HC Deb 03 June 1924 vol 174 cc1078-82

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for further protection of Government tenants. The Bill, which I venture to bring before the House this afternoon, is designed to provide further protection for Government tenants. The House may be aware that at the present time the tenants on any estate which is administered by the Government and is technically in the possession of the Crown do not have the benefit of the various Rent Restrictions Acts, and this Bill is designed to give those tenants the same protection as every other tenant who takes his tenancy from a private landlord. I may say that the Bill is in no sense a political measure. It is backed by Members of all parties, and I hope that the House will accord it a First reading to-day. It is simply designed to allow a tenant when, for instance, proceedings are taken against him for eviction by a Member of the Government or a Government Department, to have the same opportunity of pleading in the Court exactly the same set of circumstances that he could plead if he were a tenant of a private landlord, and I do not think anyone will say that is an unreasoable suggestion to make.

There is a certain amount of urgency about this Bill, because during the last few months, as the House knows, and as I know particularly, very many actions have been taken, and I think it is time that these tenants had the opportunity of pleading their case in exactly the same way as other tenants. For instance, the First Commissioner of Works, since the time he assumed office, has issued 80 notices to quit. He has proceeded in 40 cases in the County Courts, and he has obtained actual orders for possession and the delivery up of the dwelling houses against 33 heads of families. Not one of those tenants has been able to raise in the Courts the question, for instance, of alternative accommodation. I may say that this is still going on, because during the last three weeks the First Commissioner of Works, through the process of the registered post, has served 15 additional notices to quit in my own constituency. It is perfectly true, and I do not want to shirk the issue, that the First Commissioner of Works has stated, quite properly—and I do not complain of his action—that a large amount of rent has been owing in these cases. But the tenant ought to have his opportunity of pleading in the same way as any other tenant.

I would remind the House that in these particular places where these notices to quit have been served there is, perhaps, more unemployment prevalent than anywhere else, because, as the Secretary of State for War knows, he himself—I am sure it must be against his own personal inclination—has had to dismiss over 500 men from Woolwich Arsenal. The House, therefore, can understand the peculiar difficulties of a neighbourhood of that kind. In addition to the action that the First Commissioner of Works has taken, there is the action which the Secretary of State for War has taken—perfectly properly, as he thinks, I have no doubt—since he took office. He has caused 25 actions to be taken for possession against 25 ex-soldiers. I questioned him in the House the other day as to whether he took into account the size of their families, and he said that he did not know that the number of the family was very material, because, he said, quite properly from his point of view, that he had to get these premises for serving soldiers.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Walsh)

May I just correct my hon. Friend. He knows perfectly well that I said that the size of the family was eight. Ho said it was 10, and it was the mere difference of two in the number that I said was not material.


I am sorry if I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, and I will show him in the OFFICIAL REPORT exactly the passage which I am quoting, and I think he will find that there is some little mistake. I do not press that, but I do say that whatever the case may be—and I hope my right hon. Friend will not oppose this Bill—at any rate the tenant against whom he is proceeding ought to have the opportunity just the same as any other tenant of raising the question of alternative accommodation, and the object of this Bill is to place all these people, against whom the Secretary of State or the First Commissioner of Works is proceeding, in exactly the same position as any private tenant. An hon. Gentleman said, "Oh, but these orders are not being put into force." The answer is that in the ordinary way it can only be done by order of the County Court Judge, but in the case of these tenants, to whom I am referring, he has to wait upon the views of the particular plaintiff, and I say again that the County Court Judge ought to be the person who ought to be able to do it. That is one of the objects of the Bill. I need only remind hon. Members, in conclusion, exactly what the Minister of Health himself said in dealing with cases where summonses were issued, but were not put into effect. He said:

"The dread of eviction going on from day to day, wondering whether the children and they were to be put out in the street in the morning, was a very dreadful predicament indeed."

And all you people disagreed.


You threw out the Bill.


That is exactly the position of many of these tenants to-day. Therefore, with the object of putting these people in exactly the same position as tenants of a private landlord, not any higher or any lower, but giving them their full rights and opportunities before the. Court, I beg to ask the House to give this Bill a First Reading.




Does the hon. Member rise to oppose the Bill?


Yes. I want to congratulate the hon. Member on his inconsistency in putting forward a Bill of this kind after opposing every attempt made to make evictions impossible. I would not have interfered in the Debate only I noticed that he was getting a fair amount of support from hon. Members on the opposite side. I want to remind him that in the case that he quoted he is wrong in law. A workman occupying a house because he is employed by a firm has no protection under the law so far as alternative accommodation is concerned, and I take it that a soldier or ex-soldier is in much the same position. I think it is wrong, because I think a miner or ironworker, or any other workman, inhabiting a house owned by the company for whom he works should have the same protection as any other tenant. But, unfortunately, hon. Members opposite, and particularly the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), have always been hostile to that proposal. I wonder when the people of this country will see through politicians who simply talk for party ends in this way, and simply play the game of politics as they have seen it for years.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL

On a point of Order. Is the hon. Gentleman opposing this Bill, and, if not, has he, under the Ten minutes rule, any right to speak?


I asked the hon. Member that question, and he said he was.


I was saying that the political game had been played for a long time, but the people of the country are now beginning to see through it. In a very short time they will be able, I hope, to clear out some of the men who are so stupid as to continue a game of that kind. I, therefore, oppose leave be given to introduce the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Kingsley Wood, Sir Thomas Inskip, Mr. Masterman, Sir Fredric Wise, Mr. Keens, Major Moulton, Mr. Snell, Mr. Hayes, and Mr. D. G. Somerville.