§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [11th March], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Which Amendment was to leave out from the word "That", to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words
this House cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which, whilst purporting to continue for a limited period the protection of tenants of dwelling houses, does not amend the Law under which in an increasing number of cases this protection is withdrawn, continues legal sanction for increases in rent no longer justifiable, contains no provisions for simplifying existing legislation in order to reduce litigation, takes no cognisance of the length of time necessary to overcome the housing shortage, and is wholly inadequate to deal with the present situation."—[Mr. Wheatley.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Mr. JAMES STEWART
Two weeks ago last Friday we had a remarkable speech made by the Prime Minister, and it was responded to from this side of the House with a great deal of support. The sentiment in that speech touched upon a chord on this side of the House which expressed itself in hearty cheers. He asked the House that we should treat his speech as a gesture towards peace within the country. Outside the House we have had several statements made during the last week, not dealing with the speech, but making some kind of response. Several gentlemen, referring to the situation that now obtains in the country, have declared that the way to get over the difficulty is for the workers to work longer hours and to accept lower wages. Inside the House on the Wednesday following that remarkable speech of the Prime Minister we had the Minister of Health coming forward with his gesture towards peace in the country, and it was to stabilise for 2½ years the conditions that obtained with regard to the rent question and rent control in the country. 466 He made a statement that the condition generally does not warrant any change being made in the provisions of the 1920 Act. I think, at least I hope, after reflection he will reconsider the position that he has taken up and make the Bill so that when it comes to be dealt with in Committee Amendments can be moved.
Take the City of Glasgow with which we are all now pretty familiar in this House. I want to use it as an illustration of what is going on in other parts of the country. We are told by the landlords, by the factors, and by the house-owners that their condition is actually worse than is was prior to 1913–14. The facts are that in 1911 we had 22,000 empty houses in Glasgow, by 1913–14 that number had been reduced to 14,000, and by about the, time of the outbreak of the War it had decreased to 7,000. To-day, in Glasgow, there is, practically speaking, not an empty house, except the few that are kept empty by the will and by the action of the landlords who desire to sell rather than to let. Those 22,000 houses let at an average rent of £10 per annum, so that the landlords then were not receiving in rent £220,000 that they would have received if the houses had been let. But so far as Glasgow is concerned, and I believe the whole of Scotland, where houses or premises are unoccupied the landlord has to pay the owners' rates, and that meant at that time a loss of at least 2s. each house over and above, the rent. If you allow for the decrease that took place in the succeeding years prior to the outbreak of war, he was losing a considerable amount of money in the shape of no rent for unlets. Since 1915 he has not been suffering that loss. Consequently, he is now relatively much better off that he was then.
Then came the Act of 1920 which we are now discussing and in which power was given to the landlords to increase the rent by 40 per cent., 25 per cent. of which was allowed for repairs. That 25 per cent. meant a, great addition to the landlords of these particular houses. In 1919 the total rental for the houses in Glasgow was £3,316,000; in 1924 it had gone up to £4,880,000, an increase to the landlords of over £1,500,000. The factors, in the case that they made before the recent Rent Commission appointed by the Secretary for Scotland to deal with the situation that obtains in Clydebank, through their representative, Mr. Faulds, justified this 467 25 per cent. increase by saying that their expenditure for last year was £500,000. In the year 1913 they spent £300,000, but the 25 per cent. increase on a rental of £4,880,000 meant that they should have been spending, if they were in the same position as in 1913, considerably over £1,000,000. But according to Mr. Faulds' statement all they spent was £500,000. Therefore, if these factors' figures are correct, it is demonstrated that the property owners have improved their condition very much.
What has been the position of the tenants during that time? Just after 1920, when the Act was passed, there came the debacle when wages fell. Today in this country it is reckoned, on the most conservative estimate, that so far as the working classes are concerned they are losing annually, as compared with the year 1920, £600,000,000 per annum in wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "More than that!"] I am taking the most conservative estimate, and not those of £800,000,000 or £1,000,000,000. I want to be certain that the figures with regard to this matter will not be contradicted. So they are now in a worse position than they were before in that respect. On the top of the increase of rent there have been concessions made to the landlords and property owners in this country. In a circular, which they have issued to property owners and factors throughout Scotland, they claim that they got the rent limit increased through their efforts in 1919 to £90. They make a further claim that in the year 1922, in the Budget of that year, they got the amount of rent that was deducted in allowance for maintenance charges changed from one-fourth to one-sixth. All that has been added on since 1913, and now they make the claim that they are not in a position to bear any reduction, and the Minister of Health has adopted that argument, and, in spite of the plain facts that the condition of the people generally has become worse, he still stands by that position.
Now what are repairs? Prior to the War it was a generally recognised custom throughout Scotland, and I daresay England as well, that the papering and painting of the Houses were considered part of the repairs. To-day there is hardly a single owner or factor who will pay for 468 or contribute in any degree towards keeping the house in a condition that he willingly did in the year 1913 or 1911. Between 1911 and 1913, and prior to that time, there was a class of people in all the cities who moved from their house each year, and the factors in those days, to get a new tenant, would paper and paint the house even though it had only been done a year earlier for the tenant who had left. The landlord is saving all that money now. Further than that it is the law that, where the stairs or anything of that kind are dangerous, the factor is responsible, but that is not so in practice. That was the law, and is supposed to be the law, but it is equally true that some of the sheriffs in Glasgow have held that if a tenant knowingly lived where the stairs were dangerous, and if an accident occurred there, the factor or the property owner was not responsible because the tenant had willingly incurred the risk. We have had deaths in Glasgow owing to properties of that kind, and there was no claim against the property owner on account of his property being in such a dangerous condition. These are all things on the side of the factor.
The Glasgow Corporation in 1921 passed a resolution in favour of the increase of rent, that is the total increase, being only 25 per cent. not 25 per cent. for repairs merely, but 25 per cent. as an equitable increase that would restore the proprietors of property to the position in which they were prior to the outbreak of war. When I come to the question of repairs necessary to put houses into a sanitary condition, I have a few figures. The number of complaints since 1921, with regard to the habitable condition of houses, has been 15,787. The number of houses affected was 8,000 and the sanitary authorities of our city have had, because the proprietors themselves would not bear the expense of repairing the houses, to repair 645. It is evident to me, and I believe to most hon. Members of this House who have considered this matter impartially, that there ought to be a proper investigation into this matter of repairs, and that the Minister, when we come to deal with the Bill, should allow us to amend it in such a way as to enable us in Committee to deal with this situation. Between now and the Committee stage the facts could be inquired into, and if the statements I have made are incorrect, and can be shown by 469 them to be erroneous in any degree, then it is in the Committee that we shall deal with it. If on the other hand the statements are correct, then I have proved beyond doubt that there is room for a reconsideration of this 25 per cent. which is allowed for repairs. When we take into consideration the great amount of money which the property owners are now receiving, which they were losing in 1911, when we consider that they have not got now to pay landlords' rates on empty houses, and that they have cut off these amounts for repairs, maintenance and decorations altogether, then it is established to my mind, and I hope to the mind of the House, that this position is not right.
The Minister of Health has made a statement with regard to decontrol, and I can believe that he honestly believes it. He said the decontrol had not worked out injuriously. He had investigated the question in 10 large industrial cities, and from four of these he got serious complaints, but on the whole the thing was working well. Again, dealing with Glasgow, may I point out that for the year 1924 there were 1,109 houses in which the rent was increased beyond the legal standard. These are the figures of the City Assessor who, giving evidence before the Commission, said that 1,109 houses had had their rents increased beyond the legal standard. The rents were increased from £1 to £14, the average increase being 10 per cent., and in one case as much as 68 per cent. If you add together the increases of all these rents the total amount comes to a very considerable sum. Then I have here a statement to show that the City Assessor was not revealing anything like the whole of the facts connected with this matter. This morning I got a letter from Glasgow about one house. I admit that you cannot argue that because a thing has happened in one case it is the general rule, but I do honestly believe that this one case can be taken as typical of other oases that have not been revealed. In the aggregate perhaps the number is not very great, but the fact is one which should be taken into consideration in dealing with the question of decontrol.
In a house in Langside, in a two room and kitchen house, the tenant has just had to pay £45 for key money, and, further than that, the rent has been 470 increased from £32 to £45. Another house on the same property, with the same number of rooms, has had the rent increased £10. All round, so far as Glasgow is concerned, decontrol is taking place. Mr. Steel, the factors' representative on the Committee, stated, when this evidence was being given by Mr. Walker, in the course of a question that he put to him, that he knew of one factor who had houses decontrolled to the number of 3,000. He said that in these cases the rents had not been increased, but I think we may assume that, if one factor is doing that, that that is not the practice generally throughout Glasgow with regard to this particular position. Further than that, the decontrol situation is causing a tremendous amount of unrest. There are cases, as the City Assessor has said, at the moment in which some speculators have come in and bought up property, and are keeping these houses unlet, determined to keep them unlet, to sell them at a price which people will have to pay because of their inability to get a house otherwise.
It is not correct to say in Glasgow, as the Secretary of Scotland well knows, that building is overtaking the situation so far as housing is concerning. We are getting worse month by month and year by year. Altogether we have built fewer than 6,000 houses in Glasgow between 1919 and December, 1924. Our requirements are 5,000 houses a year. Since 1919 we have built only that number of houses against our annual requirements of at least 5,000. In 1919 we were 57,000 houses short. To-day we are nearly 80,000 houses short, basing our estimate on the figures of 1919. Consequently the power to deal with the situation is getting worse and worse, so far as rents are concerned. In Glasgow the poorer tenants have a rent book. On this the factor marks the rent and the arrears, and the books are made up in many cases in such a way that it is impossible for the tenant to know where he stands with regard to his rent. One of our city magistrates, Bailie Mrs. Barbour, when giving evidence before the Commission, handed up a typical rent-book from Govan. She handed it to Mr. Steel, the factor's representative. He studied that book with a little care and handed it back to Mrs. Barbour with the remark, "If I studied that book from now to next July, I could not read its riddle." They had to get Mr. Walker to 471 undertake the work, and Mr. Walker reported that the position, so far as getting the rent book solved was concerned, was almost impossible.
The trouble goes right away back to the beginning, and the rent books are in such a condition as to preclude the people from understanding their position. The Sheriff Courts at Glasgow just now are crowded with applications from factors for decrees of eviction. The tenants go into Court with their rent books. They have no lawyer to help them. They are in terror, and they do not understand the books. The consequence is that when they present these books there is no one present who either cares or understands, and I believe that in many cases decrees are being given when if there were a better method of dealing with the situation such things would not occur. The Commission appointed Mr. Gunnison, Lecturer on Social Economics in Glasgow University, to investigate the condition of the tenants. I do not want to weary the House with all that he said, or anything approaching it, but I would state this much. He investigated the condition of 400 tenants. He found that of 258 tenants 14 per cent. had a family income of less than £2 per week, 46 per cent. had less than £3 per week, and some of the families had an income as low as 18s. per week, of which they had to pay 47 per cent. as rent.
We are pleading with you, for you have the power. We ask that in this new Bill you should put provisions that will enable us to deal with the situation. These people cannot possibly pay the rents. Is it fair that the people who have suffered privations, both in reduction of wages and in reduction or loss of employment, should be called upon to suffer, while property owners are allowed to continue in their safe position. All that we ask is that when this Bill goes to Committee we may be able to consider these questions. The poverty of the people is intense. If the majority of Members of this House would consider the appeal that was made in his recent speech by the Prime Minister, they might come to understand how it is that conditions are brought about that are disastrous in the long run.
You may crush and you may continue crushing, but some day there comes a 472 terrible convulsion at least, so history teaches us. You cannot expect these people to submit to being evicted, as they are being evicted, to continue starving, as many of them are starving, to undergo the privation that they are undergoing, while the power of this House and all that it contains within itself is thrown into the scale on the side of a favoured class. Why not consider the problem? When the Bill comes to the Committee stage, why not give us a chance of putting our case? If it is wrong, you will turn it down. I hope that the Minister will consider this point, and that in his reply he will indicate that he has widened the Bill in such a way as will enable us to deal with the situation, not only in my own city, but in the industrial parts of Scotland, in the whole of the Clyde Valley. What I have said of Glasgow and the district around, I believe is equally true throughout the whole length of industrial Britain. Therefore I hope that the Minister will concede the demands that we are making.
§ Mr. GATES
I do not approach this subject from the point of view of a Glasgow Member, but I wish to say a word or two from the point of view of a Landon Member, and especially from the point of view of one in whose constituency the housing position is somewhat acute. I do not desire for a moment to criticise the decision of the Minister to extend control until Christmas, 1927. Although I look upon State control in all matters of business as an evil, I am bound to confess that in this case it is an inevitable evil until the supply of houses in some degree equals the demand. I wish to emphasise what has been already said, that while the Bill proposes to continue the restriction of rents in favour of tenants, at the same time it has the effect of holding up a great many building schemes for the provision of working-class dwellings. I know of several such cases, the Guinness Trust in particular, where people are unable to continue their beneficent operations because they are unable to get possession of property which is at present covered with worn-out houses.
There are many cases in my own constituency where streets of houses are practically worn out. It would be very desirable to replace these worn-out houses 473 by modern and up-to-date dwellings. In the present circumstances it, is impossible for the promoters of such schemes to proceed with the work, because they are met with claims under the Rent Restrictions Act. They cannot give the people alternative possession, and so the schemes are hung up. That means that the only places where the Guinness Trust and such trusts can proceed are places where there is vacant land. There is very little of that in my constituency or in most of the constituencies in London. Might I suggest to the Minister of Health, from the municipal point of view, that if he could give the municipal authorities power to house people whom they might be inclined to dispossess for a housing scheme, it would have a very beneficial effect on the re-housing of the people of London. At present borough councils are held up. A street may be bad and the houses rotten. It may be desirable that the houses should be pulled down, but the authorities are utterly unable to proceed because they cannot offer the people housing anywhere else. If they were allowed to put up temporary buildings, or if they had power to hire land for such a, purpose, it would facilitate many municipal schemes.
May I here thank the Minister for giving us London Members an opportunity of seeing the Weir houses in Grosvenor Gardens? It was a very great advantage for us I have seen those houses, and to know how quickly they could be run up. It seems to me nothing short of a scandal that there should be over a million unemployed, and yet housing schemes are hung up for want of men. The London County Council have had their schemes delayed for a considerable time, simply because they could not get men to proceed with them; money has been voted, but the men could not be obtained. I hope that the Minister will press forward some, further dilution in the building trade, and also proceed with schemes of new construction. I would like to express some measure of sympathy for the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for West, Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson), as I feel that the taking away of the men—
§ Mr. GATES
I was only about to refer to an instance in my own borough, where 474 a super-cinema authority had bought out private property, with an agreement as to compensation. The promoters are now proceeding with the work of building this super-cinema, and are employing a great number of men. Yet local authorities cannot get men for building. That is why I wished to express my sympathy with the Bill of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough. I would also like to support very strongly the view expressed by the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. D. Herbert) with reference to the removal of the restriction on mortgages. I cannot see that the restrictions on rents and mortgages are in pari materia. If the falling in of mortgages is restricted, if the continuation of restriction is affected by this Bill, it necessarily means that many estates on which part of the property is mortgaged are held up and left in the lawyers' hands for a considerable time. That benefits few people except the lawyers. Certainly it does not benefit the tenants. In these clays when, with the advent of a Conservative party to power, there is greater confidence amongst the investing public, I cannot see that there would be any difficulty in arranging for a transfer of such mortgages, as long as money was lent for a good scheme on reasonable terms. I hope the Minister will seriously consider the removal of the restriction on mortgages, regard being paid to Section 14 of the Act of 1923 which, I think, gives ample protection both to the mortgagor and the landlord of the property. Under that Section application can be made to the County Court and, in cases of exceptional hardship, an order may or may not be made as circumstances dictate.
We have heard a great deal as to the iniquity of the 40 per cent. increase in respect of repairs and such like. I have the misfortune to be the mortgagee in possession of a small working-class estate and I confess I find the cost of repairs to be more than 40 per cent. above the pre-War level. I do not hold myself up as a particularly good landlord, but I think I am not a bad one, and I do not mind telling the House that the interest which I get on my property is 2 per cent., and I expect many other owners of working-class property, who endeavour to do their duty and keep the houses in repair would confirm my statement. I understood the Minister to say he was not 475 prepared to admit any Amendments to this Bill and that the Bill was intended only to continue the restrictions. There are other points which I should like to raise because I have had many letters on this subject. I have had letters, for instance, from people who bought their houses for occupation and who cannot get possession and there are many other cases which I should like to discuss in Committee if it were posible to do so, but if the Minister is going to limit this Bill and make it simply an extension of time Bill I presume an opportunity will come at some other time.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I am sorry the Minister has thought fit to deal with this question in such a limited fashion. With such a big majority behind him and with the opportunity which is afforded to him the Minister should endeavour to introduce a comprehensive Measure which would deal so adequately with this matter, that there would no longer be the continual complaints which we hear in reference to it. The Minister will agree that it is unlikely that we shall have decontrol at the date mentioned in the Bill. It is very unlikely that we are going to have so many houses added to those we have at present, and that this matter will be taken out of its present position, in which the owners are enjoying a monopoly. I hope, even at this late hour, the Minister will agree to make this Measure more comprehensive, and when it goes to Committee that he will allow us to deal with various outstanding points which require to be dealt with now. Speaking as a representative of the West of Scotland I think it possible that we have to face more difficult circumstances in this connection than other Members of the House, and yet, when I was addressing a meeting under the shadow of Windsor Castle recently, and was describing the pitiable conditions of so many of our decent people in Glasgow owing to the fearful housing situation there, I was surprised by an interruption from a member of my audience who said that the same "bughouses" existed under the Shadow of Windsor Castle.
I put in a plea, first of all, that when the Bill goes to Committee we should have an opportunity to introduce proposals for a reduction of the 40 per cent. increase. In Scotland we have to face a 476 larger increase than 40 per cent. The City Assessor in Glasgow has estimated it at 47 per cent., and while this increase was put on in 1920, when working-class folk were enjoying a rate of wages which made it possible for them to pay it, today they are in very poor circumstances as compared with their circumstances at the time the 1920 Act was passed. There are almost 200,000 houses in Glasgow under the Rent Restrictions Acts, and most of those houses are occupied by members of the working class whose position I have just indicated. I have received some figures from the tenants' representative on the Rents Commission, Bailie Dollan, who informs me that it is estimated that about 200,000 workers have suffered a reduction in wages of about 30s. per week each, which means to say that the people who came within the scope of that Act and who will come within the scope of this Bill have suffered a reduction in wages amounting to over £10,000,000 per annum. I think it is only reasonable when those people have been put into that position that this House should seek to lessen the burdens imposed on them by the permitted increase of rents under the 1920 Act. It is said the increase is necessary to meet the cost of repairs. According to the City Assessor of Glasgow the rent increase is bringing in a sum of almost £1,000,000 per year extra on the houses concerned. If you ask any citizen of Glasgow, has he heard of any houses being repaired since the 1920 Act was passed, he will laugh and tell you that he never heard of such a thing. Figures have been given to suggest that almost £500,000 has been spent in that way, but I question those figures. In no district can one come across anything to show that the property owners or their agents have been dealing with this matter. Members from Glasgow have, from time to time, sought to convey to this House some idea of the need which exists for repairs in connection with houses in Glasgow. I suggest the Minister should allow a Clause to be inserted in this Bill which would give us an opportunity for dealing with the case of the property owners who are seriously making an attempt to keep their houses in condition and also of dealing with those who are merely taking advantage of the permitted increase and are doing nothing in return. On the housing question we have got into a very unfortunate 477 position. In Glasgow there are 191,000 houses which come under this Act, and I make bold to say at least half of them are more than 50 years old, and to-day the rent obtained for those houses is at least 50 per cent. higher than the rent which was obtained when the houses were new.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The hon. Member suggests that it is nearer 60 per cent., but I am taking a very moderate estimate. As I say, these houses are more than 50 years old, and because of the way in which the housing question has been mishandled in the past, the owners are able to extort from their tenants this tremendous increase in rent. That is fundamentally unjust, and the present Government is in a good position to remove the injustice. Such an action would redound to their credit, but there is no proposal of that kind in the Bill. The Minister seems to have asked him self: What is the least the country will take without pressure being brought to bear upon me in this matter? I can assure him there will be much more pressure in the future unless we get a better treatment of this question than it has received up to the present. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that houses have been going out of control and that there has not been such an increase in the rents of those decontrolled houses as would create any public agitation. In the West of Scotland:. it is estimated that the increase on the rents of the decontrolled houses is about 10 per cent. In one case which is mentioned it has gone as high as 68 per cent., and while there has not been an agitation hitherto, that is because so many people who listened to the eloquence of hon. Gentlemen opposite at the General Election were assured that this magnificent and stable Government, whose members were possessed of such great abilities, was really going to deal with this subject in a satisfactory way. When those people know that all they are going to get is a continuation of the present state of affairs, there will be a very much greater agitation on this question than we ever had.
Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the position and to give the Committee, which will deal with this Bill, an opportunity of intro- 478 ducing improvements. Since I have been in this House I have noticed that a Minister is scarcely ever reasonable or rational enough to take advantage of suggestions proposed, even though they come from his own party, for the improvement of a Measure which he has brought forward himself. We have heard the Minister of Health described as an enterprising man with a big imagination who is going to do a lot to solve the housing problem. I suggest he should make an innovation in this respect and leave some scope to the Committee. He knows that in Committee he has sufficient numbers to ensure that nothing will be included in the Bill of which he is not in favour. The statement certainly cannot be made that in Scotland there has been no agitation in regard to the housing question. The Secretary of Scotland had to appoint a Rents Commission, and he had to get the property owners and factors or agents, on the one hand, and the tenants, on the other, to agree to a truce while the Commission was sitting. The only people to break that truce were the right hon. Gentleman himself and his Lord Advocate.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The right hon. Gentlemen shakes his head, but I wish to put to the House a situation which has arisen in reference to Clydebank, the centre of so much disturbance. The tenant of a house, an ex-service man, was in the infirmary, and while he was in the infirmary, his wife and children were being evicted from their home, one of the children being an imbecile girl. The ex-soldier heard of this, and although warned by the doctors that it was dangerous in his case to do so, he left the infirmary and put his family back in their house. The town council was so concerned about it that they went to the sheriff and said to him, "Hold this case over, and we will try to get accommodation." They had to go back and say that they could not get accommodation, and then the sheriff said, "We will have to go on with the case." And this defender of his country was sent to prison for 14 days, because he was trying to get a shelter for his wife and family, while the Rent Commission was sitting, and the Secretary for 479 Scotland was assuring us there was going to be a truce. This House has had stirring scenes in the past. There have been ever so many times when the indignation of Members has made a pretty difficult situation. Unless we are going to get something material for the people whom we represent with regard to the burden of rent that they have been called upon to face, there will be no peace in industry so far Is Scotland is concerned. The Prime Minister has become very expert in the pious platitudes in which he has indulged with regard to the possibilities in this country. It is not good enough for him to say, "Give peace in our time, O Lord," if he and his fellow Ministers in regard to those things which so closely affect the lives and welfare of our people in Scotland, are not going to make some concessions to us.
I hoped that in this Measure we might have had some safeguarding of the rights of the people with regard to the position in which they are put in the matter of the rent books. A representative on the Commission handed up a rent-book, and said he would never be able to find out what arrears they were. When the tenant goes to the factor, the factor says, "You are in arrears. That is enough for you. Get out of this," and, if the tenant presses for a statement, he finds himself in the Sheriff Court, with an action for arrears, and threatened with eviction. The position with regard to these rent-books is intolerable. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman himself, if he has not got a big body at his meetings to protect him, will have similar experience to that which we on this side have had, of people shoving the rent-book into his hand, and asking him to tell them how much they are in arrears. I want to point out, further, that, on the authority of the City Assessor of Glasgow. the factors had been breaking the law by not having included in the rent-books a separate statement of the amount of rent and of the amount of rates. Under the Rating Act of 1920, that was necessary, but they do not do it, and, because these people are poor, there seems to be no protection for them whatsoever.
These is another matter. I think it is time the House should have the opportunity of seeing that this business of premiums is dealt with. A man came to 480 me the other week when I was in my constituency and said, "There are some houses here that are empty, and we could get those houses if we would pay a certain sum, say £10, the amount of arrears left by the previous tenant." I do not think that is fair. Why should an incoming tenant be made responsible for the debts left by a previous tenant, and houses stand empty, because the factors will not let them unless they can get that money? It is very difficult to get exact details in connection with those things, but this is what is going on. I have a cutting here from a paper last week, but in any issue of the Glasgow "Citizen" the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland can get cases that are worthy of investigation. We get this sort of thing—To let. Room and kitchen. Bathroom, hot and cold. Must buy furniture. Factor's consent.They must buy the furniture if they get the factor's consent, because, doubtless, he is going to get a commission on the price that is paid for the furniture. The furniture is not real furniture at all, but just so many sticks, and a big price is charged for them, so that a premium is being extorted. Again you have—To Let. Two rooms. Kitchen. Perfect condition. Must buy furniture; all best quality. Factor's consent.Here is another—Room, kitchen, £60. Two rooms, kitchen, £75. Furniture.And so the business goes on. I put it to the House, you cannot expect anything but discontent; you cannot get anything like peace in our district unless there is an attempt made to meet the people. I submit there is no attempt being made in this Measure to meet the people who are in the most difficult circumstances. This House goes on allowing the factors to get this increase of rent, because they are supposed to do repairs. They do not do them. They will not even do the papering and painting that they used to do. There are thousands of insanitary houses in Glasgow. I had a case last week where a man got a sanitary officer's certificate, but when he went to the Sheriff Court, because he was inexperienced, he was bustled aside, and called upon to pay so much per week, although he had this certificate which entitled him to stop paying. I would suggest that in this Measure you might, 481 at least, protect the people who are in those insanitary houses, condemned as unfit for human habitation. I went in the house about which I was speaking. There were big holes in the floor, and the rats kept running out. On the wall, there was not nice wallpaper with beautiful flowers, but the marks of the beetles that had been killed in their scores by the tenant of that house, and there he was paying about 25s. a month for this rathole, in which he was compelled to stay. Last Sunday, one of my constituents came to me and said, "I am subject to tuberculosis; I got it through my service in the Army. But I cannot get a house; it is so difficult."
We are face to face with that sort of thing every day. The Minister should be bold in this matter, and reduce the rents. I suggest going back to the 1914 rents for all houses more than 10 years old. Everything else that gets old, except, perhaps, wine and spirit, becomes of less value. I do not know much about wine and spirit, because I have been a total abstainer all my life, but I know that clothes get old, and if you want to dispose of them, or hire them out to somebody, they fetch a much lower price. As regards house property, the Minister might allow a Clause for the rent of houses, and set up a Rent Court. At any rate, let us get some improvement on the present state of matters. Do not let us go on with this petty Measure that is simply going to bring relief to a few people. Let us have some attempt to meet the ease of those people who are living under the hardest circumstances.
This House goes on with this legislation year after year, always providing so much for the more comfortably circumstanced members of the community. To-day I make a plea for the people who are down and out, for those who gave their service—and there are hundreds and thousands—when the Great War was on, but who to-day are face to face with the threat of eviction from the rotten holes in which they are compelled to live because they cannot even pay for them. Let us have something. I do appeal to the Minister of Health to show some consideration in this respect. Let him bring some measure of hope to the hearts of those people, who, under the most dreadful housing conditions, under a burden of unemployment such as this country has 482 possibly never experienced in its whole history—let him bring some measure of hope, at least, by relieving those people of some of the difficulties they have got to face.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I am sure that no Member of the House could have listened to the speeches of the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) without feeling in entire sympathy with them and their constituents who are living in insanitary dwellings. I am sure that in no part of the House is there any sympathy with a bad landlord, and I cannot imagine a worse type of landlord than one who will take advantage of the 40 per cent. increase in rent, to which he is entitled under the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, and who takes the extra 40 per cent., and does not do the repairs even on the pre-War scale. I do ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health to give serious and favourable consideration in Committee to some provision being inserted to enable—although I will not go so far as the hon. Member for Camlachie—but, at any rate, to enable tenants, who are not having their houses kept in a reasonable and proper state of repair, to go before the County Court Judge, make a statement of their case, and be absolved from the payment of the 40 per cent. increase.
The other point I wish to make is with regard to the restriction on the calling in of mortgages. The House will remember, when the principal Act was passed in 1920, the financial position of the country was absolutely abnormal. There was a big trade boom, and, possibly, at that time there was a justification for making the provision which was then made, that only 1 per cent. above the standard rate of interest could be received by the mortgagee, and he was absolutely debarred from calling in his mortgage or enforcing his security in any way, provided the interest was paid in 21 days, provided covenants were observed and the property kept in reasonable repair. I submit there is no necessity for the continuance of that proviso. What was a necessity then, possibly, is now an unjustifiable interference with the contractual rights between the two parties. We must not think that the owner who has mortgaged his property is of necessity 483 a comparatively poor person. In my own experience, I have known numbers of very wealthy men who go in for property as a standard form of investment, and always make a practice—at least they did in pre-War days—of investing, say, £1,000 of their own money, and borrowing £2,000 on mortgage, so as to get the proceeds of an investment of £3,000. By that means, they got, possibly, 6 per cent. on their own money, and possibly 2 per cent. on each £1,000 borrowed. I have known within the last two or three years numbers of cases where men owe money in that way and, because the money is cheap to them—they are only paying 1 per cent. over pre-War rates, and in many cases 4½ per cent.—they deliberately invest their money in other directions, so as to retain the cheap money they have from the mortgagees. Lending money on mortgage was always a favourite form of investment for small investors, and there is no doubt eat in many cases at the present time there are numbers of very rich people, property-owners, who owe money on mortgage at less than the real marker rates to people of very much less means than themselves. The only excuse for the continuance of this restriction is that restrictions are being imposed on the property owners of this class of property and that, therefore, they should have some protection in their turn. If the right hon. Gentleman would adapt Section 14 of the Act of 1923, which was to take effect after decontrol had come about, into this Bill. I think it would give ample protection to any person owning this controlled property who was not in a position to pay off the mortgage if it was called in. The provision saysThe County Court may, on the application of the landlord, make an Order restraining the mortgagee from calling in his mortgage or taking steps for enforcing his security or for recovering the principal money thereby secured, if it is satisfied that such calling in, enforcement or recovery would cause exceptional hardship to the landlord.In conclusion, I would say that we all recognise an absolute necessity for this Bill, but the less we interfere with natural laws the better, and I hold that we have rip justification for continuing this one-sided position which has existed during these last five years in which, if the 484 mortgagor, the owner of the property, who owes the money wants to pay off his mortgage, he has a right to do so, but the man to whom the money is owing has no right to call it in. That is an anomalous position, which, I hold, is no longer justified.
§ Sir HENRY SLESSER
A part of the Amendment which has been moved expresses regret that no provisions exist for the simplifying of existing legislation in order to reduce litigation, and certain remarks were made on that part of the Amendment by the Minister of Health when the Second Reading of the Bill was under discussion on a previous day. I am very glad to see, however, that the right hon. Gentleman asked:Does it mean a Consolidation Bill? If that is all that. it means, I do not say it would not be possible to consolidate the existing Rent Acts if it were thought to be desirable to take up such time of the House as would be necessary in order to consolidate Bills which are themselves only of a temporary character. But perhaps the right hon. Gentleman means that he could express in better language the provisions of the existing Rent Acts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1925: cols. 1368–9, Vol. 181.]I am optimistic enough to believe that, if once we were to get to work to consolidate this legislation, in the process of consolidation we might also simplify. I do not think the two things are mutually contradictory, and undoubtedly there has been an enormous amount of litigation arising under this legislation, which, I think, has been caused to a large extent by the extraordinarily confused nature of the various Acts which have been passed by Parliament. I do not mean in any way to blame the draftsmen. I do not know where the blame lies—it may lie with all of us—but the net result has been that we have to-day an extraordinary tangle. and when we consider that this legislation is dealing primarily with poor people, who do not understand law and who, possibly, are not able to consult lawyers, or, if they do, possibly do not consult very competent lawyers—[An HON. MEMBER, "Are not all lawyers competent?"]—I am prepared to assume that they are all competent. At any rate, there has been a needless amount of confusion and doubt.
There are thousands of people who do not know what their rights are under the Rent Acts, and I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that there is always a lot of talk by lazy people 485 about the difficulties of understanding acts of Parliament. The most industrious people sometimes find a difficulty in understanding Acts of Parliament, and certainly, when you are dealing with the class of people whom this legislation seeks to protect, it is important that the law should be expressed in the clearest possible language. That was the intention when the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1906 was passed in this House, to try to express it in the clearest possible language, and although I agree that that Act, in its turn, led to a great deal of litigation, yet there was, for a long time at least, only one Act on which doubt could be expressed, and that litigation was very largely concerned with questions a medical fact rather than with questions of law. It has been suggested that the confusion in these Acts has been about worked out, but that, I think, is a profound fallacy. I find, in looking at the returns for England and Wales alone—I say nothing about Scotland—
§ Sir H. SLESSER
I rather fancy you do, but I have not got the figures. Looking at the figures for England and Wales, for 1923, I find that no fewer than 37,000 summonses were taken out in the- County Courts under the Rent Restrictions Act, and that 23,000 orders for possession were made. Those are all cases really under this Act, and not summonses for possession for non-payment of rent, which are separately stated. So far from the numbers decreasing, I find that they were considerably larger in 1923 than they were in 1922, for they had gone. up from 26,000 odd to 37,000 odd—37,000 cases of summonses taken out in the County Courts of England and Wales under this one Act alone! In regard to appeals, in 1924 no fewer than 31 cases on pure points of law were taken into the Divisional Court on appeal from the County Courts, and 10 into the Court of Appeal, under an Act dealing with cases of poor property—poor, that is, from a financial point of view, where you would not wish to have expensive, cumbersome litigation—and I believe that if it were investigated, it would be found that most of these cases in the Court of Appeal probably cost as much as the value of the house causing the litigation. There has been an increase in the appeals too, and I see that since 486 1920 there have been 135 cases in the Divisional Court and 35 in the Court of Appeal, while three have even gone to the House of Lords, in England am. Wales alone, for this small class of property.
Therefore, I think there is a case for asking for the simplification of this law. I do not believe there is a single Section of the original Act which has not been modified by references in other Acts. which do not themselves express what the existing law is, or that there is scarcely a. Section of the last Act or the Act before that which you could understand without reference to the principal Act. A man has to go about with three or four Acts of Parliament in his pocket before he knows whether or not he will be allowed to stay in his house. You are dealing here with a. particular class of property owned by poor people. It may be very interesting and very fascinating for owners of large estates to argue nice points about conveyances of real property, but, here we are dealing with a class of property where it is essential that the tenant and the landlord should know their rights in clear and unambiguous language. I do not like this idea that there is so much money, year after year going into the pockets of my particular profession because of this confusion. I do not think it is the intention of Parliament, and it is, certainly, not the desire of the landlords, who very often have to pay costs in any event.
All that I say in regard to this legislation, which will continue, whether we like it or not, indefinitely—nobody believes that it will end in two years' time—is that the time has now come when we should consider the whole of this legislation and have it consolidated, as far as possible, into one simple Act without references to other Acts. In consolidation we can simplify, we can make clear, we can take account of the decisions already given, and I believe we could avoid a great deal of this enormous amount of litigation which is going on to-day, and give both landlord and tenant, so far as it is possible in any Act of Parliament, a clear idea of what their rights actually are.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
The previous speakers to-day have been saying a good deal about the wrongs of the tenants and have voiced the dismay which the particular form of this Bill causes to many 487 tenants. I am going to say a few words—and I pledge myself not to speak very long—about the similar dismay that the prolonging of this temporary state of affairs for two years or more causes to tens of thousands of decent, considerate landlords. Nobody will say a word in defence of those slum landlords whose abominable doings have been quoted on the opposite side of the House, but everybody knows that the slum landlord is a very small minority of the landlord class.
§ Sir C. OMAN
You know nothing about your country as a whole though you may know about Clydeside. But taking the majority of landlords over the whole country, I say that the landlords of England who are not concerned with slum areas are—as one of the smallest and humblest of them I wish to speak for them—terribly hit by this enormous prolongation of an unnatural state of affairs. When Dr. Addison first produced his Bill, I pointed out to him the hard cases which this form of legislation would cause among small landlords. He was good enough to inform me that "minorities must suffer," a reply that enraged me at the time and enrages me still. I wish to point out the way in which this prolongation of a temporary state of affairs works. There are, all over England now, a number of decontrolled houses and a number of houses which are still under the Act. Those which are still under the Act are, in many cases, now rented at rates very far below their value, and I will give a few examples which cannot be contradicted. Here is a case of which I know two examples: The invention of the motor has completely changed the value of houses in the countryside. Before the invention of the motor, houses rather remote from the railway station were very valueless. Houses which were let for long leases, e.g. 21 year leases, some 10, 15, or 20 years before the War, because they were remote from railway stations, are now rated at, and cannot get beyond, the valuation of the 1st August, 1914. Meanwhile, owing to the invention of the motor, these 871 to £100 houses, which were then let at rents which brought them under the Act, are worth now to the holder two or three times that rent, because they have ceased to be remote. I 488 am talking of houses with a number of acres attached to them, and outbuildings. I know of two cases where such houses were leased in 1893 and 1895, before the motor came into use, at extraordinarily low rents, simply because they were in those days remote. They are no longer remote, they are large eligible houses, and occupied at the present time by people who pay half what they ought to pay, simply because of this Act. The owners of these houses at the present time appreciate the fact that the invention of the motor has completely changed the value of houses in rural districts. These houses, as I say, are not in the towns, but some little distance from the towns and the Act has therefore, operated extremely hardly on everybody owning houses let on a long lease in the countryside.
The second point I want to make out is that the landlord has still no redress against the tenant who insists upon stopping in the same house, and lets it in detail to a number of sub-tenants whom the landlord considers to be too numerous for the house. The landlord cannot really compel the tenant to get rid of them. I know plenty of cases where the tenant is making money out of his sub-tenants far more than the rent he himself is paying. It is clear that when the restrictions are taken off, and we get back to the natural operations of political economy, all such abuses will be stopped. Meanwhile, not only does the tenant profit by overcrowding the house, but the landlord is accused of owning overcrowded property! I know cases where landlords have been in negotiation with tenants for fixing a permanent rent, and where the latter have broken off the negotiations, frankly stating that, "As we see that our present rents are now going to be continued for a few years longer, we desire to break off negotiations that have been opened: we are going to enjoy the advantage of the Rent Restrictions Act for another two years." By starting negotiations with the landlord the tenants admitted that they knew perfectly well that the houses were worth more than the rent the landlords were getting. There is here, undoubtedly, a real grievance of the landlord, and if the Government goes on continuing this system and putting cm two years, and two years, and two years, that grievance is apparently to become 489 permanent. Everyone concerned and affected by War legislation, the railway companies, the bakers, and others are now free from it—all except the unfortunate small landlord. I beg the Government to try to remember that he, too, is not an undeserving being.
§ Mr. FENBY
In taking part in this Debate I desire to suggest that in my opinion the primary duty of the Minister of Health is to provide increased shelter, and that the provision of increased shelter will make less necessary the continuation for other two or live years of a Bill like that which we now have before us. In face, however, of the hard facts with which we are acquainted, there is no hope that very speedily, at any rate, that increased shelter, which we all agree it is the primary duty to the Minister to -supply, will be provided as quickly as we should desire. That being the case, it seems to me that the second primary duty of the Minister is to give increased security. There is a good dead of nervousness. I should like to emphasise that as being the representative of a City constituency. I am continually having appeals as to what is going to happen in regard to the Rent Restrictions Act. Another thing that is pointed out to roe—if I may say so with all respect—for it is a point of view with which I entirely agree—is that the question of the pro—vision of new shelter by way of new houses or greater security by the extension of the Rent Restrictions Act clearly are tot party political questions, and are not subjects merely for debating points. The people in my constituency, I take it, are typical of other City constituencies, and what they want is the provision of houses. They are not concerned as to what party may have the credit of providing them. They are only concerned that they may have the increased shelter.
We have had the Conservative Government, and we have had the Socialist Government dealing with this matter. I take it that the country, and I sincerely hope every Member of this House, is concerned, first of all with the fact that this question is a great human question dealing with the welfare of the men, women and children of the country. I should like to go back to an earlier point, and to appeal to the House and to the Minister in particular, to continue the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Acts 490 of 1920 and 1923 for a longer period than that mentioned in the Bill now before us. After all, these questions and other similar questions are a legacy of the War, end we have to deal with them on the highest possible grounds that we can do. I am sorry that the Minister of Health is not present, for in reading the opening sentences of his speech on the beginning of this Debate on the Second Reading on 11th March I was sorry to see, and I repeat it, that he went out of his way to be unduly provocative to hon. Members sitting above the Gangway on this side of the House. That is something we ought to avoid if we possibly can. If I may say so, the party with which I am associated has set a good example in that respect in trying to be civil to the other parties in the House. As I say, I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman went out of his way, and I would repeat the appeal to keep this matter clear of party, because, after all, whatever aim we have in this matter and towards solving of this very difficult problem, certainly it is the bounden duty of every Member of this House to assist all he can. I was sorry to see the Minister made another remark on 11th March, and that was to the effect that, provided the period mentioned in the Bill before the House was not long enough, that the Act could be brought under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I say in the presence of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health that that is going to increase the insecurity that people feel to-day with regard to shelter. I should hope that the Minister will strike out of his programme altogether any idea that after 1927, or whatever the date may be, that the Act is to come under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I would suggest rather that we should have a definitely period of a lengthy character. What would please me most would be that the period should be sufficiently long that it would remove it far beyond the next election. Then there would be no opportunity for any hon. Member to make election points, or from the point of view of the candidate who says: "If you give my party the opportunity we will see that the thing is done." We have the opportunity now. We are not seeking any electoral advantage at the present time. It is our duty to put this matter far beyond any pos- 491 sibility of dispute even at the next election.
There is another feeling, that of insecurity, to which I wish to refer. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir H. Slesser), speaking a while ago from the Front Opposition Bench, said something about the lack of understanding of and the lack of information about the actual provisions in the legislation we have passed in regard to rent restriction. I could give one or two instances on this point, and illustrating what I mean by insecurity. The one is the case of a boarding-house keeper at the seaside, and there are scores of instances like it up and down the country. Before the Act was passed his rent was £60 a year, and he felt reasonably secure. After the 40 per cent increase was allowed by the Act it took him outside, so he thought, and he has since feared that he might be turned out at any moment. I am informed that that is not so. Yet some of these implications of the Act are not well known. There seems to be no authoritative information officially on the subject, and there is a feeling of insecurity. I want to appeal to the Government that the only remedy in these matters is to increase the number of houses, so as to do away with the feeling of insecurity as to shelter. I should like the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health to take a long view, and to extend the terms of the Act to a much longer period than at present proposed.
§ Sir FREDRIC WISE
I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Fenby) who has just sat down, for I feel that to reply to what he has said is quite safe in the hands of the Government. I propose to take up a different point of view, and that is the point of view made in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) when he spoke on this matter on 11th March. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here, but no doubt hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite will be able to advise him of the points I raise in regard to his statement in reference to the bank rate and the financiers. The right hon. Member for Shettleston replying to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health said:He knows that within the past fortnight one of the greatest difficulties towards 492 solving this problem has been put in his way by the bankers of the City of London. He knows, as probably no one else in the House knows, that the raising of the bank rate by one per cent. means an addition of something in the neighbourhood of £3 per annum to the annual rents of the small dwelling houses which it is his business to provide, and that in fact by that stroke of the pen the financiers of the country have put a burden on new houses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1925; col, 1374, Vol. 181.]I will endeavour to explain to the right hon. Member for Shettleston that it is not the bankers of the City of London and it is not the financiers who really raise the Bank Rate. The Bank Rate was raised on the 5th March, after it had been at 4 per cent. since August, 1923. To understand the real meaning of the raising of the Bank Rate it is necessary to realise what the international money market is, because the raising of the Bank Rate is dependent to a very large extent on the international money market of the world. There are really only two international money markets, one in Great Britain and one in the United States of America, or perhaps I should say in London and in New York. New York, as hon. Members may remember, had a financial crisis in 1907, and after it she re-organised her financial banks and created what were called Federal Reserve Banks. The real organisation had not been completed when war broke out, but to-day it is completed. In each of the big cities of the United States of America there is one of these Federal Reserve Banks, which control and regulate the money in those cities subject to supply and demand. Previous to the raising of the Bank Rate the rate in the New York Federal Bank was 3 per cent., in Boston 4 per cent., in Chicago 5 per cent. The New York Federal Bank raised its rate to 3½, per cent. on 26th February, and that raised our rate here. Why? The New York rate was raised simply on account of supply and demand, and if the senior Member for the City of London (Mr. E. C. Grenfell) were here, I think he would agree with me that the New York rate should never have been at 3 per cent. Money in New York was always 3½ per cent., and if it had remained at 3½ per cent. we in this country might have got through with the Bank Rate at 4 per cent., at which it stood prior to being raised to 5 per cent. on 5th March. It is a question of supply and 493 demand, whether in the United States or in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston may say "Why should we raise our rate here?" The world is really a financial unit, and we are dependent on outsiders. We have here the Bank of England rate and the money market rate. We are not dependent on the financiers of the City of London to regulate that rate, it is a question of supply and demand. The bank rate was raised to 5 per cert., but the money market rate is below that; at the present time it is about 3¾ per cent. to 4¼ per cent. Let us remember that the New York bank rate is a minimum rate, whereas ours is a maximum rate. It is the money market where the chief business in money is done, through the joint stock banks, the discount houses, the bill brokers, the Stock Exchange, and the merchant bankers; they regulate the money market, and anybody who deals in money must understand that they get it literally at the supply and demand rate, which is not subject to the financiers of the City of London. I have no brief for the financiers of the City of London, and I only say this because, when. I heard the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston, I was flabbergasted to think—
Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
I think the hon. Member is getting rather remote from the Bill.
§ Sir F. WISE
I was only endeavouring to reply to the right hon. Gentleman, and it is very hard to reply unless one realises that the financial position in regard to money is a world unit What will be the effect if the rate has not been raised? In an article in the financial columns of the "Times" it is stated that it is estimated that there is from £30,000,000 to 235,000,000, and up to £40,000,000, of American money in this country. If the bank rate had not been raised, that money would have left this country, and what would have been the position of housing then, what would have been the position of the right hon. Member for Shettleston's Housing Act.
If the bank rate had not been raised, I contend that housing would have been even more costly than it is at the present time. There would have been a crisis. We have had crises before in this country. In 1847 we had what was called the 494 "potato crisis," because of a famine in Ireland. Why was this? Because we had to send bullion abroad to pay for our commodities. These crises appear most suddenly, and when they are least expected. We have lad other crises since then, and if the bank rate had not been raised I contend that we should have had a crisis in the money market through the flow of money from this country to America, and in that way our reserve would have gone down and our liabilities would have gone up. The exchange would have gone against this country, and everything would have been more chaotic and more expensive than it is at the present time. We know that a large amount of material for houses is bought abroad. What would have been the position? It would have cost more to buy bricks in Belgium, because of the Tall in the rate of exchange. If the right hon. Gentleman had realised the position as the financiers of this country realised that they have not got the control which he thinks they have, I feel confident he would never have made that statement.
There is another hon. Member who is very anxious about the bank rate, and that is the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. W. Thorne). He referred to it in a question recently, and in supplementary question stated that, he had read an article by a man who knew all about the money market and the bank rate, and mentioned the name of Major Barnes. I have nothing against Major Barnes, I know him, but he is not a financial man—he is an architect. There are certain people who are not in finance who seem to think that if they have a shilling in one pocket and a rouble in the other they understand international finance. I wish the hon. Member for Plaistow when he is in a difficulty with regard to the, bank rate would consult the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham), from whom he would get good advice. I think it is absolutely wrong for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston to say that it is the bankers or financiers of the City of London who control the bank rate; it is simply a matter of supply and demand.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
I should like first of all to apologise to the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General for the absence of my right hon. Friend the 495 Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), who is unavoidably absent from this Debate. I have listened to this Debate to-day, and on the previous occasion when this Bill was under discussion, and I have not heard from hon. Members opposite any real defence of the Bill. The Minister of Health's speech was a plaintive plea for accepting the line of least resistance. He did not even pretend to believe that the Rent Restriction Acts were satisfactory, indeed, he believed *hey might with advantage be amended, but he said "Let us leave things as they are, let us do as little as we can." This is virtually a proposal for continuing things as they are now, whilst the stealthy process of decontrol is allowed to go on side by side with it. The right hon. Gentleman says, "If at the end of the period when the Bill expires there is still need for a further measure of control, the Bill is so drafted that it can be continued under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act." He did not say it would be continued; he said it was so drafted that it could be, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, in his speech, regarded that as an obviously desirable and reasonable way of dealing with the matter. It may be true that to put it in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill at the end of two-and-a-half years is better than nothing, but it is a most unsatisfactory and not at all a desirable way of dealing with it. We know very well that if it is in that Bill there can be no amendment of it, and the chances are that there will be no real opportunity for discussion, and as one of the hon. Members for Glasgow pointed out, we shall perpetuate the, uncertainty which now prevails in the minds of both landlords and tenants.
The Parliamentary Secretary attempted to make a debating point by referring to the Housing Bill of last year, and he was subjected to a little interruption from this side. His point was, that because the rents to be calculated under tin-Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1924, were to bear a relation to existing rents, therefore, the Government last year regarded that level of rents as being perfectly satisfactory. That, of course, is not the case. It is perfectly obvious that if we have to calculate rents for houses built under that Act, they must be calculated with regard to some 496 standard of existing rents, whether we approve of that standard or whether we do not, and it would obviously have been impracticable to say that the appropriate normal rents shall not be the rents now prevailing but the rents that might prevail at some future time. It was perfectly clear to the House last year that my right hon. Friend, who was then Minister of Health, never by any words of his admitted his belief that 40 per cent. was a reasonable increase, for he has always held it was unreasonable.
I think I have heard all the speeches made by Members of the Conservative party in this Debate, and taking them all together I think they indicate a deplorable state of mind in the Conservative party. There has not been one whole hearted speech in support of the Bill from hon. Members opposite with the exception of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. Obviously they do not want the Bill, and they would like decontrol to come instantly. Hon. Members opposite believe not only that the 40 per cent. is not too high but too low, and they would like to get rid of every shred of control, and they are looking forward to the day when that will happen.
We have heard something about the Minister of Health and his large majority, but surely he is dragging into the Lobby hon. Members who are really unwilling to go with him so far as this Bill goes. The Government is compromising one of its most vital principles. The logical course for the Government to pursue would be to abolish control of rents altogether and let the free play of competition and the law of supply and demand operate for a period of years in order to fill the pockets of the landlords and those who build houses. The facts, however, have been far too strong, and this theory of abolishing control which is so strongly held by the Members of the party opposite has to be pushed into the background because of the absolute necessity under existing circumstances of doing something to regulate rents, evictions and so forth.
The Government and the previous Conservative Government, and indeed all Governments who have had to deal with this question on general lines, have lacked the courage to take the full logical steps for dealing with control, 497 and the result is that we have now the unsatisfactory proposal which is in front of us, and which is neither real control nor a cessation of control. We have had from the Minister of Health no explanation as to why he has chosen a period of two-and-a-half years for England and three years for Scotland, which seems to me to be an injustice to England. Why two-and-a-half years? The Minister has never explained this point. Last year in this House the Minister of Health said thatthis period of control, if it be extended, should be extended long enough to make it unnecessary to extend it again.Those were the words he used last year. Is the right hon. Gentleman now fulfilling that good advice which ho offered to others in the Bill that is now before the House? I feel confident in saying that there is no Member of the House who believes that at the expiration of the period fixed by this Bill there will be decontrol of houses. Our view is that there should be control so long as the tenant is virtually tied to his present house, and so long as there is no alternative accommodation for him of a reasonable kind; that is to say, the tenant should not be driven, as he is to-day, to choose between the house he has now and one that is probably worse or as bad. He should have a reasonable choice, and then there will be some real freedom for the tenant.
As things are at present, the so-called alternative accommodation, whenever it arises is for the most part accommodation of the kind which is as bad as, or perhaps worse than, the accommodation he has at the present time. There is no reason to believe that at the end of two-and-a-half year's time there will be any prospect of tenants being able to leave the houses they are in to-day if they so wish. All this is borne out by the particulars from nearly all our large towns of the number of applicants for houses. Since the passing of the Act of 1920, where applications have been received the figures go to show that from that time to this there has not been such a decrease in the number of applicants for houses as to warrant us in believing that in the next two-and-a-half years they are going to vanish, and result in a normal situation. Many figures could be quoted to this House. We believe that the period 498 ought to be longer than two-and-a-half years.
As regards the question of rents, that subject has already been raised by several hon. Members on the Labour Benches. No attempt whatever has been made by the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary to justify the continuance of the 40 per cent. increase. Many reasons have been adduced why that 40 per cent. should be reduced, and no case has been made out for the policy of no change. It is admitted that in 1920 the costs were higher and wages were relatively higher. The situation to-day is far different, because the costs are down and wages are down very substantially.
The argument is that the cost of repairs is still substantial, and yet it is generally admitted that the landlords are not carrying out the repairs they were required to carry out by the law of the land. During the election a leaflet was circulated by the Conservative party, and one of the items in it was moderate rents. The rents which now obtain, even if they were moderate in 1920, are at present excessive, having regard to the fall in prices, and to the serious impoverishment that has taken place amongst working people. The Act of 1923 inaugurated a system of decontrol by the back door. It was unfair because of the plight of the tenants. The learned Attorney-General, speaking on the Bill of 1923, said, in reply to a speech from this side:The hon. Member for Seaham was, however, quite right when he said that one result of this Bill would be that houses would be decontrolled more quickly than if the 1920 Act had continued unamended. They will be decontrolled very quickly and that is one of the strongest arguments in our view in favour of the Bill.What has been the effect of that Bill? So far as I know, the Minister has not got the necessary information. The right hon. Gentleman quoted a letter from a surveyor during his speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill which at least throws some light on this question, because the surveyor whose letter he read pointed out that one effect of the Act of 1923 was that it had been instrumental in bringing "a large number of houses into the market to be let." How many have been decontrolled? Apparently the Minister does not know what are the 499 rents of the decontrolled houses. The Minister does not appear to know except in a few isolated cases.
The rents of houses that have been decontrolled as a result of the Bill of 1923 throw a little light upon the reason why decontrol is so urgently desired by hon. Members opposite. In Bradford I am informed where houses have been decontrolled "the rents have practically been doubled." In Bristol "the rents have been inflated enormously." In one case, writes a correspondent from Bristol, it came to my notice that a house has been let at 17s. per week, which was 4s. 6d. pre-War. In Manchester many similar increases have taken place. Mr. Ernest Simon, who was a Member of this House in the last Parliament, writing in one of the monthly journals last year, referred to a return which had been made by the overseers in Manchester from which he gave "specimen cases of decontrolled rents." Mr. Simon quoted the cases of "seven houses which on a change of tenancy have come out of control, and in these cases the net rents paid for these houses vary from 84 per cent. to 195 per cent. of an increase above pre-War rents as against the permitted increase of 40 per cent. for controlled houses. The average increase for the whole of those seven houses was 136 per cent. or more than three times the increase allowed under the Rent Restrictions Act."
I have had numerous reports from other centres of population as to the effect of automatic decontrol on the rents of the houses. Since I came into this House to-day I have heard of a house in the constituency of the learned Attorney-General which was let at 22s. a week, which has now been taken on a seven years' lease for £1,700, plus £100 premium. In the constituency represented by the Minister of Health there are cases of houses where the rent has gone up to an amount which suggests the grossest form of profiteering. I am informed that there is a house in Anglesey Street, in the Birmingham district, where the controlled rent was 8s. 6d. and the rent of that house now is El per week, and the tenant has to do his own repairs. In the same district I am told there is a house in Carpenter's Road where the controlled rent was 7s. 6d. and the decontrolled rent is 15s. per week, the tenant having to do the repairs
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
Can the hon. Gentleman inform the House whether there are any sub-tenants in those houses?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I will give the hon. and gallant Member some particulars about sub-tenants in a moment or two.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
The examples which the hon. Gentleman has given to the House are perfectly useless unless he can say that there are no subtenants in those houses.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The tables from which I am quoting, I understand, apply to working-class houses of the smaller type. I have some eases where there is sub-letting, and I will give those figures to the House in a moment. I have a case at Bartley Green where the rent of a controlled house was 6s. 6d. and the decontrolled rent is 16s. per week. Hon. Members opposite have always shown a tenderness towards sub-tenants which they have never shown to other Tenants. If there be any grievances with regard to sub-tenants, why does the right hon. Gentleman not do something for them in his Bill? We should be very glad if he would do something in this direction. There is no doubt whatever that there is profiteering on the part of tenants who sub-let. Let that be admitted, and we would not defend it. I have particulars from Birmingham of a number of houses, but I will only give one or two cases. In one case the rent paid to the owner of the house is £90 15s. per year, and he receives, on the pretext largely that they are furnished rooms, £319 16s. per year. This is a 12-roomed house, with 12 families living in it, where the main tenant is paying about £7 10s. per room as rent, and where he is extorting from the sub-tenants a rent of about £26 15s. per room. In another house, where the main tenant is paying a rent of £33 5s., he is receiving, from those who live in the house, £185 18s. per year. If that be injustice, I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to have done a little more than bring in merely a continuation Bill, and I hope hon. Members opposite, whose hearts are so full of the troubles of sub-tenants, will support us in the Lobby in their interests.
The truth is that hon. Members opposite are a little over-anxious to get rid of control. They were too previous. 501 before, and they are again. The Parliamentary Secretary—I am reading this from a report—in a paper which he read at the Law Society's meeting at Leeds on the 26th September, 1922, said:Parliament should as speedily as possible repeal the Statute dealing with rent restrictions entirely, but should continue to afford certain protection till, say, 1924, while making various curtailments and modifications with the object of terminating the whole Measure in that year.That was the view of the Parliamentary Secretary two years ago. He was wrong, and he has had to come forward this year, with the Minister of Health, with a Measure for a further 2½ years. He will be wrong again. The Minister of Health, speaking in support of his Measure of 1923, said:Unless control comes to an end, private enterprise will not function freely.That, it seems to me, is what really lies behind the minds of members of the Government in bringing in this short-period Bill. They are allowing their doctrinaire individualism to trample on the interests of masses of working people.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
There are no worse doctrinaires than doctrinaire individualists. There are no doctrinaire Socialists; the doctrinaires are to be found among those people who rigidly adhere to principles which are becoming no longer applicable to modern conditions. They are anxious to bring back again perfect free play of competition in house building and in house letting, and to reestablish private enterprise; and they are prepared to do it hastily, even though, apparently, it may mean some injury to working people. I would ask the Minister of Health whether it is not possible to broaden the basis of his Bill. The Prime Minister—I quote from a Conservative leaflet, No. 2507, which is a large number—said:When the Unionist party is returned to power, one of fie first duties of the Minister of Health will be to review the whole rent situation in the light of existing circumstances.I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has come to the House with a Bill with-cut having considered the whole rent situation, with a desire to take the least possible trouble over what is, undoubtedly, 502 a very difficult situation. Nobody would be more pleased than I if I never heard the words "rent restriction" again. I dislike the subject. It is a difficult subject; it has been a worry, I feel quite sure, to the right hon. Gentleman and to everyone who has ever had anything to do with it. But, at the same time, it is so absolutely indispensable for the comfort and the amenity of working people, that I think we have a right to ask that, so long as present circumstances continue, so long as there is a possibility of their continuing, so long should we legislate, and legislate in a generous and whole-hearted fashion; and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it is not possible to be a little bolder and a little more courageous, and not to confine himself to the narrow, small point of mere continuance of his Measure.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Douglas Hogg)
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, when he introduced this Measure a fortnight since, expressed an expectation that the opportunity would be taken by Members opposite of explaining to the tenants, from whom they hope one day to obtain votes, how much more they are their Friends now than they were a year ago when they were in office. My right hon. Friend has not been disappointed. I have listened to the Debate, both on the last occasion and this afternoon, and I think that one of its remarkable features has been that, so far as I have noted, there has been no one who has been able to speak against the contents of the Bill. A number of hon. Members have spoken in favour of some other Bill, but there has been no one, certainly on the Opposition benches, who has ventured to say that the proposal which we make is not a right one in itself, although there may be others which they would desire in addition.
We heard on the last occasion, from the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson), praise of his suggestions for the compulsory hiring of empty houses—a foster-child for which he has more than the affection of a natural parent. We heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) an attack upon those whom he described as the public robbers, by which I understood him to mean the Bank of England, because they had raised 503 the Bank rate; and the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to assert, without any calculations to prove it, that 1 per cent. on the Bank rate was the samething, as regards increasing rents of houses, as a 50 per cent. increase of wages. No expert can even understand what possible figures the right hon. Gentleman can have in his mind. So far as any competent person is able to judge, the rise in the Bank rate has not affected by one farthing the cost of building houses, especially houses of this character, which are financed largely by loans under Local Loans Acts, and which are financed at exactly the same rate to-day as they were three weeks ago. But per- haps the right hon. Gentleman did not think it necessary to give figures for experts; his appeal was to a wider public—to a, public which does not quite understand what the Bank rate is, and which is easily persuaded that it is being unfairly treated, if the assertion is made with a sufficient show of authority. It was, no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman's contribution to that good will of which we heard from the Opposition benches this afternoon.
We have heard this afternoon from certain Members from Glasgow. We often hear from Members from Glasgow on this subject. We had a sympathetic and careful speech from the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division (Mr. J. Stewart), and a characteristic speech from the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen)—I am sorry he is not here to hear me answer him. We learned from the first of these two speeches that Glasgow was so mismanaged by its City Council that the Council had wholly failed in its duty of trying to provide more houses. That speech ought to have been made on the proposal to extend the boundaries of Glasgow a fortnight ago. We heard that the property owners in Glasgow were so much better off than they were before the War because their rents had been increased by 40 per cent. and because there were very few empty houses. I did not notice any reference to the number of people who will not pay any rent at all in Glasgow, which may, perhaps, make rather a different result in their balance sheet.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Fortunately, Glasgow is not Clydebank yet. But I am anxious, as far as possible, not to discuss the particular local conditions in Glasgow, for the reason that, as the House knows, there has been, and is still, I think, sitting, although the evidence is concluded, a Commission of Inquiry to ascertain the facts and make recommendations with regard to the condition of affairs in that area.; and I think it would be a pity to make their task more difficult by venturing to discuss those peculiar local problems until we have their findings and their recommendations.
From the hon. Member for Camlachie there came what he described as an appeal to my right hon. Friend. In fact, he called it an appeal several times; but it was rather the appeal of the gentleman with a, pistol than the minister of the Gospel. We were told that, if we did not respond to the appeal, there would be, he would see to it, such an agitation as had never been known, and the people would be roused to a sense of their wrongs and to taking violent measures to redress them. So powerful was the. hon. Member, so convincing in his description of the injustices which were being committed. so dramatic was his picture of the unfortunate tenant for whom no repairs were done, but from whom the full increase of rent was exacted, that he misled my hon. Friend the Member for South Salford (Mr. Radford), who followed immediately with an appeal to the Minister of Health that power should be given by this Bill to the County Court Judge, if the tenant found that the repairs were not being done, to suspend the increase of rent. May I reassure my hon. Friend? If he looks at the Act of 1920, he will find that precisely that power is given in Section 2, and if he looks at the Act of 1923, he will find that it is extended so that, instead of the tenant having to make an, application, under the existing law, if any action is brought by the landlord to try and enforce the increase of rent, the tenant can raise by way of defence the fact that the repairs for which the landlord is liable have not been done. So that the position which the hon. Member for Camlachie induced my hon. Friend to think requires rectification has been completely covered during the last five years. [Interruption.] I am trying to deal with argument and not with interruption.
505 Then came a speech from the late Solicitor - General. He confined his speech to an appeal for the simplification of these Rent Restriction Acts. I think he was almost the only speaker who developed that Clause in the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston moved. I rather gathered from his speech that the right hon. Gentleman had not himself been very sure what the Clause meant, and that my hon. and learned Friend had to listen to the speech of the Minister of Health in order to find out what it really did mean. The illustrations which the hon. and learned Gentleman gave did not, to my mind, carry that conviction which he anticipated. He told us that there had been 37,000 eases in the last year, in which at least 23,000 orders for possession were made, if I followed his figures correctly, and he said there had at the same time been 31 appeals to the Divisional Courts. I wonder in what class of litigation it can be said the appeals average something like one-tenth of 1 per cent. of the cases. It would seem to indicate, if those figures are right, that so far from simplification being needed in these Acts, they have reached a stage of certainty which very little of the law can entertain and, in fact, he knows, I am sure, as I do, that the only effect of altering a thing which has been the subject of repeated judicial consideration will be to induce the Courts to say, Parliament must have meant to make a change in the meaning since it has used a change in the language, and it would provide a very useful income to a large number of members of the junior Bar in assisting the Judges to understand what that change meant.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
If there was mere codification and consolidation without change of language that would not apply, but then there would be no advantage, because you would not be changing the words. But if, on the other hand, you are going to simplify the language, which is, as I understand, the proposal, that presumably means to alter it, and the moment you alter the language you will produce a flood of litigation in order to ascertain what the words mean. We have a striking instance of that in the Workmen's 506 Compensation Act, 1906, which altered the 1897 position and which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows so well, was invaluable to the Bar but was not quite so gratefully received either by employers or by workmen.
There came also a criticism, from, think, mainly the benches on this side of the House, against the proposal to allow the provisions as to mortgages to continue unaltered. I should like to say for myself that I regarded that appeal with a considerable amount of sympathy, because I know there are cases where it has been impossible to wind up estates as quickly as they should have been by reason of the fact that the mortgages could not be called in, but there are two considerations which, in my judgment, and I think in the judgment of my right hon. Friend, render it inadvisable to make the alteration that is suggested. The first is that, although it true enough that mortgages can be raised at a fairly reasonable rate, I think it is at least doubtful whether it would be easy to replace mortgages on weekly property, certainly on restricted weekly property, and, secondly, my hon. Friend will realise that if once we commence making alterations in these Acts in either direction it would be quite impossible to resist applications to make alterations in other directions. The result is that, if you once opened the floodgates, you would produce an immense volume of discussion and an uncertain amount of change, and you would do a very great deal of harm to the interests of those who have house property to deal with, and of those who have to live in house property of this description. So that reluctantly I say it has been deliberately the view of the Government that any change would be inadvisable, and the only practical way of dealing with the situation is merely to continue the existing law for a limited period, but to do it in such a way that if it should unfortunately be necessary we can make a further continuation later on.
Then there was a speech by the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby) who protested against the provocative language of the Minister of Health. I think it is almost the first time I have heard my right hon. Friend described as provocative. I wonder whether the hon. Member heard the speech from the right 507 hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettle-stone or the speech of the hon. Member for Camlachie when he regarded the language used by the Minister of Health as provocative. He was anxious that the question of Rent Restriction should be removed from the sphere of party politics—a most pious wish. I wonder if he could persuade the other Opposition to share it. He expressed the desire that the extension should be for more than the two and a half years which is proposed so that, as he said, the question should be taken beyond the date of the next election. I can understand that hon. Members sitting on the Liberal benches have always rather an unhappy recollection of what may happen to people who have to make election promises about controversial topics, and it may well be that Liberal Members would be anxious that there should be as few memories as possible aroused at election time. But it is not from the point of view of elections that we are trying to deal with this problem. We are trying to deal with what we regard as a real and immediate need, and we are trying to deal with it in a way which will do the least harm and the most good to those whose interests we are trying to preserve. We have been faced in this House with attacks for things we have not done. We have been faced outside the House with all sorts of misrepresentations as to what we are proposing to do. Far instance, although no hon. Member on the Socialist Benches has suggested that there is anything wrong in this Bill except that it does not do enough, we find in the Socialist Press this sort of headline:Tory Measure to extort cash from Workers.That is the "Daily Herald." I understand I rightly describe it as a Socialist organ. It goes on to give what is described as an interview with Mr. Mardy Jones, M.P. The hon. Member made a speech on the last occasion, but he never made any of the statements contained in this interview. I hope this is only an instance of how little one can rely on the accuracy of the Socialist Press:Interview with the 'Daily Herald' by Mardy Jones, M.P. This Bill will put millions of pounds of extortion money into the pockets of the host of unscrupulous landlords.508 I give that as an instance of the sort of misrepresentation which is designedly made by newspapers, at any rate outside the House of Commons, in order to mislead the tenants whose votes the Socialist party one day hope to cater for, because whatever else is clear, this Bill cannot put one farthing or cash into the pockets of any landlord, scrupulous or unscrupulous. If this Bill does not become law, as we hope it very soon will, the only result will be that after 30th June next rent control, as we know it to-day, will cease and landlords will be able to raise their rents. The object of this Bill is to continue the existing control for at least two and a-half years, and s, to prevent such a raising of rents; and, therefore, it is a wicked misstatement to say that the Bill will put millions of pounds of extortion money into the pockets of the landlords or that this is a Tory Measure to extort cash from the workers.
The late Under-Secretary for Health challenged the party to which I am proud to belong on what he called their inconsistency. Said he: "They do not like control, they believe control is a bad thing, and therefore they ought not to vote in favour of this Second Reading." In a measure the hon. Member is right. I do not like control. I think it would be far better if our housing conditions were such that control was not necessary. But I recognise, my right hon. Friend recognises, and my party recognise, that in existing conditions some measure of control is necessary until the housing problem has been more successfully overcome and there is nothing illogical in our saying at the same time that we regard control as a mischievous thing that ought to be stopped as soon as it properly can, but that until the existing housing shortage has been dealt with it is impossible to get rid of that mischievous control. That is the attitude of the Government. Assuming that one is right in saying that control ought to be ended as soon as it properly can, but that it cannot be ended until the housing problem has been dealt with, how ought one to approach the question of decontrol? Hon. Members opposite have, with one accord, made an attack upon the Government because of the provisions in the 1923 Act., which they did not alter when they were in office, under which gradually such houses as came back into the possession of the landlord ceased to be controlled. 509 That is a matter that has been considered by Committees. There are probably between five and six million houses in England and Wales which are within the control limit. Supposing there is not gradual decontrol. Supposing at a given moment—I care not whether it is a soon moment or a distant moment—the whole of this five or six million houses are suddenly to be decontrolled. Could anybody imagine anything more calculated to cause disaster or mischief to the interests of the tenants and to cause a tremendous amount of disturbance and unrest, than the fact of all these houses suddenly coming into the possession of their landlords, and the tenants, or a very large proportion of them, receiving notice to quit? Is not the right way to approach the problem of decontrol to try to bring it about gradually, so that there shall be as little displacement as possible? Is it not the right way, if you are to bring it about gradually, by seeing that it only takes place in the ease of houses where there is no tenant, because the house has fallen back into the possession of the landlord, without any eviction? Obviously, in these cases there can be no eviction of the tenant, because there is no tenant to evict, no displacement and no disturbance. It is true that a great deal of decontrol is slowly going on. So far from being ashamed of it, I am proud to think that so practical a means was discovered by my right hon. Friend in 1923.
§ Mr. A. GREENWOOD
Does the right bon. and learned Gentleman regard the rents that are being charged for these decontrolled houses as reasonable? Does he approve of them? Is he proud of them?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
As far as I have been able to ascertain, and we can only ascertain from inquiries—I think my right hon. Friend explained the matter to the House last week—in a, very great majority of cases there has been very little alteration in rent when the house has come out of control. May I give the hon. Member particulars from Bradford, in regard to which we happen to have a report. The, report we have had from Bradford is this—we are asked not to give the names of those who report to us, but they are most reliable people—As far as social workers are concerned, those with whom the reporter has come into contact have no cases of abuse on the part of the landlords to report.510 In a further letter the reporter says:—I have inquired, unofficially, from the overseers here, who tell me that cases of asking exorbitant rents for de-controlled property are few and far between: The practice of putting such property up to tender is on the increase. Social workers in close touch with the people have no knowledge of hardship resulting from this practice,The hon. Member also referred to Manchester. He quoted what he described as specimen cases put forward by Mr. Simon. Again, we happen to have a report from Manchester, and the report is that the specimen cases are anything but specimens, if by specimen is meant fair samples, but that they are exceptional cases, picked out, and do not in the least represent what is going on in Manchester. The hon. Member was good enough also to refer to one house in my own constituency. If I took down the figures correctly, he said that it was a house let at a week formerly, and that it had now been taken for seven years at £1,700, plus £100 premium. I am very glad to say that, the working classes of Marylebone are an industrious and thrifty lot, but, unfortunately, they are not able to take houses at £1,700 and to pay £100 premium for rent. I cannot help thinking that the house to which the hon. Member referred cannot be regarded as a typical working-class dwelling. Possibly it may be one of those houses which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is very anxious to look at, which open between 12.30 a.m and 6 a.m.
It has been said in several quarters that the existing law is not being properly enforced, that there are complaints as to landlords not doing repairs, as to factors not complying with their statutory obligations, and as to houses being let at exorbitant rents. I would like to point out that if it be true, that is not a matter for legislation. It is a matter for executive and criminal action. I do not believe that the cases are quite as frequent as may be imagined, although I have no doubt they exist. I hope they are not quite as frequent as is sometimes suggested. I would like to assure the House that at the beginning of this year, after consultation with the Minister of Health, I made arrangements with the Director of Public Prosecutions to try to find cases in which the penal provisions of these Acts were being infringed, with 511 the intention, if such a ease was brought to our notice, of taking up the matter as a prosecution by the Director himself, so that publicity might be given both to the existence of the penalties and to our determination to enforce them.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Will the right hon. Gentleman do something to deal with the question of repairs? Will he actually define what is meant by repairs, so that it will be made clear that they include painting and papering of houses, which work was always recognised before the War as requisite repairs?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I do not think that is the point wtih which I was, dealing. What I was endeavouring to tell the House was, that I am very anxious, and that my right hon. Friend is very anxious, and we are determined as far as we can to see to it that the provisions of these Acts shall be observed. We have not only taken counsel together, but I have discussed the matter with the Director of Public Prosecutions, and I have caused communications to be sent to a number of County Court Judges, in districts where these cases are most likely to arise, in order that if there come under their notice in the course of eviction proceedings or the like any cases of apparent breach of these Acts, they may be reported to Richmond Terrace, and proper proceedings may be instituted. I hope the House will realise that although this is not a matter for legislation, the enforcement of the law is a matter with which we are dealing, and which we intend to deal with to the utmost of our power.
It is not true to say that it is always the unscrupulous landlord who breaks the law. There are, I think, at least as many cases of unscrupulous tenants who sub-let at exorbitant rents, but whatever class it may be, be he the ground landlord or be he the sub-lessor, if a case is brought to our notice which we can establish, I should like to assure the House that there will be no lack of readiness in the Government and on the part of the Director of Public Prosecutions to put the provisions of the law in force. It may be that to hon. Members of this House particulars of cases may come. If any such particulars are received as far as England and Wales are concerned, I should be very grateful 512 if any hon. Member will give me the necessary particulars, and I will undertake to have the matter looked into and, if a case arises, to have the criminal law put into effect.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Will the right hon. Gentleman take cognisance of the case I suggested, and define the word "repairs," so that repairs shall be deemed to include papering and painting? At the present time, the proprietors do not fulfil the requirements of the law if painting and papering were regarded as within the definition of the word "repairs." As they are not so defined, they are not being recognised.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Definition is always rather a dangerous thing. It is sometimes apt to act in the direction of exclusion rather than inclusion. There is already, as the hon. Member knows, a provision—not so much under these Acts but under the Housing and Working Classes Acts and so on—which makes it necessary for the landlord to put houses of this character into a condition of habitable repair, but that is a matter which the Courts have to construe. Certainly, it does not arise under this Act
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is not a case which we can discuss to-day. So far as to-day's proceedings are concerned, we are confronted with a situation in which the hoped-for increase of houses has not taken place. Hon. Members opposite say confidently that it is no good extending this Act for two and a half years in this country or for three years in Scotland. One hon. Member criticised the difference in the terms, but he will find, if he asks some of his Scottish friends, that the terms are different as regards Scotland, because May is the appropriate month. Hon. Members say that it is no good extending the Act for two and a half or three years because the housing shortage will not he overcome then. If all that we are looking for is a continuance of the existing rate of increase of houses, I agree with that argument, but I hope that is not all that we can look for. The hon. Member for Camlachie said that many eloquent speeches had been made at the last Election by members of the Conservative party about the housing shortage, and he 513 said, dramatically, "We shall have to go back and tell the people that this is all that the Government are going to do." This is not all that the Government are doing or are going to do. This Bill is not intended to cure the housing question. This Bill is continuing an admittedly unsatisfactory course of legislation until the housing question is by other means overcome.
We have to stimulate by every means in our power the existing means of house building. We have, I hope, to discover and develop other means of house building which will supplement the existing means. We have to see to it that the whole resources of the country are brought into dealing with the housing problem and getting the houses at the earliest possible moment. We have to do it not necessarily by force but, rather, by that goodwill which has been referred to
§ more than once in the Debate this afternoon. I hope and believe that the efforts of the Government in the direction of house building are going, increasingly, to overtake the housing shortage, and I think it would be an unwise thing for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health now, when everything is uncertain, to fix a date for the continuance of this BM, a date which might perhaps prove to be far too distant, and not to be sanguine that by the goodwill of both sides and united effort in all parties the housing difficulty may be overcome far more quickly than at present seems likely to be the case.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 281; Noes, 131.517
|Division No. 61.]||AYES.||[7.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Christie, J. A.||Glyn, Major R. G. C.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Grace, John|
|Albery, Irving James||Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Allen, Lieut.-Col. Sir William James||Clarry, Reginald George||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Grotrian, H. Brent|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Bristol, N.)|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.|
|Astor, Viscountess||Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Cope, Major William||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.|
|Baird, Rt. Hon. Sir John Lawrence||Couper, J. B.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)||Hanbury, C.|
|Balniel, Lord||Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Harland, A.|
|Beamish, Captain T. P. H.||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Harrison, G. J. C.|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Curtis-Bennett, Sir Henry||Haslam, Henry C.|
|Bennett, A. J.||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Hawke, John Anthony|
|Bentlock, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Dalziel, Sir Davison||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.|
|Bethell, A.||Davidson, J.(Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Dawson, Sir Philip||Henn, Sir Sydney H.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Doyle, Sir N. Grattan||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Drewe, C.||Henniker-Hughan, Vice-Adm. Sir A.|
|Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart||Duckworth, John||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Eden, Captain Anthony||Herbert, S.(York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Hilton, Cecil|
|Brass, Captain W.||Ellis, R. G.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Elveden, Viscount||Holt, Capt. H. P.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||England, Colonel A.||Homan, C. W. J.|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. [...].||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Hopkins, J. W. W.|
|Brown, Maj. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Everard, W. Lindsay||Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Mewb'y)||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Fenby, T. D.||Howard, Captain Hon. Donald|
|Burman, J. B.||Fermoy, Lord||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Fielden, E. B.||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Caine, Gordon Hall||Fleming, D. P.||Huntingfield, Lord|
|Campbell, E. T.||Forrest, W.||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Frece, Sir Walter de||Hurst, Gerald B.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Fremantle, Lt.-Col- Francis E.||Hutchison, G. A. C.(Midl'n & Peebles)|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Ganzoni, Sir John||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Gates, Percy||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Jacob, A. E.|
|James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Jephcott, A. R||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Nuttall, Ellis||Smithers, Waldron|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Oakley, T.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Kindersley, Major Guy M.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Owen, Major G.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Pennefather, Sir John||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Knox, Sir Alfred||Penny, Frederick George||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Lamb, J. Q.||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Lane-Fox, Lieut.-Col. George B.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Little, Dr. E. Graham||Perring, William George||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Philipson, Mabel||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Pilcher, G.||Tasker, Major R. Inigo|
|Loder, J. de V.||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Templeton, W. P.|
|Looker, Herbert William||Power, Sir John Cecil||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Lord, Walter Greaves-||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Lougher, L.||Price, Major C. W. M.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Radford, E. A.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|MacAndrew, Charles Glen||Raine, W.||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)||Remer, J. R.||Waddington, R.|
|McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Remnant, Sir James||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|McLean, Major A.||Rentoul, G. S.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Rice, Sir Frederick||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|MacRobert, Alexander M.||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)||Wells, S. R.|
|Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel.||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Ropner, Major L.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Margesson, Captain D.||Salmon, Major I-||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Meller, R. J.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Merriman, F. B.||Sandeman, A. Stewart||Womersley, W. J.|
|Milne, J. S. Wardlaw.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Wood, Rt. Hon. E. (York, W.R., Ripon)|
|Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Sanderson, Sir Frank||Wood, E.(Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)|
|Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Sandon, Lord||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.).|
|Morris, R. H.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)||Wragg, Herbert|
|Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl (Renfrew, W.)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Nelson, Sir Frank||Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y)|
|Neville, R. J.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES-|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Univ., Belfst)||Colonel Gibbs and Major Sir|
|Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Skelton, A. N.||Harry Barnston.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||March, S.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Maxton, James|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Montague, Frederick|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Groves, T.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Grundy, T. W.||Murnin, H.|
|Barr, J.||Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Batey, Joseph||Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.)||Palin, John Henry|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hail, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Paling, W.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hardie, George D.||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Bromfield, William||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Potts, John S.|
|Bromley, [...].||Hastings, Sir Patrick||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Ritson, J.|
|Buchanan, G.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Hirst, G. H.||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)|
|Cape, Thomas||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Rose, Frank H.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Clowes, S.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Cluse, W. S.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Scurr, John|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Sexton, James|
|Compton, Joseph||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Connolly, M.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Dalton, Hugh||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Kelly, W. T.||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Kennedy, T.||Smillie, Robert|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Dennison, R.||Kenyon, Barnet||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Duncan, C.||Kirkwood, D.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Dunnico, H.||Lansbury, George||Snell, Harry|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Lawson, John James||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Lee, F.||Spencer, George A. (Broxtowe)|
|Gillett, George M.||Livingstone, A. M.||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles|
|Gosling, Harry||Lowth, T.||Stamford, T. W.|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lunn, William||Stephen, Campbell|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Mackinder, W.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Greenall, T.||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Taylor, R. A.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plalstow)||Welsh, J. C.||Windsor, Waiter|
|Thurtie, E.||Westwood, J.||Wright, W.|
|Tinker, John Joseph||Whiteley, W.|
|Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.||Wignall, James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Varley, Frank B.||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr.|
|Viant, S. P.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)||Warne.|
|Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
The following Instruction, stood en the Order Paper in the name of Mr. CLYNES:
That it he an instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they have power to insert provisions continuing the application of the Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, to all dwelling-houses to which that Act now applies, and to amend the provisions in that Act relating to permitted increases in rent.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I desire to ask your ruling, Mr. Speaker, about the Instruction, having regard to the course now taken on the Second Reading of the Bill. The Title of this Bill shows the intention simply to prolong the present Increase of Rent and Mortgage (Restrictions) Act, 1920, for a further period of two years. You will observe that the House has just disposed of an Amendment which complained that the Bill did not amend the law in various directions, and I venture to suggest that, by the rejection of the Amendment, the House adopted the principle contained in the Bill, namely, that the provision of the 1920 Act should simply be extended for a period of two years. If you look at the Instruction on the Paper, you will observe that it is in a way a repetition of the Amendment of which the House has just disposed, and asks in other words, that the Committee on the Bill should have power to insert two provisions which are referred to in that Amendment. I venture to submit that an Instruction which would be contrary to the decision of the House taken on the introduction and the Second Reading of the Bill is not within the due province of an Instruction. In other words, the Instruction on the Paper is in direct contradiction to the decision the House has just taken. I also venture to submit that the Amendments which the Instruction proposes to sanction must be such as would confirm the general 518 purposes and intention of the House with regard to the appointment of the Committee. In other words, the House has just expressed by its majority that they assent to the principle of the Bill simply to extend the duration of the Act for two years. In the third place, I venture to suggest that an Instruction is bad which seeks to substitute another scheme for the mode of operation described in the Bill. I think it has been made abundantly clear both on the former occasion and to-day that the scheme of the Government is to extend the provisions of the Act for two years without any alteration whatever. This Instruction proposes to put forward another scheme altogether, under which certain alterations would be made or at least could be made by the Committee. I, therefore, ask whether you will give your ruling on the three points that I have raised. I venture to submit on those three grounds that the Instruction is not in order.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid I cannot uphold any of the three contentions of the hon. Member. What the House has just decided is that the words "now read a Second time" should stand part of the Question. Thereupon the Bill was read a Second time. The rather lengthy wording of the Amendment does not supply me with any reason for refusing this Instruction. With regard to the second point raised, it is the very purpose of an Instruction to do something which would not be otherwise within the powers of the Committee. Had it not been so, I should have ruled the Instruction out of order as being unnecessary. The third point is that if the matters in the Instruction be cognate to the Bill, and also that the Instruction itself he necessary, then those two facts make the Instruction a regular one.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I beg to move,That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they have power to insert provisions continuing the application of the Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, to all dwelling-houses to which that Act now applies, and 519 to amend the provisions in that Act relating to permitted increases in rent.I shall offer no comment, Sir, on your ruling, but I am sure that if the point raised by the hon. Member (Sir K. Wood) had prevailed it would at least have prevented the House from even expressing an opinion in the form, first, of discussion, and, second, in the Lobby of the House of Commons, on the scope within which the Committee should deal with this Bill, when the Bill reaches that stage.
I shall make but few observations in submitting this Instruction, for I understand that a number of hon. Members desire to address the House before a Division is taken in the course of an hour's time. The object of the Instruction is to give the Committee power to consider Amendments on two very material points. These points are most germane to the Bill, and they might be ruled out of order in Committee for aught we know, without the Instruction which I am now moving. The first point relates to the provision in Section 2 of the Act of 1923, under which, if a house to which the Act applies becomes vacant, and the landlord thus regains possession, that house becomes decontrolled. This provision does not apply if the previous tenant has been ejected for non-payment of rent, or if there has been an exchange of tenancy with the consent of the landlord. But it is certain that very many working-class houses have become decontrolled under the operation of this Section, and the landlord is thus in a position to charge whatever rent he pleases or to secure whatever rent he is able to get. Therefore, personally, I think that the time has arrived for a revision of these permitted increases in the amount of the rent, and that this is a question which should go to the Committee in conditions in which the Committee shall have full freedom to deal with these matters.
I would suggest to my right hon. Friend who, probably, in Committee will have charge of the Bill, that narrow as the Bill is, it offers to him some opportunities to effect a real and helpful bit of social reform, about which we heard so much from the platform during the last Election. The Act of 1920 allows, roughly, increases of rent up to 40 per 520 cent., 25 per cent. being for repairs and 15 per cent. on account of post-War prices. It is common knowledge that, even if the repairs were carried out to-day, they would not cost 25 per cent. of the rent. But, as a fact, they are not carried out, and every speaker who has addressed himself to this subject with experience of the situation in his constituency has been able to speak with a great degree of authority, and to declare that landlords who are receiving the permitted increase are not spending it in the manner which the law intended.
It is true that if the tenant can get a certificate from the local authority that the house is in a state of disrepair he can withhold the 25 per cent., but as is well known, again by experience, tenants are in such a condition of fear of doing that, and are so apprehensive of the enormous amount of trouble to which they may be put and of the risk of being ejected for non-payment of rent, that most tenants would rather pay, and submit to the inconvenience of having a house in bad condition than undergo these risks. I received this afternoon from Birmingham a communication on this subject, a portion of which I will read, especially because it comes from the quarter with which the right hon. Gentleman is so honourably associated. This communication is from the Birmingham and District Tenants' Federation, and I will read that part of it which seems to have a definite application to the point which I am arguing. It is a communication which asks that Section 2 of the Act of 1923 should be rescinded, and it goes on to say:We beg to point out that the uncertainty of that Clause has led to much abuse and, in the majority of instances, increases of 100 per cent. are being charged, and many instances of 250 per cent. can be cited by various societies in this city, and in addition the great abuse of the privilege of charging key-money makes it impossible for those who are unable to pay it to obtain any house.That is from Birmingham, from a specially created organised body, speaking with perhaps less freedom than an individual with some grievance. Therefore, I suggest that it should be looked upon as having a certain weight, coming from the quarter from which it does come. The Attorney-General more than once in his speech to-day, as on other occasions, referred to Members on these benches as speaking loosely on this question in the 521 hope of catching votes by what they say. But hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should be the last to say that sort of thing. I therefore draw attention again to the definite official declaration of the Leader of the Conservative party, the present Prime Minister, prior to the last election, in which he said that if they were returned to power they would review the whole rent situation in the light of existing circumstances. Language could not be plainer. This is a special opportunity for that review, and, in view of the urgency of the claims, and the difficulties of the tenants, I allege that the Government are neglecting their chance and failing to honour their own statements which were made at the last election.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I desire to support the Motion. I do so for two reasons. First, we ought—the industrial system being as it is—to place no obstacle in the way of the mobility of labour. I am satisfied that you will not be in the position of enabling labour to be transferred from one place to another, and helping to deal with the unemployed problem in this way, if you are going to allow houses which are controlled to-day to become decontrolled because of the transfer of those men who are unemployed in one district to another district to get employment there. The very fact that we have unemployment so great to-day justifies this instruction. Merely because of unemployment we may be decontrolling two houses at the one time, and placing obstacles in the way of two men actually, shall I say, endeavouring to remove from one district to another because of the danger of having a materially increased charge made for rent.
Most of the arguments for and against this Bill have been repeated several times, and I will not repeat them now. But my second reason is one which has not yet been dealt with. The Act of 1920 permits the landlords to increase rents for three reasons. First, because of increased charges they were to be Allowed to get a 15 per cent. increase. Then for the purpose of meeting charges in connection with repairs they were to get a 25 per cent. increase, and lastly, for the purpose of meeting an increased charge in connection with rates they were to be entitled to charge the difference in rates between 1914 and 1920. I was a member 522 of a Committee that considered a. Private Member's Bill upstairs, and among ail parties it was agreed that the Act of 1920 did not propose to make permanent the increased charge for rates in connection with the increase in rents in 1920. In my own town there has been a reduction in the rates of approximately 1s. in the £, but under the 1920 Act the increase was 1s. 6d. as compared with the figure for 1914. When that increase is taken into account, the total increase in rent is not 40 per cent., which has been the whole defence on the other side, but 47 per cent., which was due to the fact that there was an increase of 1s. 6d. in the rates as compared with 1914. There has been a reduction now of approximately 1s., and this Instruction will give the Committee the opportunity of discussing this point.
The view was expressed by all parties that the Act of 1920 did not propose to make permanent that is. 6d. increase in rates so far as the particular district to which I am referring is concerned. I believe that it would be the almost unanimous wish of all parties to allow an Amendment to go through in accordance with this Instruction which would make the increase in rates chargeable to the tenant, so that you should not continue the increased charge based on the figures for 1920 instead of on the figures for 1925. I trust sincerely that the Government will meet us on this point, so that we may be able to deal with this question of increased rates, and that only the increase which exists in 1925 or 1926, as compared with 1914, shall be chargeable, instead of the increased rates existing in 1920.
§ Mr. JOHN JONES
I was very much interested in the speech of the learned Attorney-General this afternoon, when he talked so glibly about the legal position. He never semed to understand the working-class position. It is very nice to tell workers that they have certain rights under the law, but it is a very different thing to show them how they are going to achieve those rights within the law. The question was put to him by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) as to what was meant by repairs, and we discovered the most extraordinary fact that there is no definition of repairs. The house has got to fall down before it can be repaired. The things that really matter, so far as the working-class tenant 523 is concerned, are the painting and cleaning of the house and the paper-hanging. Yet it is almost impossible to get those repairs done.
What is the good of telling the working-class occupants in a district such as I represent that they have certain rights under the law. How are they going to enforce the law? Even the town council find themselves in difficulty, and so do the public health committee, when they take action, until we find we are led up from one set of lawyers to another. Probably the Bill has been drafted with the idea of finding work for the unemployed of the legal profession. [HON. MEMBERS: "There are not any!"] There never are. They look after themselves so well, and I do not blame them for that, and I only wish the working-classes looked after themselves equally well. The existing Act is not operating at present. I could show you in my own constituency case after case of people who are paying 100 per cent. more than they paid before the War. Whether they are sub-tenants or original landlords, they are profiteers whoever they may be. What protection has the ordinary workmen in a working-class district None whatever. All your laws and Regulations cannot do anything when we come up against the real problem.
I hope, therefore, that this instruction will be carried, so that we may be able to give the tenant some protection. There are those who assume that 21 years from now the problem will be solved. The problem never has been solved. In 1881 I read a book by the late General Booth, "Darkest England and the Way Out," which showed that at that time one-third of the population were living in overcrowded conditions. It is the same now. The problem will not be solved as long as hon. Members who are now in this House live. The first interest in this matter, as far as I can understand the Debates that I have heard on these two occasions, is that the landlord comes first and the tenant comes last. Private property is the god and public interests are secondary. We, therefore, want some protection for the people. If you say that later on, in 2½years' time, you are going to extend the Bill, what is the good of it? You may extend it.
524 Of course, you can build naval bases, and you do not ask where the money is to come from then. There is no question about the landlord when naval bases are under consideration. We can spend money like water when expenditure is necessary to defend the interests of those in authority. It would pay us better to house our people than to build naval bases in preparation for still greater wars in the future. No, you have to make the worker pay, and an increase in rent can always be demanded. The argument of supply and demand is brought forward. What is it? Who controls supply? We have to ask, and you have the power to give. The demand is the workers' demand, and it is a demand for decent conditions of living. You have the power to supply that demand. How do you supply it? With brick boxes with slate lids. Now you are going to provide us with tin boxes, and sardine openers to open them. We want houses. If tin boxes are good enough for the working classes, they ought to be good enough for other people. Let Lord Weir live in a tin box. The working classes want decent houses.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
I do not know whether the Minister of Health is going to oppose this instruction, but if so I would like to know on what ground. He will not maintain that the Act of 1923 is satisfactory. He will not maintain that there are not very many hardships occasioned by it, and I am sure he will not maintain that experience has not shown that it requires amendment. I could give him many instances, but were I to do so we should have a general Debate on housing. I will mention a particular case. It is the case of a woman who was in possession of one of those certificates from the sanitary authority stating that her house was not habitable. This was supposed to prevent an increase in rent. The woman was not accustomed to dealing with the law, and she was receiving stately forms from the factor demanding increases in rent. She was told that she would be put into Court unless she paid them, although she had been for some time in possession of the certificate I have mentioned. Of course. I told her that, so far as I knew, she could not be taken into Court for the increase in rent. But at the same time she was entitled to have the house put into a decent state of repair. Then the landlord said: "I cannot put 525 the house into a state of decent repair unless you go away, and I am not prepared to find you any other place to which to go." The state of the house must have been bad if the woman had to go before it could be put right.
I mention that case merely as an example, and not in any hitter or controversial spirit, to prove to the right lion. Gentleman the difficulties, grievances and hardships which exist under his old Act. Then what is the reason for preventing this Committee of the House examining it? Is the right hon. Gentleman afraid that it will not stand examination? Does he want to prevent reform taking place, if reasonable reform can be shown to be necessary'? I cannot. understand why he should stand in the way of this general inquiry. Now there is a danger, if we do not get this instruction, of the present state of affairs being perpetuated. The Bill, it is true, goes on for only two-and-a-half years, but it is drawn in such a form, as the right hon. Gentleman himself pointed out when defending the Bill, that it could be put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and carried on from year to year. That means, assuming that its continuance is necessary, that at the end of that time it will appear as an item in a schedule, and we shall have no opportunity of discussing it, and no further occasion but this will present itself for dealing fully with a matter which requires the attention of this House and of all who are interested in the housing of the people. For these reasons I and many of my Friends intend to go into the Lobby in support of the instruction.
§ Colonel DAY
In considering the Rent Restrictions Act, it is well to keep in mind that there are and must be two points of view, one the owners point of view, and the other the tenant's. Meantime it is worth while noting that house property is the. only form of wealth at present controlled by the Government. All other forms of wealth or production that came under control owing to war-time conditions have been released. I do not propose to take up the time of the House by going into the details as to why it is necessary to continue the control of house property, for if there is any Member who is at present unaware of, or who does not appreciate, the housing conditions in this country, I am afraid that he will never 526 appreciate them, and it would be a waste of time discussing the matter with him. Let us consider, first, the property owner's point of view and his complaint of control. We must, of course, admit that he cannot do just as he would like to do with his own property. But let us consider what are the hardships, if any, from which he is suffering. So far as I can see, the only supposed hardship is that he is unable, owing to the Act, to take advantage of the people and to demand the utmost rent. Personally, I think that the present rents are not only excessive, but also the utmost that can be obtained, owing to the high cost of living and the comparatively low earning power of tenants, who are mainly working-class tenants. We hear many tales of owners' hardships owing to the high cost of repairs and low rents, but my opinion is—and I have good reason to form it—that the cases are carefully selected and do not reflect in a true way the general position of the property owner.
For example, let us consider the price of property in 1913–14, and the owner's prospect of getting a reasonable return for his money. At that time it was possible for a tenant, if he did not agree to the landlord's demand, to remove, there being other houses to let. Consequently, there was competition, which had the effect of keeping down income from property and also the value of same. The working-man's house in a city like Manchester, with accommodation consisting of a parlour, kitchen, scullery, and three bedrooms, could be purchased for, apporximately, £150 to £200. The price asked to-day for a, house with similar accommodation is from £500 to £600, and the house is in a far worse condition. Therefore, the first thing worth noticing is that the capital value of the property has increased by about three times the original value, and it is enriching the property owner without any effort on his part. It is common knowledge that money invested at 5 per cent. compound interest—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid that that is hardly relevant to the discussion which we, have now reached. The discussion must be confined to what is within the scope of the Instruction.
§ Colonel DAY
I was trying to give comparisons of the positions of owner 527 and tenant at the present time, owing to the enormously increased burden that is put on the tenant by the 40 per cent.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Instruction covers only the difference between 1920 and the present time. That is the point.
§ Colonel DAY
Does it not cover the 40 per cent. increase that is to be put on the tenant under this Act?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Yes; it raises the question as to whether the 40 per cent. that was originally established is relevant to the present time, but it will not be in order to go back to 1913–14.
§ Colonel DAY
The most noticeable point of the Act is the 40 per cent. increase allowed to the owner. I ask hon. Members opposite if any one of them can get up and truthfully say that property owners as a general rule are keeping houses, especially the smaller houses, in a proper state of repair. We know that they are not. We know that they are taking advantage of the conditions and forcing the tenants to pay for decorations and repairs. We know that they are draining every penny that they can get out of the property, and absolutely refusing to carry out the common understanding that they should do the repairs, because they realise that the tenant has no choice. Even in Southwark I know of many instances where the landlord has charged incoming tenants of very small and deplorable cottages £5 and £6 as key money for houses that were in a disgusting condition. During the last Election I visited in the main street many houses that had not had a coat of paint on them, inside or out, or a piece of paper, or any distemper, since long before 1914. These houses were in a deplorable condition. Some of them were overrun with vermin. I know that other constituencies are bad, but some of the houses in Central Southwark are as bad as anything that can be seen in England. I see some hon. Members smiling. It must be because they have not had any personal experience. If they had had the experience of some of the Members on these benches of living in these houses, they would realise the conditions. What the public want is that Members supporting the Government should face realities.
528 The position is that the Act gives the landlords power to extract 40 per cent. increase on the rent for repairs which they never do. Whilst I do not suggest that good landlords should be unjustly treated, I do suggest that the bad landlord should be penalised. This can be done by introducing a Clause into the Act, making it compulsory for the landlord to obtain an annual certificate from the local sanitary authority stating that the property is in a fit state of repair before he is allowed to charge the increase which has been specially permitted for that purpose. Further, I wish to state emphatically that the amount allowed to the landlord for repairs, if he executes the repairs and decorations necessary for ordinary small property, is an excessive one. I have found this from my own experience. I happen to be the owner of a considerable amount of small property, and I know that these repairs and decorations should not come to more than 17 per cent. over and above the pre-War rental, after making all allowances. Originally, I made an increase of 30 per cent. instead of the permitted 40 per cent., but, when my agents submitted the accounts to me, and I discovered the true position, I gave them instructions to reduce all my rents to a figure 222 per cent. above the gross pre-War rental, thus giving to my tenants the benefit of 17½ per cent.—which, accordingly, was an excessive charge and one which I did not feel justified in taking, although the Act allowed me to do so. That figure includes all necessary painting and repairs and the outside painting of small cottages during that period.
At present the tenant has to obtain certificate that the repairs are not being done, but we all know that the average tenant of the working class has neither the time nor the ability necessary to get such a certificate, and it is only just and proper that the person who is receiving payment should be the person to get the certificate. It would be just as reasonable if a man were to sue me for a debt which I did not owe, for the court to ask me to prove that I did not owe it instead of asking the plaintiff to prove that the debt was owing, as to have the present arrangement in regard to these certificates. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make provision in the Bill that the 40 per cent. increase should not be enforced unless the landlord has obtained a certificate justifying the collection of the same.
529 Such an alteration would give a great, deal of satisfaction to millions of tenants and make them more content than they are to-day. They would then know that they were paying their money for something which they had got instead of paying as at present for something which they have not got. In reference to the interest charges—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] If the hon. Members who keep on shouting "Order!" would keep order themselves and allow me to proceed we should get on much more quickly. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are reading your speech!'] I know as much about property and about this question as some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite who interrupt me.
With reference to the interest charges, if the owner has a mortgage on his property then he has an additional profit froth this source over and above his own investment, and if he has a mortgage on his rental profit he has not cause to do anything but to congratulate himself on that point. The average property-owner, if he so desires, can sell his property and receive back his original pre-War capital with a profit which is equal to 10 per cent. compound interest, in addition to the annual profit. On the other hand, the tenant has been squeezed for extra payment for a worse article on account of having to pay the increased rent, and he is also obliged to do the repairs and decorations himself, knowing at the same time that these should have been done for him by the landlord. It is not just nor proper that the Government of the country should allow this state of affairs to exist, knowing as they do that the worker is helpless in the matter while the owner has behind him the organised Property Owners' Association. It is not an exaggeration to say that the extortionate rents demanded to-day represent one of the greatest cancers of civilisation, and one which is being neglected, though there is yet time for operation, and it is a disgrace to see how it has been allowed to fasten its tentacles upon the body of the nation.
§ Mr. VIANT
In rising to support this instruction, I venture to express the hope that the Minister of Health will not oppose it. The Committee which is to consider this Bill should be prepared to do so from the point of view of the anxiety caused by the question of 530 decontrol at the present time. A hope has been expressed for peace in industry. Experience has convinced me that if there be one thing which contributes to anxiety and makes it difficult to obtain peace at the present time, it is the possibility in the minds of the public generally of the houses which they occupy becoming decontrolled and of exorbitant rents being demanded. Those who have been engaged in trade union negotiations know that when such negotiations are taking place, the possibility of increased rents cannot be ruled out, and the possibility of decontrol means that the price of house property is going up by leaps and bounds. I have here an extract from a paper which circulates in the constituency which I have the honour to represent and in the area where I reside. It refers to house property, recently decontrolled, which, 20 years ago, when the houses were erected sold for £400 and £450 per house. It is now being offered for sale and the price asked for those houses, now that they are decontrolled, is £1,125 each. Houses of another class which were sold 20 years ago as new property at £375 and £400 per house are now offered at £925 per house. I hope the Committee when dealing with this Bill will take into consideration the effect of these inflated prices upon prospective tenants. Houses that have been decontrolled are bought at prices such as I have mentioned, and are let off in portions. I have cuttings from the same paper announcing three-roomed flats to let and the rent demanded in some cases is 19s., and where they have a bathroom and scullery a rent of 25s. per week is being asked. The result is that artisans, and working-class people in general, are becoming exceedingly anxious in regard to the rents which may be demanded from them as the houses are decontrolled and the rate at which houses are being decontrolled surpasses the expectations of the Minister of Health. The process is not proceeding slowly, but in some districts is proceeding very rapidly.
Another point which requires due consideration is that of the 40 per cent. increase allowed by the 1920 Act. The repairs are not being carried out. I know of one specific instance in my constituency where the rooms have not been done up for nine years. I know another case in which the ceiling of the bathroom fell 18 months ago and it has not yet 531 been replaced. Yet the increased rents are still being taken by the landlords, and I suggest that the Committee might take into consideration the fact that when the increase was permitted in 1920 the cost of repairs had increased by approximately 150 per cent., while the increase in the charge for repairs at the present time from 1914, would be approximately 60 per cent. Some consideration could be given to that matter in view of the fact that the majority of the occupants of these houses to-day have had their salaries or wages reduced. Decontrol is working in such a way that prices are becoming inflated all round; values are not increasing but prices are. The inevitable result is that occupying tenants are continually being called upon to meet increased rents which are inevitable if we permit Measures to go through this House enabling decontrol to take place and thus automatically increasing the price of property. On these grounds, I submit we are justified in asking the right hon. Gentleman to allow this Instruction to go forward to the Committee in order that they may consider the Bill from these various angles and endeavour to meet the case of the tenants in a spirit of equity and justice, so that anxiety may be allayed and the Prime Minister's desire for peace may be fulfilled.
§ 8.0 P. M.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)
The Debate upon this Instruction is really only a resurrection of that which has been carried on all this afternoon. The speeches which were delivered this afternoon by hon. Members opposite on the Second Reading of the Bill harped over and over again upon the very same points which are now in the proposed Instruction to the Committee, and I should hardly have thought it was worth while to add anything further to what has been said by my right hon. Friend the learned Attorney-General if it had not been that, perhaps, it might have been misconstrued as a discourtesy to my right hon. Friend opposite. I congratulate him on having found a way of getting round a problem which has baffled, I believe, generations of Members in this House, namely, how to get Amendments, which are outside the scope of the title of a Bill, considered in Committee. His 532 Instruction is, perhaps, not likely to be carried to-night, but certainly it does open up a prospect for future Oppositions of getting the better of Governments, who have hitherto protected themselves by measures of this kind, which is extremely interesting to us.
The real fact about this Bill, and about the Instruction, is that you have got to consider whether you will take the long view or the short view of the effect of alterations in the existing legislation. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we were not carrying out the pledges that were given during the Election by the Prime Minister, that the whole rent situation would have to be reviewed by whoever held the office that I now occupy. That suggestion is entirely without foundation. It is precisely what I have done. I have reviewed the whole situation, and, after reviewing it, after taking what I call the long view, and considering what was going to be the ultimate effect of making further alterations in the existing Acts, I came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was simply to prolong the Acts of 1920 and 1923 for a comparatively short period, in order that we might have a further opportunity of seeing what progress was made in housing. I recognise, as everybody recognises, that the ultimate factor to decide when rent control can be brought to an end is the overcoming of the shortage of housing accommodation, which is the only thing that has made this rent restriction necessary in the first instance. It would be, in my view, the greatest folly if, in order to remove any defects, any injustices, any inequalities created by this temporary legislation, we were to do something which would so hamper the operations of those who are trying to overcome the housing shortage, that we should postpone indefinitely the date at which we might get rid of control altogether.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what he thinks would have been the view of the electors had they been told, that by the review of the whole question, what the Government meant was merely this Bill?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I certainly will tell the right hon. Gentleman. The electors were told that the whole situation would be reviewed. They were not told what the result of that review would be. 533 [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] What is the use of a review if you have made up your mind beforehand what course you are going to take? The right hon. Gentleman has some experience of pledges to the electors. He has before now given definite, precise pledges to the electors, and it is because they found out how little reliance was to be placed on the carrying out of these pledges that, no doubt, to a large extent, the result of the last election was due. It is obvious that if you were going to enter upon a revision of the existing Acts, you could not stop short at this; you could not stop short at taking out two single items which might be open to criticism. You would have to try to do justice all round, and to deal with the points mentioned by other Members in the Debate. There is, for instance, the question of mortgages, which is an extremely important question, and one which, I think, if anything was to be considered, would have to be considered first. There is also the question of profiteering by tenants at the expense of sub-tenants, which is always so tenderly treated by hon. Members opposite. I have decided that the best plan is not to touch any of these things, because I see that if you begin by amending these Acts, you are going to have a series of new provisions introduced, a series of changes in the language of the old Acts, and that is going to lead to a great crop of new litigation, and create complete uncertainty in the minds of the landlord and tenant for a considerable period as to where they stand. To my mind that is the worst thing you could possibly have for the encouragement of the building of fresh houses.
Let me turn, however, to the two points on which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends have touched. With regard to the question of decontrol, it is very easy to find individual cases where this provision has been abused. I said myself, on the Second Reading of this Bill, that cases of that kind have come to my notice. But the point we have to consider is, whether those cases are sufficiently numerous to justify us in making a special provision in regard to them which would cut across the line of our general policy? The right hon. Gentleman quoted the Tenants' Association as an impartial body in Birmingham, and in the communication which they addressed 534 to him I observe that they laid special stress upon the exaction of key-money. I know of more than one case where key-money has been asked in Birmingham by landlords whose houses have become decontrolled, but it is quite untrue to say that happens in the majority of cases. I happen to have here the rent book of one of the largest—perhaps the largest—property-owning companies in Birmingham, and I find they have put right across the rent book:No premium of any kind is required, or allowed to be paid, in connection with letting, decoration or repair.That is put upon the rent books issued by them, and I have seen similar notifications in rent books issued by other property-owning organisations. With regard to excessive rents, I think the hon. Member for Nelson (Mr. A. Greenwood) said that we had put up no case for allowing the present conditions to remain as they were. Surely, if he wants to alter them, it is for him to put up a case to show why they should be altered, and not for us to put up a case for a change. I submit that no case has been put up in this matter. On the contrary, it is certainly well known that it does not pay now to build or to manage working-class property, and a fortiori you would be still less likely to get people to invest in house property if the rents were reduced. And so it is that again and again hon. Members have fallen back upon the statement that the landlords are not doing the repairs for which excessive rent is allowed. I am not disposed to question that—I will not say as being universally true, but as being frequently true. I have too many cases in my own experience of landlords who have not considered what, I think, was their duty in the way of repairs, but I think the worst way to deal with that is to cut down rents, because if you cut down rents, you are not only hitting good landlords, but you are making it more difficult for the bad landlords to reform.
What you want to do, as I suggest, is what we have put in the Act of 1923, namely, that where a landlord does not do repairs that he ought to do, he should not be entitled to receive the increase of rent, and the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) gave the case of a tenant who had come to him. He had got the certificate which he is allowed to get from the local authority 535 under the Act of 1923, upon which he had taken no action, and the hon. and learned Member complains that we ought to give this Instruction to the Committee in order to meet the inability, or rather the unwillingness of that particular tenant to use the right which has been given by law. But if she does not use the rights she has got, what is the good of giving her more rights? Our difficulty with those people who have not had much experience of the law is to get over their fears and suspicions, and to induce them to utilise the powers we have tried to put in their hands.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I have no doubt all of us could give experience, but that will not help us to find a remedy. What I particularly desire to emphasise, is that the remedy is not to be found by cutting
§ down rents, but in strengthening, if we can, the penalties you put upon the bad landlord who does not do his duty. We have already carried the Second Reading of this Bill. There is no real demand for the tearing up of the old Rent Restrictions Acts and their replacement by a new Act, or we should not see the House in the state of emptiness in which it has been this afternoon. I therefore ask the House to reject this Motion, which is directed at the whole plan of the Bill I have introduced, and which the House itself has carried this afternoon by so large a majority.
That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they have power to insert provisions continuing the application of the Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, to all dwelling-homer; to which that Act now applies, and to amend the provisions in that Act relating to permitted increases in rent.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 138; Noes, 254.539
|Division No. 62.]||AYES.||[8.15 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring.)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Riley, Ben|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Ritson, J.|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Harris, Percy A.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O.(W. Bromwich)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Barr, J.||Hayday, Arthur||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)|
|Batey, Joseph||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Henderson. T. (Glasgow)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hirst, G. H.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Scurr, John|
|Bromfield, William||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Sexton, James|
|Bromley, J.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Buchanan, G.||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Smillie, Robert|
|Clowes, S.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kelly, W. T.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Kennedy, T.||Snell, Harry|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Kenyon, Barnet||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Compton, Joseph||Kirkwood, D.||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles|
|Connolly, M.||Lansbury, George||Stamford, T. W.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lawson, John James||Stephen, Campbell|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Lee, F.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Livingstone, A. M.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Dennison, R.||Lowth T.||Taylor, R. A.|
|Dunnico, H.||Lunn, William||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Mackinder, W.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plalstow)|
|Fenby, T. D,||MacLaren, Andrew||Thurtie, E.|
|Forrest, W.||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||March, S.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Maxton, James||Varley, Frank B.|
|Gillett, George M.||Montague, Frederick||Viant, S. P.|
|Gosling, Harry||Morris, R. H.||Warne, G. H.|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Murnin, H.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Greenall, T.||Naylor, T. E.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Owen, Major G.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Palin, John Henry||Westwood, J.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Paling, W.||Whiteley, W.|
|Groves, T.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Wignall, James|
|Grundy, T. W.||Ponsonby, Arthur||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)||Potts, John S.||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)||Windsor, Walter||Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr.|
|Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)||Wright, W.||Allen Parkinson.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Ellis, R. G.||Lumley, L. R.|
|Albery, Irving James||Elvedon, Viscount||MacAndrew, Charles Glen|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||McLean, Major A.|
|Allen, Lieut.-Col. Sir William James||Everard, W. Lindsay||Macmillan, Captain H.|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Fermoy, Lord||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Fleming, D. P.||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Foster, Sir Harry S.||MacRobert, Alexander M.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Frece, Sir Walter de||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Fremantle, Lt.-Col. Francis E.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Balniel, Lord||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Ganzoni, Sir John||Margesson, Captain D.|
|Beamish, Captain T. P. H.||Gates, Percy||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Meller, R. J.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Merriman, F. B.|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish.||Grace, John||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw|
|Bethell, A.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Gretton, Colonel John||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Grotrian, H. Brent||Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Nelson, Sir Frank|
|Blundell, F. N.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Neville, R. J.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Hanbury, C.||Nuttall, Ellis|
|Brass, Captain W.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Oakley, T.|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Harland, A.||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Harrison, G. J. C.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Pennefather, Sir John|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hawke, John Anthony||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Brown, Maj. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Henderson, Capt. R.R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Perring, William George|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Pilcher, G.|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Burman, J. B.||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Henniker-Hughan, Vice-Adm. Sir A.||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Walford)||Radford, E. A.|
|Caine, Gordon Hall||Herbert, S. (York, N.R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Raine, W.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hilton, Cecil||Remnant, Sir James|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Holt, Captain H. P.||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Homan, C. W. J.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Ropner, Major L.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.|
|Christie, J. A.||Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Howard, Captain Hon. Donald||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Hume, Sir G. H.||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hurd, Percy A.||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Hurst, Gerald B.||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mc[...].(Renfrew, W.)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Hutchison, G. A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's)||Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y)|
|Cope, Major William||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Couper, J. B.||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L.||Jacob, A. E.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)||Jephcott, A. R.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Kindersley, Major Guy M.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Curtis-Bennett, Sir Henry||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Knox, Sir Alfred||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Dalziel, Sir Davison||Lamb, J. Q.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Lane-Fox, Lieut.-Col. George R.||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Davies, A. V. (Lancaster, Royton)||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Templeton, W. P.|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Lader, J. de V.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Doyle Sir N. Grattan||Looker, Herbert William||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Drewe, C.||Lord, Walter Greaves-||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Lougher, L.||Waddington, R.|
|Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Warrender, Sir Victor||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Waterhouse, Captain Charles||Wise, Sir Fredric||Wragg, Herbert|
|Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)||Wolmer, Viscount||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Wells, S. R.||Wood, Rt. Hon. E. (York, W.R., Ripon)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)||Colonel Gibbs and Major Sir|
|Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.).||Harry Barnston.|