§ Mr. SPEAKER
The first Amendment on the Order Paper, standing in the name of the hon. Member for the Camlachie Division of Glasgow (Mr. Stephen)—in page 1, line 6, at beginning insert(1) Paragraph (a) of Sub-section (1) of the Section which by Section four of the Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923, is substituted for Section fire of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, shall have effect as respects pending as well as future proceedings as though after the words 'any rent lawfully due from the tenant has' there had been inserted the words 'through the wilful default of the tenant.'Provided that the burden of proving that the default is not wilful shall rest upon the tenant—is out of Order, as it is outside the scope of the Bill. It proposes to introduce in another form in this Bill a proposal which was rejected by the House in the preceding Bill.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
On a point of Order. In the Memorandum it is stated that one of the objects of this Bill is to prevent unreasonable evictions, and it is under that head that this Amendment has been put down. With regard to the part that has been already rejected, I would submit that the remaining part of this Bill was also rejected on the Second Reading of the previous Bill introduced by the Government. Consequently, I would submit that what applies to the rest of the Bill applies also to my Amendment. I think that if the remaining part of the Bill can be held to be in Order, seeing that the Bill introduced by the Government was rejected on Second Reading, this Amendment introduced by myself, as something coming within part of that Bill in a similar way, should also be allowed to stand.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think not. The circumstances are rather special. On one and the same day the House refused a Second Reading to a Bill, in the main, 68 on the ground of the first Clause contained in the Bill. Later in the same sitting, the House passed unanimously the Second Reading of a Bill dealing with the other matters that were common to the two Bills. I have to have regard not merely to the wording of the Title, but to the scope of the Bill, and to the general conditions on which the House gave a Second Reading to the Bill. Had the hon. Member's proposal contained in this Amendment been inserted in the Committee upstairs, I do not think the Chairman upstairs would have allowed it, but, supposing he had, and the Bill had come down here, I should have conceived that it would have been my duty to have refused further progress to the Bill on the lines which my predecessor laid down.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Further, on this point of Order, I would like to point out, with regard to the part of this Bill that went to Committee, and received a Second Reading on the evening of the same day, that objection was taken on those benches to the Second Reading, and others of us, who also would have taken objection when it was taken after 11 o'clock, did not do so, because we had anticipated that it would be ruled out of order. We certainly feel very deeply about this most important part, which was no more rejected by the House than the other part, because the Second Reading of this Bill simply went through when a list of Bills was being read out. I would like to ask, with regard to this Prevention of Eviction Bill, which has been amended by the Standing Committee, if it is in order, seeing that the Second Reading of a Bill with Clauses that are contained in this Bill was rejected? The Amendment I have put down affects a great many poor people in the most intimate way, people, possibly, who have had to suffer more than any other on account of the condition of the Rent Restrictions Acts, and I would submit that this Amendment should be allowed to stand, along with the rest of the Bill. In the meantime, I would like to ask whether it is not possible for this Amendment really to stand part of the Bill?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid not. Were I to admit this, it would be going quite contrary to the practice of the House and to the rulings of my predecessor on similar occasions. I have con- 69 sidered the matter most carefully this morning, and I cannot see my way to allow the Amendment to come within the scope of the Bill.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I would like to ask your ruling whether, according to the rules of the House, the Prevention of Eviction Bill, as amended by the Standing Committee, is not in order, owing to the rejection, on Second Reading, of the Bill introduced by the Government, and whether, in allowing it to go through, there has not been the exercise of a certain amount of discretion or reading into the spirit of the rule something making it possible for this Bill to be taken? I would ask you if the rules do not really preclude this Bill from being taken owing to that previous decision of the House?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think not. I considered that question at the time, before the present Bill was called for Second Reading, and came clearly to the decision that it was competent for the Bill to go forward to a Second Reading. With regard to the changes made in Committee, I have also considered them, and I do not consider that the changes made in the drafting of the Bill, and the insertion of what is now Clause 2 of the Bill, call upon me to take any action with regard to the further proceedings of the Bill.
§ Mr. E. SIMON
I beg to move, in page 1, line 14, to leave out the words "the landlord," and to insert instead thereof the wordsa landlord who became landlord before the passing of this Act.These words, or words to similar effect, were in the Bill as introduced by me, and they were deleted by a Government Amendment in Committee. That Amendment was carried—it is rather a curious case—by the united forces of the Government and hon. Members opposite against those who sit on these benches. I am sure that there was a very great deal of misunderstanding about the effect of the Amendment at that time. It is a very complicated Clause, because it is a question of legislation by reference, and anybody who has not studied the matter carefully is apt to go wrong. I want, therefore, to explain quite shortly exactly what is the effect of this Amend- 70 ment. The object is quite simple It is to prevent anybody after the passing of this Bill going and buying a house and then evicting the tenant without providing alternative accommodation. That is possible under the Clause as it now stands. It will not be possible if this Amendment be carried. The purpose of the Clause as it stands is to relieve landlords coming within that Clause from the obligation of providing alternative accommodation. The Clause is governed by the following words in last year's Act:The existence of alternative acommodation shall not be a condition of an order or judgmentand then follow the words of this Bill. Any landlord who is governed by this Clause has not got to give alternative accommodation. He has to do something quite different. He has to satisfy the County Court that, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, greater hardship would be caused by refusing than by allowing the eviction. Everybody knows that is quite a different matter. We have had the greater hardship Clause since last year, and there have been many cases where tenants have been evicted and great hardship has been caused. It must be so. The point is not whether the hardship on the tenant is great, but whether the hardship on the landlord is greater. After all, landlords do suffer hardships. We all admit that, and the object is to try and get fairness between landlords and tenants. I think it is agreed that there have been many cases where there has been hardship on the tenant on being evicted, and it was unanimously agreed in Committee that the form of words finally adopted and moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) did define this great hardship in the best way, and would hold the balance fairly as between landlord and tenant.
It has been suggested that this Amendment is unfair to landlords and will cause hardship to them. That is a complete misunderstanding, because any existing landlord is not in any way affected by the Amendment. On the other hand, if anybody has saved enough money to buy a house and wishes to do so, it is perfectly open to him, under the Clause as it now stands, to buy the house and to try to get the tenant evicted. Under the Amendment he could not get the tenant evicted. 71 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) in Committee supported this Clause, because he said:—Where alternative accommodation has got to be provided, it practically means total prohibition to the landlord. I say that it is going too tar, and it is taking sides too much to say that, because a man or a woman happens to be a landlord, they shall be deprived of the opportunity of putting an end to a condition of affairs which may be extremely injurious to their health and to the health of those who depend upon them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee C), 15th April, 1924, Col. 16.]We all agree with that as regards existing landlords, but when the right, hon. Gentleman made that speech I think he overlooked last year's Act although he himself was author of it, because there are excellent Clauses in that Act under which anybody who has saved money is given great facilities for buying and building a new house. There is a subsidy of £100 and the local authorities will advance up to 85 and sometimes 90 per cent. of the cost of the house. There is clearly no hardship in preventing somebody who has saved money—nobody wants to inflict hardship on the thrifty citizen; we all want to encourage him in every possible way—from buying an existing house and turning out the tenant, if, on the other hand he can go and get a house built, and for about five or six hundred pounds—that is the price in Manchester deducting the subsidy—he can get a good parlour house, and he has only to put down £100 in order to do so. There is no hardship in making it difficult to get existing houses having regard to last year's Act and the possibility of building new houses. There is a great advantage in doing that, because the one thing that we want is to get new houses built. Under the Bill which the Minister of Health is going to bring in, he is going to ask the Government and the local authorities to provide £1,000,000,000. Investors are not putting their money into houses, and the only way to relieve the country of some of that burden is to get people to build houses.
We ought, therefore, to encourage the owner-occupier in every possible way. He was encouraged last year by the subsidy and the loan which he can get, and I think we might, in a negative way, encourage him now by making it more difficult 72 for him to buy an existing house, while leaving it easy for him to buy and build a new house. That is encouraging everybody to do their bit to solve the problem by building new houses instead of obtaining possession of existing houses That is one of the most important aspects of this Amendment. I have tried to show that there cannot be any hardship on existing landlords because they are not affected by the Amendment. There cannot be any hardship on those who have saved money and want to buy houses, because they can build a new house and probably get better value for their money by doing so. There can be no possible injustice to anybody by passing this Amendment. On the other hand, it has two important effects. First of all, it will accelerate the building of houses and encourage the owner-occupier: and, secondly, it is the only way of giving to the great mass of tenants throughout the country absolute security against eviction without alternative accommodation being provided. For these reasons, I hope that the House will pass the Amendment.
§ Mr. FOOT
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think that those who were engaged in the Committee which sat upstairs, and who took part in the discussion, on that occasion must have expected that this Amendment would be brought forward by us on these benches this afternoon. The Bill has a peculiar history. It was adopted in the first instance, I think rather reluctantly, by the Government, and at the time the Prime Minister made a rather scornful reference to its provisions. The Bill went upstairs, and its purpose, at any rate, was to prevent evictions. The Attorney General, then representing the Labour Government on that Committee, introduced an Amendment which took the backbone out of the Bill. If the Bill passes in its present form, I suggest that it is hardly worth the labour of the House of Commons to vote it through. If it passes in the form that would be ensured upon this Amendment being carried, it will be worth something as a measure of protection to the tenants of this country.
I want to put before the House the position as clearly as I see it under the Act of 1923, which gathered up the earlier Acts of Parliament relating to Rent Restrictions. There was a general prohibition contained in Section 5, making it impos- 73 sible for any landlord or any owner to obtain possession of a house. Upon that prohibition there was introduced an exception in paragraph (d) of Section 5. Under that paragraph, a landlord can obtain possession of his house for himself, for anyone in his family, or for anyone in his employ upon ensuring alternative accommodation for the tenant. That is the general exception to the general prohibition. Under a further part of that same Section, there is another exception carved out of the exception itself. Under the law, as it has been standing, there has always been a distinction between the new landlord who bought after the date of the Act, and the landlord who owned before the date of the Act. That date has been insisted on in every Rent Restriction Measure that we have had. It is not some new proposal that has occurred to the ingenious mind of my hon. Friend the Member for "Withington (Mr. Simon). In the very first Measure that dealt with rent restrictions, this House approved of a distinction between those who had been landlords in earlier years and those who became landlords after the Act had been passed. That was in the first Act, I think, of 1917, and the date that was then inserted was 30th September, 1917. If a person became an owner before 30th September, 1917, then he could obtain the house whether or not there was alternative accommodation, simply upon showing that upon the balance of hardship he would suffer more than the tenant would suffer if the house was refused by the Judge.
Then we come to last year's Act, and I do not think that hon. Members sitting upon the opposite side of the House can object to a date being inserted in this Measure, because in that Act they themselves inserted a new date. They made the date, I think, June, 1922, and they said that there should be a difference between those who were owners before June, 1922, and those who became owners afterwards. We suggest a date in this Measure, and surely there ought to be no distinction between us upon this plea: A landlord who has bought a house before the date of the passing of the Act has got a greater claim than the landlord who comes along after the passing of the Act and deliberately buys a house in which there is already a tenant. If he came along before, if he bought his 74 house, say, six or twelve months ago, he was relying as he was entitled to rely upon the Acts of Parliament. Whether those Acts were fair or unfair he relied on them, and he put his money into his house knowing he could go into Court and make his application to the Judge. But if the man comes along now, after the passing of this Act and says: "Here is a house occupied by someone else, I am going to buy that house with the deliberate intention of turning him out as soon as I can," then upon that landlord you ought to put this definite obligation: Before you turn that tenant out you shall be obliged to secure for him or satisfy the Court that there is alternative accommodation for him. That is the reason for the distinction of date.
My hon. Friend opposite the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), who has been so prominently associated with this matter, smiles; though he may differ from us on other matters he will agree that there is a reason for the date, a reason that has been fully merited, a reason that has been in the minds of Members of the House of Commons in the three, in fact in the four, successive Parliaments which have dealt with this matter. That was the suggestion, that you should draw a distinction between the landlord who was a landlord before this Bill came into operation and the landlord who became one afterwards. It was a fair request, and I was utterly astonished in Committee that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, representing the Government, should have turned it down. It seems to me that the only desire was to turn out part of our Bill, and substitute other words for ours. The matter was discussed, the vote was taken, and I am glad to think that every Liberal Member of the Committee voted in favour of the original form of this Bill, and, again, I was amazed that every Conservative present, and every Labour Member present, voted us down. That is the new Coalition! There has been nothing like it since the day that Herod and Pilate made friends.
Apart from that, I do ask the House now to consider what the position of the tenant will be, and what the position of the landlord, if the Bill passes into law in its present form. It will mean that you will deprive thousands of tenants in this 75 country of that security to which they are entitled, and for which they look to the House. If the Bill can pass in the form we first of all suggested, it will mean that the landlord who has owned the house for some years past, in going into the Court, will have to show that the hardship is actually on his part, but if he buys the house after the date of the passing of this Act, that hardship will not come into consideration. The real factor in the case will be the position of the tenant. The Judge will be obliged to satisfy himself that there is some place for that tenant to go to before he gives any order for eviction, and until he is satisfied on that point, he will not be able to have regard to the land lord's position. If the desire of this House be to prevent evictions, then we say the Bill ought to go through in its original form. If the Amendment that was supported by the Attorney-General upstairs is carried in the House to-day, it will mean that the Bill will be rendered very largely ineffective. I warn Members and supporters of the Government that just as there was—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I gave warnings last year upon the Bill supported by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and every one of those warnings has been justified in the course of recent months. The warning I give on this occasion—and I believe there are many hon. Members above the Gangway—I believe most of those above the Gangway are just as desirous as I am of preventing these evictions. The only difference may be as to the wording of this Bill. I repeat, we can prevent difficulties that may arise. But if the Bill passes in its amended form, tenants who think they are given protection will find that that is not secured to them, and the resentment will be all the greater because they will know that this House has been specially engaged upon a Bill to prevent evictions. When they find that the law practically remains unaltered as the result of a recent decision in the Courts, if this Bill is unaltered the law will remain practically the same as before the passing of it, it will not be well. It is because we want to secure some real measure of protection that I beg the Government to restore the Bill to its original form, and not insist upon the attitude which they took in Committee.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot,) who talked about me smiling, but I think the spectacle is one not for laughter, but rather for pathos. I dare say the House will have observed that the hon. Gentleman opposite has dealt very severely, though perhaps most appropriately, with this legislation which is to be the subject of their intensive propaganda in the constituencies during the next few weeks. But I remember the other day that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Master-man) said that he thought the subject of housing and eviction might be above all party politics. I was interested to read in the "Daily News" of Saturday thatLiberals have been remarkably successful in their efforts to secure remedial legislation on the subject of rents. While the Labour Bills have fared very badly—the Government Measure was rejected, and Mr. Ben Gardner's Bill is still held up in Standing Committee—Mr. E. D. Simon'a Evictions Bill will be on its way to the House of Lords next week, and Mr. Trevelyan. Thomson's Bill is likely to secure general assent.What a pathetic thing it is to see Mr. E. D. Simon's Eviction; Bill progressing to the House of Lords when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin has informed us that the backbone has been knocked out of it! As a matter of fact the issue is a very small one. All that this Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite is seeking to do is to deal with cases of landlords who purchase their houses after the passage of this particular Bill. I was, therefore, rather surprised to hear the hon. Member who introduced this Amendment say it was going to bring some sort of relief to millions of tenants up and down the country, and was going to give them a sense of security. Whether he thinks that as a result of all this rent restriction landlords are going to purchase houses to-affect millions of tenants is a matter which I should ask him to consider again.
One of the reasons really by which you could do justice to landlords and tenants would be to avoid Amendments of this kind, and, if possible, to avoid rent restriction regulations. I am convinced that the more you seek unnecessarily to impose further conditions upon the purchase and sale of property, the more harm you are doing to the provision of new houses.
77 The hon. Gentleman opposite gave as his second reason that the actual acceptance of this Amendment by the Government would accelerate the building of houses. I cannot conceive for the moment why he thought that, because, if there is one thing that has prevented the building of new houses, at any rate, by private enterprise to-day, it is the fact that this House so constantly—perhaps of necessity!—is making further rent restriction legislation. Therefore I approach this gesture of my hon. Friend, not by any sort of criticism, but to see if possible whether we can avoid that. What it comes to is this: The hon. Gentleman wants in this Bill to impose a provision that if a purchaser buys a house to-day, he shall be prevented, not from evicting the tenant, but from going to the County Court Judge and asking that if the conditions are reasonable possession shall be given. I dare say hon. Members know that quite recently there has been a very important decision given in the Court of Appeal. The case was that of Shrimpton versus Rabbits—the latter a matter of interest, doubtless, to the Minister of Labour. This case laid it down that when any application was made by a landlord to endeavour to evict a tenant from premises the County Court Judge had to be satisfied of the circumstances, not only of the landlord, but of the tenant. Many hon. Members will remember that in the discussion in the last Parliament that side of this particular Act was emphasised by those of us who supported it, and to-day, whenever the landlord applies to the County Court to obtain possession of premises, the County Court Judge is fully entitled, and does, in fact, examine the circumstances both of the landlord and of the tenant. My hon. Friend is seeking this afternoon to get the House to approve of a principle which at any rate, would involve, if it was accepted, that the County Court Judge had no regard whatever to the question as to whether or not other accommodation is available.
As a matter of fact, it is the very thing that any County Court Judge to-day considers when a summons comes before him. There was a letter a few days ago in the "Times" from a very distinguished County Court Judge who served on the Committee to reconsider the Rent Restrictions Act, Sir Edward Bray. He says: 78It would be very unfortunate and mischievous if at the present time such a mistaken impression got abroad.On this particular matter—The great majority of County Court Judges in these cases have always taken into consideration the position and circumstances of the tenant in accordance with the views expressed by the Divisional Court.Therefore what my right hon. Friend is seeking to make out is that those of us who object to the Amendment which is proposed are in some way trying to put these hardships on the tenants of the country. I can assure him he is really much mistaken, because anyone who has had any experience of any of these cases knows, I suppose, that there has been no more sympathetic consideration of the circumstances of the tenants of the country than has been given by the County Court Judges under these Acts. The very first thing they always consider when an application like this is made is whether there is or is not alternative available accommodation. Any landlord who buys a house to-day after the passing of this Bill does so with his eyes open. He knows perfectly well that, if he goes to the court, the first thing the County Court Judge will say is, "When did you buy your house?" If he says "I bought it three weeks before I made my application to the Court," then my hon. Friend opposite, if he should chance to appear in that case, would find very short shrift indeed. Obviously, if an owner buys a house to-day with the idea which the hon. Member evidently has at the back of his mind, that by this means he is going to turn tenants into the street, he does not know the actual practice of the County Courts of this country, for there is no more possibility of a purchaser buying a house and getting possession in that way and turning a tenant out in two or three months' time than any possible thing you can conceive. The County Court Judge has to take into consideration not only alternative consideration, but the date when the owner bought the house.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I say that the more you seek to impose these various matters upon the County Court Judge and not leave it to the general discretion of the Court, the more difficulties you will get into. Half the difficulty about rent restrictions and 79 half the litigation is caused because we have tried to impose so many directions and regulations on the County Court Judges. I have often thought that perhaps the easiest way to deal with rent restrictions would have been to pass a single clause Bill and leave it to the County Court Judges to do what was right and equitable in these cases. If that had been done I do not think we should have been in the difficult position in which we find ourselves to-day. This Amendment is really unnecessary. If you put in a definite stipulation that alternative accommodation must be found, I agree that you would be, in effect, putting in a provision which would render it very difficult. If there is one thing we ought to insist upon in legislation of this kind it is to hold the balance as fairly as we can between landlord and tenant. I do not think hon. Members opposite will get much advantage from an electoral point of view from any rent restriction legislation. I am in favour of doing justice both to the landlord and the tenant, and I shall certainly vote against my hon. Friend's Amendment.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I am sorry the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) should have elevated this Amendment to the position of calling it the backbone of the Bill. If this be the backbone I do not think very much of it. I believe the Bill as it stands is a far more considerable achievement than the hon. Member for Bodmin seems to believe. I do not deny that there is some point in the Amendment, but I cannot accept the view that it is the centre of the present Bill. All that the Amendment proposes to do is really to draw a dividing line between landlords who possessed their houses before the passing of this Bill and landlords who became owners subsequently. In the latter case, if they are seeking possession, they must prove alternative accommodation, no question of hardship being allowed to enter into the consideration of the question.
I assume that the object of the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) in introducing this Amendment was to ensure that tenants shall not in future be at the mercy of landlords who may be disposed to turn 80 them out of their homes. My view is that the Bill, as drafted, would in practice give just that protection, because, under the Clause as it stands now, every landlord, including those who became landlords after the passing of the Bill, will have to prove greater hardship or alternative accommodation for their tenants before they can get possession of the houses, and in all cases the Court is requited to take into consideration all the circumstances of the case.
It is true that one of the circumstances of the case which would be quite relevant would be the time at which the new landlord bought the house. Therefore I think the Bill as it stands really covers the point. If, however, there should be a very strong feeling on the part of the tenants that they might be subject to eviction under the Bill as it stands at present, we have every desire to meet that difficulty. What I understand the promoters of this Bill have in mind, and what, indeed, their arguments have been directed to, is the case of the landlord who, after the passing of this Bill, comes into the market to purchase a house. The Amendment, as drafted, refers to a landlord who became a landlord after the passing of the Bill. Persons may become landlords after the passing of the Bill, not by purchase but by succession.
Let me take a case which was in our minds before, and which may give rise to real hardship. Suppose a landlord dies after the passing of the Bill and he is succeeded by his widow. Under the new circumstances she may be unable to continue in possession of the house previously rented by her husband, and, therefore, she is driven to occupy the house of which she has become the landlord. If this Amendment were adopted, she would be unable to do that unless she obtained alternative accommodation for the existing tenant, and however great her own hardship might be, and it might be greater even than that of the tenant—
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
No; I mean general hardship. In these circumstances, however hard the case, unless she was in a position to prove alternative accommodation, she could get no relief under this Amendment. There is one small point which would make the Amend- 81 ment do something different from what is intended. The term "passing of this Act" would mean, if this Amendment were adopted, the passing of the Act of 1920, because the Clause as it stands is to be read as part of Section 5 of the Act of 1920, and that would have to be altered.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Has the hon. Gentleman really been advised that if in an Act of Parliament you refer to the "passing of this Act" the fact that the Act is to be read with another Act means that it refers to the passing of another Act? Is that the advice given by the Law Officers of the Crown?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Patrick Hastings)
My right hon. Friend did not notice me correcting my hon. Friend because he did not look.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
We desire to remove any misapprehension and any uncertainty there may be amongst tenants because at some time their houses may be bought, and they may lose their occupation of them. Perhaps it will give greater comfort and confidence if we accept this Amendment in substance, making it clear that we are only dealing with landlords who become landlords by purchase. Will the hon. Member who moved this Amendment agree that the words to be inserted shall read "not being a landlord who has purchased a dwelling house after the fifth day of May, nineteen hundred and twenty-four"? Perhaps that would meet with the general approval of the House, and I think hon. Members opposite might accept the Amendment in its amended form.
§ Sir WILLIAM JOYNSON-HICKS
I suppose this is the result of the new concordat, but it would save a good deal of trouble if the Government, when they arrived at a concordat, stuck to it. The Amendment moved by the hon. Member 82 for Withington (Mr. E. Simon) was struck out of the Bill in Committee on the motion of the Government, and we, childlike, believed that when the Government in Standing Committee moved to strike words out they mean what they say. Relying upon that, and the fact that the Government have every knowledge of the needs of the tenants, and the effect these words would have on the position of the landlords, we believed that the Government were well advised, and, desiring to help the Government, we supported them, and these words were struck out. Now, when hon. Gentlemen below the Gang way desire that they shall be put in again, and some kind of concordat has apparently been arrived at, the Government come along and say, "We are prepared to ask our Friends behind us to vote in the opposite direction to that in which they voted in Committee upstairs."
May I, apart altogether from the curious position between those two parties, put to the House the real effect? Under the Bill as it is drawn, it is admitted that there may be hardship on a landlord greater than that which is on the tenant. That is the substance of this particular Clause. Otherwise, the Bill has no meaning at all. According to this Clause, where a dwelling house is required by the landlord, no matter when he became the landlord, it is admitted that there are occasions when the hardship of depriving him of the house is greater than the hardship of turning the tenant out. There may be many reasons why that may be the case. The landlord himself may have been an evicted tenant, and he may see no other means of getting a house than by buying it. Or his circumstances, after having bought the house, may change. It must be remembered that this Bill may run on for years. Let us assume that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman), in all good faith, buys a house for the purpose of investment, and that, after the passing of this Act, his position changes, and it becomes essential for him to go and live in that house. It is quite clear that the County Court Judge has to decide, but it is surely as possible that the hardship may be greater on the new landlord than on the tenant. The hardship may just as possibly be greater on a landlord who has purchased after the passing of this Act than on a landlord who has purchased immediately before the passing of the 83 Act. In the Amendment as it has been moved, or as the Parliamentary Secretary suggests it shall be moved, it all depends, not upon whether there is hardship on the landlord or not, but upon whether the landlord buys the house on the 4th May, 1924, or whether he buys it on the 6th May, 1924. That is a perfectly ridiculous position.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
If the right hon. Gentleman says that that is a sound position, will he address to the House an argument to show that, while it is fair to allow a landlord, who bought a house on the 4th May, 1924, to go to the County Court Judge, and say that the hardship is greater on himself than on the tenant, it is not equally hard if he bought it on the 6th May, 1924?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am asking the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme to justify the difference in hardship between the man who buys on the 4th May and the man who buys on the 6th. After all, the whole thing is subject to the decision of the County Court Judge. The County Court Judge has to be convinced, and he would look with very grave suspicion, undoubtedly, on the man who had bought a house after the passing of this Act, and was trying to turn a tenant out. He would look very carefully to see whether there was not less hardship in turning him out than in keeping him in, and I submit that the right hon. Gentleman has to prove that he will not have confidence in the decision of the County Court Judge as to whether there is or is not greater hardship in preventing the landlord from getting possession of his house. I submit that the Government have in this matter really spoilt the Clause. The Clause trusts the County Court Judge, and it gives him complete discretion to decide as to whether there is greater hardship on the one side or on the other. Now you are taking out some particular section of landlords, and saying, "I will remove that landlord from the jurisdiction of the County Court Judge, even though the hardship may be greater on the land- 84 lord who has bought his house on the 6th May"—and ex hypothesi it is quite possible that it may be—"and I will not give him a chance to go to the County Court Judge and submit his case to him as to whether the hardship is not greater upon him than upon the tenant."
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I have not the slightest complaint to make—and has illustrated his argument from what might possibly happen in my own private life. I confess that while I listened to his speech with the greatest pleasure, I cannot conceive what he means by the challenge he has thrown out. He seems to think there is no difference at all between a landlord who has purchased his house under the conditions laid down before the passing of an Act of Parliament, and the landlord who has purchased his house under conditions which are laid down in an Act of Parliament. He says to me what a hardship it would be to me if my circumstances changed, and if I purchased a house in order to get that house myself and turned the tenant out into the street on the claim, not that there is any alternative accommodation for the tenant, but that it is a greater hardship for me than for him. That may be the case, and the landlord may be justified if he has purchased the house with that intention before Parliament has told him that he cannot turn the tenant out; but, immediately Parliament has said that he cannot turn the tenant out without providing alternative accommodation, he would, if he purchases the house in order to turn out the tenant, realise that he is going against the Act of Parliament and purchases at his own risk, and he has to convince the County Court Judge that he is entitled to turn out the tenant, who has done no harm to anyone, but who, ex hypothesi, is paying his rent. The tenant is now subject to a predatory or peripatetic landlord—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—if those terms are offensive I will say a prospective landlord—and he suddenly, as though a bolt had come from the blue, finds himself pitched into the street, because the landlord has bought the house after the passing of this Act. The very conditions, through the passing 85 of the Act, become different both for the landlord and for the tenant, and, therefore, we claim that, without creating any hardship at all to any existing landlord, we are protecting certainly many hundreds, and probably thousands, from the possibility of being turned out, and, as has been said, we are giving security to millions of tenants who would not otherwise have that security. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Let me take the example of the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) who led the Opposition to our proposal in the Committee. I make no criticism about his suggestion that our statements were so confused and that we were so lacking in leadership from the Attorney-General. I can quite understand, that if we were seeking in desperation for leadership, the hon. Member for West Woolwich would always be willing to provide little trifles of that sort, and we all know, from his questions in the House and from his attitude in the Committee, that, he has only two great desires—the one to give justice to the tenants of this country, and the other not to let political considerations interfere in the least degree with the work of benefiting people, especially in his own constituency. He asserted recently that the Government were evicting, or trying to evict, tenants in Woolwich, who were only being preserved by the County Court Judge. I do not want to revive that question, but he stated that there were only seven of them.
§ Sir K. WOOD
No. I may tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have discovered that the first Commissioner of Works dealt three weeks previously with another six cases.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
So the number has gone up to 13. Whatever the number may be, that was not the hon. Member's argument. He said—I think he will not object to my paraphrase of his statements—he said, almost in tears—I am not sure whether he did not produce a black-bordered pocket handkerchief—"It is not merely these unfortunate 13 people that I am thinking of; but the very fact that the Government is ejecting tenants makes all the 18,000 people in my constituency afraid that they will be ejected as well, and, therefore, although I know the County Court Judges are so good that they will not let the Government do their 86 foul work, yet what I want to do is to get security. All my 18,000 constituents will get security, and they will say 'We do not care about evictions, but still, this is the gentleman who got us security.'" That is, indeed, "sob-stuff." Let me turn to the argument on the other side. The hon. Member states that the County Court Judges will always give a tenant this right which we are asking shall be put in the Statute. We say that, even if that be true, this is worth putting in, because we do three things. First of all, we protect the few people who are in the condition which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) attributes to me—people who, their circumstances having changed, will buy houses over the heads of the tenants and try to throw them into the street—
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
No, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not do that. He might, however, buy a house to-day for investment, and his circumstances might subsequently change. I did not say that he would buy a house with a view to turning the tenant out.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
If, after the passing of this Act, or after the 5th May, I buy a house, I cannot turn the tenant into the street, even if a County Court Judge is prepared to let me do so, but on the whole, though I do not want to indulge in sob-stuff, I would prefer, rather than buy a house with a view to turning the tenant out, to emigrate abroad. First of all, therefore, we protect, perhaps, a few hundreds of tenants who may be subject to the desire of landlords to buy houses over their heads and turn them out. Then we protect a good many other thousands from litigation. I can quite understand the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) saying in Committee, "A plague on all your lawyers; they are all vagabonds and rogues." I am sorry the hon. Member is not at the moment in his place. I do not agree with everything that he says, but I did agree with him when he said, "Our lawyers are as bad as any other lawyers." I say, therefore, that by this Amendment we first of all protect some hundreds of people who might be ejected—and there are very variable County Court precedents and County Court judgments on this question; the County Court Judges are not 87 in a condition in which they desire no guidance from this House on the question of hardship. They are in a position in which they do desire such guidance, and there is not one of the tenants' protection societies that have been engaged in the work of protecting tenants in County Courts that is not eager that this provision should be restored to the Bill. We protect several thousands of people from litigation. They might win in the litigation, but they do not want to have to go into it, whatever lawyers of whatever party might benefit from it. We protect these people from the fear of that litigation. If this Amendment be carried, we protect them from being challenged as long as they pay their rent, and it will not be possible for any decent tenants to be turned into the street by their houses being bought over their heads unless alternative accommodation is found for them. I feel sure that if the Minister of Health had been in charge of the Bill instead of the Attorney-General, this Amendment, instead of being rejected by 42 votes to 10, would have been accepted in the name of the Government, and would have been carried, as I am glad to say, apart from any party question, it is going to be carried this afternoon. Therefore, I express our hearty gratitude to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for having in substance—I am not sure that there are not some technical questions which may be challenged—accepted this Amendment, which will restore our Bill to its original condition; and I congratulate him on being able to regard as negligible any statement of the kind that is more familiar on the other side of the House, as to there being any secret concord at or any arrangement of any kind whatever. There has been no arrangement of any sort. We are prepared to advocate this proposal and to press it to a Division. If we were merely thinking of party advantage, we should rather advocate that the Amendment should be resisted, and, therefore, it is not from a party point of view that we are advocating it, but because we believe it to be vital that we should break up this most unholy alliance. We accept the words of the Parliamentary Secretary, and we congratulate him on having seen the real point at issue. 88 It might have been seen in Committee, and might have been met there, as it was desired that it should be met on every side of this House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
May I ask the House to keep a little closer to the substance of the Bill? The discussion is really ranging rather wide.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
I shall endeavour, Sir, to follow your ruling, although it will make it rather difficult for me to answer the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman). He considers that my hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) is indulging in what he called "sob-stuff," of a very acute kind, when he talks about the tenants at Woolwich. But when the right hon. Gentleman himself talks about tenants' protection societies, and waves his hands and talks about tenants being thrown into the street, that is not "sob stuff," but merely justice. I think we can, really, leave the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends to get what capital they can out of this Amendment, but I wish to appeal to the House to consider very carefully whether the proposed compromise is in the interest either of landlords or of tenants. It has one perfectly extraordinary effect—an effect, of course, which has not been considered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme, or by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot). The hon. Member for Bodmin thinks that all his predictions about the Rent Restrictions Acts have been fully fulfilled, but that is a conviction which rests upon convenient forgetfulness of the things he has said which have not been fulfilled, and his power of catching up every single point which might possibly contribute towards showing that some of the things he said have been fulfilled. But those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have never considered the actual effect of this Amendment.
May I point out that none of the three hon. Members who have spoken from below the Gangway have produced a single argument in favour of the Amendment at all? They have talked about protecting tenants, but if you want to protect the tenants, nothing is needed beyond a one-Clause Bill saying that no tenants shall be turned out. [HON. 89 MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, and hon. Members opposite would get credit on the Clyde for that, but we are dealing with a specific Amendment which has been proposed, and the hon. Members who proposed it have not endeavoured to justify its operation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) asked what is the justice of making a distinction between a landlord who buys a house before a certain date and the landlord who buys a house after that date? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme says there is the justification that we have passed a Bill in the meantime, but the question is whether the Bill that is passed is a just or an unjust Bill. Is the dividing line you are drawing just or unjust? It is no use the right hon. Gentleman saying that everything included in an Act of Parliament must be just. We all know that that is not the case.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I agree. I am only pointing out that the hon. Members responsible for this Amendment have failed to justify, or even to begin to justify, it. Let us see what its effect really is. Suppose that I am a landlord, and bought a house on the 1st January last. Suppose that I evict the tenant of that house, that is to say, I tell him that I want the house for my own occupation, and am going to take him into the County Court to ask for possession. The County Court, after carefully hearing the case, comes to the conclusion that I am entitled to possession—comes to the conclusion, possibly, that the tenant will be able to secure a new house with comparative ease, and that he has sufficient means to enable him to do so. Suppose that I am still the landlord, but have not yet got possession of the house. I have an order against the tenant under which he must clear out of the house on, say, the 10th May. The tenant, finding that he must get other accommodation, goes out and buys a house. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme and the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) come down and say, "No, your tenant may turn you out because he became the landlord before a certain entirely arbitrary date, on which the House of Commons happened to pass this Bill." But you who 90 have been turned out and have got alternative accommodation by buying a house, must not get possession. If you once allow landlords to turn tenants out because they require possession for themselves you can do that with, I believe, complete justice if you give discretion to the County Court, provided you do not hinder the man who is turned out from getting alternative accommodation for himself. But this is an anti-tenant's Amendment. Hon. Members opposite, half of whose talk is utterly baseless, talk about these hundreds of thousands of tenants who are already exposed to the danger of eviction because the landlord wants the house for his own possession. All the thousands of tenants about whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme waxes so eloquent are to be prevented by this Amendment from getting any sort of alternative accommodation if they are turned out, if that alternative accommodation involves the purchase of a house. It reduces the whole operation of the Act as it will stand amended by this Bill to absolute ridicule.
§ Lord E. PERCY
The dates fixed in every Bill previous to the Bill of 1923 were based upon this fact, that each successive Rent Restrictions Act was a temporary Act, that it was lapsing by a certain date, and therefore when renewed it was considered that consideration should be given to the landlord who had bought the House in the confident expectation that the Act was going to lapse. That was the justification for every date fixed in, for instance, the 1922 Act, which fixed three different dates on that basis to deal with different Rent Restrictions Acts. Last year we fixed a date which was more generous to the tenant than that fixed in previous Acts. We fixed a date a whole year before the lapsing of the 1920 Act. We did that in July, 1922. The date was justified by the fact that the Act was lapsing in 1923, and it was intended to deal with landlords who had bought in the confident expectation of that Act lapsing. But we also provided that any landlord who purchased after that date should get the house if he could prove greater hardship, and this was the 91 effect of the 1923 Act which made an advance on previous Acts. [Interruption.] That, I quite grant the hon. Member, is the reason this Bill is opposed by hon. Members like himself who are entirely ignorant of the Rent Restrictions Acts.
§ Lord E. PERCY
And I supported it because I think it was harmless. But this Bill as it stands now would do the same thing in practice that we did in the Act of last year. It would carry on a system under which a landlord buying after June, 1922, can get possession if he can prove greater hardship. Therefore you will not run the risk of turning a tenant out on the ground on which the tenant himself cannot if necessary get alternative accommodation. Though that was the reason for the dates in previous Acts there is no such reason for this date. This date, 5th May, bears no relation to the termination of the 1923 Act or of any other Act. No landlord has bought by that date in the confident expectation of the lapsing of the Rent Restrictions Act. I will withdraw what I said of the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E. Simon) in one respect. He produced one argument. He said it would encourage landlords to build new houses rather than buy existing houses. Pro tanto, I think the Bill will do that, and that is why I am quite ready to support it. But the Amendment will not add anything to that. Does not the hon. Member see that Part I of the 1923 Act is lapsing as it stands at present in July, 1925? The landlord can buy a house, say, next month. If the Amendment is passed he will not be able to evict the tenant. If he waits a year the Act will lapse.
§ Lord E. PERCY
The hon. Member intends to prolong the Act beyond July, 1925. But does he not see that if he puts the date in here he will have to go on in any future extension of the Rent Restrictions Act, putting another date in and making a difference for landlords who bought in the confident expectation of the Act lapsing in July, 1925? That is the whole argument of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot). You must keep the fixed date. What is the fixed date under the provisions of the Act? The 92 date on which the previous Act was, it was confidently expected, going to lapse. Therefore a landlord who is going to buy quite happily in June, because he will look forward to getting into his house in July, is not going to get occupation much before next summer. Can he have as confident expectation of that as he can have of the lapsing of the Rent Restrictions Act? Hon. Members opposite have not thought out a single one of the effects of this Amendment. May I quote the words of a famous President of the United States:We are confronted by a condition and not by a theory.They have got a theory of how rent restriction can be conducted, but none of their proposals are directed in any way to the condition that they actually have to meet. I would really ask the House to think before they insert an Amendment, the only effect of which must be to create great hardship on certain classes of tenants. I would ask the House to pause before doing it and not to put that in merely to connect hon. Members above and below the Gangway again in the Siamese twin condition in which they once so happily were.
§ Mr. VIANT
I have listened very attentively to the arguments from the other side in opposition to the insertion of a date. I am on Standing Committee C, and I want to express my appreciation, having had an opportunity of reading this Amendment calmly and coolly, of the Government being prepared to insert a date. From my own experience in my constituency, where tenants who are liable to be evicted continually wait on my doorstep every morning before I leave for this House, I am convinced that definite guidance to the County Court Judges, such as this will give them, will be even appreciated by them.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Does not the hon. Member realise that nothing in this Amendment is going to affect in any way any of the tenants who now wait on his doorstep?
§ Mr. VIANT
If I understand procedure, this House, generally speaking, enacts legislation with a view to removing certain specific difficulties or hardships, or endeavours to confer certain rights upon certain people. Circumstances have arisen, even as the result of previous Rent 93 Restrictions Acts, which have of necessity from my point of view compelled the insertion in this Bill of a specific date. Evictions will not be possible after the passing of this Bill, which will prevent the purchasers of houses after this Bill obtaining possession of the premises purchased. Those who have purchased prior to the passing of the Bill will only be affected to this extent, that they will have to prove in the County Court that the hardship for them as purchasers will be greater than the hardship imposed upon the tenants if they are evicted.
§ Mr. VIANT
I agree, but experience has taught some of us, at least, that the proving of hardship is not sufficient. The desire, generally speaking, if I understand the feeling aright, is that evictions should cease, and the insertion of a specific date will enable us for the time being to hold up such evictions. I feel that the County Court Judges themselves will appreciate that fact. They are confronted with circumstances to-day which they do not appreciate by virtue of the fact that they invariably have to go beyond even their own humanitarian feelings because of the inadequacy of the existing Acts. Cases innumerable are waiting on my doorstep morning after morning, and I am persuaded that the insertion of this date will be appreciated by thousands of tenants, and even by the County Court itself. There is no excuse for the Opposition trying to make points in respect of endeavouring to avoid the insertion of this date. Nearly every Act of Parliament that is passed lays down a specific date when it shall come into operation. Seldom does the House consider the effect that it is going to have upon people before the passing of the Act. We legislate invariably for the future. It is seldom that this House even passes retrospective legislation. I hope the House will see the wisdom of accepting the proposal of the Government.
§ Sir J. SIMON
There seems to be something about the subject of rent restriction which compels those who discuss it constantly to become involved in some very elaborate detail, because I thought when the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E. Simon) moved his Amendment he made entirely plain what the effect of it would 94 be, and I thought the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health also made entirely plain that the Government were in substance prepared to accept that Amendment, as I imagine the hon. Member for Withington is very content that they should. But the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), whom we have been accustomed to regard as a great expert on the subject, has confused me completely, and that is the more remarkable because his contributions to this subject are not limited to speeches made in this House. Of course he has had great experience administratively on the subject and he was one of the authors and signatories of the Report of the Departmental Committee on the increase of Rent and Mortgage Restrictions Act, 1920. One of the matters which that Report discussed was the circumstances in which it would be desirable to insist upon the provision of alternative accommodation before a landlord could turn a tenant out. I certainly understood the Noble Lord to say it was quite absurd in his view to say that whatever the provisions might be they ought not to be provisions which would inure to the advantage of persons who became landlords after the passing of the Act. Yet when I look at page 15 of the Report of the Departmental Committee which the Noble Lord signed, I read this passage. He is dealing with the case of an owner requiring possession for occupation as the law was in 1920. He says:At present, before he can obtain possession, he must obtain alternative accommodation for the tenant unless he became the landlord before the date specified in the Act. We consider that this condition should be withdrawn in all cases where the house is required for occupation by the owner or his children, but in view of the possibility of abuse we think this concession should apply only to those who have already become owners.If I understand this, it is the Noble Lord who insists that you ought to have proposals which will secure that people who become owners after the Act are not put in the same position.
§ Lord E. PERCY
That was our contention on the Committee. It very commonly happens in drafting a report that one comes up against certain considerations. We came up against the consideration which I have pointed out, that, if you draw a hard-and-fast line like 95 that, you will discriminate against the eviction of a tenant who will not be able to secure alternative accommodation, and that is the point which we put into our Bill.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I quite agree. It is never too late to mend, or, indeed, to change your opinion, and it is never too late for the House on Report to reverse the decision arrived at on Standing Committee on the advice of the present Attorney-General, and with the support of all the Members of the Labour and Conservative parties. But this is a very strange doctrine Apparently, on mature reflection, the Noble Lord has come to the conclusion that in this respect the Report of the Committee was wrong, because he feels that an opportunity ought to be given to an evicted tenant to realise his securities and buy a house, although it is occupied by someone else, and enter into possession. That is the case. A man who is not able to pay his rent, whose difficulties are such that he really can find no means at all of maintaining himself where he is, is to be a person who is to buy a house, and having bought it he is to evict someone else. Then what, I should like to know, is to happen to evicted tenant number two. Apparently this principle of puss in the corner can go on indefinitely, and the Noble Lord's mature reflection on the subject leads him to the conclusion that the Report which he signed, and, for all I know, took a share in drawing up, which insisted on the very distinction which this Amendment would now secure, was after all an undesirable change, because you could not in that event have an endless chain of evicted tenants each engaged in buying a house and evicting someone else. I begin to understand that a close and continuous study of the subject produces very strange results.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I am not, and no one is, dealing with the eviction of tenants who cannot pay their rent.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I know that. If my phrase was inaccurate, the Noble Lord was right in correcting me, but it is not the point I was making. The other thing which astonishes me a good deal is to find how quickly the atmosphere of the House of Commons on the Report stage 96 changes the views of people who have been engaged in Standing Committee C. I have made it my business, as I did not serve on that Standing Committee, to study the OFFICIAL RKPOUT of what occurred. The Committee met and had the advantage of the assistance of the Attorney-General, who lost no time in clearing up the view of the Prime Minister that the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Withington were no good and must at once be torn up. Thereupon, the Attorney-General produced his alteration. Half the Report of the proceedings of the Committee consist of a Debate in which my hon Friend the Member for Withington and my hon. Friend the Member tor Bodmin (Mr. Foot) and others were pointing out that if the Government insisted on the suggestion of the Attorney-General in making the change which he so hastily proposed in the Bill, they would produce the very evil which the Government and the hon. Members behind the Government now appreciate. They now realise that, as a matter of fact, that evil must be guarded against by restoring the Bill, in substance, to its original form Let me read two or three passages from the Report of the Committee. The hon. Member for Withington said, with regard to the Attorney-General's proposal.If the Amendment be accepted, and if a landlord chooses to buy a house, he can then proceed to get an order for eviction against the tenant if he can prove greater hardship to himself by having the order refused than to the tenant by having it granted and having the tenant ejected.That was the whole point, and my hon. Friend laid it down with the greatest clearness, within a few minutes after the Attorney-General had produced the Government's Amendment. The hon. Member for Bodmin pointed out that there would be no distinction drawn at the date of the passing of the Bill according to the Government's Amendment, and he went on to say:A man who buys a house next month should know that before he can turn his tenant out he must satisfy the Court that there is alternative accommodation available for the tenant.The hon. Member who has just spoken seems to agree that that was perfectly good sense. The hon. Member for Bodmin was pointing out what was perfectly true. A speech was made by the late Solicitor-General, the hon. and 97 learned Member for Central Bristol (Sir Thomas Inskip) in which he put the point with the greatest clearness. He said that the question was whether the Attorney-General's Amendment was better than the Bill as it stood. He argued that it was really better to leave all these things to the discretion of the County Court Judges. The Attorney-General did not take the smallest part in the subsequent Debate. He did not make the smallest attempt to meet the criticism offered by my hon. Friends, but, before the Committee voted, the hon. Member for Withington said:If the Government Amendment be passed, any landlord after this date who buys a house, and can prove that it is a greater hardship upon him not to get possession of the house than it would be to the tenant to be ejected can get the tenant out,
§ Sir THOMAS INSKIP
My right hon. and learned Friend has unwittingly done the Attorney-General an injustice, because the Attorney-General, according to the OFFICIAL REPOKT, addressed four lines to the Committee, in which he said that the date had no importance at all.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I beg the Attorney-General's pardon. He said that they attached no importance to it, because it did not matter a bit. Do the supporters of the Government really think that it makes no difference whether you secure or whether you do not secure that after this Bill is passed, and with the knowledge of this Bill, a man shall not be able to say, "That is a nice looking house. I should like to live in that house. I have the money with which to buy it. I will buy the house, and go to the Court and show that my hardship is greater than that of the tenant, and, therefore, the tenant must go out, even if there is no alternative accommodation for him." That was the result of what was done, and deliberately done, in the Standing Committee.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I said that no County Court Judge would ever make such an order in the case of a man who has bought a house in those circumstances.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The hon. Member is entitled to say that he does not think it matters, but I am addressing myself to the members of the Labour party who support the Government. Is it not entirely clear to them that the Committee upstairs was misled, no doubt unwittingly, by the Attorney-General, because it is really no use saying in the House of Commons that you are going to put the Bill right when it is nothing more than restoring the original proposal of the hon Member for Withington. You had all this elaborate parade before the Standing Committee, in the course of which the Bill was altered, and now it has to be put back into substantially the condition it was in before.
§ Mr. G. OLIVER
Does the right hon. I and learned Gentleman object to the Amendment now proposed by the Government?
§ Sir J. SIMON
No, but it is just as well to bear in mind that, in point of fact, it was all nonsense to describe the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Withington as wholly unsatisfactory. What the Government and the Labour party are doing, after quite an unnecessary occupation of time upstairs, is really taking the Bill of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. OLIVER
Has the right hon. Member, perused the Order Paper and seen the Amendments down in the name of members of the Labour party?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am delighted to see that after every member of the Labour party who voted the other way, led by the Attorney-General and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and the hon. Member for Willesden (Mr. Viant) and everyone else who was not a member of the Liberal party, now appreciate the point, which ought to have been appreciated earlier by people who ought to have seen it. All the time, the Labour party in certain parts of the country is letting it be thought that there is another Bill, the Rent Restrictions Bill of the hon. Member for Upton (Mr. Gardner), which represents their real aspirations. Do my hon. Friends appreciate the fact that that Bill makes alternative accommodation a universal condition, and that that is a Bill which the Labour Government blesses and professes to support? We have gentlemen on the Front Bench in one breath saying that the Bill of the hon. Member for Upton 99 "is the sort of Bill for us"—and that is a Bill which establishes alternative accommodation as a universal rule—while at the same time the Attorney-General in Committee upstairs has torn out of the Bill of the hon. Member for Withington a provision which really would have secured that, substituting for it a proposal which gives facilities to those who buy houses hereafter, which principle I think the general sense of the House says ought not to be allowed.
I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health says that the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Withington should be accepted in substance. I quite agree that the words that he has proposed are better words, but there is one question which it would be well to consider, and I suggest this because in the Committee upstairs the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Mills) asked the Committee to realise the spirit in which the Labour party look upon the housing problem to-day. It is an excellent thing to look upon the housing problem in the right spirit, but what matters most in dealing with the question legislatively is the language you use and the meaning of the words you employ. No amount of spirit and no amount of general rhetoric will help in the least unless we can say exactly what is the effect of the words we use. I am not quite satisfied whether the phrase, "not being a landlord who has purchased," would be understood to mean, "not being a landlord who has made an agreement to purchase," that is, signed a purchase agreement, or whether it would mean a landlord who has actually got the conveyance.
I have the impression, though it is a slight one, that a similar point arose in the Courts on an earlier Act, and before the words are finally approved I suggest that the question ought to be considered whether these words are clearly intended to mean one thing and whether they do really have the effect desired. I should have thought myself that what was meant was "not being a landlord who has actually purchased," as distinct from making an agreement which might have been made some time before the Bill was passed. I think I am right in saying that in this connection a doubt has been expressed, and I think a decision has been given. What we have to have regard to is not an agreement to purchase but the 100 actual conveyance. Subject to that, I hope that the hon. Member for Withington will withdraw his Amendment in favour of the words now proposed, and that the Government will consider whether the word "purchased" is adequate. When that is done, I trust that the House will agree by a great majority that the right thing is to do what the hon. Member for Withington always said was the right thing to do, namely, not to give privileges to people who try to buy houses over the heads of tenants hereafter, but to secure that greater measure of reasonable security which the Bill will give when it has been altered.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
I am not surprised that an hon. Member opposite asked the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) whether he was in favour of the Amendment suggested by the Government. Hon. Members by now have, no doubt, discovered that two-thirds of my right hon. Friend's speech were directed, not to the merits of the Amendment but to proving that the Liberal party were entitled to all the credit. I was very much impressed, as I always have been, with the skill of my right hon. and learned Friend. Having proved to his own satisfaction and to the satisfaction of his own party that they were entitled to credit, he turned round and suggested to the hon. Member for Withington that he should accept the Government's suggestion, thinking that the Debate would then conclude, and that the Liberal party would retire with the laurels to which neither the Attorney-General nor the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health would be entitled. I do not know that that quite represents the position. The position requires a little more examination.
The right hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) made an unwarranted attack on the Attorney-General. He suggested that the Attorney-General gave the Committee no clear guidance on the matter. On the contrary, I think the Attorney-General gave the Committee the clearest possible guidance in the briefest and clearest possible terms. How on earth the right hon. Member for Rusholme could suggest that the Attorney-General had given no clear guidance, I cannot conceive. The Amendment was quite clearly explained to the I Committee when the Attorney-General 101 introduced it. He told the Committee that the Clause proposed by the Government was perhaps the simplest Clause ever put into any Rent Restriction Act. After that time the Debate ranged round the question as to whether a date should or should not be inserted. The Attorney-General said that the Government had a very clear view about it, and that the reason they attached no importance to the date was two-fold. He said:Certainly 999 out of every 1,000 cases would take place before the date, and the number of cases that would be affected by that date are infinitesimal.Therefore the Committee accepted the advice so clearly given by the Attorney-General and the Amendment was adopted. There was an argument on those benches that the backbone was taken out of the Bill. I am afraid that the backbone of the Government is taken out of it. We find the Government upstairs adopting one attitude and downstairs they are adopting another. Whether this is because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley suggests, the atmosphere upstairs is more bracing than in tins House when there is the proximity of the Liberal party is not clear. Even the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. A. Greenwood), who has redeemed the situation, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman), must agree that in candour he ought to tell the House that there has been a complete change of front by the Government on this question. I do not think that it is treating the House with the candour with which the House expects to be treated, when the Government have changed their attitude, not to tell us that they have done so. If they tell the House that they have changed their opinion they would not suffer in the respect of the House. But they will suffer if they do a different thing from that which they were prepared to do upstairs, and yet, in order to save their faces, pretend that they are doing exactly the same thing. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health was present at the Debate in Committee and never said a word to indicate any difference of opinion, but joined in the Division in carrying the Amendment.
Now in reference to the point as to whether the Amendment was desirable or 102 not, I think that there were very good reasons as my Noble Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) has pointed out, for putting in the date, in the 1923 Act. There was an absolute right given to the landlord, who was a landlord before a certain date, and a qualified right given to the landlord who was a landlord after that date. In this Bill the County Court Judge is to have every circumstance before him, and to be at liberty to consider everything, it may be even the character of the tenant's wife or the landlord's wife, the size of the family and the occupation of the various members of the family. There ought not to be a distinction between the landlord, who is to be considered on the merits, as compared with the merits of the tenant. If a landlord on the 6th May bought a house and goes to the County Court Judge to get possession, and if he had done so, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, merely because he liked the house and would like to be landlord of it, then it is right that he should be refused. But suppose that the man bought a house on the 6th May, 1924, as an investment, and suppose that on the 6th May, 1926, at which date it is more than likely rent control will still be in force, his circumstances have changed, his own house, as is the fact in many cases, has tumbled down, or he has been turned out of it, is it right that he should be excluded from securing possession of his own house when his exclusion would be a greater hardship to him than to the tenant, merely because he purchased the house on 6th May instead of before the 6th May? I hope that hon. Members will recognise that there is this reason against putting in this date, when they look a little further forward than the Liberal party are prepared to look in this connection. It is really this circumstance which has been overlooked.
Too much attention has been paid by hon. Members opposite, particularly by the right hon. Member for Rusholme, to those curious creatures to whom he refers, the predatory and peripatetic landlords. I do not know where he discovered these extraordinary creatures, but he should give the County Court Judge some credit for a little common sense and knowledge of the world. The landlord whom we have to consider is the landlord who, according to the terms of the Section, reasonably requires the house for his own 103 occupation, and upon whom a greater hardship would fall than upon the tenant if he does not obtain possession of the house. If only hon. Members will keep their minds fixed upon that essential condition, which the County Court Judge has to find established, they will see that the Attorney-General was right upstairs in his statement that the date is immaterial, and that there ought to be no distinction between the landlord who bought his house before the date or after the date, and that the best thing to do is to leave the Clause as the Attorney-General introduced it, as a clear Clause, and to trust the County Court Judges to apply justice to each particular case as it comes before them. I hope that the Attorney-General will tell the House that, that being the man he is, he is still of the same opinion as that which he clearly expressed in Committee upstairs.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
There are only two speeches to which I propose to make any reference. The first one is that of my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment, and the second is that of my Noble Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), who spoke most strongly against it. The Mover of the Amendment described it as an attempt to put back into the Bill the backbone which had been taken out of it. I hope that is will not be thought that I am infringing in any way the concordat which is supposed to have been made in my respectful submission that that is nonsense, and that the Amendment does nothing of the sort. I do not think that any hon. Member of the House who considers the matter really thinks that this could, by any chance, be described as the backbone of the Bill in any form. Then my Noble Friend the Member for Hastings, who opposed the Amendment, went as far in the other direction, and said that hon. Members who supported it did not appreciate the grave injury that was done to them. That was equally an exaggeration. This date has neither the one effect nor the other.
I may repeat what I said upstairs about this matter, and I hope that I may be perfectly plain, and, so far as I have changed my view, I propose to say so plainly, and the reason why. May I point out that there is one thing about this Bill which is unique? It was in 104 Committee upstairs for two hours, and the whole Bill went through, and we have been down here for two hours and we have not yet got through the first Amendment. Now for the reasons which actuated me and actuated His Majesty's Government upstairs. In our view this date would affect at the most an infinitesimal number of cases. The position is that this Bill at present will run until June, 1925, and the only people who will be affected will be the people who, first of all, acquired the premises for this illicit purpose, between now and June, and are so cunning as to be able to persuade the County Court Judges to give them possession.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that the control will only last until 1925? Is that the considered decision of the Government?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that it is not, and I did not intend to suggest that, but I wish to make plain what I thought about this Amendment. As the Act stands at the moment, it must be apparent to everyone who considers the matter that the number of people affected by this Amendment will be infinitesimal. On the other hand, the point made by my Noble Friend the Member for Hastings was, to my mind, equally unimportant, but there has been a matter which has been discussed and which, though I think it to be of comparatively little importance, makes it desirable that this should be put in. The reason is that there appear to be a considerable number of people who fear that unless this date is put in, there will be an immense number of landlords who will buy houses and who will turn out the tenants. It is impossible to persuade all those people, even if it were desirable or practicable, that their fears are groundless, and if that be so, both sides will probably agree that though the real risk is small yet, if the fear is genuine, the date should be put in. I believe that most Members of this House who have considered this Bill have come to the conclusion that the date is not of great importance, but that is the reason why His Majesty's Government have changed their view.
I hope that I will not be considered wanting in respect to others who have spoken if I do not speak at greater length 105 but it is impossible to do so this afternoon. It does seem a pity when we were able to get through the Bill so quickly upstairs, when I certainly did suggest that no one would speak for more than five minutes, that we should have Members on all sides of the House getting up and occupying so much time in pointing out that their opponents are wrong, and it is very desirable, as there is not much importance in this matter and as His Majesty's Government have accepted the suggestion, that it should be got through without delay. The question of the word "purchased" has been referred to. I have not considered it. I confess that it is most desirable that words to the effect suggested should be put in.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made In page 1, line 14, after the word "landlord" insert the words
not being a landlord who has become owner by purchase of the dwelling-house after the fifth day of May, nineteen hundred and twenty-four."—[Mr. Greenwood.]
§ Lord E. PERCY
I beg to move, in page 1, line 17, to leave out from the word "case" to the word "that" in line 18.
This Amendment is purely a drafting Amendment, but I regard it as one of considerable importance. The words which I am proposing to leave out were contained originally in an Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot), and, in speaking on the Bill when it was before the Standing Committee, I said that I thought that the hon. Member's words on the subject of hardship were preferable to the words which the Government proposed. They were put in. The drafting of these Bills is appallingly difficult, and we do not want to make it worse. When this Amendment is put into the 1923 Act the Clause will read as follows:The existence of alternative accommodation shall not be a condition of an order or judgment on any of the grounds specified in paragraph (d) of this Sub-section …."—I am reading only the relevant words—where the dwelling-house is reasonably required by the landlord, and the Court is 106 satisfied, having regard to all the circumstances, and including any alternative accommodation available to the landlord or tenant …In one breath you say that the alternative accommodation shall not be required, and in the next breath you say it shall be required. Under paragraph (d) of the 1923 Act, which is referred to, a landlord has a right to obtain possession for, say, his son or daughter, if he can provide alternative accommodation. Under this Amendment the Court will have to take into consideration not only alternative accommodation but a number of other factors. The Court may be satisfied that the landlord actually was providing alternative accommodation, but the Judge might say that in other respects the hardship was so great that he would not give an order for possession. What we want to do is to leave the County Court Judge complete discretion to consider all the circumstances of the cases. If that is what we are setting out to do, is it not, as a matter of drafting, inadvisable to insert one circumstance to which you want the Judge to pay attention? Surely you do not want to mention one circumstance without the others, and if you mention all that you could think of you would make the Clause unworkable. I am sure that hon. Members opposite know that I am not trying to prevent the County Court Judge from taking full account of the quality and extent of alternative accommodation. If you are going to ask the Judge to consider all the circumstances of the case why specify only one circumstance?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I hope that the Noble Lord will not press this Amendment. Suppose that in the Bill now before us there was no reference to alternative accommodation. Considerable difficulty might arise in the mind of the Judge as to whether or not the preceding words by necessary implication limited, or were intended in some way to limit, him in the wide discretion which he is intended to have. These words are put in for the purpose of showing that the County Court Judge is to have regard to all the circumstances of the case, but he is not to consider himself trammelled at all by the preceding words, and amongst all the circumstances which he is to consider, he is to 107 consider the provision of alternative accommodation.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Would the Attorney-General clear up the other point. Is it possible, or is it not, under the wording now, that a man might want possession of a house, that he might provide alternative accommodation, yet that under paragraph (d) he might not get possession for his son or daughter even though he provided alternative accommodation?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The Noble Lord knows that according to decisions already given, the question of reasonable hardship is always considered by the County Court Judge.
§ Mr. FOOT
I think that the words that it is proposed to leave out ought to be retained. If I may refer to the question which has just been put to the Attorney-General, I would say that I understand he is in some doubt as to what might happen to a landlord who desires to obtain possession for himself and cannot give alternative accommodation. The principle of Section (5) is that no one shall be able to obtain possession of a house or turn a tenant out; but under paragraph (d) he can obtain possession if, apart from any hardship of his own, he can show that there is alternative accommodation for the tenant. It is that obligation which landlords generally seek to avoid, and it is the latter part of the Section which we are now amending which gives to the landlord an advantage enabling him to say to the Judge, "I want you to take my hardship into consideration." Where he is applying under paragraph (d), a Judge does not look at his hardship. The Judge says to him, "Prove the alternative accommodation for your tenant, and it makes no difference whether you have any place to go into or not. I am not entitled to take your hardship into consideration at all. I have only to be satisfied that there is alternative accommodation for the tenant and then you are entitled to the possession of the house."He has to start in every instance with the fact that he reasonably requires the house and the Judge has an overriding jurisdiction that it is reasonable to grant the Order.
I know the difficulties. Some years ago there was a Rent Restriction Act, and we have built upon it a number of 108 amending Acts, until we have made it a jig-saw puzzle. It is most unfortunate that we cannot have a clean sweep of the Acts and have one Measure which even a tenant can understand. It is only a landlord or a tenant of very high intellectual capacity who can understand the Acts. As a matter of fact the lawyers have not understood it. It is quite evident from the debates in this House that there is a considerable difference of opinion amongst the lawyers, and those differences have to be settled in one court after another. The Attorney-General has pointed out what would be a real difficulty, namely, that if we eliminate these words some County Court Judges may think that they were not entitled to take into consideration the respective alternative accommodations available. It says in another part of Section 4 of the Act of 1923 that alternative accommodation is not to be a condition in certain instances, and there are County Court Judges who might say that these words rule out all consideration of all alternative accommodation. That was certainly not my intention in Committee upstairs. The words now embodied in the Bill were suggested to me by a very high authority who is in daily touch with the practice in the Courts. The words give the County Court Judge an opportunity of holding the scales before him and putting into the scales the respective hardships of the landlord and the tenant. It would be a great pity if he could not include in the relevant factors the alternative accommodation available for the landlord, and the alternative accommodation available for the tenant. At the worst the words can do no harm, but there will be a danger if we leave them out, and, having regard to the other reference in the Section, I hope the Noble Lord will not press this Amendment, and that, realising that no harm can be done by these words while some danger might be involved in their omission, we may have the Bill in its present form.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Having heard the Attorney-General's statement, I do not wish to press the Amendment and I am willing to withdraw, but, at the same time, I would say there is nothing so dangerous in drafting as reference to possible circumstances, and I do not feel quite satisfied.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.109
§ The following Amendment stood on the Paper in the name of Mr. G. OLIVER:
§ In page 1, line 17, after the word "including" to insert the words "the date of purchase of the dwelling-house by the landlord and, …".
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think this Amendment falls, in view of the decision which the House has already come to.
§ Mr. W. ALLEN
I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, after the word "available," to insert the words "or which may have been available since service of the notice to quit."
Those who have had daily experience of the working of the previous Rent Restrictions Acts will appreciate at once the significance and motive of this Amendment. May I explain to those who obviously have not had the facility of following all the cases which have been decided under the previous Acts, the reason why it seems to me these words are necessary and the difficulties which they are designed to avoid. These words are necessary if there is to be any purpose in what we are discussing this afternoon. It is common knowledge that in 1921 a decision in regard to the 1920 Act made it clear that when an application was made to the County Court for an order for possession, the Judge was only in a position to take into account the alternative accommodation available for the tenant on the day when the application was heard by him. Prior to that, I believe in certain districts it had been the practice to take into consideration the accommodation which might have been available between the date when the notice to quit was served and the actual hearing before the County Court Judge.
As the result of that decision, it became the law that the Judge could only take into account the actual accommodation available on the date when the application was heard. The object of the Amendment is to avoid any possibility of this Measure being construed in like manner. In the majority of cases which come before the County Courts, even before the notice to quit is served, the landlord, if he is a business man, endeavours to satisfy himself that alternative accommodation is available for the tenant whom he seeks to dispossess. If he is sensible he looks around, and sees what he can offer to the tenant, and in nine cases out of 10 he goes to 110 the tenant and says, "I want this house; here is a notice to quit, and here is alter-notive accommodation which I offer to you in accordance with the Rent Restrictions Act." The House knows well that in a large number of cases there are tenants who take up what I may call a non-possumus attitude and will not leave until compelled to do so by the County Court. Whether that attitude is defensive or otherwise is immaterial for the present argument, but that is the attitude taken by a large number of tenants no matter what may be the nature of the alternative accommodation offered to them.
Obviously, in many cases it is a wholly unreasonable attitude, because what is the result? In the overwhelming majority of cases there is no likelihood of the application being heard by the County Court until the expiration of at least one month from the service of the notice. I believe in a number of areas it is more likely to be six weeks or two months. Meantime, it is obvious that accommodation, which might have been available after the notice to quit was served, will be no longer available when the case is heard by the County Court. If there is to be any purpose in this provision regarding alternative accommodation; if there is to be any object in the discussion which has been going on this afternoon, I submit the insertion of these words is imperative. Without them, the provision is virtually useless. No landlord can be sure of his power to retain alternative accommodation, for the month or two months, which would be necessary if the only criterion by which the County Court Judge can test the case is that the accommodation is there actually on the day when the application is made. I have only this to add, and I add it in recognition of possible concern which may be aroused in the minds of certain hon. Members, that there is nothing in these words which would compel the tenant to take the alternative accommodation offered to him along with the notice to quit. The only effect would be that he would, by refusing, take upon himself the responsibility of earning the condemnation, shall I say, of the Court, and of being told by the Judge that he had acted unreasonably in refusing the accommodation offered to him when the notice to quit was served.
§ Mr. A. GREENWOOD
I ask the Mover of this Amendment not to press it to a Division. The point he has raised it not a new point. It is a point of considerable difficulty, and one which has been raised before. Only last year an Amendment with a similar object was brought forward in the Committee stage of the Measure which was passed last year, and the then Minister of Health the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Ladywood Division of Birmingham (Mr. N. Chamberlain) put an overwhelming case against it in these words:I think, however, that he"—that is, the Mover of the Amendment—will see that the proposal he makes raises further difficulties of a somewhat different character, because, supposing that alternative be offered to a tenant and he accepts it, then supposing proceedings come before a Court and the Court decides that a landlord does not reasonably require the house for the purpose for which he claims it, what is the position of the tenant? He has given up the house, and after all finds he need not have done so, because the Court has decided against the landlord. He is put in a worse position. He has lost the accommodation and he has no compensation whatever."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee D), 26th June, 1923, col. 2073.]This Amendment would put the tenant in quite an impossible position. He would be on the horns of a dilemma. He receives notice to quit, and if he does not take the alternative accommodation offered with it he goes to Court and runs the risk. He may find that having accepted the alternative accommodation he need not have done so. That is quite unfair. What I realise is that the difficulty is a real one, because there may be cases of tenants who refuse to accept alternative accommodation when they ought to do so. So far, this House has not devised means of getting round the difficulty, but this Amendment is one which has been suggested before, and has been rejected by this House because of the unfair position in which it places the tenant.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am again in a difficulty, because I am very anxious not to break the new concordat between the parties opposite. Earlier in the afternoon I had to oppose a proposal when both parties opposite seemed in agreement. Now I find there is a rift between them, and may I suggest to the Parliamentary 112 Secretary that he must not trust the party below the Gangway to act on behalf of the tenants. I agree with him that this is an impossible Amendment from the tenants' point of view, and I am very glad to see that the Labour party is not so wedded to the new concordat that they are prepared to give up the tenant's interest. In the circumstances I shall support the Labour party.
§ Mr. FOOT
I am glad to note that a spirit of accommodation is prevailing, and I wish to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman in opposing the Amendment. Although that Amendment is proposed by an hon. Friend of mine who sits here, I consider it is hardly applicable to this Clause. An Amendment designed to meet the real difficulty should have been raised on paragraph (d) of Section 5 of the Act of last year. It is there provided that the landlord shall not be able to obtain possession unless the Court is satisfied that alternative accommodation is available, and it is on the interpretation of those words that the difficulty has arisen. The Amendment would be relevant in that respect, but it is not relevant now. When it is suggested that the Amendment should be attached to the present Bill, I think it is out of place, because under the terms of the present Bill the Judge is empowered to take all the facts into consideration, not merely alternative accommodation but all the surrounding circumstances, and it is in conceivable that he would not take into consideration the fact that a tenant had been offered proper alternative accommodation and had not availed himself of that offer. If the landlord can go to the Court and say: "I am not hard with this tenant. He had offered to him three or four weeks ago a house just as good as the house he is now occupying," that would be a relevant fact, which the Judge would take into consideration, and I urge my hon. Friend, having regard to the inapplicability of his Amendment to this Bill, but its relevance to the other part of the original Act, to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.113
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
I beg to move, in page 1, line 21, at the end, to insert the wordsProvided that in the case of a dwelling-house of which either the tenant or the landlord is an alien who is not British born and did not serve in the Great War, if the Court is of opinion that equal hardship would be caused to the tenant by granting as to the landlord by refusing to grant an order, the landlord or the tenant, as the case may be, who is a British subject shall be preferred by the Court.I hope I shall be able to obtain for this Amendment the same unanimity as has characterised the proceedings so far. It is an important Amendment, and one which deserves consideration, because there is little doubt that a good many of the housing difficulties in different parts of the country are caused by what is known as the alien question. I think there are some 250,000 aliens in the country to-day, and in places like the East End of London undoubtedly their presence has greatly accentuated the housing difficulty, which is very severe in that part of London. The difficulties have been great for some considerable time, and they are, no doubt, much worse to-day than they were some years ago. I was very interested to read in the Report of the Alien Commission exactly how matters stood some years ago, and it might be almost a description of what is the state of affairs to-day, with this further observation, that no doubt the characterisation which the Commission gave to the subject—
§ Sir K. WOOD
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn), who has spent a good deal of his political life in the East End of London, doubtless knows that the position is much worse now. Then, in 1902, this Commission, which was an entirely non-political body, stated in regard to these aliens:For the most part they make their way to certain portions of the East End of London. Here they find insufficient housing accommodation, and so, for causes dealt with in this Report, being unwilling to leave the locality, they are housed under conditions most unfavourable to cleanliness and good sanitation.It further says:The fact is clearly established that in the East End of London—notably in certain 114 areas within the Borough of Stepney—there exists a most serious amount of overcrowding, greatly increased by the continuous gravitation into the district of large numbers of aliens from Eastern Europe. It is also proved that the increase in the foreign population within these areas has caused the abandonment of houses, almost of whole streets, by the English working classes, and their occupation by foreigners.In fact, between the years 1881 and 1901 the Borough of Stepney, by virtue of alien immigration, received no less an abnormal addition than 38,000 persons, and this Report quite rightly says thatthe 38,312 aliens who have arrived in the borough since 1881 have had to be provided with housing accommodation and have of necessity taken a great share in causing the regrettable condition of the district in respect of overcrowdingSo far from the housing conditions having been improved, I think anyone who has any knowledge of the facts will agree that the thing has become much worse. One of the most unfortunate things that has now happened has been that, owing to the occupations of these aliens, much higher rents are being charged, and it is very unfair to British subjects. That matter was also referred to in this Report.
§ Sir K. WOOD
If anyone thinks it is rather a long time ago, my answer is that matters are much worse now than they were then.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I will read the statement to which I was referring. It is as follows:An offer of these higher rents"—from the aliens in question—tempts the landlord to dispossess the occupying tenant, who cannot afford to pay an abnormally high rent. There was strong evidence before us that many of those turned out were native workpeople, and that their houses have been occupied by aliens who, by subletting and much overcrowding, provide the means of paying the high rent which secures the creation of their tenancy.I have been challenged, and rightly, perhaps, on the ground that those statements were made some time ago, but I have in my hand a statement, to which I referred in Committee upstairs, from the chairman of a well known housing committee in London, who has taken a great 115 deal of interest in this subject, confirming the view that matters have by no means improved, and, in fact, have got a great deal worse. He says that these alienshave crowded out several districts in the West End, and, by the protection given them in the past Acts, they are generally misbehaving themselves and defying their landlords, and, in fact, have become thoroughly arrogant. On the other hand, they always keep within such limits as would prevent any landlord obtaining an order for possession from a County Court Judge, and usually claim sympathy by reason of their large families. Without doubt, they are competing against Englishmen with their labour and are keeping deserving people from homes.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I will give the letter afterwards to anyone who is interested. He says:I would like to state that, of my own knowledge and experience, which would be corroborated by any other estate agent in the district, I can safely assert that at least 90 per cent. of the residents of Soho, that is, the district bounded by Oxford Street, Coventry Street, Regent Street, and Charing Cross Road, are aliens, and at least 80 per cent. of the residents in the district bounded by Euston Road, Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street and Great Portland Street.… To go a little further afield, certainly 90 per cent. of the residents in South St. Pancras … are similarly aliens, and a similar state of affairs exists in a large portion of North Kensington (Notting Hill) and Stoke Newington, although in the latter case they are financially of a better class.He says this:As a member of the St. Marylebone Borough Council, I can assert that in a large majority of the cases of prosecutions for using houses for immoral purposes the defendants are aliens, and this could, of course, be confirmed by the police or the Town Clerk, and would, I think, apply to other parts of London.He also makes this further observation:Most of these aliens live in the West End because they are not limited in their hours of work, and it is better for them to pay the higher rent involved to save the hour's journey each way per day, for which they are highly paid, and they have overflowed from purely working-class tenements into quite good-class flats, to the exclusion of the middle class.That is the state of affairs which I seek to remedy by this Amendment, which simply comes to this, that if the County Court Judge, in dealing with cases which 116 constantly arise in districts like this, find that the hardship is equal, he shall prefer the Britisher. I cannot see what hon. Members can object to in that, and yet upstairs in Committee the Attorney-General made a very remarkable statement. He said:There is another point of view, on which I appeal very strongly, and I know that a good many in the Committee do, and that is that, if you allow aliens to live in your country, and they keep the law and live properly, they ought not to be treated differently from other people. That is a general proposition which I know will appeal to a good many people"—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee C), 15th April, 1924; col. 37.]I totally differ from him in that respect, and I say that if, in cases suggested by my Amendment, the County Court Judge comes to the conclusion that the hardship is equal, the proper course to be taken is to prefer the British citizen. The same matter arose when the Aliens Restrictions Bill came before this House. The Home Secretary on that occasion was a member of the Liberal party, and he there, under another set of circumstances, took up this line. He said:The safeguards for our people. … must be the first consideration, and where it is a choice between .… our people and the infliction of hardship upon an alien, then that hardship becomes necessary and ceases to be unjust."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1919; col. 2746; Vol. 114.]That is a summary of what Mr. Shortt said on that occasion, and it applies to the state of affairs to-day. Here you have conflicting claims under very great difficulties with reference to the shortage of housing accommodation, and when it comes to be a question where a County Court Judge says there is an equal hardship on either side, I think it is a reasonable direction to give to him to decide that the British citizen should be preferred.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member does not know the difficulties that arise in these cases, where it is almost impossible to say which hardship is the greater. If you talk to any County Court Judge about the difficulty of adjudicating in such cases, he will tell you that he is constantly in doubt as to who is suffering the greater hardship under the unfortunate circumstances that now exist. I appeal the more freely to some of the 117 hon. Members opposite belonging to the Liberal party, because I remember very well that, when I stood as a candidate in December, 1918, a manifesto was issued, of which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was one of the signatories, and No. 4 of the 6 points which the right hon. Gentleman issued, in conjunction with the late Mr. Bonar Law, for the guidance of candidates on that occasion was:Britain for the British, socially and industrially.Therefore, I hope that all those hon. Members opposite who followed him then, and who, no doubt, follow him to-day, will see that my Amendment is in the direction to which the right hon. Gentleman pointed on that occasion. If that does not sufficiently recommend itself to many Members opposite, I do hope the sound commonsense of this Amendment may appeal to Liberal minds, and that in this respect, at any rate, where circumstances are even, they can support an Amendment which says that the Britisher shall be preferred. With that hope and desire, and in the belief that this Amendment is thoroughly reasonable, as it is, I beg to move the Amendment.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
I beg to second the Amendment.
I have very little to say about this Amendment, as my hon. Friend has put the case quite clearly and fully before the House. I should have less to say about it if I did not gather, from the interest with which the Amendment has been met by hon. Members on the other side of the House, that it will not receive the acceptation at their hands which I really hoped it would. The hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Mr. Maxton) interrupted a moment ago to say that there were very few cases of equal hardship.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I was endeavouring to make a joke—was the tenant who was born a foreigner labouring under a hardship that could never be overcome.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
I apologise to the hon. Member for my lack of humour. His is always so penetrating that I ought to have been able to follow it.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
Hon. Members, I think, will be agreed that, generally speaking, as my hon. Friend has already said, the County Court Judges are really placed in a difficulty when they are attempting to say on which side of the scale is the greater hardship. In some cases, of course, it is perfectly obvious, where a tenant has practically nowhere to go, and has a large family whom he is bringing up, and the landlord is a single man, or a married man without children; but where you have cases of people both lacking accommodation which they and their children desire, it will be very difficult for anybody, County Court Judge or layman, to say whether there is greater hardship in one case or the other. I should have thought that in a case of equal hardship, where a County Court Judge said, after hearing all the evidence, "I really do not know on which side of the case there is greater hardship, but I do find one consideration distinguishing the applicant from the respondent, namely, that one is a British subject, and the other is a man who is not a British subject, nor is he a man who was born in this country, nor even is he a man who gave any military service in the Great War"—I should have thought everybody would say, in those circumstances, that the man who ought to be preferred, and would be preferred by 99 people out of 100, would be the British subject.
§ Mr. H. SPENCER
The Amendment says, "did not serve in the great War." It does not say on which side.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
The hon. Member's interruption is an admirable example of the point of view which distinguishes him from me. I would point out to the hon. Member who interrupted, and who is obviously very well pleased with his interruption, that in a British Act of Parliament, when we speak on this side of the House of service in the Great War, we mean service to our own kith and kin. When the hon. Member opposite speaks of service in the Great War, he thinks it may equally mean service to our enemies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Or our Allies"]—or to one of our Allies. If hon. Members really can find only that criticism of the Amendment, and are so delighted with it, it shows the poverty of the criticism which they are prepared to bring to this Amendment. It is a quibbling and 119 pedantic criticism, which would not have occurred to anybody except a Member of the party opposite. Hon. Members opposite really hardly do themselves credit for the ordinary commonsense which they would apply to everyday affairs. Let me consider any hon. Member empowered to dispose of a house under his control—a cottage or a mansion—and let me consider the applicant being in one case an alien who has not served in the Great War—and served in the sense in which I understand the expression—and let the other applicant be a person, a British subject, who perhaps served in the Great War. Is there an hon. Member on the benches opposite who would not say to these two applicants, "You are each of you excellent persons as far as character is concerned. I understand each of you desires to bring up a family in healthy and commodious conditions. I have but one house, and there are two applicants for it. As I am not able to give the judgment of Solomon, and divide the house between the two of you, I must select one of you, and I shall select the one who is of my own kith and kin, and a member of my own race."
There is not a single hon. Member opposite—I give them credit for this—who would proceed upon a different method. There is not a single hon. Member opposite who would say to the alien, "I find you are equally deserving with the member of my own race, but I prefer you to a British subject, and put you into the house, which is the only house I have."We are simply attempting to put into force the same reasons which would guide any hon. Member opposite in the arrangement of his own affairs, and the disposal of his own property. It is really time in this House that we began to treat this question of aliens with a little more sobriety and sincerity. You have only to raise a question as between the alien and the British subject to evoke the greatest possible amount of contempt for the British subject, and support for the alien on the benches opposite. I remember a speech which was delivered a little while ago on the bench opposite by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He was addressing himself to a very different question, but he addressed some observations to the Government Bench and the Prime 120 Minister, and said it was about time that somebody stood up for British rights. Without apologies to the right. hon. Gentleman, I will borrow his sentiment and expression, and I will ask that, inasmuch as the Bill does not provide for what is to happen when the Judge is unable to say on which side of the scale the greater hardship exists, in these cases which exist in certain of the districts of London, and in Leeds and other great cities, where the aliens are a very numerous population, a British subject who comes along shall be entitled to the privileges which, at any rate on this side of the House, we believe are the privileges of a, person who shares our own birthright.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
In order to shorten the discussion. I rise immediately to ask the Mover of the Amendment to withdraw it. I shall submit at least one reason, which hon. Members opposite must accept. We are opposed to this Amendment because it is an Amendment which discriminates not against all aliens but against certain aliens, and it does introduce what we believe—and, I think, many hon. Members on the other side, on reflection, will believe—is a retrograde principle, which distinguishes against aliens resident here in the provision of protection which we give to them and to our own subjects. I do not accept the view of the hon. and learned Gentleman that the words "did not serve in the Great War" must be taken to mean "did not serve this nation in the Great War." The hon. and learned Member may think it means that to him, but it does not say so.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
Will the hon. Member allow the Amendment to be slightly altered by saying, "did not serve the British nation in the Great War"?
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
According to the Amendment, we should be putting the Turk in the same position as the little Belgian dressmaker in London. The Turk who served in the Great War, although he fought against us, would be a good alien; but that would not apply to the little French milliner in Soho. I am not sure it is easy to arrive by some process of mathematics at "equal hardship," and, in practice, I am inclined to think that this provision would make the already difficult task of the 121 County Court Judges even harder. This question of rent restriction has created a good deal of controversy inside this country. So far it has not become a matter of international complication, but this Amendment, if carried, would raise international questions of some importance. I cite one case. There may be others. Rumania has somewhat similar rent restriction legislation to this country, and under Rumanian law no discrimination is made against foreigners so long as no discrimination is made against Rumanians in other countries. The effect of passing this Amendment would be to penalise any British subject Who happened to live in Rumania. This Amendment also happens to be in direct conflict with an important Treaty of Commerce. It happens to be in conflict with the provisions of our Treaty with Japan, Article 1 of which secures that theJapanese people shall be permitted to own or hire and occupy houses, manufactories, warehouses, shops and premises, and to lease land for residential, commercial, industrial and other lawful purposes in the same manner as native subjects.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD
Is that reciprocal? Is it not a fact that Japan will not allow a foreigner to own land except such as they got many years ago.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The Treaty is now in operation. The point is that we are bound by this Treaty. Apart from the other arguments, that argument alone is sufficient, I am sure, to persuade the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mrs. PHILIPSON
I would not have spoken in this Debate, because I feel that no one can put the case better for the British subject than the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Sir T. Inskip), but I feel very strongly on this subject, and can quote a case where I do consider there was hardship.
§ Mrs. PHILIPSON
No. This is one of the cases that could be settled under this Bill. I was asked to go and see the widow of an ex-service man who was living in one room with her father-in-law, very aged and very ill in bed, and with her two children. She sent for me because she was being evicted from that place. She was paying 8s. a week, and was being evicted because a foreigner wanted to open a shop in that room. He already had premises in the same place, but no shop. I think this is a case that really comes under, and would be settled by, this Bill. I feel, as a woman, that the patriotism of the Liberal party opposite has been plainly shown, and I do feel that I am voicing the opinion of many of the men and women in this country who are British subjects and British ex-service men. I know of several other cases in which this Amendment would do the same good. It is not penalising the alien, as many hon. Members opposite seem to think. It is for someone to be able to settle really hard cases, and I feel that British people, when they have fought for their country, should be given a preference over the foreigner. It is in the interests of those British people that I venture to speak in this Debate. It is a subject on which everyone in this House feels very strongly. The Liberal party will have an opportunity now of showing their patriotism to the people of the country. They seem to think British interests are always last.
§ Captain BENN
I hope the hon. Member will excuse me if I controvert some of the opinions which she has expressed. I wish to do it with perfect courtesy, but I wish to point out that patriotism is not shown by Amendments of this sort. It is a very remarkable thing, and I have noticed it in Debates in this House, that you will seldom, if ever, get to an Amendment of this kind the name of a man who, with a gun in his hand, has had any first-hand experience of an alien. These patriotic lawyers! This is not the first example. Patriotism does not consist in being unjust. It does not consist, if the hon. Member will permit me, in telling your Law Courts, "You are not to hold the scales of justice equal. If a man belongs to this nation he is to have an advantage." Does the Noble Lord, who is voci- 123 ferrous, if not articulate, say that where a man approaches a British Court of Justice the Judge is to ask where was he born and whether he is a Britisher?
§ Earl WINTERTON
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me. I do not know what he fought for in the War—he fought very gallantly—but I fought to stop aliens having an advantage in this country which they ought not to have.
§ Captain BENN
The Noble Lord fought very gallantly, as I know, but I have yet to learn that anybody fought in the War in order that when the Judge takes his seat someone shall whisper into his ear, "This man is a foreigner." What sort of justice is that? Three distinguished lawyers have framed an Amendment, and there is only one thing certain about it, and that is that a man gets an advantage by it. A German who fought in the War against us is protected in this Amendment. That is the best drafting which these eminent lawyers can contribute to the British Parliament. An ex-Solicitor-General! There is another thing. There was not a word in the speech of the Mover of this Amendment germane to the Amendment. It was a heap of prejudice from beginning to end; that the aliens work harder than our people work for sweated wages, and they charge high rents. But when I asked if he was in favour of reducing the rents, not at all. They were arrogant. A monstrous thing that anyone should be arrogant. And they flooded into the flats and crowded out the middle classes. Not one single word dealt with the subject of the Amendment which says the Courts of Law shall have regard to something else than the rights of the case that is before them. It is an Amendment which I venture to say is utterly alien to the proud spirit of British justice. We have heard a great deal from hon. Gentlemen opposite about our Allies and our pride in our Allies and our desire to keep friends with those who fought with us. They are not protected. The only person protected is the ex-German soldier. The Frenchman is not protected; the Belgian is not protected; all these people are to be penalised under this Amendment, the like of which has scarcely ever been seen before in the British House of Commons, 124 and, thank God, has never been seen on the Statute Book. It is degrading this country to the level of Turkey. It is alleged that in Turkey and Russia which suffer under tyrannous government, a foreigner cannot be sure of justice in the Courts. This is the same slur that hon. and learned Gentlemen propose to put on our country. Let me tell the hon. Member that we are as good patriots as the people opposite.
§ Mr. MILLS
The Amendment which has been brought forward differs somewhat from the Amendment brought forward in Committee, but substantially it is the same. I merely want to ask whether or not we are to have anything like clarity as to the actual meaning of the Amendment. If you put half-a-dozen of the keenest legal brains of this House in one room and kept them there until they could make sense of this Amendment, they would have to plead for mercy without being able to say they could come to anything intelligible. I would be willing to consider the proposed Amendment a little more if we could add after the words "did not serve in the Great War," the wordsunless they served in the native States of India Army, the French or Belgian Army, the Serbian Army, the Rumanian Army or the Polish Army, or the Montenegrin Army or the Japanese Army"—for all of those armies contributed something to the success of the Allied cause, and it is on record. Still, if we are to get an exhaustive list in order to be just to the Allies who served in the War, then if they will bring it along for the consideration of this House again, we may be able to reduce a very bad joke in a very bad case to something which may be intelligible to the Members of this House.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, after the word "serve" ["did not serve in the Great War"] to insert the wordsthe British Empire or its Allies.If this Amendment be accepted, the words will readis an alien who is not British-born and did not serve the British Empire or its Allies in the Great War—and so on. In view of the doubt that has been raised by hon. Members opposite as to the proposed Amendment being com- 125 prehensive, perhaps the words I have suggested will remove any objection. I think what I have suggested will meet the case in a simple and definite manner. After all, the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Captain W. Benn) said that a lot of this was merely quibbling.
§ Captain BENN rose—
§ Colonel GRETTON
I should like to give my case before the hon. and gallant Gentleman rises again. May I suggest that the general case that has been put forward is not comparable in the present issue. At present we are in great difficulty, for we have not houses for our own people. It is a temporary matter. We are dealing with a special case at this time, and a special difficulty pressing upon our nation, and we are entitled to take special precautions that where, in circumstances it would be an equal hardship inflicted upon a British subject or an alien domiciled here, that the British subject should not suffer that hardship and that the alien should not receive undue consideration. We are not dealing with the general principle of equal justice which all admit should be administered to all. That general principle is not at stake nor is the proposed Amendment in opposition to it.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I beg to second the Amendment. The suggestions put forward by hon. Members on the opposite side are unfortunate in one sense, because there are other countries which do not give British subjects the kind of treatment that we give an this country to the nationals of those countries. For instance, in some Treaties not only is no British subject allowed to hold property or to leave it to his heirs, but he has got to get special permission even to have business premises. That is not a condition that applies to this country. There may be other similar Treaties, and if there are the House ought to be informed what they are, and how long they are to be in force. I understand, in connection with the discussion of the legislation we are considering, that some of it is even dependent upon foreign Treaties. If so, we ought to know exactly what they are. I suggest that someone on the Treasury Bench, the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, say, might come to the House and let us know what other Treaties, if any, are 126 involved. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Gretton) who moved this Amendment to the proposed Amendment I think made it perfectly clear that there was no case of differentiation in the matter of justice as between aliens and British subjects, but a Judge has to make up his mind in the matter of two equal cases. He has got to be in a sense unjust to one or the other because the supposition is that the hardship in both cases is equal. That is the real position. If so, how can it possibly be a case of unequal justice? The hon. and gallant Gentle man the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) said that this would be the same kind of justice as Turkey metes out. I am not in the least afraid on that score, because in the ease here the conditions are equal between the two parties, and that, for the moment, the hon. and gallant Gentleman loses sight of. If the two things are equal, they are equal! Therefore, I do think the House is perfectly entitled to assist the Judge in deciding in this case of equality. There is one point I should like to put forward, which, I venture to say, should weigh with any Britisher—not the party opposite—and that is what one must do to protect one's own nationals. I for my part would like to see this House protecting its own nationals a great deal more than it does at present.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Question is, "That the words 'the British Empire or its Allies' be there inserted in the proposed Amendment". The discussion must be confined to this point till the Amendment is disposed of.
Mr. EDMUND HARVEY
The hon. and gallant Member, who moved and seconded this Amendment to the proposed Amendment have shown by doing so that in their opinion the original Amendment is quite unsatisfactory. I think that in itself it is highly inadequate to meet the objections that have been brought against it. It is petty and ungenerous and will work very serious injustice Then, again, take the case of the United States. Though not technically allied, the United States is an Associated Power. The citizens of the United States are in no way protected by this Amendment to the proposed Amendment. You could, however, put the case in a more serious form, because the whole of one sex is dis- 127 qualified from getting the benefit of the Amendment, as it would not apply to any woman who has been unable to serve in the War on account of sex. There are many cases of French or Italian governesses who have lived all their lives in this country. There are hard-working seamstresses as well. These would not in any way get the benefit of this protection. I am not convinced when you come to study the actual position whether, anyhow, any of these words suggested really meet the case. There are cases that cannot be met by the Amendment to the proposed Amendment, of men who came into this country as children, aliens whose sons fought in the War, and in some cases lost their lives. They would not be protected in any way. There are quite a number of cases, too, in this country of poor people, too poor to take out their naturalisation papers, but who have lived practically all their lives in this country and have lost their sons in the service of the country. I hope very much that the House will reject both the Amendment to the Amendment and the Amendment itself. The only way to do what is wanted, I suggest, is not by the Amendment to the proposed Amendment, but by a short one Clause Bill which might be brought in by the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), say, applying to all aliens, and enacting that they should at once vacate what premises they have in this country.
§ Lord E. PERCY
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down does not seem to be very well acquainted with the actual conditions, for under the Rent Restrictions Act we have discriminated between the ex-service man who served in the War and others of his own countrymen, and if we discriminate between the ex-service man and our own British subjects, why should we not discriminate between aliens who have served us or our Allies in the War and other aliens?
§ Lord E. PERCY
Yes, under certain conditions. As to the proposed words not covering Americans, the same words, I think, have been used in previous Acts of Parliament, and I understand, have been held to cover Americans—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If we dispose of the Amendment to the proposed Amendment, we can get back to the point. Perhaps if will be convenient if the House agree to the Amendment to the proposed Amendment, and then we can again deal with the question on its merits.
§ Question, "That the words 'the British Empire or its Allies' be there inserted in the proposed Amendment," put, and agreed to.
§ Question proposed, "That those words, as amended, be there inserted in the Bill."
§ Lord E. PERCY
I have already pointed out that we exercise discrimination between ex-service men and others of our own nationals, but I cannot allow the view to go that this kind of action collides with the general formulæ of commercial and consular conventions which give equal rights to aliens and nationals in the Courts of the country for the purposes of property, etc. The two things have really nothing at all to do with each other. That it should be otherwise is absolutely contrary to my recollection of any controversy with foreign Powers about the interpretation of these clauses in consular and commercial agreements, and I have gone through many of them. As we are deprived of Government assistance in this matter, I can only say that I think it is entirely wrong to suggest that this proposed Amendment collides in any way with the provisions to which I have referred.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Webb)
The Amendment does, in fact, conflict with that equality of rights before the Courts which we have undertaken in the various Treaties mentioned to accord to foreigners. While I am not able, on the spur of the moment, to give a list of these treaties, nor is the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs able to do so, I still maintain that it is not necessary because, if there is one such treaty, all foreign Powers that have the most-favoured-nation clause I can claim the same treatment as that; which is afforded to any single Power. The most-favoured-nation clause is not always regarded by some hon. Members opposite with favour when it conflicts with the freedom to put on this or that tax, but the whole history of the Board of Trade is very strongly in favour of 129 maintaining that principle. We are always fighting for it in our negotiations with other countries, and we do find that it protects traders from being discriminated against.
Therefore, I think the House should pause before it does anything to indicate that we are prepared to weaken in our support of this valuable principle, and in the opinion of the Board of Trade this particular Amendment does conflict with the equity of treatment before the Law Courts which we have undertaken to give to various foreign countries under the Treaties concerned. It is said that this is not a case of equity but of hardship. As a matter of fact we want these cases to be decided by law and in accordance with the rights of the parties concerned. The question of hardship is put in where one party has no better right than the other under the Statute. If you are going to introduce this principle apart from that consideration, and decide on the hardship of the case, then you must stand by the law, and I ask the House not to cast any doubt upon our adhesion to the most-favoured-nation clause, and equity and right before the Courts.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I cannot help feeling that the speech which has just been made by the President of the Board of Trade would have been more, appropriate if the Amendment to the Amendment had not been carried. If the Clause stood as originally drafted, then the remarks of the light hon. Gentleman would have been entirely appropriate to the discussion. May I point out that we have now included all the allied countries, and I am not so sure that we have any commercial treaties with any but allied nations. The right hon. Gentleman says that this proposal would be a breach of some of those commercial treaties, but I do not think there are any such treaties in existence except with allied countries.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The main object of putting in this Clause was to deal with enemy aliens. The right hon. Gentleman went on, I will not say to insult, but to make various remarks of an uncomplimentary character about the way justice was administered in a friendly country. The justice that is going to be 130 administered under this Act, and has been administered, is not the kind which has been referred to, because it is not a question of law under any of these Bent Restrictions Acts. The County Court Judge is appointed as a kind of arbitrator, and he does not decide questions of law. He has merely to say where the hardship lies. Therefore the argument used by the President of the Board of Trade does not arise, because the County Court Judge has to decide where the greatest hardship lies, and whether a landlord should be allowed to turn out a tenant, or a tenant to sit there and cause injury to the landlord by so doing. The Amendment is to meet the case where the hardship is in fact equal. Take a British landlord and an alien tenant. The landlord goes to the County Court Judge, and before the Judge can decide whether he is an alien or not, he has to be satisfied that the hardship is so equal that he does not know which way to decide. It may be a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other. On the other hand suppose it is a case of an alien landlord and British tenant. Again, before the Judge can take into consideration the fact of the landlord being an alien, he has to find such equity between the two that he is again in a difficulty. This Clause only comes into operation where the hardship is equal, and under circumstances in which the case is so equal this Amendment provides that the Britisher is to have the benefit of the doubt.
On matters of this kind, I have been long enough in the House to know which section of the House votes in favour of the alien, and which does not, and I am very sorry to see the Labour party sinking down to the level of the pro-aliens on the Liberal Benches. It is a case of "evil communications corrupting good manners," and if there is too much concordat I am afraid the Labour party will be found voting in favour of the aliens and against the British. This is not a retrograde movement, but a forward movement, and we are prepared to go forward as much as we can, giving rights to Britishers as against aliens, whether hon. Members below the Gangway like it or not. There are lots of points in our municipal law which do not give equal rights to aliens as compared with Britishers. For example, an alien cannot hold a share in a British ship. In spite of all your commercial treaties we 131 do retain certain rights to prevent aliens having an equality with our own subjects This may be a small matter, but it is one upon which people feel very strongly, and if I were a Judge and had to decide in a case where one of the parties was a British soldier who had fought in the War and the other was an alien, I would most certainly, other things being equal, dip the scale in favour of the Britisher.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
May I make another appeal to hon. Members opposite to withdraw this Amendment? The Amendment to the Amendment was accepted, and it only referred to the people who had served during the War. The Japanese people who did not serve in the War will be outside the operation of this proposal. In so far as treaties are concerned which deal with property rights, we are bound by those treaties, and if the Japanese are to be protected by this Bill other nationals will claim the protection of the most-favoured-nation
§ Clause. I do not want to raise any storm over such a question as this, but I do beg hon. Members opposite to act as British citizens with some regard for the integrity of British treaties. It seems to me unjust to fling these terms across the Floor of the House, and for hon. Members to act in the most little-England manner possible. The honest thing to do is to act in accordance with British interests, and not do anything that conflicts with any Treaty at present in force. Under these circumstances I ask hon. Members to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Sir K. WOOD rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put accordingly, "That those words, as amended, be there inserted in the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 140; Noes, 185.133
|Division No. 64.]||AYES.||[7.47 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Eden, Captain Anthony||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Alexander, Brg-Gen. Sir W. (Glas, C.)||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Meller, R. J.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Eyres-Monsell, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Morden, Col. W. Grant|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Nesbitt, Robert C.|
|Austin, Sir Herbert||FitzRoy, Captain Rt. Hon. Edward A.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Barnett, Major Richard W.||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Becker, Harry||Gretton, Colonel John||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase||Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. W. E.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Gwynne, Rupert S.||Pennefather, Sir John|
|Berry, Sir George||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Penny, Frederick George|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Hall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. (Dulwich)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Phillpson, Mabel|
|Blundell, F. N.||Harland, A.||Raine, W.|
|Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart||Harvey, C. M. B. (Aberd'n & Kincardne)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Rawson, Alfred Cooper|
|Brass, Captain W.||Herbert, Capt. Sidney (Scarborough)||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Hill-Wood, Major Sir Samuel||Remer, J. R.|
|Briscoe, Captain Richard George||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Richardson, Lt.-Cot. Sir P. (Chertsey)|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy||Robinson, W. E. (Burslem)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hope, Rt. Hon. J. F. (Sheffield, C.)||Ropner, Major L.|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Burman, J. B.||Howard, Hon. D. (Cumberland, North)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Hughes, Collingwood||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Cassels, J. D.||Huntingfield, Lord||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Iliffe, Sir Edward M.||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Chilcott, Sir Warden||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Clayton, G. C.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Jephcott, A. R.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Cope, Major William||Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.)||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Sutcliffe, T.|
|Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South)||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Lamb, J. Q.||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Lane-Fox, George R.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Lloyd-Greame, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell-(Croydon, S.)|
|Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Lyle, Sir Leonard||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||McLean, Major A.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Deans, Richard Storry||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Dixey, A. C.||Mansel, Sir Courtenay||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Wells, S. R.||Wise, Sir Fredric||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Wilson, Sir Charles H. (Leeds, Central)||Wolmer, Viscount||Sir Kingsley Wood and Sir Thomas|
|Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)||Wood, Major Rt. Hon. Edward F. L.||Inskip.|
|Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Harris, John (Hackney, North)||Phillipps, Vivian|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Harvey, T. E. (Dewsbury)||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Alden, Percy||Hastings, Somerville (Reading)||Raffan, P. W.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Haycock, A. W.||Raffety, F. W.|
|Allen, R. Wilberforce (Leicester, S.)||Hemmerde, E. G.||Ramage, Captain Cecil Beresford|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Raynes, W. R.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Rea, W. Russell|
|Baker, W. J.||Henderson, W. W. (Middlesex, Enfield)||Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Banton, G.||Hillary, A. E.||Robinson, S. W. (Essex, Chelmsford)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hobhouse, A. L.||Romeril H. G.|
|Barnes, A.||Hodge, Lieut.-Colonel J. P. (Preston)||Royle, C.|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar (Banff)||Hore-Belisha, Major Leslie||Rudkin, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. C.|
|Berkeley, Captain Reginald||Howard, Hon. G. (Bedford, Luton)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Birkett, W. N.||Hudson, J. H.||Seely, H. M. (Norfolk, Eastern)|
|Black, J. W.||Isaacs, G. A.||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Jackson, R. F. (Ipswich)||Shinwell, Emanuel|
|Bonwick, A.||Johnston, Thomas (Stirling)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Jones, C. Sydney (Liverpool, W. Derby)||Simpson, J. Hope|
|Bramsdon, Sir Thomas||Jones, Rt. Han. Leif (Camborne)||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Briant, Frank||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. (Bradford, E.)||Smillie, Robert|
|Broad, F. A.||Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools)||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Brown, A. E. (Warwick, Rugby)||Keens, T.||Snell, Harry|
|Buckie, J.||Lansbury, George||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Burnie, Major J. (Bootle)||Laverack, F. J.||Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Law, A.||Spence, R.|
|Chapple, Dr. William A.||Leach, W.||Spencer, H. H. (Bradford, S.)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lee, F.||Starmer, Sir Charles|
|Church, Major A. G.||Livingstone, A. M.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Clarke, A.||Loverseed, J. F.||Stewart, Maj. R. S. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Climie, R.||Lowth, T.||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lunn, William||Sullivan, J.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||McCrae, Sir George||Sutton, J. E.|
|Compton, Joseph||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Tattersall, J. L.|
|Costello, L. W. J.||McEntee, V. L.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Crittall, V. G.||Macfadyen, E.||Thompson, Piers G. (Torquay)|
|Darbishire, C. W.||Maden, H.||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Dickie, Captain J. P.||March, S.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Dickson, T.||Martin, F. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, E.)||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Dodds, S. R.||Martin, W. H. (Dumbarton)||Thornton, Maxwell, R.|
|Dukes, C.||Masterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G.||Thurtle, E.|
|Duncan, C.||Meyler, Lieut.-Colonel H. M.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Dunn, J. Freeman||Millar, J. D.||Tout, W. J.|
|Egan, W. H.||Mills, J. E.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Falconer, J.||Mond, H.||Varley, Frank B.|
|Foot, Isaac||Montague, Frederick||Viant, S. P.|
|Franklin, L. B.||Morris, R. H.||Vivian, H.|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, North)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Gavan-Duffy, Thomas||Morse, W. E.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|George, Major G. L. (Pembroke)||Moulton, Major Fletcher||Wedgwood, Col. Rt. Hon. Josiah C.|
|Gillett, George M.||Muir, Ramsay (Rochdale)||Weir, L. M.|
|Gosling, Harry||Murray, Robert||Westwood, J.|
|Gould, Frederick (Somerset, Frome)||Naylor, T. E.||Wignall, James|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Nixon, H.||Williams, Lt.-Col. T. S. B. (Kenningtn.)|
|Greenall, T.||O'Grady, Captain James||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Oliver, George Harold||Windsor, Walter|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Oliver, P. M. (Manchester, Blackley)||Wintringham, Margaret|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||O'Neill, John Joseph||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Griffith, Rt. Hon. Sir Ellis||Owen, Major G.||Woodwark, Lieut.-Colonel G. G.|
|Groves, T.||Palmer, E. T.|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Pattinson, S. (Horncastle)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hardie, George D.||Perry, S. F.||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Dr. Haden|
|Harney, E. A.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Guest.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.