HC Deb 23 February 1927 vol 202 cc1769-72
Major OWEN

I beg to move: "That Lave ho given to introduce a Bill to amend the Law governing the relations between landlords and tenants."

Briefly, the Bill deals with leasehold reform, and it embodies the proposals of the party to which I have the honour to belong for dealing with the injustice and the unfairness of the existing leasehold system. There is no more pressing problem than that of the injustices under which large numbers of leaseholders suffer at the present time. In London and most of our large towns there are innumerable cases of tenants who have been penalised and fined, and in many instances ruined, by the operation of the present system. Not only is this true of our large towns, but it is equally true of our smaller towns and many of our villages. Time will not permit me to give more than one or two illustrations which have recently been called to my personal notice in my own constituency. In a village in my own constituency a bank had a subsidiary office in a building for which it was paying a ground rent of £4 a year. The lease has now expired, and the conditions under which they are allowed to have a new lease is that they pay not £4 a year, but £80 a year in ground rent, and they are compelled to put up a building which must cost at least £800. In the same village a widow inherited five cottages from her father, but she had to surrender these cottages 18 months before the expiration of the lease merely because the bill presented by the landlord for dilapidations was so terrible that she could not face the payment.

In another village quite near a man got a house from his father, built on a 60 years' lease, and at the time he took possession there was a mortgage of £150. This he had to clear, and he spent another £100 on the house. Then when the time for renewal of the lease came he was told that he would not get a renewal of any kind. He has had to purchase the house at an exorbitant price. The Government recognises the urgency of this problem, and a Bill dealing with certain aspects of it was foreshadowed in the King's Speech. The Government Bill, however, appears to be confined to business premises and short leases, and we as a party feel that legislation on this matter should not be confined within these limits, and that the time has come not for dealing with some of the problems, but with the whole problem arising from the present leasehold system. It frequently happens in this House that when hon. Members on this side criticise and attack the policy or lack of policy on the part of the Government that hon. Members opposite rise and plaintively and pathetically, I will not say rudely, demand, "What is your policy? What would you do?" Here is a Bill ready made for them, dealing with one of the most important questions raised in the King's Speech. I would urge the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister who is to be in charge of the proposed Bill of the Government, to persuade his numerous army of followers to vote for this Bill this afternoon, and to give it a First Reading in order that he and they may have an opportunity of reading it and digesting it and learning therefrom.

In the short time at my disposal, I regret that I can give only a very brief outline of its proposals. The Bill applies to every lease or tenancy of whatever length, and to every kind of property except holdings which are held under the Agricultural Holdings Act. It is, therefore, practically universal in its application. The Bill does not propose to set up a new tribunal, but rather to give additional powers to the expert tribunal already constituted under the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919. The idea is to give further power to that body to determine all disputes between landlords and tenants as to the terms of tenancy, and in addition to give to it certain other powers, for example, the power to order a sale by the landlord to the tenant or by the tenant to the landlord of their respective interests in the property; and, secondly, to extend the tenancy, the financial and other considerations being taken into account as this authority deems fit.

The Bill proposes to repeal Subsection (12) of Section 84 of the Law of Property Act, 1925, and to re-enact it so as to extend the power to vary covenants which have became either out of date or unfair. The Bill provides also for vesting in the tenant the property in future buildings erected or improvements executed by him. He is to be compensated if the lease is not renewed, and if the lease is renewed his own improvements are not to be assessable in the rent. The landlord's claim for dilapidations is to be restricted to the actual loss to the landlord, while, on the other hand, the tenant will be able to set off against the claim for dilapidations, improvements carried out by him which he is not compelled to carry out before this Act came into operation. Another serious injustice which the Bill proposes to remove is the type of clause common in many leases, whereby the tenant is compelled to employ persons nominated by the landlord and to submit questions in dispute to them. One of the things the Bill does is to restrict the fees which the landlord's agents may charge. From what I have been able to say very briefly of the, nature of the proposals of the Bill, the House will realise that, though they are very drastic and far-reaching in their character, we do not propose to abolish the leasehold system, but rather to remedy its defects, and to make it fair and equitable to all. I, therefore, confidently appeal to the House to give this Bill a First Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Major Owen, Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Haydn Jones, Captain Garro-Jones, Mr. Percy Harris, Mr. Fenby, and Mr. C. P. Williams.