HC Deb 11 April 1933 vol 276 cc2456-67

(1) For the purposes of paragraph (a) of Sub-section (1) of Section two of the Act of 1920, expenditure after the passing of this Act on the provision of additional or improved fixtures or fittings in a dwelling-house (not being expenditure on decoration or repairs) shall be deemed to be expenditure on the improvement of the dwelling-house.

(2) The county court shall not make an order under the proviso to the said paragraph (a) upon the application of any person unless he proves either—

  1. (a) that he was the tenant when the expenditure was incurred and had not given his written consent to the improvement or alteration and the expenditure thereon; or
  2. (b) that, the landlord having been in possession of the premises at the date when the expenditure was incurred, the applicant is the first tenant subsequent to that date and became tenant without notice of the following particulars, that is to say—
    1. (i) the nature of the improvement or alteration; and
    2. (ii) the amount of the expenditure thereon; and
    3. (iii) the amount of the maximum increase of rent chargeable on account thereof.—[The Solicitor-General.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

8.6 p.m.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Boyd Merriman)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

Under the existing law it is permissible to increase the rent in respect of structural alterations and improvements, but those words have a very limited meaning. It is desired to enable permitted increases to be charged for the provision of additional fixtures and fittings and improved fixtures and fittings; in other words, in respect of the reconditioning of the premises. That necessitates a slight alteration of the law as it stands in the Act of 1920, because it is possible for a tenant to object to the increase of rent on the ground that the expenditure was unnecessary in whole or in part. It will be very difficult in all cases to say that the provision of improved fittings, for example, or additional fixtures was wholly necessary, and a tenant would, therefore, be able to render this new Clause futile by an objection under that head. Therefore, we have to deal with that in this way. The second Sub-section of the new Clause deals with it. The sifting tenant is protected absolutely if he is able to say that the improvement was not in accordance with his written consent. On the other hand, if at the time the improvement was effected, as may very well be the case, the landlord himself was in possession of a vacant house, the next succeeding tenant is able to protect himself and resist the increase of rent unless he was given notice, first, of the nature of the improvement or alteration as the case may be, second, of the amount of the expenditure incurred thereon, and, third, of the amount of the maximum increase of rent chargeable on account thereof. I think hon. Members will agree that those provisions are sufficient protection both to the sitting tenant and to succeeding tenants.


Does this relate to external structural improvements, or is it intended to cover such small matters as dressers in kitchens or internal decorations? If so, I think the proposed increase will be unwarrantable.


Structural alterations as such are dealt with in the existing law. There is a permitted increase of 6 or 8 per cent, in respect of structural improvements or alterations. It is intended here to deal with something wider than that—additional or improved fittings or structures for the benefit of the tenant which would not in the ordinary way be structural alterations in the strict sense of the word. Of course, repairs are already dealt with.


If the landlord proposes to put in a new type of copper, or to change from gas to electricity, do I gather that such alterations are to be borne by the tenant? The tenant usually hires such apparatus and pays quarterly or yearly, and such a charge should not be imposed on him.


A gas fire is rather in a different category. That is probably a tenant's fixture. We are talking about landlord's alterations—things on which the landlord incurs ex- penditure. The tenant is not to pay the permitted increase of 8 per cent. for anything to which he does not assent. If he gives written consent, he pays the 8 per cent. If he does not, he either does not get the improvement or, if the landlord persists in putting it in in the absence of his written consent, he does not have to pay any increase. I do not think anyone can object to that as being unreasonable.


In my own area we are trying to instal electric current in all working-class dwellings. We have no right unless we get the written consent of the landlord. Does this mean that, if you improve the amenities of the house by the installation of electricity and there is any change in tenancy, the landlord because he had agreed to such installation will be empowered to charge additional rent?


Now the hon. Member is asking about a new tenant.


No, I do not mean a change.


Then I come back to what I said just now. In the case of a sitting tenant his consent—not only the landlord's but the tenant's—is necessary before he can be charged with a permitted increase. In the case of the improvement being done while the house is empty, the next tenant cannot be charged unless he has been given proper notice. If he does not like the additional increase, he need not go into the house.

8.13 p.m.


We have a new Clause later on declaring that the Section of the Act of 1920 which provides for certain increases of rent shall cease to have effect. We do not think this new Clause is any improvement on the present position. The Solicitor-General says that the tenant need not get these things done unless he gives his written consent. But one does not know exactly what is going to be the cost of repairs until they are actually completed, and you may have a tenant giving his written consent to a certain repair which may prove far more costly than he anticipated.


That point is covered by the wording of the new Clause. He has not merely to consent to the improvement or alteration but also to the expenditure thereon.


Usually when anyone makes structural alterations to a house with the object of improving it he obtains an estimate for what has to be done. I do not suppose that the learned Solicitor-General would say that such an estimate was binding on the tenant or occupier and that increases on the original estimate are binding if it can be proved that the amounts are an addition. Only recently I was interested in regard to the tenancy of a house in London when the question of alterations had to be considered and there was an increase on the original estimate. The Clause raises another point. Already the landlord is allowed an increase of 40 per cent., a proportion of which is for repairs to the property. Those repairs are not merely repairs which a sanitary authority might compel, but repairs which are necessary in order to keep a house up-to-date and in good condition. Those for whom I speak maintain that the increase already allowed gives the landlord a sufficient amount under the conditions which now obtain. The only justification for this Clause would have been to have brought back the rents to the 1914 level.

Under the Acts a 25 per cent. increase was permitted in respect of repairs. I have never accepted the view, and I hope that it has not been accepted by the Committee, that a 25 per cent. increase for repairs was merely to cover the cost of what may be termed keeping a house in a fit state of human habitation. If that be the case, and speaking in respect of the district which I know best, that 25 per cent. has been obtained by wrongful means. I take it that the 25 per cent. was given for the purpose of repairs in order to enable a house to be kept thoroughly up-to-date. I am strongly opposed to the new Clause which is a means of saddling the tenant or occupier with an increase of rent. The increase the landlord already receives is sufficient to carry out the necessary repairs and to keep his house thoroughly up-to-date, and therefore I intend to oppose the Clause.

8.18 p.m.


I should like to thank the Minister for introducing the Clause, which covers the point which I raised on the Second Reading of the Bill. The learned Solicitor-General, in replying to me in a speech on the Second Reading, said that the Minister would consider inserting some Clause to allow for an increase of rent where there was genuine reconditioning. I think that the Clause entirely covers that condition and will be of real value to housing improvement. With all respect to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), I do not think he is distinguishing between reconditioning and repairs. Reconditioning is a totally different thing from ordinary repairs, and "keeping a property up-to-date" is a very wide term. Once upon a time no one expected to find a bathroom in a house, but nowadays they certainly do. Plumbing, as everyone knows, is very expensive work to do, and real reconditioning is expensive, and it would not have been covered by the provisions in the Bill as they stood. I sincerely thank the Minister for introducing the Clause.

8.20 p.m.


The point I wish to emphasise, and which the hon. Lady has taken up, is that the occupier will have to pay the increase. A bathroom is put into the house because the tenant pays the increased rent. Decontrol will end, or should end, in 1938, and what will happen will be that when decontrol comes along, the landlord will be able to let the house at an increased rent, whereas the tenant will have paid for the bath and not the landlord. The tenant will have paid his 8 per cent. increase of rent.

8.21 p.m.


It is very important that the Committee should keep these two things quite distinct. This eight per cent. in no way overlaps the permitted increase for repairs. It is expressly stated that the things which attract this eight per cent. about which we are talking must not be expenditure on decorations or repairs. The two things are definitely in watertight compartments, just as the structural alterations and repairs are also in watertight compartments, with rates again in another watertight compartment. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) spoke about an estimate being exceeded. In a case like that, the tenant who assented to the expenditure in the original estimate, if it was exceeded without his consent, would be liable, in my opinion, for the eight per cent. on the original estimate, and would not be liable on the excess to which he had not assented.

8.23 p.m.


It is obvious that any sort of Amendment to make the position more difficult for the tenant and more beneficial for the owners or factors will have the complete support of the Government. Anything which tells against the tenant is being put into the Bill. It is an underhand method of increasing rents. Up to the present time—and I think that those who were members of the Marley Committee will at least agree—the landlord has not carried out repairs and decorations. As a matter of fact, landlords obtained a 25 per cent. increase oh the understanding they would at least carry out the repairs and keep their houses in a habitable state. They have ignored the position entirely. The one thing upon which there was common agreement among the witnesses from every part of the country before the Marley Committee was that the conditions under which an increase of 25 per cent. had been granted had not been carried out. I look upon the proposed Clause as revealing the intention of the Government, not merely to relieve the landlord in the future of any responsibility for painting, decorating and keeping houses in an ordinary, decent state of repair, but, if he does any repairs, to enable him to claim ah additional increase of rent. It is difficult to find language within Parliamentary rules to express what one feels with regard to this more or less unreasonable and unfair attempt to improve the position of the landlord at the expense of his tenant, and particularly the poorer tenants, because those are the people who suffer most. It is the tenant in the one, two or three-apartment house who suffers most from lack of repairs, decorations, painting and the other accessory things that up to the period of the War were looked upon as the duty of the landlord. That duty has been transferred from the landlord to the tenant, and, in addition, the tenant is to be called upon to pay what is equiva- lent to an increase in rent. Like the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), I shall vote against the new Clause.

8.26 p.m.


I think that in many directions the Government have clearly acted in the interests of the landlord, but I think the new Clause is to the advantage of the tenant.




It is clearly a case where the tenant is going to benefit. One realises that a very large number of houses are not habitable. Even if the landlord puts them into a better state of repair, they are far from being the type of house that one wishes for at the present time. They do not bear any comparison, for instance, to the council houses. If improvements of the character suggested by the Clause are to be made in these houses, they are improvements which definitely are to the tenant's advantage, and, if the landlord is prepared to execute them, he is entitled to some return on his expenditure.


A large number of poor people are affected, many of them unemployed, and obviously they cannot pay more than they are now paying. Therefore, they are not going to pay extra to get the house put into a right condition. Will the hon. Member tell me how it is proposed that the very poorest people who live in houses which need to be brought up to date are going to have them brought up to date, if they are to pay for it? Why should not the landlord be compelled to bring the houses of these poor people up to date, seeing that they cannot afford to do it themselves?


I do not know whether the House realises or hon. Members opposite realise that the owners of many of these houses are working men. In my constituency a very large number of houses belong to, working men who have been thrifty They have bought two or three houses or have built two houses in years gone by, one for themselves and one which they have let. It has been impossible for them to modernise these houses and recondition them, and it is not fair to expect them to do it, unless they are sure of some return on the expenditure. It is not likely that these improvements are going to be carried out unless the tenant and the landlord are in agreement. Apart from the new Clause, assuming the tenant and the landlord were in agreement, as the law now stands in regard to matters of this character, such an agreement would not be valid and could not be enforced. An agreement for an additional charge by way of interest, etc., on the expenditure could not be enforced unless this new Clause were inserted. If we exclude this Clause from the Bill, the effect will be that, until decontrol takes place, you will stop many improvements from being carried out by landlords. The new Clause is perfectly reasonable and is in the interests of the tenant as much as the landlord and will have the effect in many districts of modernising and reconditioning houses.

8.31 p.m.


I oppose the Amendment, and I wonder why it has been introduced. It would be interesting to know why the Amendment has been introduced. It is a dangerous Clause. What is meant by the term "fixtures and fittings," and how far is the landlord likely to go in pressing existing tenants to come to some mutual and signed agreement for alterations in fittings and fixtures when at the end of five years, after the existing tenant has paid a percentage of the costs, the house becomes decontrolled? Who suggested the new Clause? It certainly has not come from the tenants. It must have come from the landlords, who feel that if they can impose the cost of these alterations on the tenants to a large degree for the next five years and then decontrol comes along, they will be able to charge what rent they like. In my district I have not noticed anything that would justify the new Clause. If it is to be a question of mutual arrangement, nothing could have prevented the tenant in the past from mutually agreeing with the landlord with regard to new fittings, etc., without an Act of Parliament. If I had lived in a controlled house, nothing could have prevented me from coming to an agreement over structural alterations, and paying a percentage of the cost, but I have not wanted to do so. So far as I know, there has been no call from the tenants for this Amendment. The Amendment is a very dangerous thing and is likely to impose additional rent on tenants who occupy old-fashioned houses. The Minister must have behind his mind the interests of the landlords to have introduced a Clause of this sort. If it is introduced in the interests of the tenants, there is no need for it. It is not in the interests of the tenants. Therefore, we shall oppose it, if the Minister is not prepared to withdraw it.

8.35 p.m.


I cannot understand the argument of the hon. Member who has just sat down. Surely hon. Members will agree that if a landlord goes to the expense of putting his house in a more habitable state he is entitled to some compensation.


Why? It is not the tenant's house; it is the landlord's.


I really cannot understand the argument of hon. Members opposite in opposing this proposal, because they are always concerned about making houses fit for the people. Surely you cannot expect the lardlord to put in such things as electric light or a fixed bath without charging some reasonable amount for the capital expended?


An unemployed man is entitled to have the things even if he cannot pay an increased rent. We say that the cost should be borne by the landlord.


I had a case only a few weeks ago in which a constituent asked me if I could get electric light put into his house. The new Clause simply gives the landlord power to charge a reasonable amount, and I cannot understand the objection of hon. Members to tenants having better houses in which to live.


Is it not possible for the landlord to do this by mutual arrangement? Is it not the ease that such an arrangement is being carried out between landlord and tenant?


If a landlord has a row of houses, say 12 houses, and the first two tenants agree but the third will not, then the continuity of the scheme cannot be maintained without this new Clause.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 230 Noes, 42.

Division No. 144.] AYES. [8.37 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Hales, Harold K. Peat, Charles U.
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Hamilton, Sir R. W. (Orkney & Zetl'nd) Penny, Sir George
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Percy, Lord Eustace
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Harbord, Arthur Perkins, Walter R. D.
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Harris, Sir Percy Petherick, M.
Apsley, Lord Hartland, George A. Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, B'nstaple)
Aske, Sir Robert William Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada
Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton) Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Potter, John
Atkinson, Cyril Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford) Procter, Major Henry Adam
Balniel, Lord Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division) Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller Ramsden, Sir Eugene
Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell Holdsworth, Herbert Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury) Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) Reid, David D. (County Down)
Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley Horobin, Ian M. Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Horsbrugh, Florence Remer, John R.
Blindell, James Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Renwick, Major Gustav A.
Borodale, Viscount Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Hume, Sir George Hopwood Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Boyce, H. Leslie Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H. Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Robinson, John Roland
Brass, Captain Sir William Jennings, Roland Rosbotham, Sir Samuel
Broadbent, Colonel John Jesson, Major Thomas E. Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.
Browne, Captain A. C. Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan) Runge, Norah Cecil
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields) Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)
Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley) Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Kerr, Hamilton W. Salt, Edward W.
Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., s.) Latham, Sir Herbert Paul Samuel. Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.) Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard
Clayton, Dr. George C. Leckie, J. A. Scone, Lord
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Leech, Dr. J. W. Selley, Harry R.
Conant, R. J. E. Lees-Jones, John Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Copeland, Ida Lewis, Oswald Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwelll
Cowan, D. M. Lidall, Walter S. Shute, Colonel J. J.
Cranborne, Viscount Lindsay, Noel Ker Skelton, Archibald Noel
Crooke, J. Smedley Little, Graham-, sir Ernest Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Llewellin, Major John J. Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Culverwell, Cyril Tom Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Dalkeith, Earl of MacDonald, Rt. Hn. J. R. (Seaham) Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)
Donner, P. W. McKie, John Hamilton Soper, Richard
Doran, Edward McLean, Major Sir Alan Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Drewe, Cedric McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)
Duckworth, George A. V. Magnay, Thomas Stevenson, James
Duggan, Hubert John Maitland, Adam Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)
Eastwood, John Francis Mander, Geoffrey le M. Stourton, Hon. John J.
Edge, Sir William Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M. Strauss, Edward A.
Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Martin, Thomas B. Stuart, Lord C. Crichton.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Sutcliffe, Harold
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Tate, Mavis Constance
Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Evans, David Owen (Cardigan) Milne, Charles Thompson, Luke
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Thomson. Sir Frederick Charles
Fremantle, Sir Francis Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale Thorp, Linton Theodore
Fuller, Captain A. G. Moore, Lt.-Col, Thomas C. R. (Ayr) Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Ganzoni, Sir John Moreing, Adrian C Train, John
Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton Morgan, Robert H. Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Morrison, William Shepherd Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Goff, Sir Park Moss, Captain H. J. Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.
Goldie, Noel B. Muirhead, Major A. J. Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Munro, Patrick Wells, Sydney Richard
Gower, Sir Robert Nail, Sir Joseph White, Henry Graham
Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rt'd, N.) Nall-Cain, Hon. Ronald Whiteside, Borras Noel H.
Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Whyte, Jardine Bell
Greene, William P. C. Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth) Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S)
Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Normand, Wilfrid Guild Wills, Wilfrid D.
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.) Nunn, William Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Grimston, R. v. O'Connor, Terence James Womersley, Walter James
Gritten, W. G. Howard O'Donovan, Dr. William James Worthington, Dr. John V.
Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. Ormiston, Thomas Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.
Gunston, Captain D. W. Owen, Major Goronwy TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Guy, J. C. Morrison Palmer, Francis Noel Commander Southby and Dr. Morris-Jones.
Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Pearson, William G.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Groves, Thomas E. Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)
Attlee, Clement Richard Grundy, Thomas W. Mainwaring, William Henry
Banfield, John William Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Maxton, James
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Milner, Major James
Buchanan, George Hirst, George Henry Parkinson, John Allen
Cape, Thomas Jenkins, Sir William Price, Gabriel
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Thorne, William James
Cripps, Sir Stafford Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Tinker, John Joseph
Daggar, George Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Lawson, John James Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Leonard, William Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)
Dobbie, William Logan, David Gilbert Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Edwards, Charles Lunn, William
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur McEntee, Valentine L. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) McGovern, John Mr. John and Mr. D. Graham.

Clause added to the Bill.

8.46 p.m.


On a point of Order, I wish to ask your Ruling, Mr. Chairman. There are several new Clauses on the Paper dealing with the same subject as the next new Clause which I understand you are about to call. Is it your intention to allow a general discussion on the question of the increase of rent on the new Clause which is about to be called, or is the matter to be dealt with separately on each of the new Clauses as they come up?


On the new Clause I am about to call I cannot allow a discussion which would go beyond the terms of that Clause, but discussion on that Clause will no doubt be pretty wide.