discussions—a day on Second Reading, nine days in Committee, a day on Report and a day on Third Reading—the concrete result is the setting up of a precedent which will benefit nobody and will react against the interests of hon. Gentlemen opposite themselves in future Parliaments.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of Question."2312
§ The House divided: Ayes, 286; Noes, 169.2313
|Division No. 142.]||AYES.||[10.58 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton, East)||Ednam, Viscount||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)|
|Alexander, Col. M. (Southward)||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Lorden, John William|
|Allen, Lieut.-Col. Sir William James||Ellis, R. G.||Lorimer, H. D.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Lort-Williams, J.|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Lougher, L.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Wilfrid W.||Erskine-Bolst, Captain C.||Lowe, Sir Francis William|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick W.||Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.||Loyd, Arthur Thomas (Abingdon)|
|Astor, J. J. (Kent, Dover)||Falcon, Captain Michael||Lumley, L. R.|
|Baird, Rt. Hon. Sir John Lawrence||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Fawkes, Major F. H.||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Fermor-Hesketh, Major T.||Maddocks, Henry|
|Banks, Mitchell||Ford, Patrick Johnston||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Foreman, Sir Henry||Manville, Edward|
|Barlow, Rt. Hon. Sir Montague||Forestier-Walker, L.||Margesson, H. D. R.|
|Barnett, Major Richard W.||Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||Mercer, Colonel H.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Furness, G. J.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Molloy, Major L. G. S.|
|Bennett, Sir T. J. (Sevenoaks)||Ganzoni, Sir John||Molson, Major John Elsdale|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Garland, C. S.||Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J.|
|Berry, Sir George||Gaunt, Rear-Admiral Sir Guy R.||Morden, Col. W. Grant|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Goff, Sir R. Park||Morrison, Hugh (Wilts, Salisbury)|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Gray, Harold (Cambridge)||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. (Honiton)|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Greaves-Lord, Walter||Murchison, C. K.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Greene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hack'y, N.)||Nall, Major Joseph|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Gretton, Colonel John||Newson, Sir Percy Wilson|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Brown, Major D. C. (Hexham)||Gwynne, Rupert S.||Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. Clifton (Newbury)||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Brown, J. W. (Middlesbrough, E.)||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Nield, Sir Herbert|
|Bruford, R.||Hall, Rr-Adml Sir W. (Liv'p'l, W. D'by)||Norton-Griffiths, Lieut.-Col. Sir John|
|Bruton, Sir James||Halstead, Major D.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Hamilton, Sir George C. (Altrincham)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Paget, T. G.|
|Burn, Colonel Sir Charles Rosdew||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Parker, Owen (Kettering)|
|Burney, Com. (Middx., Uxbridge)||Harrison, F. C.||Pease, William Edwin|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Harvey, Major S. E.||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Butler, H. M. (Leeds, North)||Hawke, John Anthony||Penny, Frederick George|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Button, H. S.||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Cadogan, Major Edward||Herbert, S. (Scarborough)||Perring, William George|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Hewett, Sir J. P.||Peto, Basil E.|
|Cassels, J. D.||Hiley, Sir Ernest||Pleiou, D. P.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. C.||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Hood, Sir Joseph||Preston, Sir W. R.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Hopkins, John W. W.||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Price, E. G.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur||Houfton, John Plowright||Privett, F. J.|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Howard, Capt. D. (Cumberland, N.)||Rae, Sir Henry N.|
|Clayton, G. C.||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Col. C. K.||Raeburn, Sir William H.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hudson, Capt. A.||Ralne, W.|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Hughes, Collingwood||Rankin, Captain James Stuart|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Hume, G. H.||Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Hurd, Percy A.||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Cope, Major William||Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.||Remer, J. R.|
|Cory, Sir J. H. (Cardiff, South)||Hutchison, G. A. C. (Midlothian, N.)||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L.||Hutchison, W. (Kelvingrove)||Rhodes, Lieut.-Col. J. P.|
|Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South)||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Richardson, Sir Alex. (Gravesend)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)|
|Croft, Lieut.-Colonel Henry Page||James, Lieut. Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|Crook, C. W. (East Ham, North)||Jenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. Sir S. (Ecclesall)|
|Crooke, J. S. (Deritend)||Jephcott, A. R.||Robertson-Despencer, Major (Isl'gt'n W)|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Jodrell, Sir Neville Paul||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)|
|Dalziel, Sir D. (Lambeth, Brixton)||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Rogerson, Capt. J. E.|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Rothschild, Lionel de|
|Davies, David (Montgomery)||Joynson-Hicks, Sir William||Rounded, Colonel R. F.|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)||Ruggles-Brise, Major E.|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Kennedy, Captain M. S. Nigel||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Russell-Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Dixon, C. H. (Rutland)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Lamb, J. Q.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Du Pre, Colonel William Baring||Lane-Fox, Lieut.-Colonel G. R.||Sanders, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert A.|
|Sanderson, Sir Frank B.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser||Whitla, Sir William|
|Sandon, Lord||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid H.||Willey, Arthur|
|Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.||Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)|
|Sheffield, Sir Berkeley||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Shepperson, E. W.||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)||Winterton, Earl|
|Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)||Thomson, P. C. (Aberdeen, South)||Wise, Frederick|
|Simpson-Hinchliffe, W. A.||Thorpe, Captain John Henry||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Singleton, J. E.||Titchfield, Marquess of||Wood, Rt. Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Smith, Sir Allan M. (Croydon, South)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Smith, Sir Harold (Wavertree)||Tubbs, S. W.||Wood, Maj. Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Turton, Edmund Russborough||Woodcock, Colenel H. C.|
|Sparkes, H. W.||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.||Worthington-Evans, At. Hon. Sir L.|
|Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H.||Wallace, Captain E.||Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward|
|Stanley, Lord||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)||Yerburgh, R. D. T.|
|Steel, Major S. Strang||Watts, Dr. T. (Man., Withington)|
|Stewart, Gershom (Wirral)||Wells, S. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Stockton, Sir Edwin Forsyth||Weston, Colonel John Wakefield||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Colonel|
|Stott, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.||Gibbs.|
|Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Adams, D.||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Pattinson, S. (Horncastle)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Harbord, Arthur||Phillipps, Vivian|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Hardie, George D.||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hartshorn, Vernon||Potts, John S.|
|Attlee, C. R.||Hastings, Patrick||Pringle, W. M. R.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hay, Captain J. P. (Cathcart)||Rees, Sir Beddoe|
|Barnes, A.||Hayday, Arthur||Richards, R.|
|Batey, Joseph||Hayes, John Henry (Edge Hill)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Bennett, A. J. (Mansfield)||Hemmerde, E. G.||Riley, Ben|
|Bonwick, A.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Ritson, J.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Herriotts, J.||Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Briant, Frank||Hill, A.||Robinson, W. C. (York, Elland)|
|Broad, F. A.||Hinds, John||Rose, Frank H.|
|Brotherton, J.||Hirst, G. H.||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Hodge, Lieut.-Col. J. P. (Preston)||Saklatvala, S.|
|Buchanan, G.||Hutchison, Sir R. (Kirkcaldy)||Salter, Dr. A.|
|Buckle, J.||Jarrett, G. W. S.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Burgess, S.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Sexton, James|
|Burnie, Major J. (Bootle)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Butler, J. R. M. (Cambridge Univ.)||Johnston, Thomas (Stirling)||Shinwell, Emanuel|
|Buxton, Charles (Accrington)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Simpson, J. Hope|
|Cairns, John||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Smith, T. (Pontefract)|
|Cape, Thomas||Jowett, F. W. (Bradford, East)||Snell, Harry|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools)||Snowden, Philip|
|Clarke, Sir E. C.||Kirkwood, D.||Spoor, B. G.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Lawson, John James||Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.|
|Collie, Sir John||Leach, W.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Collison, Levi||Lee, F.||Sullivan, J.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Lees-Smith, H. B. (Keighley)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Linfield, F. C.||Thornton, M.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lowth, T.||Tout, W. J.|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Lunn, William||Trevelyan, C. P.|
|Duffy, T. Gavan||Lyle-Samuel, Alexander||Turner, Ben|
|Duncan, C.||MacDonald, J. R. (Aberavon)||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Dunnico, H.||M'Entee, V. L.||Warne, G. H.|
|Ede, James Chuter||McLaren, Andrew||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Edge, Captain Sir William||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||March, S.||Webb, Sidney|
|Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.)||Martin, F. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, E.)||Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Maxton, James||Weir, L. M.|
|Evans, Ernest (Cardigan)||Middleton, G.||Westwood, J.|
|Falconer, J.||Millar, J. D.||Wheatley, J.|
|Foot, Isaac||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||White, H. G. (Birkenhead, E.)|
|George, Major G. L. (Pembroke)||Morel, E. D.||Whiteley, W.|
|Gosling, Harry||Morris, Harold||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Mosley, Oswald||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Gray, Frank (Oxford)||Muir, John W.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Greenall, T.||Murnin, H.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Murray, John (Leeds, West)||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Murray, R. (Renfrew, Western)||Wright, W.|
|Groves, T.||Newbold, J. T. W.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Nichol, Robert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Guest, Hon. C. H. (Bristol, N.)||Oliver, George Harold||Mr. Arthur Henderson and Mr. T.|
|Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Paling, W.||Griffiths.|
|Guthrie, Thomas Maule||Parker, H. (Hanley)|
|Bill read the Third time, and passed.|
Question put, and agreed to.