§ (1) Where any premises in respect of which a clearance order or a demolition order made under this Act has become operative form the subject matter of a lease, either the lessor or the lessee may apply to the county court within the jurisdiction of which the premises are situate for an order determining the lease.
§ (2) Upon any such application as aforesaid the county court judge, after giving to any sub-lessee an opportunity of being heard, may, if he thinks fit, order that the lease shall be determined, either unconditionally or subject to such terms and conditions (including conditions with respect to the payment of money by any party to the proceedings to any other party thereto by way of compensation or damages or otherwise) as he may think it just a[...]equitable to impose, regard being had to the respective rights, obligations, and liabilities of the parties under the lease and all the other circumstances of the case.
§ (3) Rules with respect to the practice and procedure under this section shall be made by the authority having power to make rules of practice under the County Courts Acts, 1888 to 1924.
§ (4) In this section the expression "lease" includes an under-lease and any tenancy or agreement for a lease, under-lease, or tenancy, and the expression is "lessor," "lessee," and "sub-lessee" shall be construed accordingly.—[Mr. Greenwood.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.267
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
This Clause has been introduced with a desire to meet a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) on the Committee stage of the Bill. It deals with the case where a demolition order is made affecting a building of which there is a lease and where it may happen that the lessee of the building, whose lease has perhaps only three or four years to run, may wish to develop the site, but, in view of the shortness of the remaining period of his lease, finds himself unable to do so. On the other hand, the freeholder may desire to develop the site, but is prevented by the fact that the lease still has a short term of years to run. The object of the Clause is to empower either party to apply to the county court and get from the county court judge a determination of the lease on terms which appear to be fair. That will enable the county court judge to say what terms are fair having regard to the circumstances of the case, including the extent to which the freeholder or the lessor, as the case may be, was responsible for the failure to keep the house in proper repair and so on. The original Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Grimsby left the matter to be determined by the demolition order itself, but I think it is quite clear that that must be decided by an independent authority. The county court judge is the authority designated for other purposes, and it seems to me that he would be the most desirable authority to deal with this particular case. I hope that the new Clause will meet the desire expressed by the hon. Member for Grimsby.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I want to make only one observation. No doubt this new Clause may meet the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) had in mind, but I think that someone ought to say a word on behalf of county court judges. The unfortunate county court judge in this case will apparently have before him parties some of whom, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health says, may be in possession of a lease with three or four years to run and according to this Clause the county court judge has to determine what are just and equitable 268 terms to impose "regard being had to the respective rights, obligations and liabilities of the parties under the lease." When he gets that before him, I am sure the county court judge will say, "Thank you very much, House of Commons." If one looks at these words and really knows what they mean one sees that they say, "Very well, take these very difficult questions to the badly paid and hard-worked county court judge and let him make the best he can of it and come to a fair and reasonable decision." Perhaps if we put it in those blunt words, we should not be complying with the Rules of this House, but we certainly should be putting in popular language another of the difficult and onerous tasks which we are throwing upon the county court judges of the country.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
It has been said that it is bad form to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I want to say just a word or two on this new Clause which the Minister has proposed, and that I am very pleased to knew that he has changed his mind since the Committee stage; because he told me upon that occasion that it would be impossible to deal with such a complicated question as leaseholds in a Housing Bill. This proves one thing: that the time which we spent in Committee upstairs was not by any means wasted. It has been suggested in this House in a previous debate that we were wasting a lot of time in Committee upstairs. I denied it at the time, and I think here we have absolute proof that that has not been so. When I moved my Amendment, I did it on behalf of leasehold property owners in my own constituency, where the hulk of the property is built on leasehold land. Much of the property which would be likely to come under a Clearance Order is also built upon such land. I wanted something to be done for those people, and put forward my suggestion, but I agree that in this new Clause the Minister has produced a better arrangement than even I suggested, and that is a great admission from a Member for Grimsby. At any rate, I am satisfied, in spite of the fact that it may mean putting increased work on our County Court Judges. I think that is the best way of meeting the difficulty, because in most cases the County Court Judges have local knowledge, and they will also have the benefit of the local knowledge of the solicitors who will 269 appear before them. Further, there will be a saving of expense to the people concerned in that they will be able to get the case heard in their own district. The Minister has tried to meet my point, and I say again that I am delighted to know that even a Minister of Health has gained some little knowledge of housing as a result of our proceedings in Committee.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Clause added to the Bill.