HC Deb 11 April 1933 vol 276 cc2383-433

3.38 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 7, line 37, at the beginning, to insert the words: It shall be the duty of Clause 7 as drawn at present provides that the council of every county borough and every county district shall have power to publish information and advice on quite a number of subjects. The object of the Amendment is to make that provision compulsory instead of permissive and to impose it as a duty upon these local authorities. It seems that the Ministry of Health have considered it right and proper to insert this Clause in the Bill and that being so, it is desirable that there should be uniformity throughout the country and that the matter should be compulsorily made one for the attention of the councils and not left to their discretion. Obviously, the exercise of that discretion would depend on the composition of a local council which might consist largely of landlords or of members of some other class of the community. For that reason the exercise of this power which is a very useful one should be made compulsory.

I ought perhaps to have prefaced my few remarks but by saying that I differ to some extent from some of my hon. Friends, in that I do not consider that it is the function of such bodies to give advice. I think it is right and proper that they should give information of the fullest possible kind, and in my own experience I have known of information having been most valuable. In the city of Leeds the local rating authorities, under the authority of the finance committee, give information to tenants and landlords, as to permitted rents and so on, which is extremely valuable. It is almost impossible for the ordinary individual to know what is the correct rent which he ought to pay, particularly when it is a compounded rent, and it is only by inquiring of the rating authorities that that information can be obtained. I have no hesitation in saying that if it is more generally known, as it will be if this Bill becomes an Act, advantage will be very generally taken of this facility, and many thousands of people who pay rent in excess of what they need pay will be able to ascertain their rights and the amount that they ought to pay, by inquiring of the local authority or the appropriate committee. I think it is not sufficient merely to publish the information, but that power should be extended to supply the information on demand. One reason for making this power compulsory is that obviously there are tenants and landlords in all areas who require this information.

3.43 p.m.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)

First of all, to clear the discussion, let me point out to the Committee that the rather wider question to which the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) referred, as to what should be the power of the authority as regards giving advice, comes up specifically on a later Amendment in my name, and we need not deal with it now. That leaves for the present the question of whether these powers should be obligatory or optional on the part of the local authority. The recommendation of the Inter-Departmental Committee, upon which this enactment is based, contemplated expressly that the powers should be optional, not compulsory, and that was, I think, for a very good reason. If we look at the Clause, we shall see that the powers are given to the council of every county borough and of every county district. The Committee contemplated that it would not be necessary or useful for every one of these authorities to undertake these functions, and one can well imagine that there are many county districts where, as a matter of fact, it would be quite unnecessary. On the other hand, in most of the county boroughs undoubtedly it would be necessary. In these circumstances, I think there is something disproportionate in imposing the matter as a duty upon the councils, and really we are providing all that is necessary in providing for the optional power. I would point out to the Committee that we may impose this obligation upon a council, but if they were not in sympathy with the function themselves and did not want to carry it out, there is no earthly way in which you could make them. One can bring a horse to water, but 20 cannot make him drink. In these circumstances, I think we are dealing with the actualities of the case in leaving the function optional.

May I take this, the first, occasion of making a suggestion to the Committee on the conduct of business and for the convenience of the Committee? As the Committee is aware, we have an understanding that we shall come to the conclusion of the Committee stage at a reasonable time to-day. As a matter of fact, we have many interesting Amendments to consider, but they almost all come under the new Clauses, and I believe the Committee will find it convenient, as it were, to save time on the Amendments on the old Clauses, in order that they may have more time at their disposal for the new Clauses at the end of the Bill.

3.46 p.m.


I quite agree with the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. We do not want to take up too much time over the present Clauses, so that we may have more chance to discuss the new Clauses; but this is a very substantial Amendment, and I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman brushed it aside so lightly. I do not interpret the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee in the same way as the right hon. Gentleman. I have always felt, as the Committee knows, that the words of a Parliamentary Committee are not final, but only opinions of mortal men, but if I might remind the right lion. Gentleman, the Committee did say: We recommend that the doubt"— that is, as to the power of giving advice and information— should be removed and local authorities empowered to appoint committees for the purpose of giving advice on questions arising under the Acts. They do not side one way or the other. I have had considerable knowledge and experience of local authorities. I claim to have had a longer experience than the right hon. Gentleman himself, and I am very sorry that he indicated or implied that if this responsibility was made mandatory, they would try to shirk it.


I must correct the hon. Member. I never used any such expression as that they would shirk responsibility. On the contrary, I said that some of them might find it useful to apply the powers and some of them might not.


The right hon. Gentleman said that if you made it compulsory, you could not force them to do the work. I do not think it is necessary to force local authorities to do their duty. When an Act of Parliament is passed, the local authorities, almost without exception, carry out its terms. There may be here or there recalcitrant authorities, but it is such a rare thing that it is needless to be afraid of, and I suggest that if this proposal is really going to be useful, it should be made universal throughout the country. At the present moment local authorities are rather reluctant to take on new duties unless they are required to do so by an Act of Parliament, because of the cost involved-One of the troubles of the local authorities throughout the country is the complexity of the various Acts of Parliament dealing with rent restriction. We spent about three days or more discussing the proposals in detail, in long and, from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, weary debates, different Members putting different interpretations upon different Clauses, but we are Members of Parliament. It is our job to understand Acts of Parliament and to study their terms, but the ordinary working men or women do not understand their rights, and only too often, as any Member of Parliament knows, they find themselves imposed upon because of their ignorance of the law. I entirely agree with the hon. Member opposite, and I would limit the power of these councils to giving information. It is dangerous to empower a body to give advice, and—


I do not think that question arises under this Amendment.


Very well, Sir Dennis, but I do think that it is important that these committees should be universal so that every tenant should know where to go to get the necessary information and should have the same machinery available. I know that it may be said that lawyers exist to do this work. I am proud of lawyers, and it may surprise the House to know that I am a lawyer myself, but I have never practised. Lawyers have their purpose, but for the ordinary working man he is an alarming person and only in the last resort does the working man knock at the door of the lawyer for advice. He has terrors of large bills of costs and large fees. Here is a practical proposal to make use of the well-organised experience of local councillors, and I assume that they would give advice with the assistance of a solicitor or the town clerk. If this Clause were made compulsory, it would be one of the most useful features of this Bill. The Minister is anxious to make a big contribution to local government and the housing problem. On paper it will not be a big contribution, but in practice it will be one of the largest contributions that this Bill can make.

3.52 p.m.


Would the expenses provided for under Sub-section (2) of this 'Clause cover legal advice for the committee that may be set up, and would it include advice from anybody else other than legal people and the collection of information to pass on to tenants or the owners of houses? With regard to the Amendment, either this committee is necessary or it is not. If it is necessary, it ought to be available for everybody. If it is unnecessary, it ought not to be in the Bill at all. There is no need to have this provision if it is of no value. Apparently, however, the Government think that the information and the advice will be of value. If that be so it would be difficult to argue that in one particular area it is needed and that in a neighbouring similar area it is not. It will be possible that one council, which desires to assist the residents in its district, would be prepared to give all the assistance necessary to them in obtaining the privileges to which they are entitled under the Act, whereas another council, less considerate to the people in its area, would not give such advice unless they were compelled. If the advice and information are necessary, we ought not to allow some councils to give it and others to avoid giving it.

I hope that the Minister, having seen the necessity of giving permission to those councils which desire to do their duty, will see that other districts, where the local authorities have not such a civic sense as their neighbours, are compelled to carry out the duty which their neighbours are carrying out. The Minister said that he could imagine districts where it would not be necessary to give the advice. I cannot imagine such a district anywhere. I can imagine districts where it would not be so necessary as in other districts, but I cannot imagine any district in which there would not be some need of assistance in the direction indicated. If there are poor tenants or uneducated landlords—and all landlords are not educated in the sense that they can understand Acts of Parliament—why should they be denied the opportunity of going to their local councils when they know that perhaps relatives or friends living in a neighbouring area have a right to go to their own council to get the information?

3.56 p.m.


The question of the hon. Member was whether under Subsection (2) the council would be able to charge against the general rate the expense of taking legal advice. The Subsection says that they may charge against the general rate any expenses incurred "under this Section." On the practical issue, the council usually have their own man of law who gives them current advice. Suppose that they had not, it would be a question as to whether or not the expense was reasonably incurred "under the Section." Such a question would fall to be decided by the local auditor and not by myself, and so I must cover anything I say by that reservation. Subject to that, it appears to me a matter of common sense that the expense of obtaining necessary legal explanations and advice would be an expense reasonably incurred "under the section."


In regard to the collection of information as to alternative accommodation, would the council be entitled to employ people to collect such information as that mentioned in the Clause.

3.59 p.m.


May I point out that the local authorities referred to in county boroughs and county districts are elected authorities chosen by and responsible to the inhabitants of the district which they represent. Surely they are the proper people to exercise discretion in a matter of this kind. The hon. and gallant' Member for South East Leeds (Major Milner) expressed the fear that there might be a council composed of a large number of landlords. Surely that would simply mean that in a particular district the inhabitants considered that landlords were the best people to represent them. I do not see how that affects the capability of a council in exercising discretion in such a matter. Again, I was surprised to find the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) objecting to local authorities having discretion in such matters. I take it that it means that he considers it is within his capacity as a Member of this House to express an opinion, but that in his capacity as a member of the London County Council it would be most unwise to give him any discretion. The Clause as it reads is permissive, and I submit that no evidence has been put before us yet that would justify us in making the Clause mandatory. I hope very much that the Government will continue to resist the Amendment.

4.1 p.m.


If the provision in the Clause were made obligatory, it would be very useful, and it would save a deal of time if instructions were issued in the form of a leaflet. I rather think that this is a question between landlord and tenant, and this would definitely set out the rights of both parties and save a lot of time. It would also be useful from the point of view of councillors and guardians, and also the local Members of Parliament, who, perhaps, might not be too well aware of what the Act meant unless they had an explanatory pamphlet issued by the local authority. I do not think that the Minister would be doing anything wrong by standardising the system throughout the country. It would be a step in the right direction. It would save much waste of time, and be most useful.

With regard to Sub-section (2), which relates to the question of expenses, when it is a question of legal interpretation as to the power on the part of the auditor to surcharge, it is very irritating for the housing authority to find auditors sent by the Department saying that it is a question of surcharge. I should certainly think, as a matter of administration, that if a resolution were placed on the minutes, it should be binding, and that authority ought to be sufficient without the auditor having to deal with it as a matter of surcharge.


The hon. Member is not entitled to discuss, or suggest on this Amendment an alteration of Subsection (2).


With all respect, I am dealing only with Sub-section (2), which relates to the question of expenditure.


That is exactly what is out of order. This Amendment is merely dealing with whether the power given in Sub-section (1) should be optional on the part of a Council, or obligatory.


Is it your ruling, then, that as regards Sub-section (2), which deals with the question of expense, we have no right to raise a matter in regard to the question of expense?


Not in the way in which the hon. Member is doing.


Then I will confine myself strictly to the obligatory powers we are asking, and I would certainly appeal to the Minister to insert the few words of the Amendment which, I think, would be very useful indeed.

4.6 p.m.


It is with very great surprise that I find myself to-day able to give my whole-hearted support to this proposal in the Bill. Nothing could give me greater pleasure than the right hon. Gentleman's No. 1 speech, but so far as his No. 2 speech is concerned, I will not go into that on this Amendment. I want to call attention to the fact that this Amendment is simply another instance of the desire of some people sitting here comfortably to impose more burdens upon local authorities. I resent the sort of idea which prevails in the minds of certain people that you can lay down all sorts of orders in the House of Commons, and, as an hon. Member has just suggested, standardise the whole of the work of the local authorities wherever they may be. Some people seem to think that we, sitting here, should always tell local authorities exactly what they should do. It is one of the things which causes resentment among local authorities, and causes people to talk about officials at Whitehall, and all that sort of thing. Therefore, I am perfectly delighted that the Minister has resisted the Amendment. I am amazed at the growing development of what I might call the neolithic mind in right hon. and hon. Members of the Socialist party. [Interruption.] They are not absolutely prehistoric. They are not so prehistoric as the paleolithic mind represented by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). In matters of this kind he thinks one way one minute and another way another minute. I have great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), and I am sure he could not possibly—


The hon. Member will assist the discussion if he will explain how in giving a description of the minds of Members of this House, he intends to relate it to the Amendment.


I was saying that certain people wish to put compulsion on the local authorities, and was pointing out that this perpetual idea of compulsion is not in any sense the way in which great administrators of the Crown ought to deal with local authorities. They should take the broad outlook which the Minister has taken this afternoon, and I again congratulate him, if I may do so with very great respect, on resisting this Amendment. I hope that he will take a similar course throughout the Debate, and have nothing to do with these antiquated ideas.

4.10 p.m.


Hon. Members will be very pleased to observe that on this Amendment the Minister has the support of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). He has described Members of this party in certain ways. Perhaps I might suggest to him that passibly—


I would point out to the hon. Member that I stopped that discussion.


The Amendment, after all, is really one of some substance, and I would draw attention to the fact that on the question of the rights and duties of landlords and tenants there is a tremendous amount of ignorance, and that a number of people, with the best will in the world, have considerable difficulty in understanding the working of these Acts. That applies not only to tenants but to a number of landlords, too. As one who has had considerable experience of local authorities and as a member of a local authority for many years, I suggest to the Minister that unless this Clause is made compulsory upon local authorities, I am of the opinion that it will become more or less of a dead letter. Only a very limited number of authorities who, for the most part, have rather advanced views, and a desire that the people shall really receive this information, will put the Clause into operation. My experience of local authorities has been that if you make a Clause permissive, the great probabilities are that a council will say, "We have already got sufficient to do as it is, and consequently we are very 10th indeed to give information and advice which may not meet with the approval of all sections of our citizens," and they will take the safe and easy line, and decline to issue anything at all.

The Minister treated this Amendment as if it were of little consequence. He said that he did not consider the information was necessary in all cases, and used that as an argument why the Clause should be permissive. I suggest that, in the vast majority of cases, the information is necessary, and that if the vast majority of citizens require it, they should be entitled to it. Then the Minister said that even if these words were put in, he had no power or authority to make a local authority do what we wish. That may be true, but my own experience, again, is that if you put in an Act of Parliament that it is the duty of the local authority to do a certain thing, local authorities in the vast majority of cases will carry it out, because it is expressly laid down that it is their duty to do so. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee know as well as I do that we are continually getting from our constituents questions relating to houses and rent restrictions, and asking for advice as to what should be done by this, that and the other person. I think it is agreed that it would be far more satisfactory, and in accordance with our desire, if local councils did give this information and advice in the light of local circumstances, and that it would be far better if it were made a matter of duty.

I am satisfied from the information I have received and my long experience as a local councillor that the vast majority of those who will be affected by this Clause would welcome all the information they could get, would be pleased to be able to go to the council offices to find out where they stood. I think it would make for better relations between tenants and landlords. Everyone knows what happens now. Tenants get into difficulties; landlords get into difficulties; they go to this person, who gives them advice in one sense, and to another person who gives them advice in another sense, and the whole position is very unsatisfactory. There is a tremendous amount of quite understandable ignorance, particularly on the part of tenants, and I suggest that by accepting this Amendment we shall be doing the best for all concerned.

4.16 p.m.


I wish to support the Amendment and I had expected that the Minister of Health would have accepted it. Clause 7 is a good one, but we want to make it a better one. I understood the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) to say that local authorities might feel that it was unnecessary to make use of this Clause and that the complexion of the local authority could be regarded as the complexion of a particular neighbourhood. This Clause is supposed to apply to the whole of the country, and if it is good for one locality it ought to be good for another. No one ought to be able to evade the provisions of it by saying that it is of no use and they will not put it into operation. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) took advantage of this Amendment not merely to put forward some arguments, but in order to make peace with the other side. Yesterday he was fighting the Government; to-day he wants to get back into their good graces, and is supporting them.


May I explain that my line yesterday is exactly the same as the line I have taken to-day. On this occasion the Socialists are not inclined to be elastic enough; yesterday that was the position of the Government. I am in favour of a great deal of elasticity and of trusting people, whether they are Members of the House of Commons yesterday or members of local authorities to-day.


I will not follow that point. I am not able to understand what the hon. Member is trying to get at. We are asking for this Amendment because we believe it will be good for the landlords and the tenants. Anyone will then know where he can get information—in fact he will be able to demand it from his local authority. As the Bill stands now it remains permissive, people cannot insist upon the information, and we may have a position in which half the municipal authorities will not put the Clause into operation.

4.20 p.m.


Will the Minister tell us whether a tenant will be able to go to the town hall and ask for advice supposing the local authority does not publish the information herein. In that case can he go and get advice?


I am not sure whether the hon. Member is laying stress upon the word "advice" or the word "information."


Information—and advice.


The Bill leaves it optional as to whether a local Authority shall or shall not undertake this function. If they do not undertake this function then I imagine that there is no right on the part of the tenant to require the information from the local authority.


May I suggest that that is an Added reason why this Amendment should be passed. Those who have had experience of local administration know that many permissive Acts of Parliament are ignored. That is why Members here are pressing for this Amendment. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has enlivened the House with a description of the various minds which exist here, but I suggest to him that there is an even earlier type than those he mentioned, and that is the eolithic.


I have twice ruled that hon. Members cannot go into that question now.

4.22 p.m.


I wish to support the Amendment. I came down on purpose to do so, and since hearing the reply of the Minister of Health to the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead) I am still more anxious to support it, because of the experience I have had as to the need for giving poor folk information. Poor folk are in the hands of those who own their homes, and for years we have been struggling to put them in a position in which they will have somewhere to go where they will get information which will be in accordance with the law. This Amendment gives the Minister the opportunity of putting his own high ideals into practice. I have heard him make speeches which rant on the humanitarian lines of this Amendment. In the West of Scotland—indeed, it operates all over—we have found landlords, estate agents, or factors, as we call them, issuing little notices to tenants telling them that unless they pay their arrears of rent they will have to clear out by a certain date. It has been my misfortune to have the poorest of the poor bring these notices to me and ask me what they are to do. When I have told them that the notice is not worth the paper it is written on some of those folk have fainted, collapsed. I have told them there is only one individual in the country who can evict them from their homes, irrespective of what they do, whether they pay rent or not, and that is the sheriff. The landlord or factor has to get the sanction of the sheriff before anyone can be evicted.

To many people the concession for which we are asking here will be of more importance than anything else in the Bill. To accept the Amendment would be a, nice, kind, generous act on the part of a Government which has power to do things. Here is something the Government could do which would not cost anything, would make no inroads upon their economy plans. The Government would be acting the part which a Government ought to play; that is defending those who cannot defend themselves. That is why we of the Labour movement, we Socialists again, are asking for this on behalf of the poorest of the poor, who do not know anything about the law. Mark my words about this Bill. I told Lord Hailsham, when he was Sir Douglas Hogg, what would happen with his Bill. I say that this Bill is one of the most complicated Bills I have ever studied. The Minister of Heath can take it from me that just so far as he deals out generosity to the poor when we appeal to him so will we deal generously with him when he finds himself "up against it" with this Measure. We say that local authorities must look after the interests of the common people, just as on the Scottish Bill we urged that those who are actually doing the work of building the houses should get conditions such as can be claimed by the workers in every other industry.

We are not asking for anything extraordinary, nothing which it is beyond the power of the Minister to grant. All we say is that it ought to be the duty of the local authority to give information. Landlords and factors are nearly all lawyers, or they have legal advice at their disposal, but the tenant, the poor tenant, has none. He is of the great mass, the great unwashed, so to speak. [Laughter.] They understand what I mean—the people I am addressing. I am not playing up to the Tories or the rich in this House, not one wee bit. Make no mistake about that. I am a class man. I am appealing on behalf of my class, who are the victims of this system. They never had the advantage of an education, and they do not know anything about the intricacies of the law. They do not know that they have rights, or that we in this House legislate at times on their behalf, making laws that will protect them. There is some semblance of protection to the poor tenant in this Bill, and in the particular Clause, and in order that the tenants may have the advantage of it we have put down this Amendment. It is in order that they may know that here is protection for them; if they do not know about it, they have no protection. All that we ask is that the Minister will accept this Amendment in the spirit in which it is put forward.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 57; Noes, 256.

Division No. 139.] AYES. [3.29 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston) Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Clarke, Frank Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M. Cobb, Sir Cyril Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John
Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent) Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh) Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey Grimston, R. V.
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Cooper, A. Duff Gunston, Captain D. W.
Apsley, Lord Copeland, Ida Guy, J. C. Morrison
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Cowan, D. M. Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.
Atholl, Duchess of Cranborne, Viscount Hales, Harold K.
Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M. Craven-Ellis, William Hanbury, Cecil
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Crooke, J. Smedley Hanley, Dennis A.
Balniel, Lord Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Curry, A. C. Harris, Sir Percy
Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell Dalkeith, Earl of Hartland, George A.
Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury) Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C. Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)
Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley Davison, Sir William Henry Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.
Bernays, Robert Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F. Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.
Batterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B. Donner, P. W. Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd)
Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn) Doran, Edward Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division)
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Duckworth, George A. V. Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller
Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton Duggan, Hubert John Holdsworth, Herbert
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Dunglass, Lord Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)
Boyce, H. Leslie Eastwood, John Francis Hore-Belisha, Leslie
Braithwaite, J. O. (Hillsborough) Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Horsbrugh, Florence
Briant, Frank Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.
Briscoe, Capt. Richard George Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)
Broadbent, Colonel John Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool) Hume, Sir George Hopwood
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Hurd, Sir Percy
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)
Browne, Captain A. C. Everard, W. Lindsay Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Fox, Sir Gifford Joel, Dudley J. Barnato
Bullock,-Captain Malcolm Fraser, Captain Ian Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Fremantle, Sir Francis Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)
Burnett, John George Fuller, Captain A. G. Kerr, Hamilton W.
Cadogan, Hon. Edward Ganzoni, Sir John Knight, Holford
Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley) Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton
Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Lambert, Rt. Hon. George
Carver, Major William H. Glossop, C. W. H. Leech, Dr. J. W.
Castlereagh, Viscount Glyn, Major Ralph G. C. Leighton, Major B. E. P.
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Goff, Sir Park Lewis, Oswald
Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.) Goldie, Noel B. Liddall, Walter S.
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Lindsay, Noel Ker[...]
Lloyd, Geoffrey Pete, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston) Smithers, Waldron
Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd.Gr'n) Pickering, Ernest H. Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'ndsw'th) Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Loder, Captain J. de Vere Pike, Cecil F. Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.
Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Potter, John Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)
Lumley, Captain Lawrence R. Powell, Lieut.-Col. Eveiyn G. H. Stevenson, James
McCorquodale, M. S. Procter, Major Henry Adam Storey, Samuel
MacDonald, Rt. Hn. J. R. (Seaham) Ramsden, Sir Eugene Stourton, Hon. John J.
MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Rathbone, Eleanor Strickland, Captain W. F.
Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Rea, Walter Russell Stuart, Lord C. Crichton.
McKie, John Hamilton Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter) Summersby, Charles H.
McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Reid, David D, (County Down) Sutcliffe, Harold
Maitland, Adam Reid, William Allan (Derby) Tate, Mavis Constance
Mander, Geoffrey le M. Rentoul Sir Gervais S. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M. Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U. Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Roberts, Aled (Wrexham) Thompson, Luke
Marsden, Commander Arthur Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall) Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Martin, Thomas B. Rosbotham, Sir Samuel Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge) Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A. Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.) Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.
Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Runge, Norah Cecil Warrender, Sir victor A. G.
Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy) Watt, Captain George Steven H.
Mitcheson, G. G. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Wedderburn, Henry James Serymgeour.
Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l) Weymouth, Viscount
Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.) Salt, Edward W. Whyte, Jardine Bell
Muirhead, Major A. J. Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham) Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Munro, Patrick Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen) Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Sanderson, sir Frank Barnard Wills, Wilfrid D.
Newton, Sir Douglas George C. Savery, Samuel Servington Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)
Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth) Scone, Lord Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld) Shakespeare, Geoffrey H. Wise, Alfred R.
Normand, Wilfrid Guild Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell) Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
North, Captain Edward T. Shute, Colonel J. J. Womersley, Walter James
O'Connor, Terence James Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley
Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A. Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness) Worthington, Dr. John V.
Palmer, Francis Noel Skelton, Archibald Noel Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Pearson, William G. Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Peat, Charles U. Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Perkins, Walter R. D. Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-in-F.) Sir Frederick Thomson and Sir George Penny.
Petherick, M. Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Grundy, Thomas W. Milner, Major James
Attlee, Clement Richard Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Nathan, Major H. L.
Banfield, John William Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Owen, Major Goronwy
Batey, Joseph Hirst, George Henry Parkinson, John Allen
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Price, Gabriel
Cape, Thomas Kirkwood, David Thorne, William James
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Tinker, John Joseph
Cripps, Sir Stafford Lawson, John James Wallhead, Richard C.
Daggar, George Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Logan, David Gilbert Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lunn, William Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)
Dobbie, William McEntee, valentine L. Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Edwards, Charles McGovern, John
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Mainwaring, William Henry Mr. John and Mr. Groves.
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Maxton, James
Division No. 140.] AYES. [4.32 p.m.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.) Maxton, James
Attlee, Clement Richard Grundy, Thomas W. Milner, Major James
Banfield, John William Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Nathan, Major H. L.
Batey, Joseph Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Owen, Major Goronwy
Bernays, Robert Harris, Sir Percy Parkinson, John Allen
Sevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Hirst, George Henry Pickering, Ernest H.
Briant, Frank Holdsworth, Herbert Price, Gabriel
Cape, Thomas John, William Rathbone, Eleanor
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Cowan, D. M. Kirkwood, David Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)
Cripps, Sir Stafford Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Thorne, William James
Daggar, George Lawson, John James Tinker, John Joseph
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick Wallhead, Richard C.
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Logan, David Gilbert Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Dobbie, William Lunn, William Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Edwards, Charles McEntee, Valentine L. Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) McGovern, John Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Mainwaring, William Henry TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Mander, Geoffrey le M. Mr. D. Graham and Mr. Groves.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F. Ker, J. Campbell
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M. Donner, P. W. Kerr, Hamilton W.
Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent) Doran, Edward Knox, Sir Alfred
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh) Duckworth, George A. V. Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Duggan, Hubert John Lambert, Rt. Hon. George
Apsley, Lord Dunglass, Lord Latham, Sir Herbert Paul
Aske, Sir Robert William Eastwood, John Francis Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)
Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe Edge, Sir William Leech, Dr. J. W.
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Leighton, Major B. E. P.
Atholl, Duchess of Emrys-Evans, P. V. Lewis, Oswald
Atkinson, Cyril Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Liddall, Walter S.
Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M. Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool) Lindsay, Noel Ker
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Llewellin, Major John J.
Balniel, Lord Everard, W. Lindsay Lloyd, Geoffrey
Barclay-Harvey, C. M, Ford, Sir Patrick J. Loder, Captain J. de Vere
Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar Fox, Sir Gifford Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander
Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell Fraser, Captain Ian Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.
Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B. Fremantle, Sir Francis Mabane, William
Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn) Fuller, Captain A. G. McCorquodale, M. S.
Blindell, James Ganzoni, Sir John MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)
Borodale, Viscount Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton McKie, John Hamilton
Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John McLean, Major Sir Alan
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Glossop, C. W. H. McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)
Boyce, H. Leslie Gluckstein, Louis Halle Macpherson, Rt. Hon. sir Ian
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Goff, Sir Park Magnay, Thomas
Brass, Captain Sir William Goldie, Noel B. Maitland, Adam
Broadbent, Colonel John Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.) Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas Marsden, Commander Arthur
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Graves, Marjorie Martin, Thomas B.
Browne, Captain A. C. Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John
Buchan, John Grimtton, R. V. Merriman, Sir F. Boyd
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Gritten, W. G. Howard Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)
Burnett, John George Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)
Cadogan, Hon, Edward Gunston, Captain D. W. Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale
Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley) Guy, J. C. Morrison Moreing, Adrian C.
Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Hales, Harold K. Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)
Carver, Major William H. Hanbury, Cecil Moss, Captain H. J.
Castlereagh, Viscount Hanley, Dennis A. Muirhead, Major A. J.
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Munro, Patrick
Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.) Hartington. Marquess of Nail-Cain, Hon. Ronald
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Hartland, George A. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Newton, Sir Douglas George C.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston) Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)
Clarke, Frank Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Peterst'ld)
Clarry, Reginald George Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford) Normand, Wilfrid Guild
Cobb, Sir Cyril Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division) North, Captain Edward T.
Cochrane, Commander Hon, A, D. Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller O'Connor, Terence James
Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Palmer, Francis Noel
Cooper, A. Duff Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) Patrick, Colin M.
Copeland, Ida Horsbrugh, Florence Pearson, William G.
Cranborne, Viscount Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Peat, Charles U.
Craven-Ellis, William Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Percy, Lord Eustace
Crooke, J. Smedley Hume, Sir George Hopwood Perkins, Walter R. D.
Culverwell, Cyril Tom Hurd, Sir Percy Petherick, M.
Curry, A. C. Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Dalkeith, Earl of Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C. Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan) Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada
Pike, Cecil F. Scone, Lord Thompson, Luke
Potter, John Shakespeare, Geoffrey H. Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H. Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell) Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Raikes, Henry V. A. M. Shute, Colonel J. J. Train, John
Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Skelton, Archibald Noel Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Ramsden, Sir Eugene Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich) Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Ray, Sir William Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam) Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter) Smith-Carington, Neville W. Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Reid, David D. (County Down) Smithers, Waldron Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.
Reid, William Allan (Derby) Southby, Commander Archibald R. J. Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Rentoul, Sir Gervais S. Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L. Watt, Captain George Steven H.
Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U. Spencer, Captain Richard A. Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour.
Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall) Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H. Wells, Sydney Richard
Rosbotham, Sir Samuel Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde) Weymouth, Viscount
Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge) Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland) Whyte, Jardine Bell
Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A. Stevenson, James Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Runge, Norah Cecil Stewart, J. H. (File, E.) Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy) Storey, Samuel Wills, Wilfrid D.
Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Strauss, Edward A. Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)
Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury) Strickland, Captain W. F. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Rutherford, John (Edmonton) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- Wise, Alfred R.
Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l) Summersby, Charles H. Womersley, Walter James
Salmon, Sir Isidore Sutcliffe, Harold Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley
Salt, Edward W. Tate, Mavis Constance Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham) Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Savery, Samuel Servington Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Sir George Penny and Lord Erskine.

4.43 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 7, line 39, to leave out the words "and give advice."

This Amendment is moved in order to meet the criticisms which were made during the Second Reading on behalf of the local authorities' associations to the effect that local authorities and committees of local authorities ought not to be put in the position of tendering advice to individual landlords and tenants on their rights and duties under the law. The reason, as I understand it, for that criticism made at that time, was that to impose a duty or powers upon local authorities to advise individuals on their legal rights would place them in the same relation to those individuals as a private lawyer, and would put the local authorities in an impossible position. The position would be impossible for the reason that it might be of frequent occurrence that, after having obtained advice from the local authorities that his rights were such and such, an individual might go to the courts, and the authoritative tribunal might decide that his rights were otherwise and that the local authority had been wrong. That would produce a clash between two public authorities so unfortunate as to be actually disastrous. It was put very clearly that. it would be disastrous to the prestige of the local authority if they were to find themselves in a position so utterly false.

That criticism appeared to me to be of very real account. Subsequently it was supported by an authoritative represen- tation on behalf of the local association most concerned, the Association of Municipal Corporations, who represented that they were incapable of fulfilling the obligation that we were placing upon them and that if they tried to fulfil the obligation, they might land themselves in a most unfortunate position. I believe I am not wrong in saying that the same attitude is authoritatively taken by the Urban District Councils' Association. I am encouraged to believe that that is so. This Amendment covers much the same ground as those which have been put down by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thornbury (Captain Gunston) and by the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones), and I believe that their Amendments have been put down not without some form of official encouragement from the associations to which I have referred. I believe that, by releasing the local authorities from this duty, and thus avoiding the dangers to which I have referred, we shall nevertheless leave them in a position to discharge useful functions, through their appropriate committees, in assisting tenants and, of course, landlords also, in obtaining information which is useful to them in ascertaining their position.

I will specify one or two of the most important matters upon which they will be empowered to collect and give information. They will be able to collect and give information on the one matter in regard to which I think it is most necessary that there should be some source of information through official channels. That is as to the alteration of permitted increases of rent consequent upon changes in the rates. This has been a ceaseless source of trouble in the past, owing to the ignorance of tenants as to what these changes were, and the Clause would, I think, be justified simply on the ground of providing tenants with adequate information on this single matter.

Secondly, the committees will be able to provide tenants with the information which they need, and which, as has already been pointed out to-day, they, being often humble persons, cannot possibly have, on the procedure which it is necessary for them to follow in order to obtain their rights under the Bill. The committee would not be able to advise them on their actual rights, because of the difficulties to which I have referred, but would be able to inform them as to the procedure which they ought to follow in order to establish their rights—a very important and useful function. For instance, they will be able to tell them how to obtain certificates from the local authority as to the state of repair of their premises—an incessant cause of trouble in the past. This, again, is a function so useful that I think it would of itself justify the Clause as it will stand. The committees will also be able to provide individual applicants with particulars as to the available alternative accommodation, because, as representing the housing authority, they will have, or, if they have not, they ought to have, information as to what accommodation is available and be able to put it in the possession of the tenants. I believe that this Amendment will leave the Clause in a workable state. I recognise, from the representations of the local authorities, that in its original form it had great dangers, which we ought to remove before we allow it to pass into law.

4.50 p.m.


The Committee will agree with me that generally speaking the concessions which are made in these cases bring a little comfort to great masses of the people; but the right hon. Gentleman's concessions have been very few on any Bill that he has introduced. Some have been just visible to the naked eye; some have been crab-like—they have moved sideways, neither forward nor backward; and this Amendment definitely moves backwards. The whole subject of rent restriction is one which, personally, I abhor. It is far too complicated for me, as a plain person, and it has caused a good deal of perturbation of mind to very large numbers of people. On the whole, landlords are able to profit by the advice of trained legal minds, but the ordinary tenant of the small non-parlour house, who finds it difficult to make ends meet week by week, would be terrorised at the thought, even if he had the money, of entering a lawyer's office to seek advice. The right hon. Gentleman has based a good deal of the case for his Bill on the fact that he has followed the Marley Committee's Report. He did so on this particular point. The Marley Committee definitely recommended that power should be given to set up committees to give information and advice, and they went on to say: We have already indicated that much of the difficulty in regard to the enforcement of the existing law on this subject is due to ignorance. That, of course, is true. It is true partly because of the complexity of the subject, and partly because most people, although they are assumed to know the law of the land, do not know it. In that respect the ordinary person outside the House is, perhaps, as closely acquainted with the law as some of us who have made the laws and who sit in the House of Commons. There was a definite recommendation based upon the fact that most people do not understand the complexities of this very modern branch of law, and that proposal was put into the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot plead that he had to introduce the Bill in a great hurry. He had the Report in his pigeon-holes for over a year before he introduced the Bill into the House. He had every opportunity of considering all the proposals that were made. I have no doubt that he spent long and weary nights in examining every paragraph and every sentence of the report, and, having spent over a year on this continued and prolonged study of the report, he came to the conclusion that it was right to adopt this proposal that local authorities should give information and advice. Now, after the Bill has been before this Committee for some days, we find him going back on his tracks. He goes back on his tracks because, he tells us, local authorities have made representations to him. I should have thought that, during the Bill's long period of incubation, he might have consulted the local authorities before the Bill was introduced; or that, when it was presented and local authorities had seen it, he might, on the Second Reading, have said to the House, "I am very sorry, but in Committee, because of the views of local authorities, I shall have to make a very important Amendment to Clause 7." But no; this thing goes on until after the Bill has been in Committee for a long time, and now we have an Amendment to leave out the words "and advice."

It may be true that to give advice would embarrass the local authorities, but who are the people who are being embarrassed if there is no one to whom they can look for advice? Nine out of 10 ratepayers in every local authority's area; every tenant of a house—most of them poor people; and there may be poor landlords as well who need advice. The right hon. Gentleman says that local authorities feel the difficulty because, if cases went to the courts, there might be a conflict of opinion between two authorities, but I venture to submit that that is not a new situation. Indeed, that kind of situation has been a source of great wealth to the legal profession in the past, and, no doubt, will be in the future. Seriously, if the right hon. Gentleman accepts the report of the committee, which he says he has done, and prepares his Bill on the basis of that report, he ought not at this stage to go back upon it in view of pressure which has been brought to bear, and in view of the fact that members of the legal profession may not like it. The right hon. Gentleman put the emphasis of his objection on the local authorities, but I should suspect that both branches of the law feel very strongly about this giving of legal advice.

The right hon. Gentleman is prepared to allow the giving of information, but there is a very thin dividing line between the giving of information and the conclusions to be drawn from the information. Indeed, the information may be cast in such a form that it is, in fact, advice. Why should not the right hon. Gentleman "go the whole hog"? He says he is making this Clause now a practical, working Clause, but I do not attach any importance to the information that is going to be given under it. If he cuts out the giving of advice, what is the information that is to be given? It will be information couched in legal language which the ordinary person cannot understand. Is it to be information which will enable the ordinary person without a legal education to draw his own conclusions? It is not. It is going to be a little piece of stilted information putting in language almost as bald and almost as unintelligible as that of the Act itself what the Act means. My view, and the view of my hon. Friends, is that the deletion of these two words "and advice," after the defeat of the first Amendment which was moved, virtually destroys the value of the Clause. I should hope that hon. Members opposite who appreciate the difficulties of tenants in this matter, and the complexities of the law regarding rent restriction, will be prepared on this occasion to stand by the Marley Report, to stand by the Bill as it was originally introduced, and to reject the Minister's Amendment.

4.58 p.m.


I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has given away the ease for retaining these two words in the Bill. He has referred to the complexity of the Acts dealing with rent restriction, but I would submit that that is really the best reason why the Minister has decided to move to leave out these two words. It is clear that there is a dividing line between giving information and giving advice, and, so far as the giving of information is concerned, the local authorities or their officers are not being asked to do anything that is outside the scope of any local authority or of the main officials of the different authorities in various parts of the country. In this connection, I would suggest that the Minister might, after the Bill reaches the Statute Book, prepare some kind of summary of its main provisions, not in the stilted language to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield has referred, but in plain terms which may be understood by the average tenant or the average landlord. I may say that, when the Act of 1923 was passed, I myself, happening to be the clerk of a very small local authority, was asked by my authority whether I could prepare some kind of two-page handbill or leaflet briefly setting out in ordinary language the provisions of the Act. That is one thing, and a very easy thing, for a local authority to do.

But, when you come to the point of giving advice, and an aggrieved individual, whether a landlord or a tenant, coming to the officer of the local authority for advice, the position is entirely changed. Perhaps a second appointment would be necessary before it would be possible to give advice, because it might be necessary to see the rent books right back to 1914. It is not merely questions that arise under the Rent Restrictions Acts with which you have to deal. There are other problems connected with the ordinary law of landlord and tenant which have to be considered. I think most Members who have had any experience of the working of the Rent Restrictions Acts will agree that the lay clerk of a local authority, who has had no legal experience whatever in connection with the law of landlord and tenant generally or the administration of these Acts, would find it an intolerable burden if he were expected to give advice upon specific questions which would be submitted to him either by a landlord or a tenant. The Minister is perfectly justified in saying that it would cause an intolerable position. A poor tenant who has accepted in good faith advice given by the official of a local authority might find an action taken against him by his landlord. It is not till then that he seeks professional advice, and he is told possibly that the advice given by the official is not to be relied upon, and he not only has to pay for the advice this time but is also mulcted in costs.

A Clause of this kind is not going to be in the slightest degree a detriment to the legal profession. I can imagine it having the effect of actually increasing litigation. I remember a time when at banquets to which neither the Press nor the public were admitted the legal fraternity used to toast clergymen and schoolmasters who prepared wills upon which a good deal of litigation ensued. If this Clause went through in its original form, we should have to add the officers of local authorities who were advising landlords and tenants. After all, the Bill as it will stand with this Amendment goes as far as it reasonably can go with regard to local authorities. Local authorities do not exist for the purpose of giving advice to individuals upon specific matters. If they are to give advice in this case, why not in specific cases connected with public health or questions of rates, or innumerable other cases which constantly crop up. Obviously, it is the duty of local authorities to give information, and particularly the kind of information that is contemplated by this Clause.


Suppose a tenant goes to a local authority and says: "What is my position under the new Act?" Is the answer to that question information or advice?


If he asks what the position is on the general question, that is information. If he produces a notice to quit or a notice to increase rent and wants to know what his position is having regard to the specific circumstances of the case, that is obviously advice and not information. I trust that the Committee will support the Minister in this very reasonable Amendment, which is one of the very few that he has agreed to. The point was mentioned on Second Reading by myself and others, and we feel gratified that, at any rate, one point that was mentioned on the Second Reading has met with consideration and has been accepted.

5.6 p.m.


It would be well if the Committee had some information in turn as to the reason why the Marley Committee recommended that there should be a Clause in the Bill enabling local councils to give advice. The Marley report says: It appears to us that behind the suggestions which were made to us for the appointment of rent courts or reference committees there lay a desire, not for some new, formal court of law, but for an informal lay committee which might act as an unofficial conciliation board and centre of information and advice. As there appears to be doubt whether there is authority for their appointment, and as we think that they may serve a useful purpose in certain areas, we recommend that the doubt should be removed and local authorities empowered to appoint committees for the purpose of giving advice on questions arising under the Acts. It is pretty clear that there was a great volume of opinion submitted to the Committee which pointed out the necessity of what the Committee called some informal lay committee which might act as an unofficial conciliation board and centre of information and advice. The Amendment will make the Clause read in this way: The council of every county borough and of every county district shall have power to publish information. The county borough or the county district council will not be empowered to give information to anyone who may apply. It is simply a power to publish information for the assistance of landlord and tenants. There will be no power whatever, not even in the way the Minister suggested, on the part of county councils, county districts, or county boroughs to give any information at all. They will simply be able to publish a leaflet drawn up possibly by the town clerk.


Perhaps the hon. Member has overlooked a consequential Amendment lower on the Paper which gives power to furnish particulars.


On an earlier occasion I expressed the opinion that this Clause would be unworkable and inoperative and that the proportion of local authorities who took any action under the Clause would be very small indeed. The Clause as it stands would confer a tremendous advantage upon many people and not solely tenants, because we all know the type of landlord who owns three or four houses is not a very wealthy man and knows little of the effects of Acts of Parliament. All the good that there is in the Clause is going to be lost. I very much regret that the Minister has allowed himself to be persuaded by the representatives of local authorities. I suspect that the legal profession think that in some way someone is going to get legal advice on the cheap and that they have it in their mind that the only kind of legal advice that people should have is what they go to a lawyer and pay for. People only go to a lawyer after a great deal of consideration and weighing up of pros and cons. The desire not to be mixed up with legal entanglements has led in many cases to gross injustice being done, certainly to tenants and possibly to landlords as well. Rather than go to possible expense, they allow undue advantage to be taken of them.

Every time that we raise some objection the Minister points out that the Bill is based on the Marley Report, and he has rubbed it in over and over again that this party has some responsibility in the matter. But, when it comes to a very important point like this, where the Committee made a recommendation which in our opinion would be of tremendous advantage to many people, he says: "In this case the Marley Report was not as good as it has been in other instances." He makes few or no concessions. He is very hard-hearted. Now be has moved an Amendment which will not improve the Bill but will make it considerably worse than it was before. We look upon him more in sorrow than in anger, and we hope his heart may be softened somewhat before we get to the end of the Bill. I am satisfied that this provision for the giving of advice by local authorities would not result in the difficulties, the dangers, and the chaos which have been pointed out. Everyone knows that members of the legal profession—and the two hon. Members who have spoken on the point belong to the legal profession—can tell of the terrible things which may happen when any new proposal is put forward, but when the new proposal is put into operation the bogey almost automatically disappears. I am satisfied that there is more good in the Bill than there can possibly be evil, and it is because I believe that the Bill as it stands will give the greatest good to the greatest possible number of people that I support the opposition to the proposed Amendment of the Minister.

5.16 p.m.


The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) has repeated the observation which fell from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), to the effect that there has been some kind of sinister pressure by the legal profession in order to obtain the proposed Amendment. I can assure him that nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing in the world which the legal profession could wish for more whole-heartedly in its own interests than that there should be some layman appointed on a committee by the local authority to give advice to tenants of houses coming within these Acts, which, as my right hon. Friend must know, are among the most complicated Measures which have ever been passed through Parliament. There is hardly a syllable, a line or a sentence of the principal Acts which have not been interpreted in the courts, and many have been the subject of litigation in the Court of Appeal. The position is not easy to reconcile, and to pretend that these are simple matters upon which a body of laymen can offer advice is fantastic. It is probably true to say that the worst service which any layman can give to a fellow layman is to offer legal advice. In so far as the Amendment of the Minister prevents that from being done, it is all to the good.

In my early days at the Bar, when I came back from the War in 1919, there was nothing which softened the asperities of those early years more than the principal Acts, the Rent Restrictions Acts. They were a source of legitimate income to me and to many other people at a time when we had very little income at all, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely in dealing with these matters. I was particularly interested on one occasion when talking to an old admiral friend of mine who occupied a house which just came within the Rent Restrictions Act. He wished that all Acts of Parliament were treated in the same way, and thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was a benefactor to the human race because he had passed an Act of Parliament which the simplest person could understand. He would not believe me when I said that it had been the subject of more conflicting opinions and decisions than any Act of Parliament which had ever been passed.

The Clause says that the council has power to set up a committee to give information and to offer advice, and that the expenses of the committee shall be borne out of the rates. Unless the committee have the assistance of some legal adviser any legal advice which may be given will be valueless and indeed dangerous. Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield is proposing that committees should be set up and paid for out of the rates and should have upon them legal advisers? In that case, his argument that the legal profession is seeking its own interests falls to the ground. If that is the suggestion there would be a good many jobs for the legal profession on these committees. Unless members of the legal profession were on the committees I do not think that the advice given would be of very much use. Is it not clear that what will happen, and what the Marley Committee intended shall happen, is that the committee will be available to the poor tenant for information?




That is the object of the Clause, at any rate. It will be able to give information as to the facts, and can anybody doubt that in a suitable case it will tender advice which is perfectly plain on a specific point. There is nothing to prevent it from doing that if you take out the words as proposed in the Amendment. To set up an ad hoc committee to give advice and to invest it with a kind of official authority would be a very foolish thing to do. It would lead tenants to expect much more than they were going to get, and lead to a vast increase in litigation which one wants to see kept down to a minimum.


Does the hon. and learned Member think that the publishing of information will be sufficient, or will it be necessary for those who are not able to understand to ask for an explanation of the information given to them?


As I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wednesbury when I ventured to interrupt him, there is a consequential Amendment which we cannot now discuss.


I was afraid to ask with regard to that Amendment in case I should be ruled out of order.


The consequential Amendment will give power to the committee, besides publishing information, to furnish particulars as to various matters affecting the rights and duties both of landlords and tenants under the principal Acts as to procedure, and as to the availability, extent and character of alternative accommodation.


Does the hon. and learned Member think that the Amendment which is to be tendered later will be equivalent to providing for the giving of advice?


It is, "to furnish particulars." If you put a person in possession of all the facts you go a very long way towards giving advice. The poor people want to know the facts; what they have to prove; what kind of alternative accommodation will be available; and upon what must they be satisfied and things of that nature. It is difficult to draw the line when you "furnish particulars" and when you "give advice." The only thing which seems to be objectionable in these words is that it specifically requires the committee to give what nobody giving the information would think was legal advice. I think that, provided the committees have power to furnish particulars and to publish statements, they will be doing all that is desirable in the interests of the tenants.

5.22 p.m.


I must say to my hon. Friends that I feel that I have no alternative but to support the Minister in this matter. As the Committee know, I have already moved an Amendment making the question of giving information and particulars compulsory, and I am strongly in favour of that being done. But my experience is such that I feel confident that if the words proposed to be left out are left in the Clause definite harm will be done. There is another serious question. If members of a local authority sitting in committee purport to give advice, it is very probable that they will be liable in damages if, in fact, they give advice which is erroneous. There is a further reason why the Amendment of the Minister ought to be accepted. Under the Bill there are a number of grounds given upon which possession may be obtained. In regard to the greater number of those grounds, the words used are: Where in the opinion of the court suitable alternative accommodation … is available. It is the opinion of the court, and not the opinion of members of the local authority which matters. The whole intention and value of the Clause is that it will enable local authorities to give information on questions of fact. There is a wide range of information which can be given under that heading. The point I raised, and to which the Minister referred in his speech, was that the most valuable help given to tenants or landlords was where local rating authorities could ascertain and give particulars of the permitted rent at any stage, having regard to the fact that

they have all the figures as to rates and so on at their finger ends. There is a very thin line indeed between giving information as to procedure and advising as to procedure. The Minister indicated that the local committee might advise the tenant in appropriate cases to go to the local health authority and on payment of a shilling receive a certificate.

As to the state of repairs I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield), who thinks that the Clause will be rendered valueless if the words are not left in. From my experience of advice given, more particularly by lay magistrates, who sometimes have, and sometimes have not, the advantage of a learned clerk, I am sure that applications for advice in these circumstances would be most inadvisable. Unless it is laid down specifically that advice should be given by the town clerk or by some appropriate or qualified person who presumably would have to be paid, I am sure that it will be far better to leave the matter so that information can be given on a question of fact instead of extending the Clause still further. I support this Amendment. I am not supporting any other Amendment the Minister has put forward, but in this instance I think that he is doing the right thing.

5.27 p.m.


I think that the Minister and hon. and learned Members have made it amply clear that if we were to retain the words "and give advice" the tenants would be in real danger of being put into a difficult position with regard to the law. The Clause as it stand is a little vague. "To publish information" may merely mean to put up a notice on the wall in a local council chamber. I ask the Minister whether it will be possible to insert—


I am afraid that that matter would come more appropriately on a discussion on the Clause; the hon. Lady cannot take it on this Amendment.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 42; Noes, 295.

Division No. 141.] AYES. [5.30 p.m.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Banfield, John William Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw vale)
Attlee, Clement Richard Batey, Joseph Cape, Thomas
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Maxton, James
Cripps, Sir Stafford Hirst, George Henry Parkinson, John Allen
Daggar, George John, William Price, Gabriel
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Thorns, William James
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Kirkwood, David Tinker, John Joseph
Dobbie, William Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Wallhead, Richard C.
Edwards, Charles Lawson, John James Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.) Logan, David Gilbert Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Lunn, William Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur McEntee, Valentine L. Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) McGovern, John
Grundy, Thomas W. Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Mainwaring, William Henry Mr. Groves and Mr. D. Graham.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Duckworth, George A. V. Joel, Dudley J. Barnato
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Duggan, Hubert John Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M. Dunglass, Lord Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)
Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent) Eales, John Frederick Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh) Eastwood, John Francis Ker, J. Campbell
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Edge, Sir William Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Kerr, Hamilton W.
Aske, Sir Robert William Emrys-Evans, P. V. Knox, Sir Alfred
Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool) Lambert, Rt. Hon. George
Atholl, Duchess of Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Latham, Sir Herbert Paul
Atkinson, Cyril Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)
Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M. Everard, W. Lindsay Leckie, J. A.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Fermoy, Lord Leech, Dr. J. W.
Balniel, Lord Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Leighton, Major B. E. P.
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Ford, Sir Patrick J. Lewis, Oswald
Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar Fox, Sir Gifford Liddall, Walter S.
Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell Fraser, Captain Ian Lindsay, Noel Ker
Bonn, Sir Arthur Shirley Fremantle, Sir Francis Llewellin, Major John J.
Bernays, Robert Fuller, Captain A. G. Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick
Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B. Ganzoni, Sir John Loder, Captain J. de Vere
Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn) Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Gillett, Sir George Masterman McCorquodale, M. S.
Blindell, James Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John MacDonald, Rt. Hn. J. R. (Seaham)
Borodale, Viscount Glossop, C. W. H. MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Gluckstein, Louis Halle McKie, John Hamilton
Boyce, H. Leslie Glyn, Major Ralph G. C. Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Goff, Sir Park McLean, Major Sir Alan
Brass, Captain Sir William Goldie, Noel B. McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)
Briant, Frank Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Macpherson, Rt. Hon. Sir Ian
Briscoe, Capt. Richard George Gower, Sir Robert Magnay, Thomas
Broadbent, Colonel John Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.) Maitland, Adam
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas Mander, Geoffrey le M.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Graves, Marjorie Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks., Newb'y) Greene, William P. C. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.
Buchan, John Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Marsden, Commander Arthur
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.) Martin, Thomas B.
Burnett, John George Grimston, R. V. Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John
Cadogan, Hon. Edward Gritten, W. G. Howard Merriman, Sir F. Boyd
Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley) Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)
Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley) Gunston, Captain D. W. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)
Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm Guy, J. C. Morrison Mitcheson, G. G.
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale
Carver, Major William H. Hales, Harold K. Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres
Castlereagh, Viscount Hamilton, Sir R. W. (Orkney & Z'tl'nd) Moreing, Adrian C.
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Hanbury, Cecil Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)
Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.) Hanley, Dennis A. Morris-Jones. Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Morrison, William Shepherd
Cazalet, Capt. v. A. (Chippenham) Harris, Sir Percy Moss, Captain H. J.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston) Hartington, Marquess of Muirhead, Major A. J.
Clarke, Frank Hartland, George A. Munro, Patrick
Clarry, Reginald George Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Nall-Cain, Hon. Ronald
Clayton, Dr. George C. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Newton, Sir Douglas George C.
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd) Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)
Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division) Normand, Wilfrid Guild
Cooper, A. Duff Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller North, Captain Edward T.
Copeland, Ida Holdsworth, Herbert Nunn, William
Cowan, D. M. Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) O'Connor, Terence James
Cranborne, Viscount Hore-Belisha, Leslie Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.
Crooke, J. Smedley Horsbrugh, Florence Owen, Major Goronwy
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro) Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Palmer, Francis Noel
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Patrick. Colin M.
Culverwell, Cyril Tom Hume, Sir George Hopwood Pearson, William G.
Curry, A. C. Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Peat, Charles U.
Dalkeith, Earl of Hurd, Sir Percy Penny, Sir George
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Hurst, Sir Gerald B. Percy, Lord Eustace
Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F. Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H. Perkins, Walter R. D.
Drewe, Cedric Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Petherick, M.
Peto, Sir Basil E.(Devon, Barnstaple) Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham) Tate, Mavis Constance
Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston) Savery, Samuel Servington Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Pickering, Ernest H. Scone, Lord Thompson, Luke
Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada Selley, Harry R. Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Pike, Cecil F. Shakespeare, Geoffrey H. Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Potter, John Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell) Train, John
Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H. Shute, Colonel J. J. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Raikes, Henry V. A. M. Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness) Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Skelton, Archibald Noel Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Ramsden, Sir Eugene Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D. Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Rathbone, Eleanor Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-in-F.) Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.
Ray, Sir William Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam) Watt, Captain George Steven H.
Rea, Walter Russell Smith-Carington, Neville W. Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgsour.
Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter) Smithers, Waldron Wells, Sydney Richard
Reid, David D. (County Down) Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor) Weymouth, Viscount
Reid, William Allan (Derby) Southby, Commander Archibald R. J. Whyte, Jardine Bell
Renwick, Major Gustav A. Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L. Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur u. Spencer, Captain Richard A. Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Roberts, Aled (Wrexham) Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H. Wills, Wilfrid D.
Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall) Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde) Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)
Robinson, John Roland Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Rosbotham, Sir Samuel Stevenson, James Wise, Alfred R.
Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge) Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.) Womersley, Walter James
Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A. Stourton, Hon. John J. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley
Runge, Norah Cecil Strauss, Edward A. Worthington, Dr. John V.
Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy) Strickland, Captain W. F. Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Rutherford, John (Edmonton) Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart Sir Victor Warrender and Lord Erskine.
Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l) Summersby, Charles H.
Salt, Edward W. Sutcliffe, Harold

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 7, line 41, after the word "Acts," insert the word "and."

In page 7, line 42, after the word "and," insert the words "to furnish particulars." —[Sir H. Young.]

5.37 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 8, line 1, to leave out from the word "accommodation," to the end of the Sub-section.

Now that we have removed from the Bill the duty of local authorities to give advice there is not much point in the local authorities being able to co-opt people on to a committee simply for the purpose of giving information. If we had kept in the Bill the original words, "and give advice," it would have been necessary to co-opt on to the committee people of legal experience, but now that those words have gone I cannot help feeling, and I know that many local authorities also feel, that it is no longer necessary to maintain the words which I now propose to leave out. Under the Local Government Act of 1894, Section 56, a parish or district council has already the power to appoint a committee, and those committees can co-opt certain persons. I cannot help feeling that we have gone almost far enough in local government in the method of co-option and it seems to me to be rather unwise to co-opt more members on to a committee which, if set up, will have ample personnel among its own members for carrying out its duties. In regard to such subjects as maternal mortality, child welfare and so on it is very important to co-opt people from outside, but now that we have limited somewhat the function of the local authorities in regard to this particular matter it would be much simpler if we left it to the local authorities to give information, without the necessity of setting up a committee and having to co-opt members on to it. Local authorities are elected to govern their districts and I think in this matter we can leave it to the local authorities.

5.41 p.m.


This particular part of the Clause is not vital to the framework of the Bill, but it is a useful little provision. It enables a committee in certain areas, if it chooses, to appoint certain persons with a wide knowledge of rent restriction law. There are such advisory committees now in existence and to my knowledge they have co-opted certain members, and unless we leave in the words now proposed to be left out those committees will be embarrassed because they will not know whether they are acting illegally. The hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) spoke about the difficulties of rent restriction cases. In my constituency probably the only person who knows anything about rent restriction is the wife of an unemployed bootmaker. She knows more about rent restriction titan any lawyer in Norwich. That is the sort of person who in any other constituency might usefully be co-opted on to some of these committees. I know of other cases where a member of a public utility society with big experience of housing, rent restriction, and landlord and tenant law is the kind of person who might be co-opted. For these reasons, I think it would be wise if the Amendment were not persisted in.

5.43 p.m.


I support the Government on this Amendment. I think it is desirable that where there is a person of experience and knowledge that person should be enabled to serve on a Committee. There is my old friend Dan Ryder, who has made a life study of this problem. He would not think of standing for. Parliament or for a borough council but he has given his life to this particular issue, and his advice was most valuable. It is optional on the part of local authorities to co-opt. They need not do it unless they desire. The Clause says "may."

5.44 p.m.


We have a case in Manchester which might be quoted in support. of the point of view put by the Parliamentary Secretary of the sort of person well qualified to serve on one of these Committees. He was a Labour Member of this House and is now one of the greatest experts on rent restriction law. While we dislike, the principle of co-option, if it is to be accepted, I think it is more appropriate in this case than in most.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

5.47 p.m.


I am sorry that through the action of the Minister this Clause has been considerably weakened by leaving out the words, "and give advice." Members of the legal profession have argued that they have had nothing at all to do with this deletion; that they have never brought pressure to bear on the Minister through the municipalities in this connection. If they did not bring pressure to bear on local authorities to see that the Minister of Health did what he has done this afternoon they have obviously neglected their duties as members of the legal profession. But I am sure that they did not neglect their duty. If there are any two professions of which any Minister of Health is afraid they are the legal and the medical professions; and I am satisfied that in this case the legal profession has seen to it that they are not to be done out of jobs in connection with this Clause. I have been astonished at the argument put forward about laymen on committees giving advice on law. There are many members of this Committee who have been on local authorities, as I have myself. When a committee of a municipal council wants to give any kind of legal advice it generally gives it through the town clerk's department; and I have never been able to understand why a municipal authority, composed of men elected to represent the community on that council, should not have power under the law to provide legal advice through the town clerk's department on any conceivable subject affecting the people they represent. I do not think that members of the legal profession would lose anything thereby. If a town council decided to give legal advice through the town clerk's department they would certainly engage members of the legal profession to do so; and if I were a solicitor or barrister I should prefer to be employed by a municipal corporation than engaged casually in the ordinary way.

Hon. Members say that the municipalities should not give advice under these Acts of Parliament because they are so complicated. In my duties outside this House I touch one of the most complicated pieces of legislation which ever appeared on the Statute Book, and members of the legal profession by Statute are not allowed to touch it at any angle —I refer to the National Insurance Act. When they taunt laymen that they are not able to give advice on these laws let me add, that if all professional legal advice that is tendered was always correct I would agree; but in the case of workmen's compensation I often get legal advice in the negative from one solicitor and exactly the contrary advice from another lawyer. Consequently, it is no use arguing that if you must have advice it must always be professional legal advice. Hon. and learned Members form I think the largest section of Members of this House. There is a sort of subtle freemasonry about the legal profession, and an hon. and learned Member from this side has to-day joined his colleagues in seeing that the legal profession is safeguarded.

What I really wanted was to ask the Minister of Health if he will tell us whether, under this Clause, the Law Officers of the Crown will draft a circular to be issued to local authorities telling them exactly what they are able to do under its provisions. That is a very important point, because I can see local authorities finding great difficulty in knowing exactly what it can give by way of information and particulars. I want to ask the Minister of Health to be good enough to answer that question. One of the problems which confronts the community under a Bill of this kind after all is the amount of rent they have to pay for decontrolled houses. Let me give one or two particulars regarding the City of Manchester. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether a local authority, having such information as I am about to give, in their possession, will be able to publish it broadcast in order to expose some of the depredations of landlords who are doing the sort of thing I propose to describe. There is the case of a person who takes charge of 22 old houses—in this case a woman—which she rents from the owners and pays them £18 10s. per week. She receives from the tenants of these 22 houses £53 1s. 2d. per week in rent, or a difference of about £35 per week. The number of families in these 22 houses is 124. I feel sure that the suggestion I am going to make will appeal to all hon Members, and it is that a local authority ought to be empowered to placard on the doors of this property exactly what these rack-renters are doing in exploiting the tenants.

Take another example. Another person takes the rent of 18 houses and the total weekly amount paid to the owners of the property is £14 10s. The rent received, however, is £42 7s. 6d. a week, a difference of about £28. Surely that is a monstrous state of affairs; and it happens not only in the city of Manchester, but in all the big towns of the country. Let me give figures which have been collected by the corporation of Manchester itself; they are not the result of my own investigations, but of investigations conducted by the city's public health committee, into 448 houses. The total weekly rent paid was £450; but the total weekly rent received was £897 and the number of families housed was 7,965. We have been told that a local authority will not be entitled to give information or particulars in individual cases. I want to know, therefore, whether a local authority under this Clause, once it has secured information like that which I have cited, will be entitled to broadcast it in order to expose what is being done. I have asked two specific questions of the Minister of Health. Will he tell us whether the Law Officers of the Crown will take it upon themselves, in conjunction with his Department, to draft a circular and issue it to local authorities informing them exactly what they can do under this Clause? Secondly, whether in such cases of exploitation as I have given the local authority will be able to broadcast the information in order to cleanse our cities of such monstrous things?

5.54 p.m.


I am afraid that as the Clause stands it is liable in one respect to be ineffective. The Marley Committee recommended the giving of advice; and hon. and learned Members have made it perfectly clear that the giving of advice might be a danger to the tenants where it says they shall have power to publish the information. That is a very vague term. To publish information might merely mean the printing of a paper which might be hung on the wall. I ask the Minister between now and Report to consider inserting words giving information as to what is requested instead of merely publishing information.

5.55 p.m.


We are all much disappointed with the Minister of Health this afternoon. We really expected that we should be able to convince him how essential it was to empower all local authorities to be able to give advice, and we hoped to be able to do so because of our experience, a very bitter experience in dealing with poor tenants. We want them to be in the position of being able to know the law regarding the decontrol of houses. This is a very vexed question, and a very serious question; and I implore the Minister of Health to consult the Lord Advocate on this matter. In my own constituency in one street of Dalmuir, Dunn Street, there are houses owned by the Beardmore firm. They are all built on the same pattern, street after street, but on one side of Dunn Street the Beardmore firm still retains the factor and the rents remain the same; but on the other side of the street the houses are in charge of a Glasgow firm of solicitors, who have raised the rents by 3s. 6d. per week, a 20 per cent. increase. This is a serious matter. They cannot do it; it is against the law. But the working classes do not know the law until they come to a man like myself, or some other public representative. I have given 10 years of my life to defending the poor in the West of Scotland against rapacious factors. I ask the Minister of Health to consult the Lord Advocate regarding this matter in order that something might be done to protect the poorest of the poor against factors who take advantage of their simplicity.

There is another matter about which poor tenants know nothing, and that is that when a local authority has condemned a house as being unfit for human habitation the tenant need not pay rent until the owner makes the house fit for human habitation. If the owner does not conform to the law in this matter, the tenant is required to pay no rent. But, again, the tenant knows nothing about that. The next thing is that the factor or the owner of the house cannot put anyone out of the house whether that tenant pays rent or not. They must take the tenant to the Sheriff Court in Scotland. There is only one individual in Scotland who can pub anyone out of a house, and that is the sheriff. But the tenants in Scotland do not know that. When the factor comes along and threatens them that if they do not pay the rent at once, no matter how much the arrears are, they will be evicted, they think they will be put out. The poor tenant then does all manner of things in order to try to meet the demands made on him. But the factor has not got the power to evict. He has to take the tenant to the Sheriff Court.

It would be invaluable to the tenants in Scotland if they knew the facts. They ought to know that when they are summoned to the court they should go to the courts. Invariably the workers are terrified at the idea of being summoned before a court of justice. They think they have committed a crime and they fear being classified as criminals. Therefore they do not go. I want the Minister of Health to let them know that they should go to the court, because if they do not go the sheriff has no alternative but to give the factor a decree, and that means that he is handing to the factor the right to evict that tenant. Invariably it is the wife who goes to the court and who has to deal with the factor. If she goes to the court the sheriff in every case takes into consideration the ability of the tenant to pay, and he then says that a certain amount of the rent has to be paid. Again I want the tenant to know that as soon as the sheriff gives that decision the factor ceases to have the power to evict, whether the tenant pays anything again or not. The factor or the owner must take the tenant back again to the court, if necessary, and if it is a hard case, where the folk are right up against it, the sheriff will not give a decree. I have known tenants go back to the court as many as three times.

It is these things that I want the Minister of Health to make known. I want him to make the local authorities responsible for imparting that information. What is the use of making a law, what is the use of these directions being in an Act of Parliament td give protection to tenants, if the tenants do not know of them? We are asking the Government to-day to practise what they preach. But we cannot get them to move. I hope the Minister will listen to our appeal. Has he seen a rent court? It is quite impossible for the poor man's lawyer, particularly in the big industrial centres, to take up all this work. I speak authoritatively for the Dumbartonshire Court and the Rent Court in Glasgow, where I have defended more people than all the lawyers in Glasgow put together, and I am not a lawyer. I got a locus standi from Sheriff Lee to defend the poor people against the factors in 1920, because there were hundreds of tenants coming every day to the court, and they were all poor people. My own friends gave me legal advice and showed me how to get round a difficult situation. It was quite impossible that they could stop their own business and go into the rent court day after day, because the work called for someone who had nothing else to do. Here is an opportunity presenting itself to the Minister of Health. We want him to broadcast this information to everyone free, for those folk who require it most are not in a position to pay for any advice.

6.6 p.m.


I would like to support the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), and to appeal to the Minister and his Department to issue a Circular explaining in the simplest possible way the meaning of the various Acts and the duties of tenants, subtenants and landlords in this matter. I realise that this Clause is permissive and that local authorities may issue the information. I think we are generally agreed that most local authorities will probably do so, but there may be others who may not assume this particular responsibility. It would be an enormous advantage if there could be a uniform basis of information given to all local authorities, and that could only be issued by the Minister of Health. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and the Under Secretary would themselves undertake this particular duty and not leave it to any lawyers. It has frequently been said that it is quite impossible to make these Acts simple, but I think that the Minister has shown by his speeches on many occasions in this House, as has the Parliamentary Secretary, that he is able to make these things so clear that all can comprehend them. The publication of such information would meet a very real need. I suggest that the Department issue a uniform circular or pamphlet on the meaning of the whole of these Acts in relation to the duties of tenants, sub-tenants and landlords.

6.8 p.m.


Reference has been made by more than one speaker on the other side to the difficulties of the tenant, and the need for the tenant to receive advice and information from the local authorities. Unfortunately it does not matter how far the Legislature or the local authorities go, for there are large numbers of people who do not seem to pay any attention to anything that is brought to their noice. The Legislature in the past has had to deal with similar problems, so as to safeguard the interests of tenants. Reference has been made to forms of notice served on tenants. There is the form provided by the Act of 1920. It was made mandatory for landlords or their agents, when demanding an increase of rent, to serve a form of notice on the tenant. It had either to be the exact form in the Schedule to the Act or a form in all respects similar. Any notice of increase of rent which did not contain this form was absolutely bad, and there was no necessity for tenants to pay the increased rent. The form was in these words: At any time, not less than three months after the day of you are entitled to apply to the county court for an order suspending the increase of rent … if you consider that the premises are not in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation, or otherwise not in a reasonable state of repair. You will be required to satisfy the county court, by a report from the sanitary authority or otherwise, that your application was well founded, and for this purpose you are entitled to apply to the sanitary authority for a certificate. A fee of 1s. is chargeable on any application for a certificate, but if the certificate is granted you can deduct this sum from your rent. If a certificate was obtained that the house was not in a fit condition, the tenant was relieved from any increase of rent. The Ministry may have the information, and, if so, it would be interesting to know to what extent this Provision has been made use of by tenants. I have had considerable experience of cases in court, and I am satisfied that, so far as that provision for the obtaining of a certificate is concerned, in a large number of areas it is practically a dead letter. It is no good complaining in this House, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) has complained, that tenants are ignorant. In the Act of 1920 the Legislature did everything in its power to enable tenants to be fully acquainted with their rights, and we cannot blame Parliament or the local authorities or the courts if tenants do not avail themselves of the rights which they possess.

I trust that when this Bill becomes law the Minister will take some action with the view of bringing to the notice of local authorities their power under this Clause. Of course they have an option in the Bill, whether they exercise it or not, but I think it would facilitate the decision of local authorities if the Minister, with the advice of the Law Officers, drew up a circular indicating what the tenants' rights are. There should be some general form of information as to the purport not merely of this Bill but of the principal Acts. There is also the possibility, in many cases, that local authorities may find it desirable to add to any publication or circular, information relating more particularly to their own localities. What we are really anxious to ensure is that tenants should be in a position to get the fullest information in the shortest possible space.

6.16 p.m.


I rise to reply to the questions which have been addressed to me in the course of this Debate. First, let me deal with the question put by the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) as to the use which has been made by tenants of the provision in regard to obtaining a certificate. I am afraid I cannot give him any statistical information upon that point because no such statistics are collected or preserved. But my own experience of the conditions to which the hon. Member refers, is that surprisingly small use has been made of that provision, and it is eminently desirable that the new machinery, which we are now calling into being, for the purpose of informing tenants of the law should achieve the result of making them more active in maintaining their rights.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) put a question as regards certain conditions in Manchester. It appears to me that the reply to the hon. Member is this. It may be that a law is being broken and that the law which is being broken is one for which the local authority are responsible. In that case it is their duty to enforce the law, under whatever Section is being broken. Or, it may be that the law is being broken in a manner for which the local authority is not responsible, but, since they are the housing authority, it would be their duty in that case to call the matter to the attention of whatever authority is responsible for enforcing the Jaw. Or, it may be, in the third alternative, that no law is being broken, and, if no law is being broken, I cannot suppose that the local authority would consider it judicious or even legitimate under this or any provision to carry on public propaganda against persons not breaking the law. Of course, I do not know what the conditions are.

As regards the suggestion made by the hon. Lady the Member for West Willesden (Mrs. Tate), that certain words should be added to the effect that this information should be provided "as and when requested" I will certainly give as careful consideration to that as I would to any other suggestion coming from the same quarter. My first impression of the words, however, is that they do not add anything to the Clause. Indeed, I rather fear that they might have a restricting instead of a broadening effect on the power conferred by the Clause. That, as I say, is my first impression, but I will give further consideration to the hon. Lady's suggestion. The only remaining suggestions concern the preparation of the circular and in regard to that matter two quite different suggestions have been made. The hon. Member for Westhoughton suggested that the circular should describe to local authorities what they can do under the Clause. I do not believe that to be necessary. I think that, as distinguished from some other Clauses in Rent Restrictions legislation, this Clause is singlarly simple and direct and its meaning will be quite clear to local authorities.

Then there was the suggestion of the hon. Lady the Member for East Islington (Miss Cazalet) supported by the hon. Member for Flint that there should be a general circular describing the meaning of the various Acts. That is no new idea. The possibility of rendering assistance to local authorities in such a manner as that is always present to my mind and the minds of the officials at the Ministry of Health. Nothing is more frequently mentioned at conferences with local authorities. We constantly ask, "Is there any help that we can give by way of explanation of these difficult Acts?" My present information upon the matter is that the local authorities know as much about it, through their excellent advisers, as anybody else and are not in need of information or assistance on the matter from anybody. They have been so closely in touch with the day-to-day administration, that their legal advisers and techni- cal advisers have had to make themselves experts in the provisions of the various Rent Restrictions Acts.

My second point is this. When you sit down, as all of us who have been engaged in administration have probably done, to try to interpret difficult and complicated Statutes, dealing with a whole range of regulations such as this and when you try to put them into language such as would be of any use at all to the class of tenants we are now considering, then, if you share my experience, you find yourself running into the danger of doing more harm than good. You run into the danger of misrepresenting to the people their real rights by trying to express those rights in a simple manner. I have known great harm done by attempting to state in popular language legal relations which are only capable of being stated in refined legal terms. My present frame of mind on the subject is that it is really safer and better for the tenants, with their ignorance of the law, that they should have these matters explained by their own friends and advisers, rather than that they should try to pick them up from formal circulars. As I say, that is my present frame of mind, but I am always on the lookout, in consultation with the local authorities, for opportunities of assisting them by clarifications of the sort to which reference has been made. I believe that we leave this Clause stronger than we found it, because it is more workable. I am encouraged to believe that it has been wise to omit the words "and advice" by observing from some speeches, that if we had not done so, pressure would inevitably have been put upon the local authorities to try to act as a kind of common agents for landlords and tenants, a function which it would be absolutely impossible for them to perform.

6.23 p.m.


The Minister referred to the suggestion of the hon. Lady the Member for West Willesden (Mrs. Tate) as to the inclusion of the words "as and when required," but the right hon. 'Gentleman did not say anything about the substitution of the word "give" for the word "publish" in regard to this information, which the hon. Lady also suggested. I understood that her point was as to whether the word "publish" covered the giving of oral in- formation. Some of the authorities to which reference has been made, have already set up committees. These committees interview applicants and give information, though I will not say advice. One of the objects of the Clause was to legalise the position of those local authorities who have already set up such committees and are now giving oral information. The Minister proposes to insert the words "furnish particulars" but that is not in relation to giving assistance as between landlords and tenants. That only relates to limited information as regards availability extent and character of alternative accommodation and does not touch the question of the rights of the tenant, the sub-tenant or the landlord as regards rent. I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would consider putting forward some Amendment on the Report stage which would clarify the position and the rights of those committees and also what is included in the word "publish."

6.24 p.m.


I included the word "give" in what I said about the further words "as and when requested," suggested by the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mrs. Tate). As at present advised, I believe it to be true, that the effect of substituting "give" for "publish" and of adding "as and when requested," if it had any effect at all on the Clause, would be more likely to limit than to broaden this power. That would be precisely contrary to the intention of the hon. Members who have raised the matter. From the point of view of a lawyer interpreting the power given under this Clause, the word "publish" has a much wider application—because it includes all the various methods by which a fact can be published—than any other word which occurs to one. "Publication" is not a term of art and is not confined to publication in writing. You can publish by other methods than writing.

6.25 p.m.


I wish to support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for East Islington (Miss Cazalet) and the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). I do so because of the Minister's own statement that this Clause is an improvement upon previous Rent Restrictions legislation. The Act of 1923 was an improvement on the Act of 1920, and, through the whole period of these Acts, there has never been a suggestion of restricting or toning down the rights of the tenant or the obligations of the landlord. But I think every hon. Member will agree that the intention of Parliament has been avoided, owing to lack of knowledge on the part of the tenant or lack of will on the part of the property-owner. The Minister states that our local authorities have experts who are expert not only in a practical sense but are experts in regard to this legislation. But many tenants have been paying 25 per cent. increase in rents for many years without having had the benefit which should have been forthcoming to them, in regard to the maintenance and repair of their homes. Presumably the Minister appreciates that fact, because Clause 7 of the Bill now establishes certain conditions for providing information of various kinds, for both landlord and tenant

I would like these committees to do more than provide information for the tenant who applies for it. I would like the sanitary inspector, having investigated the housing conditions in his area, to report to the committee on the condition of every house. Only then would it be possible for the tenant to obtain that to which he is entitled. In the Act of 1920 the words are quite clear as to the right of the tenant and the obligation of the landlord, but, unfortunately, so few tenants know anything about it, that the tenants generally are not likely to secure the benefit conceded to them by that law. I wish to read what transpired in one town in this country after the passing of the 1920 Act, where a local authority had the will and the determination to give effect to all that the Parliament of 1920 intended. Here is an extract from the "Sanitary Record," dated 28th October, 1920, which illustrates the importance of the right information going to the tenant, or, alternatively, of the local authority carrying out their duties as they ought to, on behalf of the tenant: The Mayor of Mansfield reported to the town council at its last meeting that the Housing Committee had made a thorough inspection of houses in the borough, and had considered the following list: (a) houses unfit for human habitation, not suitable for improvement, 716; (b) houses definitely below a reasonable standard, the condition of which renders them unsuitable for improvement, 80; (c) houses definitely below a reasonable standard which might be improved, 171; (d) houses now unfit for habitation which might be made fit by structural alterations and improvements, 62; total, 1,029. The committee, he said, resolved that for the information of the county court a list of the houses under categories (a) and (b) be deposited with the court, and that when occasion arose action be taken under Section 2 (2) of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restriction) Act, 1920. The list had been prepared for reference by the court. If every authority in the country had taken similar steps to those taken by the Mansfield Town Council, it would have been well, because this is an obligation on the part of the sanitary authority as well as on the part of the tenant. If the sanitary authority discovers that the repairs to any property have not been faithfully carried out according to the terms of the law, it is as much the duty of that authority as it is of the tenant to insist before the Courts that the landlord should only receive the increase in rent for so long as the repairs have been faithfully carried out. Since that date the question when a house is fit for human habitation has had a fairly generous interpretation put upon it. I need not read to the Committee a full description of what is really intended by a house fit for human habitation, but one or two references might not be out of place. Such a house should be, according to the medical officer of health's own designation, free from serious damp, with satisfactory light and ventilation, properly drained, with adequate sanitary conveniences and with a sink and suitable arrangements for disposing of slop water, in good general repair, having a satisfactory water supply, adequate washing accommodation, adequate facilities for preparing and cooking food, and a well ventilated store for food.

It may very well be that the man-in-the-street suspects that his landlord has not been faithfully carrying out the law under the Act of 1920, but it is doubtful whether he will proceed to the County Court, without having full information and advice, to compel the landlord to put the house in a decent state of repair. I suggest, therefore, to the right hon. Gentleman that if, as the hon. Members for Dumbarton and East Islington suggested, a circular was sent along to the local authorities embodying Clause 7, which is transparently clear, but also embodying Section 2 (2) of the Rent Restriction Act, 1920, and calling upon the local authorities to do their part as sanitary authorities, a good deal of this difficulty would be finally removed.

It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that the sanitary inspectors are experts. They may be technical experts in their own particular profession, but it is a different proposition altogether when they start to tackle a housing problem of this description if they have, say, four or five property owners who are members of the council to which they act as sanitary inspectors, and it seems to me that something more than advice to the tenant who asks for it is required. It is the sanitary authority which should be the active force under the terms of the Act of 1920 and subsequent Acts, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, having gone so far as to embody Clause 7 in this Bill, which is a further recognition of the failure of the law in the past, he might take the next step and issue a leaflet, and, if he does not feel disposed to instruct local authorities, he might use what influence he can bring to bear upon them and see to it that sanitary authorities carry out their part of the 1920 and 1923 legislation.

6.35 p.m.


I would like to ask whether it is possible for the Minister to safeguard the ratepayers against any abuse of the powers conferred by this Clause? After all, these powers, permissive though they may be, are very extensive, and it is extremely difficult for anyone to say what is advice and what is merely information. Quite obviously, in practice what one may call information may very easily develop, as it does now in many cases, into advice. If one has a local authority which decides to take the fullest advantage of this power, I suggest to the Minister that it will be possible for that local authority in fact to establish a new department, probably with one or two clerks who would have to be paid, and possibly with several co-opted members of the committee, some if not all of whom would want their expenses paid. The thing that I visualise, obviously only occasionally, because most of the local authorities do their jobs perfectly well, is that there may be a local authority which attempts to run riot under the powers conferred by this Clause, and I hope the Minister will see if it is possible to exercise some restraining influence in case such a thing should arise.

6.37 p.m.


What strikes me as most surprising is connection with this Clause is the fact that it should be recognised in all quarters of the Committee as necessary. It seems to me a very sad reflection on the complexity and obscurity of our legislation. This afternoon we have a formidable galaxy of talent on the Treasury Bench—the Minister of Health, the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor-General, and, until recently, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health—and the combined efforts of those four hon. and right hon. Members is a Bill so complicated that the Minister of Health himself, standing at that Box earlier to-day, quoted with apparent approval the suggestion that if he put into the Bill powers to enable a local authority to give advice, it would be found in many cases, if they were taken into court, that the advice was wrong. Later he stressed the fact that these local authorities and their legal advisers are experts in these matters.

I wish to protest against the unnecessary complexity of these Acts. I know that this subject is one of difficulty, and that it cannot be set out in a few sentences, but I cannot believe that it is necessary for the legislation to be as complex as it is, and in particular I would point out how greatly it adds to the difficulty of comprehending the law on different points in such a matter as this, if you have to refer back to other Acts which are partially but not wholly repealed. I cannot help thinking that this Clause would not have been necessary at all if the Minister had presented us with a Bill which repealed the earlier Acts on the subject in toto, and gave us a codified and amended Measure. In this country everyone is expected to know the law, and I think that Ministers, and not only in this case, ought to make that task much easier than they do.

Clause 8 (Regulations) ordered to stand part of the Bill.