HC Deb 11 April 1933 vol 276 cc2516-21

Where any premises to which this Act applies are occupied by a tenant both for business purposes and for a dwelling-house the rating authority shall, if required, certify the rateable value of the part used for a dwelling-house separately from the part used for business purposes and the provisions of this Act shall apply to each separately.—[Lieut.-Colonel Gault.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.47 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel GAULT

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

I venture to think that there are a good many Members of the Committee with whom I could associate myself who are opposed in principle to restriction except where it is absolutely necessary for the public good, but I fancy that all Members will wish to give the most complete equity of treatment to all those who come within such restriction. It is to that end that this proposed new Clause is aimed, namely, to give equity of treatment to that class of tenant of the combined dwelling and shop for whom no provision is made in the Bill, and of whom there are a great many in the cities and towns of the country. My right hon. Friend will doubtless remember that we have had some correspondence on this subject and that he kindly gave me the opportunity of personally discussing the point at issue with him. At this late hour I do not wish to detain the Committee a moment longer than is necessary, and I think that the best thing I can do in the circumstances is merely to present a concrete case in support of my argument. The case which I have in mind is that of a tenant of premises where the combined rental of a dwelling and shop comes to £39 per annum, which is a sum outside the protective classification of the Bill. If, however, he were assessed, as I venture to think he should be, on his dwelling and his shop premises separately, and his house were assessed at one-third of the total rental, which I believe is the usual basis on which such differentiation is made, it would bring him well within the scope of the "C" classification of protected dwellings.

In other words, if I may reverse the picture, if an occupier of a dwelling, assessed at £13 per annum, has to occupy a shop in the same hereditament, his dwelling gets no protection, whereas if his shop is in some other hereditament altogether, he gets the full protection accorded in the Bill under the "C" classification of houses. I understand that the chief objection to this proposed Clause is the classification which would fall upon the local authorities. I can assure my right hon. Friend that on the advice of a borough surveyor who has been consulted on my behalf, there is no insuperable difficulty in making such a differentiation as I have suggested provided that the Minister is prepared to issue the necessary instructions and regulations. As this case of classification presents an anomaly in the general equity contained in the Bill, I hope that it will receive the general approval of the Committee and the acceptance of my right hon. Friend.

11.50 p.m.


I desire to support the case which has been made for some such alteration as this in the Bill. Nine-tenths of the tenants or shopkeepers in the poorer industrial districts will be exposed to the risk of losing, without compensation, the goodwill of the little businesses that they have built up. All these shops for which I am pleading are small, and their profits do not exceed much more than £2 or £3 per week, and in many cases even less—and that is only as the result of unremitting work. The bigger shops can look after themselves. They are protected or will benefit by the Landlord and Tenant Act which protects any man who has a five years' lease. It is most exceptional for the small shopkeepers to have any lease at all. Most of them have a yearly agreement, and many only a monthly agreement, while a great many have no agreement at all except a weekly understanding. That is customary in the parts of London with which I am familiar, and I dare say in some other parts of the country. I know these small shopkeepers, and they have a very hard struggle for existence. Few of them are probably nearly as well off as those who buy from them. This is, therefore, no effort to protect the well-to-do. Many of these shops are one-man businesses or are run by their own people, and it is not too much to say that if you permit shop residences to be decontrolled without reservations, you will sweep away their livelihood. I therefore appeal most earnestly to the Minister to include this class in the Bill.

11.52 p.m.


This is one of the most valuable of the new Clauses which have been put before the Committee, and I think it would be doing a great service to these poor people to make such a concession. The small shopkeeper is at present suffering enormously from the competi- tion of the multiple shop on the one hand, and of the co-operative stores on the other. These small shops serve a very real and useful purpose in working-class neighbourhoods, because they are able to give credit from personal knowledge of the people in the street, while, of course, they are always ready to serve small quantities. Moreover, these particular people, if they are thrown out of work and their business is closed down, have no unemployment insurance, and they would inevitably have to go to the workhouse. I do think this is a very practical proposal, well drafted and well worded, and I hope the Minister will accept it.

11.53 p.m.


I would urge the Minister, before he is overwhelmed by this appeal from both sides in the interests of the small tenant of shops to remember the case of the small owner of a single shop who has purchased it, perhaps, with his life savings to enable him to get possession. Under this Bill now he has come to the conclusion that he will have a chance at last of getting possession of it. If this new Clause is accepted, that person will be excluded in favour of his tenant.

11.54 p.m.


I hate to detain the Committee at this late hour. We have already discussed this point to some extent on a previous Amendment, but there is a problem to be solved. It is a problem of goodwill, in which there is a definite differentiation between the occupier of premises to live in and the occupier of a shop. Like the hon. Member who moved the new Clause, I have already addressed a number of communications to the Minister in the hope that somehow he and his advisers would be able to find some solution of this difficulty. I do not know whether we can be informed exactly how these people will stand under the Landlord and Tenant Act. On a previous occasion I appealed to the Treasury Bench, with their great legal knowledge, to tell us, because it is difficult for those of us who are not lawyers to find out what the law is. Two Acts govern these people, the Act we are now amending and the Landlord and Tenant Act, and if the small shopkeeper is to be coerced, as I think he may be, there is a really substantial case for con- sideration. I have had communications from those who own premises in respect of which they have been deprived of a proper rent for many years, but, on the other hand, there is a power of oppression on the part of those who own such premises so long as the present shortage of accommodation exists, particularly having regard to the factor of good will in a business. I hope the Minister will be able to give some consideration to this matter.

11.56 p.m.


We have given close consideration to the new Clause moved by the hon. and gallant Member, and I can assure him that, whatever its purpose is, it would certainly not be in the interests of shopkeepers for us to accept it. I do not know whether the Committee have realised it, but if the assessments were separate in the case of premises which included both a shop and a dwelling house the immediate effect of this Clause would be to decontrol the shop altogether. It is little benefit to a shopkeeper for his house to be protected, as in the case quoted by the hon. and gallant Member where there was a rateable value of £13, if he loses the protection for his shop, because the landlord could easily get rid of him by putting up the rent of the shop. And as regards "B" class premises the shopkeeper would be very much worse off under this Clause than under the Bill as it stands. The shopkeeper is protected both in respect of the shop and the dwelling house as long as he is there. Under this Clause he would, of course, lose the protection for his shop, and the bad landlord would be able to get him out by putting up the rent of the shop. In the interests of the shopkeepers I hope the Committee will not accept the Clause. In regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), I am afraid the question of the Landlord and Tenant Act is out of order in relation to this Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will explain the law if it is desired, but as far as this particular Rent Restriction Bill is concerned it does not apply at all.

11.58 p.m.


I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary realises the nature of these shops. In many cases the only access to the house is through the shop, and obviously the landlord could not let the shop unless he lets the house, and therefore even if they were separated the Rent Restriction Act would apply to the shop, because the tenant would still be in possession of the house and unless the owner could give the tenant of the shop the house as well he would never let the shop, because the tenant would have a right of entry through the shop. In those circumstances I do not think the hon. Gentleman's point applies. I am a little surprised that he suggested that it was out of order to make a reference to the Landlord and Tenant Act. If the protection of this Act is removed such redress as the tenant enjoys under the Landlord and Tenant Act will still exist, and therefore it is not out of order to draw attention to that Act, and I hope further consideration will be given to the matter.

11.59 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel GAULT

In view of the fact that my new Clause is unacceptable, will the hon. Gentleman be prepared to submit a new Clause on Report stage covering the very difficult and serious position of these tenants?

12 m.


I am afraid it is a question of principle. If it were only a question of form and machinery we would do it, but from the reasons I have given it would be very much against the interests of the shopkeepers.

12.1 a.m.


I wish to point out that there are many shops which are used only by the shopkeeper for business, the premises above being let to other tenants. If this is enforced, the tenants who have been living for many years above the shop will have their premises decontrolled. As they are perhaps paying small rents now, they should be taken into consideration.

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