§ If proceedings are taken against the person who on the day at the end of which this Act expires is the tenant of a dwelling-house to which section one of this Act applies, for the recovery of possession of such dwelling-house or for the ejectment of such tenant therefrom, at any time after that day the court may, in its discretion, from time to time adjourn the hEarlng of such proceedings or stay or suspend execution of any order or judgment therein or postpone the date of possession for such period or periods and subject to such conditions as it thinks proper, provided it shall appear to the court—
- (i) that exceptional hardship would be caused to such tenant by the making or giving either of an immediate order or judgment or of an order or judgment for immediate possession or ejectment; and
- (ii) that greater hardship would not be caused to the landlord by the increase of the power given by this section than would be caused to the tenant by the refusal to exercise it.—[Mr. Croom-Johnson.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. CROOM-JOHNSON
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
It is assumed that when the present Bill becomes an Act there will be general belief that the housing shortage all over the country has been overtaken, but it has occurred to some of us that, notwithstanding that fact, there may, in particular districts, be a little pocket, as it were, of housing shortage, or there may be, in regard to one or two individuals, circumstances affecting them which render it inadvisable that the county court should have the task of ordering possession or should be forced to make an order for possession. This Clause has been drafted with a view to meeting that difficulty, which it is felt is bound to arise or is most likely to arise in particular areas. The Clause as drafted follows a Section which was inserted into the Act of 1923 much to the same effect, but this Clause does not go as far as that Section goes.
It is thought, therefore, that if a county court judge has the express power given 106 to him which this Clause gives, to adjourn the hEarlng of proceedings, or to suspend the execution of any order or judgment which he feels called upon to pronounce, there is the possibility that the exceptional hardship or difficulty, in which the sitting tenant may find himself, may be removed. It is not merely a question of getting a sitting tenant out of possession, but of getting him out in circumstances in which he will feel that he has not been subjected to particular hardship. In order to safeguard that position, words have been added in the Section and Provisos in the Clause on the Paper which embody in their provisions Section 12 of the 1923 Act. The county court judge has to take into account what I may call the rival and competing hardships of small landlords on the one hand and small tenants on the other.
I do not know whether it will be suggested that there is already power in a county court judge, under the rules of court, by which he can, from time to time, adjourn proceedings. It is much more to the point that some express provision should appear in the Act of Parliament, so that anybody who is going to consult the Act to see what the rights of the tenant are can find those rights laid down in the Section. For this reason, I commend the Clause to the attention of the House. I ought to say, before I sit down, that the Section of the 1923 Act is to be found in Part II of that Act, and that Part II of that Act, by virtue of Subsection 6, of Clause 1, of the present Bill, is to be wholly repealed, so that the situation in which we find ourselves is that, whereas in 1923 and up to the present time this House and Parliament generally have thought that some provision of this sort was necessary, when the Acts fiNaily expired, for the protection of tenants in exceptioNaily hard cases, the present Bill makes no such provision, and those of us who have considered this Bill have come to the conclusion that this is a matter worthy of further consideration.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
It is true that no provision of the kind intended is made in this Bill, but, as my hon. and learned Friend reminds us, there was a Clause in somewhat more elaborate form, and containing the same sort of provision, in the Act of 1923. It is only right to remind the House of the circumstances in which that was put in. It was put into an Act passed 10 years ago, when the housing situation was far more acute than it is now and when there had been no Marley Committee which had reported that a certain number of houses might safely be taken out of control, a principle which was accepted by this House on Second Reading. The Act of 1923 itself proposed that decontrol should occur in two years from that time. It was with a view to the proposed decontrol in 1925 that those transitory provisions were put into that Act. I am quite sure that my hon. and learned Friend will acknowledge that.
We are here prolonging the existence of the Act, some 10 years later, by another five years certain, and the time to consider what transitory provisions, if any, are necessary to tide over any difficulties which may be outstanding in 1938 or 1939, will be when that time arrives, and not now, by a sort of half repetition of the Clause which was put into the Act of 1923 in the circumstances which I have just mentioned. The Marley Committee reported, and the House subsequently accepted, that a certain measure of decontrol is right for the top-grade house. The House has already accepted the recommendation of the Marley Committee that there should be no decontrol at all in regard to the "C" class of house without any possibility of alteration, unless Parliament directly intervenes again, until the year 1938. I suggest to the House that the time to discuss the transitory provisions is somewhat nearer to 1938 than we are at the present time.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
The learned Solicitor-General is always so sweetly reasonable and his arguments are always couched in such persuasive terms that one feels rather doubtful about endeavouring to persuade the House in the opposite direction. I would remind him, when he says that 1938 will be quite 108 sufficient for the House of Commons to consider the protection of the tenant against harsh or sudden ejectment, that the words in Clause 1 of the Bill provide for the year 1938. The Bill goes out of its way to say "and no longer." It prejudges and anticipates the arrival of 1938, although we do not know what the conditions then will be. It seems reasonable to look ahead in this matter, and to soften the change-over from rent restriction to a free market. The year 1938 is a long time ahead, and it may be that then we may have a House of Commons with a congested time-table and its thoughts on other matters. It seems sensible, when we are considering the whole problem of rent restriction, to take the opportunity of making this very reasonable provision. The landlord is amply protected by the courts of law, and it seems obvious that, when the time comes, after all these years of control, for departing from a system of controlled rents to free markets, there should be reasonable safeguards to protect the tenant from undue hardship. I hope, therefore, that the hon. and learned Member will persist in his Motion.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.