§ 9.37 P.m.
§ Mrs. Hardie
I beg to move, in page 10, line 32, at the end, to insert:Section 24 of the Act of 1920.—In Subsection (2) for the words 'ten pounds' there shall be substituted the words 'one hundred pounds.'I am sure I may appeal to the Minister to recognise the gravity of these offences by providing a suitable penalty.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Sir K. Wood
The hon. Lady has made a most convincing speech, which has moved me more than most of the other speeches in these discussions. I am anxious to meet, as far as I can, the views of the hon. Lady, and I should be prepared, if she would withdraw her Amendment and move another substituting double the amount, namely, £20, to accept such an Amendment. I may inform the House that the penalty of £100 was only contemplated in cases of a very serious character, and I think that generally speaking, if we double the amount that the hon. Lady now suggests, it will at any rate meet the sense of the House as regards the gravity of these offences.
§ Mrs. Hardie
I am very pleased that the Minister is prepared so far to accede to my request, and, in view of his proposal, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: In page 10, line 32, at the end, insert:
Section 14 of the Act of 2920.—In Subsection (2) for the words ten pounds 'there shall be substituted the words 'twenty pounds.' "—[Mrs. Hardie.]
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Barr
I beg to move, in page 10, line 32, at the end, to insert:Section 25 of the Act of 5920.—In Subsection (3) for the words 'from the tenant if the tenancy had continued' there shall be substituted the words 'if he had been the tenant of the landlord.'1244 This Amendment and the other Amendment which stands in my name—in page 10, line 37, at the end, to insert:Section 7 of the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Act, 1923.—In Sub-section (1d) at the end there shall be added the words' Provided that such increase of so per cent. as aforesaid shall cease to have effect on the sub-tenant becoming the direct tenant of the landlord by reason of the tenant giving possession of the premises to the landlord or for any other reason,'relate to the same subject, namely, the case where you have a landlord, a tenant, and a sub-tenant, and the relations of these three are determined by the Acts of 1920 and 1923. I understand that here also the Minister is prepared to make a concession. I understand, too, from some remarks that he made earlier to-day, that he was very much hurt by what I said about the possible effects of my remarks upon him, and I am sure he will realise that I am now making the most ample amends.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General
I think the hon. Gentleman has a very convincing case for some alteration of the law here. Section 7 of the Act of 1923 provides that, where the tenant of a controlled house sub-lets part of it, there is an extra permitted increase of rent, in the case of the sub-tenancy, of 10 per cent. of the net rent for the sub-let part. In these sub-lettings the landlord of the whole house is entitled to five per cent., and the sub-tenant takes the other five per cent. Supposing, however, that the tenant of the part that is being sub-let disappears, the whole of that 10 per cent. inures to the benefit of the landlord. The Amendment proposes that the landlord shall not obtain any of that advantage. I am not prepared to accept the Amendment in that form, but I have had drafted an alternative form which would leave the position exactly as it is to-day, that is to say, the disappearance of the intermediate tenant will result in the landlord getting what he was getting before, namely, his five per cent., no more and no less. If the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to withdraw his 1245 Amendment, I should be prepared to move an Amendment in the following terms:In Section seven of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923, in Sub-section (1), at the end of the first paragraph, there shall be inserted the following proviso:Provided that, if the interest of the tenant in the dwelling-house comprised in the tenancy is determined and the subtenant becomes the tenant of the landlord, then, notwithstanding anything in Sub-section (3) of Section 15 of the principal Act, which provides that in such circumstances a sub-tenant shall become the tenant of the landlord on the same terms as he would have held from the tenant if the tenancy had continued, the maximum additional amount of rent allowed by this Sub-section to be charged in respect of the dwelling-house comprised in the subtenancy shall be reduced to five per cent. of the net rent.'
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Johnston
Before my hon. Friend withdraws his Amendment, I should like to ask the Solicitor-General one question, the answer to which is unknown to any of us on this side of the House. When a landlord lets a house to a tenant, and the tenant in turn sub-lets a part of it, the sub-let tenant pays what I may call the tenant-in-chief 10 per cent. extra rent above the ordinary permitted increase. This 10 per cent. the major tenant has then to share with the landlord, half and half. If then the major tenant leaves the property, and the subtenant becomes the major tenant, the whole to per cent. in the past has inured to the landlord, and he has continued to stick to this 10 per cent. for reasons that are unknown to anyone here. And now the Solicitor-General, as I understand it, says, "We think it is right that he should not get this 10 per cent. for which he has done nothing, but we think he should get 5 per cent." Can the Solicitor-General explain why he should get either the 5 per cent. or the 10 per cent.?
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General
The gifts that the Government bring on this occasion do not seem to evoke a generous response. Ten per cent. was considered the figure which represented the extra wear and tear the landlord suffered through having two families instead of one. [Interruption.] I am sorry to think that that shaft might 1246 have gone where I did not intend it to. It is not only families that suffer when duplicated, but houses that suffer when families are duplicated in them. That explains why the 10 per cent. increase was put in and why it was sub-divided, but the sub-tenant's holding in the case we are now contemplating is still controlled, and, therefore, the landlord can deal only with that part of the house which is not sublet, so that if he lets that part he has two families in the house and the same position in regard to wear and tear continues. There is no reason why he should be deprived of the 5 per cent. which he is now getting.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Barr
The Solicitor-General was good enough to pay a compliment to me by saying that I was most convincing. I am sorry that I cannot return the compliment. He has not convinced me. But as we are in the realm of compromise and time is pressing, while I do so with the utmost reluctance that this 5 per cent. should be given to all, I beg to withdraw the Amendment, in order that the other words shall be substituted.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: In page 10, line 37, at the end, to insert:
Section 7 of the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Act, 1923.—In Sub-section (1), at the end of the first paragraph, there shall be inserted the following proviso:
'Provided that, if the interest of the tenant in the dwelling-house comprised in the tenancy is determined, and the subtenant becomes the tenant of the landlord, then, notwithstanding anything in Subsection (3) of Section 15 of the principal Act, which provides that in such circumstances a sub-tenant shall become the tenant of the landlord on the same terms as he would have held from the tenant if the tenancy had continued, the maximum additional amount of rent allowed by this Subsection to be charged in respect of the dwelling-house comprised in the sub-tenancy shall be reduced to 5 per cent. of the net rent.'"—[The Solicitor-General.]
§ 9.51 p.m.1247
§ Mr. Speaker
We have gone beyond the point at which the hon. Member's Amendment might have been moved.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
I beg to move, in page 11, line 12, after "appears" to insert:and in Sub-section (5), after the word 'proceedings,' there shall be inserted the words 'or on any application for that purpose made by the tenant or by the landlord.'The House will be relieved to know that this is the last Amendment, and I hope the opportunity will not be lost of continuing the harmonious co-operation which has taken place up to now. It is a very harmless Amendment, and one which I hope will be readily accepted. The position is that class C houses are to be registered with the local authority, but, in the position which now exists, even though houses are wrongly registered as decontrolled, no one has the right to challenge the certificate except where proceedings are going on between the landlord and the tenant in court. The tenant whose house has been wrongly registered as decontrolled, has to accept that position unless the time arises when he is brought to court on some other ground or he himself has some ground of action against the landlord. The purpose of the Amendment is to give anyone, and the tenant principally, the right to apply to the county court to correct the register where, in fact, a house has been wrongly entered upon the register as decontrolled. It is a thing that will prevent a great deal of misunderstanding. It does not involve any of those violent controversies on principle that we have been debating this afternoon, and I hope that the Minister, on this last opportunity, at the 59th minute of the eleventh hour, will do something on the quite reasonable request we make in this Amendment.
§ 9.53 P.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I beg to second the Amendment.
I have had brought to my notice in my constituency a case where a landlord, believe of malice aforethought, had wrongly registered a house as decontrolled, and the tenant was placed in the anomalous position my hon. Friend has mentioned. That is something that should be put right.
§ 9.54 P.m.
§ Sir K. Wood
I am glad to be able to accept this Amendment. I would point 1248 out, however, that it permits the landlord, as well as the tenant, to apply to the court. This facilitates the administration of the law. I am glad to be able to finish this stage of the Bill by making a concession.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Bernays)
I beg formally to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 9.55 P.m.
§ Mr. Johnston
As one who has sat and listened to elaborate discussions on this Measure for many days I cannot help recalling one line in Tennyson's "Northern Farmer"—Proputty, proputty, proputty—that's what I 'ears 'em saäy.In almost every line and sentence of every statement made on behalf of the Government's Measure we have had "property, property" elevated in this House to a general principle. Human life and public health come nowhere, the necessities of the poor never considered, and injustices and anomalies in every street, in every village and in every city in the land are entirely cut out. We have offered substitutes, which, I believe, will be accepted and put into legislation by some Government or other before many years have passed. It is an amazing state of things. Nobody can justify a situation in which one half of the working-classes are protected from extraordinary exploitation in regard to rent, while the other half occupy houses which have been decontrolled and are subject to what are called the hazards of the competitive market. Nobody can justify that. I am certain that, if we put it to any hon. Member on the opposite benches, he would say that that is an indefensible position.
Almost at the last moment the right hon. Gentleman brings forward a Measure and says, "The old Acts are running out, and I must get a new Act. I cannot possibly permit decontrol of the other half of these working-class houses to take place at once. There would be riots and bloodshed, and I cannot do it. I will bring in a Bill and I will extend the present Act for four years, subject to this condition. I will take the class called the upper B class of tenants, paying a certain level of rent in Scotland and different rents in England and Wales, 1249 and, on a date fixed in this Measure, in the autumn of this year, they will be decontrolled." That is the essence of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) made some very harsh strictures upon the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that he forgot to add that we have been rather riled over this Measure from start to finish. We hold the view that the people for whom we specially claim to stand have not had a square deal.
The Bill was brought in at the last moment when Parliamentary exigencies made it inevitable that it should be sent upstairs to a Committee and not taken in Committee on the Floor of this House, so that the Amendments which we moved with a view to protecting small shopkeepers and the like did not receive publicity or adequate discussion. By the rules of the House, matters which are adequately discussed in Committee cannot again be discussed upon Report, because the Report stage is not a duplication of the Committee stage. This is a matter which vitally affects the lives of a number of poor people. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman is only throwing to the wolves the upper class B tenant in this Bill, but it is also true that he is perpetuating the absolute absence of any control or protection for half of the existing tenants in this country. Half of them are to have no protection whatever.
Against these anomalies and injustices, which nobody attempts to defend, and least of all, to his credit, the right hon. Gentleman himself, we have offered, while there is yet time, the setting up of tenancy courts such as have worked satisfactorily in other parts of Europe for 15 or 20 years, as in Denmark, for example. We say, bring in every tenant. Every dispute between landlord and tenant should go to a tenancy court, and if it could not be settled there by agreement, there should be the right of appeal to the county court. That was the alternative which we suggested to the present jumble of injustices and anomalies which are bound up with this Bill. We fear that in some parts of the land many worthy citizens presently tenanting upper B class houses will suffer injustices as a result of the Measure which the House is being asked to pass to-night.
We on these benches have done our 1250 utmost, within the rules of Parliamentary procedure, on Second Reading, on the Committee stage and on the Report stage, to persuade the majority of the Members of this House that the present course which they are taking is wrong, that it reeks with injustices, and that there are other and alternative methods which are better. We have this further handicap. If we do not get something in the nature of Clause 1 in this Bill, all control will stop this year. If all control were to be stopped this summer, then, admittedly, very serious hardships would fall upon hundreds of thousands of poor C class tenants. Because, ingeniously in this Bill, continued protection for the C class tenant is mixed up with this new injustice to the upper B class tenant and we are placed in the unfortunate position that, while we would be willing to do what we could to amend and to improve the Bill, we cannot take responsibility, on the Third Reading, of voting against a Measure which, whatever defects it may possess, still gives continued protection to the lower class C tenant. While criticising and intending to continue to criticise this kind of legislation, and all that it means, we do not feel that we can go into the Division Lobby and vote against the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Sir P. Harris
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his unfailing good temper in getting the Bill through its final stages. We might describe the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague, the Solicitor-General, as the two smiling Ministers. Nothing could disturb or take that smile from their faces. The more they were attacked or criticised the more pleased they seemed to be. It is a characteristic peculiar to both of them, and I think the smooth passage of the Bill through the Report stage, and the comparatively quick time occupied in getting through a large number of Clauses and Amendments, is due to that charm of manner which is associated with them.
I suppose we ought to be thankful for small mercies. We have to admit that the Bill does continue in control the class C houses—something like 4,500,000 houses. I am naturally of a critical nature, and I regret that so far as London and the rural areas are concerned the Bill does not extend its protection to a larger section of tenants. I am sorry that the 1251 Amendment dealing with agricultural labourers in 3s. houses could not be accepted. That is a problem which sooner or later will have to be faced. There will come a time, unless the right hon. Gentleman is fortunate enough to carry out his big campaign of rural housing, when that protection will have to be given to that most deserving section of the community, the agricultural labourers. Undoubtedly, the agriculturist leaves the country for the town because in the town he gets that freedom and security for his home which he lacks in the country.
In regard to the B class houses I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee are under-rating the problem in the South of England. I am informed that in the Midlands and the North the supply has more or less met the demand, but it has certainly not done so in London. Houses suitable for that particular section of the community are mainly for sale. The problem of the supply of houses to let is as difficult and urgent as before. Not only in London but in many of the seaside towns in the South the black-coated worker knows that as soon as control is taken off he will be more or less at the mercy of the landlord. If he has a good landlord, well and good, but the bad landlord will take advantage of his position. The letter which I read shows that in thousands of homes at the present time there is real alarm as to the future; uncertainty whether when the protection is taken off their rents will be raised so high that they will be beyond their pockets.
There is the problem of the household with large families. The overcrowding is worse and the pressure is greatest where there are large families. The man with a large family has the greatest difficulty in finding the kind of house he wants at a rent within the compass of his pocket. I suspect that if the overcrowding law is to be enforced many householders with large families will find that this decontrol of a large section of B property will hit them particularly hard.
I am not quite satisfied that the small shopkeeper will not suffer. I mean particularly the little men at the corner of the street, so common in London, who fulfil a very useful purpose. They have a very hard struggle to make both ends 1252 meet. They have to face the competition of the co-operative stores, the multiple shops and the departmental stores, and will experience much difficulty if their rents under this decontrol are increased. They fulfil a useful service, and I am sorry the Bill does not cover them, because they will suffer under the decontrol section of the Bill.
This is the last stage of the Bill, and we are going to give the right hon. Gentleman his Third Reading without a Division. We shall part for the Easter holidays after giving him that satisfaction. I hope that we may be wrong as prophets of woe and that the hardships will not be so great as we anticipate.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I should not have ventured to intervene in the Debate had it not been for the fact that the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) was good enough to make certain observations upon conditions which he asserted existed in my constituency. Unfortunately, I had been called out of the Chamber when he made his speech, but I should like to tell the hon. Member that the conditions to which I understand that he referred are by no means so widespread as he led the House to suppose. It is perfectly true that in all the outer suburban districts of London there are a certain number of the upper category of B class houses, with which this Bill is so much concerned; but the number of those houses, certainly in my constituency, is very much less than the hon. Member led the House to suppose, and less than the hon. Baronet who has just spoken, suggested. In the outer suburb districts of London I suppose the great majority of the houses which fall within the category of £35 to £40 rate-able value, have never been controlled houses at all.
When we come to deal with this matter it is very largely a question of the balance of hardship. It is a mistake to approach the question of hardship from the standpoint that the landlords of these B class houses are persons in a substantial position of life. That is not so. We have to judge these matters, when we weigh up the question of hardship, from the sort of material which hon. Members obtain from their constituencies. I have received a great many representations about this Bill from my constituents, but 1253 I have received far more representations of hardship from landlords than I have received from tenants. Many of the landlords of these particulars classes of houses are persons who own perhaps two or three houses, in which their life savings have been invested. To-day they desire to change their tenants, perhaps because from time to time the tenants have taken advantage of their position, or perhaps because they feel that the dwellings are no longer suitable for single private dwellings and wish to turn them into flats. If they are permitted to do this, as they will be under the Bill, it will have the effect of increasing the supply of the lower-rented class of house for which there is undoubtedly a substantial demand.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred in a somewhat patronising manner to the class of tenants who occupy property of this nature. I can assure him that his patronising attitude will not be appreciated by them. He told the House that they had no adequate means of making their wishes known. The hon. Member knows as well as I do that there are such organisations as ratepayers' associations, tenants' associations, residents' associations and so on, and I am bound to say that while the Bill has been before the House I cannot recall that I have received any representation from any one of these associations against it. One has to approach this matter from the standpoint of trying to balance hardships. Undoubtedly, there will be hardship on both sides, but it is because I feel that the right hon. Gentleman in this instance has done his best to balance the hardships fairly as between landlords and tenants that I shall vote for the Bill.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Ritson
I can assure the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) that the compliments which have been paid to the Minister of Health are wasted. He has been complimented again and again on his good temper. That is the most dangerous attribute of the right hon. Gentleman. A wasp is beautiful to look at, but he has a sting in his tail, and when the Minister of Health smiles I begin to wonder what it means. Behind his smile he can work subtly and carry out his part—that is what he is there for. When I was a younger man and had a small family, and very little of anything, a friend presented one of my 1254 youngsters with a doll loaded with lead, so that no matter which way you hit it, it turned up smiling. The Minister reminds me of that sort of doll. No matter what we did, we could not offend him. In fact, in Committee he paralysed Members of his own side. He refused to allow them to take part on any question in Committee. He reminded me of a weasel fascinating a hare. The only difference between the right hon. Gentleman and the weasel is that the weasel went to work and did his job, while the Minister in Committee sat still and looked. We tried to see if we could move the ladies on the Committee; but no. We tried to make the Scottish Members on the Committee speak, but not a word, and, being born on the Border, I was much disappointed. We tried to get the hon. Member for Cathcart (Sir J. Train) to move, and on one occasion he did move. I felt that there was some information to be obtained from him, because he is a builder, but he carried his knowledge with dignity.
The Minister knows as well as any hon. Member that a new class of landlord has arisen in the industrial areas. The sort of landlords of whom the hon. Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) spoke have gone; the landlords are a changed race, and their religion and their souls have gone. In Sunderland, which is a very densely populated area, landlords buy up large houses, cram people into them and extort rents which are scandalous. These landlords buy up houses, and tell the people living in them that if they cannot buy them they must get out, and then they re-let the houses to other tenants at higher rents. In the Committee we pleaded with the Minister on this matter, but he would not give way. I do not blame him, because his party is pledged to support the landlord class. We pleaded for the small shopkeepers. The Minister knows, as the hon. Baronet for South-West Bethnal Green said, that the small shopkeeper is the person who has the last penny extracted from him. Hon. Members opposite claim that they are supporters of the small shopkeepers. They claim that they are the supporters of wounded soldiers and sailors. I could give scores of cases where disabled soldiers and sailors, having pensions of 5s. or 10s. a week, and miners and shipyard workers who have been afflicted mentally or physically and have a little compensation, have taken small shops to help them to get 1255 through life. Let me tell the Minister, who is also Minister for Propaganda, I understand, that every fried-fish shop is worth a thousand votes at any time to the Conservative party. I will not tell him why. We pleaded for the small shopkeepers, who are being driven not only out of their shops and their houses above the shops, but out of business. This Bill has been got through very cleverly. It has been rushed through at a time when the Minister knew that he had us in a cleft stick. The Minister came to us at a time when he could say, "The clock is ticking on and if you do not accept this Bill, there will be decontrol of all the houses."
We have had to agree, in the interests of people who are already suffering, to accept this Bill on its Third Reading without a Division, but we ought not to do so without a protest. The Minister objected to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) and suggested that one who was wearing the cloth of my hon. Friend ought to have been kindlier in his references. I agree that the Minister is more in need of prayers than of abuse, but I am confident that my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge has soul enough and forgiveness enough to be willing to forgive even the right hon. Gentleman and to pray for him when the time comes. But I can assure the Minister that we felt it very keenly in Committee upstairs, that the Minister kept his team in hand and never allowed them even to smile. It was like addressing Madam Tussauds waxworks—not a figure moved and it made us very wroth. Now we have come to the hour of compliments, but I have no compliments to offer. I rather like the Minister's smile in some ways, but I know its effectiveness against me and when I see it I know that I am being destroyed.
I would rather have his fist against my nose than his hand upon my shoulder. I am convinced that the Government came to the conclusion that if they dealt with these class B houses it would not affect them politically. I do not think they knew their job in that case because I am convinced that when this begins to operate, it will operate on our side politically, but I would rather that it did not, than see poor tenants being punished. The Minister and those associated with 1256 him do not understand the conditions in which people are being herded together. It does not matter whether you call these houses class A, or class B, or class C, or what date you fix for decontrol. The people are terrified of the date of decontrol. We have had instances from Birmingham of rents having been raised from 6s. 6d. to 25s. We cannot go as far as that in the North of England, but as regards sheer hardship we can go even further. For a man who is a miner or who is unemployed to pay 15s. a week is far harder than it is for the man with £3 or £4 a week to pay 25s. While food prices have been rising, rents have risen beyond common decency. We find men getting 32s. a week and having to pay 15s. a week in rent, and yet the Minister asks that families should be increased. It is a tragedy.
I am the father of a large family and I have never been ashamed of it. I believe it is the happiest state that any man can enjoy, to be in health and strength and have a happy family around him. It is what has made England. But when a man has to pay 15s. a week out of a wage of 30s. there is a danger. He may be sheltered but he lacks food and what is to happen to the rising generation brought up under those conditions? In towns like my own, where cases of tuberculosis and mental deficiency are rising to six per thousand one is able to realise the direct effect of all this upon the physique and the mental condition of the people. The mental strain imposed on the fathers and mothers of families by the present conditions is having its effect and the Government ought to have considered the effect on the purchasing power of people of raising these rents. I have no objection as a legislator, to complimenting the Minister, but politically I think he has done a bad day's work against the hardest crushed people in this country to-day, the rent payers struggling against the great octopuses and dragons that are ready to take their full weight out of the poorest of the poor.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Duncan
I have sat through the Second Reading Committee and Report stages of this Bill without saying a word, and I feel that I cannot let the Bill go without a few remarks on its last stage. I have sat through all these different stages, not because I was dragooned into doing so by my right hon. Friend the Minister 1257 of Health, but because I realised that we were acting under a time limit and that hon. Members opposite were talking so much that if we too talked, we should lose the Bill. On the Third Reading it is usual to discuss, I understand, what is in the Bill, but so far, in the last two days on the Report stage, we seem to have discussed almost entirely what is not in the Bill. What is in the Bill is, I think, of value to the tenants of this country, in that, first of all, it continues to control of C class houses, notwithstanding change of tenancy, brings under control, notwithstanding change of tenancy, lower B class houses which up till now have gone out of control on change of tenancy, and also in the case of A and B class houses, where they are let to two or more tenants, each tenancy remains controlled as long as one of the tenancies is controlled. That, I think, is a good thing from the point of view of the tenant.
The only decontrol that is effected in the Bill is in the upper range of B class houses, that is to say, those rated at between £35 and £45, and the reason for this has been given in the reports of both the Marley and Ridley Committees, but mainly in the latter, on which the Government have recommended this Bill to the House. I think that when we set up a committee which investigates thoroughly a difficult question like this, it is only right that its recommendations should be accepted, unless there are major reasons against such a course. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) earlier to-day tried to make out that, in spite of the fact that many B class houses have been built in the last few years, many of them have been demolished. That may be true, but nevertheless the Ridley Committee, on page 16 of its report, brings out the fact that whereas in 1931 there were 2,250,000 B class houses in England and Wales, in 1937 there were 2,950,000 such houses, so that notwithstanding the fact that many B class houses have been demolished, there has been a large increase in the number of these houses.
§ Mr. Duncan
I quite agree. The hon. Member's argument tended to prove that 1258 there was not an increased number of B class houses and that it would not be safe to decontrol the upper B class houses.
§ Mr. Duncan
What I am saying is that as there has been a large increase in the number of B class houses, it is safe to decontrol the upper range. I have had only two letters from my constituency in London with regard to this Bill. One referred to the case of a B class house where there were two tenancies, each of £23, which would therefore remain controlled. The other referred to a case where there might be some hardship if the landlord demanded recovery of the premises in course of time. The hon. Baronet the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) referred to the shopkeepers. One effect of the programme of the Government has been to decrowd large areas which were overcrowded, with the result that the shopkeeper has a smaller public to buy from his shop. If the rent of a shop has some relation to the amount of business done, the tendency to-day, therefore, is for shopkeepers to have to pay a lower rent. That is true of my constituency.
With regard to consolidation of the legislation, a large number of tenants do not know whether they are being overcharged illegally. There is provision in the 1935 Act for local authorities to give advice to tenants as to whether they are being overcharged or not. No local authority, so far as I know, has yet set up a committee to give advice. One of the reasons against their doing that is that the rent Acts are so complicated that it is difficult for any local authority to give advice on the subject. If consolidation of the rent Acts took place, it would encourage local authorities to set up some form of organisation, either a committee or some legal body, so that tenants could be helped to get their rights in regard to rent. I congratulate my right hon. Friend in passing this difficult Measure through the House so successfully, and I wish him success in his future efforts to deal with this matter in other ways.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Quibell
I have listened with considerable interest and amazement to the speeches which have been delivered to-day particularly in regard to the administration of public health and the 1259 sanitary conditions of some of the houses for which high rents are charged. However this Bill may affect that question, the indictments that have been made in the course of this Debate are a serious reflection on the local authorities and the inaction of the Ministry in not seeing that they do their duty in carrying out rigorously the Public Health Acts. I know that with the powers which local authorities already possess they could remedy almost every one of the evils which have been so vividly described from this side of the House, and I have been amazed by the revelations of insanitary and abominable housing conditions which we have had from hon. Members who are well acquainted with the local authorities of some of the big towns. An hon. Membehind me mentions Birmingham. That is a serious reflection upon Birmingham. Birmingham must have fallen considerably from grace, because when I first entered public life 30 years ago Birmingham was regarded as an example. Evidently the continued Tory rule in Birmingham has not been of the character which it ought to have been.
§ Mr. Quibell
I am sorry that I was led away by my hon. Friend, who is both older and has more experience than I have. Conditions in some of the houses are a serious reflection upon those charged with the duty of administering the Public Health Acts, and I hope that this Debate, if it does nothing else, will stimulate local authorities to do their duty. Coming to the rural workers, I was very sorry indeed that the Minister would not accept the new Clause which was moved with the object of protecting the man who occupies a house rented at less than 3s. a week. After what he said some time ago I thought he would have been most anxious to protect rural workers. But I did agree with part of his reply to the Debate, when he said that the solution of all these difficulties lies in the building of more and more houses. Everyone will recognise that many of the houses which have been described to us would not be occupied by anyone if other accommodation were available, and I can say this in excuse, partly, for the hesitation of local authorities to take action—that the houses are in such a 1260 dilapidated state that they do not wish to encourage attempts to deal with them, but are more anxious to build new houses, because they will then be in a position to issue closing orders against unfit houses.
Reference has been made to the action of people who take houses in the countryside as week-end residences. I know from my experience—and it is something to reflect upon—that the only houses in the countryside which they cannot take are the tied houses. That is a curious position, but it is so. In many cases the tied house is the only safe home for the agricultural worker. In some villages near to large industrial towns where men earn good wages there would not be any houses left for the agricultural labourers if it were not for the tied houses, because the men from the towns can afford to take the houses in the villages at rents which no agricultural labourer can afford to pay. From that point of view I regard the action of the Minister in not affording more protection to the workers in the countryside as a bad feature of the Bill.
As other speakers from this side have said, I do not think the Minister is giving us very much in this Bill. He is always full of good intentions, he always gives us a smile, and treats us very courteously, but we get nothing out of him. With the exception of what happened in the last 15 minutes on the Report stage there has not been one single concession during the whole course of to-day's proceedings. I would only say in conclusion that I hope that some of the ill-effects of this Measure which have been prophesied from this side of the House, as well, perhaps, as from the other side of the House, will not be realised, and that the worst features of housing conditions which have been described to us will be remedied by the Department and by the public health officers of local authorities, ridding Liverpool, Birmingham and other places of the shocking conditions of which we have been told.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mrs. Tate
I do not want to keep the House unnecessarily, but I wish to ask the Minister one question. He will remember that one of the recommendations of the Ridley Committee was that the Minister should disseminate a knowledge of the Acts. Everyone who knows the conditions will understand that one of the 1261 tragedies is that people do not really know their rights under the Acts. I have come to the conclusion that it is not altogether practical to say that a town clerk or a clerk to a local authority should be able to give that knowledge. I believe that the only practical way in which it can be done is to have the information printed and purchasable for a very small sum by anyone who applies for it. I believe that that would soon become known all over the country and that it is a thoroughly practical suggestion which would enable both landlords and tenants to know their rights under the Acts. I would ask the Minister whether he could consider adopting that suggestion.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I have been particularly interested in the progress of this Measure, which started upon its journey just before I came to this House. Housing questions, and particularly rent restrictions, occupied a good deal of time in the local authority with which I was connected, and I have therefore watched the passing of the Bill in the hope that we should sooner or later get something from the Minister which would be of real assistance to the people whom I am particularly anxious to help. I have heard several times to-day, and it has been repeated on the Third Reading, that the best that could be said about the Bill by its supporters is that it balances hardships, and that in view of the large number of people who live in houses in this country only 450,000 are to be affected. It is obvious that if you begin by suggesting that the Bill applies only to a few houses, that is of necessity detrimental; otherwise there would be no necessity to point out that it affected only a few. Wherever a balance of hardships has been considered, there has always been the assumption that the tenants can stand a bit more hardship and the landlords can get the benefit.
What I do not like about the Bill, and what we have so far failed to shake the Minister on, is that it is based upon the Ridley Report, to which the Minister has stuck tenaciously. The justification for the Measure is that the majority report of the committee decided that it was desirable. That may be the only justification. I want to examine for a moment the constitution of the Ridley Committee in relation to the people with whom I am particularly concerned, before I con- 1262 sider that a sufficient ground for legislation which is to affect so many people. The best part of the Bill, and the only part worth voting for—I could vote for it without voting for any other part—is the first few lines, in which control of the C class house is continued. The price we are paying for all the iniquities which remain is to retain that control. The hon. Lady who has just addressed the House suggested that information with regard to the Acts should be widespread, and she suggested the sending out of a circular. Much as I desire information to be broadcast there is so much danger in it that I question the advisability of doing so. There are many anomalies in rent restrictions, and this Measure will increase them. If you sent out the information, what would apply to one tenant in No. 29 would not apply to another tenant in No. 31. The hon. Lady is screwing up her face. The probabilities are that she has not had dealings with tenants who are interested in rent.
§ Mrs. Tate
Will the hon. Gentleman speak about what he knows? Perhaps he forgets that for nearly four years I represented West Willesden, and the people there would tell you that I do know housing conditions. The hon. Member has no right whatever to assume that he knows more about the working classes than I do. I have worked in the East End for 15 years and I think that the hon. Member owes me an apology.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
If the hon. Lady imagines that I owe her an apology I will gladly apologise, but I was judging from the expression on her face when, commenting on a remark that she had made, I said she did not understand the point that I was putting to the House. What I am suggesting is that if the information on the Rent Restrictions Acts is sent out wholesale among tenants you are simply creating trouble; and, whereas she is seeking to relieve the town clerk and his staff, their work will be multiplied by the innumerable questions which will be raised seeking an interpretation of the literature sent out by the Minister. I would like the hon. Lady to understand that I am not in the habit of speaking about things about which I do not know at least something. I think sufficient proof has been given from this side of the House that the shortage of houses has not been overcome in the types of houses which are being decontrolled in this Bill. 1263 Further, I do not accept the view that the ordinary law of supply and demand can be applied to houses. Nor do I think we shall ever get to the stage when control can be removed altogether and the landlords left to extract what they can under what are called market conditions. I do not think that human beings in those things which are essential to life—food, clothing and shelter, the last of which, in my opinion, is one of the most important items—ought to be subject either to profiteering on the one hand or to the law of supply and demand on the other.
I believe that the conclusions which have been drawn by the Government from the report and the suggestion they make that the housing shortage has been overcome are entirely wrong. The conclusions to which I came to were that it was necessary to re-control older houses, and these Acts should apply to all houses, and all should be brought under re-control. My very recent experience on a public assistance committee leaves me to protest against the Bill which, in my judgment, will lead in some instances that I know to the public assistance committee paying the increases of rent which will be called for under this Bill. There are many people in Lancashire at this moment who are living in houses which will come within this category, and who are obliged to apply to the public assistance committee; and where that obtains, as it does in many cases, the public assistance committee will simply be paying the increase, and we shall have been legislating, not on behalf of the tenant, but on behalf of the landlord. This is a Bill, not in the interests of the tenants, but a landlords' Bill.
I suggest that the Minister in this Measure is, at any rate as regards the 450,000 houses, throwing away one of the strongest means for getting those reasonable repairs and decorations of which we have heard so much. If rent control goes, and it is to go with regard to these houses, one of the best means of enforcing repairs to property goes with it. Again I speak from a little experience. I know the Minister will say that we still have the Public Health Act, but the Clauses of the Rent Restrictions Act have been of more assistance than many sanitary inspectors, and a refusal to pay rent on the ground of non-fulfilment of contract has often suc- 1264 ceeded where the sanitary inspector has failed. As an inducement to the landlord to keep his property in decent repair, the Rent Restrictions Act should be extended rather than repealed—for it is the intention of the Government at some not far distant date to repeal it altogether. While I welcome the continuance of the control which is essential in the case of class C houses, I deplore the tendency in other parts of the Bill to do the things which we consider ought not to be done, and the very great unwillingness of the Minister during the whole course of the Report stage to do the things which we think ought to be done.
§ 10.58 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee
This Bill is more remarkable for what it does not do than for what it does, but we cannot, on the Third Reading, discuss the things that the Bill does not do, and I would like to say a few words about what it does. It is rather a pity that the Minister did not alter the Title of the Bill by inserting, in front of the word "Restrictions," the word "Diminishing," because in fact he is diminishing the restrictions that have existed up to the time of the passing of the Bill, and is taking away restrictions that have been in force in the case of 450,000 people whose houses will be decontrolled. When any Bill is before the House, I always ask myself what is going to be the net result of it, and I think that most people in the country will ask themselves that question with regard to this Measure. I hope they will judge the Minister and the Government on what is going to be the net result of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman takes credit, rightly up to a point, for the fact that he is continuing the control of these lower-rented houses, but his judgment in that regard, and his actions in that regard, have been induced rather by fear than by anything else. He knows that the agitation in the country would be so great if he dared to decontrol these houses that neither he nor his Government could stand up against it for long. But he asks himself how far he can go in giving greater opportunities to the landlords to exploit the tenants. He has come to the conclusion—I am sorry to say, I think rightly —that the lower middle class section of the community are so docile that they will support him on any condition. The net result of the Bill, with all the concessions that we have heard about, is that at least 1265 450,000 who to-day are paying a controlled rent will next year be paying a decontrolled rent. The probability is that the landlords, as a consequence of the Act, will be able to exploit that class of tenants to the extent of many thousands of pounds. Houses now rented at 16s. will be able to go up to 20s., 24s., or even 30s.
The landlords will be doing very well, and the Minister no doubt will receive many votes of thanks from them, but I do not think he will receive many votes of thanks from the tenants who are to be dispossessed of the protection they now get. It is a pity he should have taken the opportunity now, when many of these people are so hard hit, to compel them to pay a higher rent than there is any justification for. I do not think that any body will thank any of the hon. Members who have spoken in support of this Bill to-night. I do not think that any of the constituents of the hon. Member for North Kensington (Mr. Duncan) and the hon. Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) whose houses are rated at from £40 to £45 a year will thank them. They say that they have had no letters protesting against it. No doubt their constituents know them so well that they thought it would not be worth while wasting stamps in protesting. A new opportunity will be given now to the landlords to exploit a class of people who are already badly exploited.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
No vote is being taken on this Bill to-night, because it is said that if we vote against the Bill and defeat it we shall be defeating control. That argument would have applied equally on the Second Reading. If we did defeat the Bill it would be a good job, because there would be an election at once. It would not end control, but it would end this Government. It would be a good day for the country and the world in general. Sufficient has been said about the fact that close upon half a million people will be affected by increased rents. There is another side of the question which affects the tenant equally as much as increased rents. I think that the provisions of the Bill will hit London harder than they will hit other parts of the country. London, in the matter of rents, is always worse off than any other part of the country. We never seem to get the same treatment for London as is 1266 given to places outside. Some people think that the Londoner is an easy-going individual and that nothing need be done for him. The tenant who is now under control has adequate protection. He is protected against eviction. Before he can be put out of his house, if he is, unfortunately, in arrears with his rent, or if the landlord wishes to obtain possession, application must be made to the court. The courts in my city of Glasgow have been a great buffer against evictions which would otherwise have taken place.
One of the worst features of the Bill is that half a million men, women and children may almost any day, be thrown into the street no matter what rent is paid. This is a vicious Measure, though it does not really affect my division greatly. Very few people in my division pay £35 a year in rent. Most of those who do are in large, old-fashioned houses which are almost beyond repair. Many of these houses are divided into small lodging-houses. With the improvement of trade this year the problem has become more acute in certain parts of the country than it was 12 months ago. I view the Bill with great apprehension because it is inevitable, as night follows day, that every other tenant will be bound to be in danger within a short time. It may be said, as I heard it said when I came into this House 16 years ago, that more houses are being built. Even with the best will in the world, there is no one who can really say that it will be possible to take off control for many years to come. Control is absolutely essential.
I view this Measure with misgiving and mistrust. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) is not present. It seems to me that women are becoming very thin-skinned. They must learn in this place to take criticism as men take it. There has never been a case put up for this Bill. All that we have heard, like King Charles's head, has been the Ridley Report and the Marley Report. On a former Rent Restrictions Bill, when my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and I acted as Tellers we carried a "duck egg" because we had no supporters. On that occasion it was all the Marley Report; now it is the Ridley Report. The Government must defend and justify its Bills on their merits. The Bill effects improvements in one or two respects, such as the rent book, but in 1267 the main it foreshadows the coming of general decontrol. It is unjust to the tenant who has moved his family to a little better house, and made a sacrifice, in order to give them air, sunshine and better accommodation. Then the house is decontrolled. The Government tell people to get fit, to give their families a chance, to abolish overcrowding, and when the decent man and woman says: "I am going to use my income to get a bit better house for the benefit of my family," the Government decontrol the house and throw them to the mercy of social forces antagonistic to them. They have no right to punish people because they are decent to their wives and families. I hope the country will realise what has been done, that the half million people and their families will take note of it, and that the tenants of the lower-rented houses will take warning that unless they deal with the present Government at an early date and sweep them out, they will be in danger not only of having to pay higher rents but of losing their humble dwellings. I regret that we are not dividing against the Bill. I hope the Government will soon meet the fate they deserve.
§ 11.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
Having taken a fairly active part in the efforts to effect improvements in this mischievous Measure, I should like to make a few observations before it finally leaves the House. I have not been greatly impressed by the talk about the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman. As far as I can see, his sympathy in connection with this Measure is like the horror and disgust which the Prime Minister expressed in connection with another matter. It is a convenient formula behind which to veil the antisocial politics of the Government. There can be no doubt that the only important result of this Measure is the cost to the 500,000 families in this country. Their rents will be raised, and every demand that has been made from this side to introduce any kind of check upon increases in rent has been met by a non possumus attitude on the part of the Government. The Government are not willing to co-operate even in controlling to a slight degree the extra rents which will be the result of this Measure. It is idle to deny that rents will go up. Not a single witness on the side of the 1268 owners before the Ridley Committee failed to agree that decontrol must result in an increase in rent, and over and above that there are all the other important social conditions which have gone with control of houses. The landlord in the case of these half million houses is to be permitted to distrain for rent without the leave of any court; he is to be permitted to evict on the expiry of the notice without the leave of any court; he is to be permitted to charge premiums for entrance, and he is permitted to perform all the other petty tyrannies which are making landlords hated among the working classes of this country.
It is now admitted that between hon. Members on this side of the House and hon. Members opposite there is a deep cleavage on a fundamental principle, and it is at any rate a relief that that is now free forever from controversy. As far as we are concerned we regard the provision of houses as a public service, a matter in which society is interested, and on which control ought never to be utterly removed. Hon. Members opposite regard control as a most unwelcome necessity to be got rid of as soon as possible. I have no doubt that the electors of this country if they were able to take a decision would overwhelmingly decide that this was a public service far more than a private contract, and that it should be always so regarded. If there is any comfort to be derived from the Debates on this Measure it is that however much the Government and their supporters may seek to run away from it, however much they may seek to evade it, there is a conviction growing in the country and in the House that the day will never come when the Government, no matter what their political colour, will dare to allow control from these houses to be removed. After a quarter of a century's experience the thing has gone into the life of the nation and the advantages of control are now clear and so dear to large numbers of the community that we may regard it as certain that housing will be regarded as a social service and not one that will ever again be cast into the maelstrom of competitive contract, free from control. For that they will be able to claim no credit. It has been the constant pressure, for the greater part of this century, from those who share the political and social outlook of hon. Members on this side which has been responsible for 1269 waking the public conscience and establishing a state of mind on the part of the public in which the control of the landlord in the interests of the community has become a permanent feature of our social life.
§ 11.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen
There is a well-worn story of a man who fell out of a window on the twentieth floor of a building, and as he passed the lodger on the tenth floor murmured faintly, "I am all right so far." That is illustrative of those who, under this Bill, will still be in a more fortunate position than the 450,000 people to whom reference has been made. They are all right so far. The man who passed the tenth floor got to the bottom in the course of a few seconds, and the tenants of class C houses will themselves receive a bump in 1942. Let it be realised that that will be gradually appreciated by the tenants of this country. They will realise that just as it is the experience of their slightly better-off brethren now, so it will be their experience four years hence. Therefore, I very much regret that the Minister has supported this instalment of decontrol and has embodied in this Bill the obvious intention to secure complete decontrol within the next four years or so.
I wonder why he has persisted in that policy. There were various recommendations in the reports of the Ridley and Marley Committees, but I am afraid that the real factor which has led to the production of this Bill has been pressure from landlords, who have got hold of the Minister and told him in no uncertain terms that this sort of thing has got to stop, and that decontrol must take place at the earliest possible date. Because of that, the Minister, who is very amenable to pressure, no doubt said, "You leave it to me, my boys; I will see that it stops at the earliest opportunity." The right hon. Gentleman dare not try to stop control altogether straight away, so he starts on that unfortunate section of the community numbering some 450,000. The Minister knows very well, as do the representatives of the great dormitories around London where these B type houses exist, that this Bill will place a heavier burden on thousands of struggling people around the Metropolis and elsewhere. Some hon. Members have said that they have had no communications from their constituents on this matter, but it will not be long before 1270 they are inundated by an avalanche of communications.
The truth is, as anyone who considers this Bill knows, that the Bill is primarily in the interests of the landlords. I do not say that all landlords are rapacious creatures, with hearts dyed in ink, but knowing the nature of all human beings, including landlords, I am certain that the landlords will welcome this Bill, and that if they could, they would hold a demonstration of thanksgiving at the Albert Hall or some other suitable place. The 450,000 people who now occupy these houses which are to be decontrolled cannot at the moment find alternative accommodation. A simple test of that would be to say to those 450,000 tenants, "You must clear out next week and find accommodation at the same rent as you are paying now." One knows that they could not possibly find it. Nor will they be able to find it next September. There is not accommodation at that rent. Therefore, it is obvious that if they are to remain in their present houses, or if they find alternative accommodation, it will be at a higher rent. There will not be a corresponding increase of income and, obviously, an extra burden will have to be borne and economies will have to be made in other directions. I know from experience in my own and other constituencies that this Bill will cast a dark shadow over many homes, which, while they appear in externals to be fairly substantial, are within, affected by what I may describe as the new kind of pauperism.
I am sorry the Minister has not seen his way to accept the proposal for tenancy courts. I do not go into that question because it is not dealt with in the Bill. I would merely remark in passing that the establishment of tenancy courts would have gone some way towards doing justice to tenants and enabling the innumerable problems of tenancy to be settled by specialists in a proper atmosphere. I am sorry, too, that the Minister has not seen his way to assist the small shopkeepers. There is a journal, favourable to the Government, which poses as the journal of the small shopkeeper but the small shopkeepers themselves will rapidly awake to a realisation of the facts.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)
The hon. Member is now going into something which is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I understood that some of the Clauses of the Bill did affect small shopkeepers, but I do not wish to transgress your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I would only add that, unfortunately, there are some hon. Members who do not realise the plight of their own constituents who have given them loyal and undeviating support. This Bill is a poor reward for that support, and I hope those hon. Members will receive growing indications of the fact that their constituents demand a greater measure of protection for their interests than they are receiving under this Bill.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Montague
We have come to the end of the discussions upon this Bill and not much remains to be said. The Government, in this Measure, have slavishly followed the majority report of the Ridley Committee, and although the Minister seemed to take credit for some concession in stating that the decontrol of houses lower than the upper B category was to be postponed for another four years, yet that is only the Ridley report, because the decontrol of the lower category, over a period of years and according to districts, was to have been begun by 1942 according to that report. One thing, however, can be said. The Government have recognised and admitted that it would be intolerable to suggest decontrol on the basis of the bare overcrowding statistics. That is not much to their credit, because it seems to be a matter of common sense. With that exception, the policy of the Government in this Bill and the terms of the Bill itself follow the Ridley report. We had evidence before the Ridley Committee, and the evidence coming from the side of those interested in house property almost without exception admitted that in some districts at least the decontrol of houses above £35 rate-able value in London and Scotland and above £20 in the Provinces would affect rents—rents would go up—though, some suggested, very slightly and only according to what would be desirable.
The question of the middle classes is raised, and we are told that there are plenty of houses for the middle classes. That term was frequently used before the Ridley Committee, but I want to point out that this is not solely a question of the middle classes. There are many people in London, thousands upon 1272 thousands, ordinary mechanical workers and manual workers, who are compelled by force of circumstances, compelled, very often by the size of their families, to live in houses which are above the limit set for decontrol, that is to say, houses of £35 rate-able value. Two hon. Members opposite spoke about the absence of letters from constituents, but we had a tremendous amount of evidence upon the Ridley Committee from tenants' associations and bodies of that description, which showed that great hardship would result from decontrol at all, at the present time at any rate. I have not only had letters, but I have also seen hundreds of my constituents. I see them every week, and I have had illustrations and arguments which are unanswerable as to the inevitability of great hardship if this amount of decontrol is allowed to take place.
I received one letter only this morning. It does not refer to a controlled house, and it shows what will happen when houses of that category are decontrolled. It is a case of a constituent of mine with a family of three, who has to pay 22s. 6d. a week, an inclusive rent, for a flat in a house in my constituency. He gets no amenities at all. The landlady will not allow the use of the garden for drying clothes, and the tenant has to pay a laundry bill. He is a railway worker, and his wife is not allowed to use a copper. In that same house there is another flat, let at the same rent of 22s. 6d., and one single room, let at 8s., making a total of £2 13s. for the whole house, and the landlady herself has her own flat in the house, thus living rent free. The other tenant, who is also paying 22s. 6d., is a taxicab driver. The one who is a railway worker writes asking me if I can advise him or find him better accommodation. I could, of course, find him better accommodation under some circumstances. I could take him to the outskirts of London, on the other side, or to places like Dagenham or Morden, but he is a railway worker, and he has to be at work at three in the morning every other week; and in any case, even if his hours were reasonable, he would have to spend two hours a day in packed tube trains, with an expenditure of 6s. a week over and above his 22s. 6d. a week for rent. That is just one case to show that where there is no control there is extortion and increase of 1273 rent, and that, I think, without doubt, will be the case in thousands upon thousands of instances in London and certainly in other towns in the country.
Take the question of what is called the lower middle-class people. Is it seriously suggested that there are plenty of houses for them? Figures can be given, of course. Plenty of averages were brought before the Ridley Committee; and we riddled some of them. Averages do not count because the average is a dehumanised method of dealing with a human problem. What does the average amount to? Plenty of houses are being run up and there is a rush of jerry-building. One need only take a coach ride or a railway ride out of London and look at the desirable residences that have been rushed up in every quarter. Approaching any city or town, one will see the same kind of thing. Take the case of a worker belonging to the lower middle class, say a bank clerk, a black-coated worker who has not only to wear a black coat but all the starched appurtenances belonging thereto, and who gets a wage of £3, or at the outside £3 10s. It is true that he can put down £15 or £25 and pay the rest in rent if he has got it to put down. He has to buy his season ticket and he has to starve his family to keep up appearances.
The houses that are being run up for that class in large numbers are included in the averages that are used to justify this Measure of control, but they are, to a very large extent, not built on any sound principles of construction. I do not want to blame builders as a class, but I know something about building and the kind of houses that are being rushed up. Some of them are built with inferior materials and in a thoroughly bad way. It may be an exaggeration, but I suggest that if some of these middle-class black-coated workers were to dig an air-raid precautions trench in their back gardens, their houses would fall down. I was told by a house agent seriously this morning that there are houses of that type in the northern area of London where, if entrenchments have to be dug for water, electricity or similar purposes, they have to do the job very carefully in case something slips and something happens to the foundation of the houses. That means that, although these people penalise 1274 their families and have to live sparely to keep up appearances they have no guarantee or security, because in a few years their houses will become an incubus and a band of iron round their necks.
These are the types of houses that are being run up in huge numbers all over the country. They are the houses which make up the averages to show that there are plenty available for the middle-class worker, who is such a supporter of the Conservative party. It is remarkable how these people usually vote Conservative. I do not know whether they will when they find out what is happening to them under this Measure. These people who read their "Daily Mail" daily remind me of the aesthetic gentlemen in "Patience." Although they may be "steady and stolid-y," there is a doubt about the "jolly Bank holiday" aspect of the matter. That type of person, who imagines he has a stake in the country, will be injured by this Measure. In the discussion on the Report stage yesterday we had evidence to the effect that, with all their professions of sympathy with the small trader, the Government are letting the small trader down. The Minister is letting down the so-called middle-class black-coated workers in this Measure, which is a part of the gradual decontrol over a period of years until 1950. The Government do not let down the monopolist, the landlord and the speculator. Like all Tory Governments, this Government believes in serving the interests of its friends. When the four years are up and we have to consider decontrol upon a larger scale there may be a different Government in office, for by then the people will have found out who their friends really are.
§ 11.41 p.m.
§ Sir K. Wood
The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) ended on rather an excited note. I wonder whether he really believed all that he was saying at the moment. I should like to thank the House for the consideration which has been given to this Measure and to myself in the conducting of it. If I have not always been able to comply with the requests which have been made from various parts of the House, I regret it, but I have endeavoured to do my duty along the lines laid down by the Government as explained——
§ Sir K. Wood
—on the Second Reading of the Bill. It has been stated that this Measure was conceived in sin and wickedness, either in the mind of the Government or of myself; it has been suggested that there has been a terrible conspiracy to destroy the comfort of the hard working people of this country; but the position is seen to be quite different when we really trace the origin of this Measure. Its origin goes back to that Marley Report which hon. Members opposite do not like but to which I shall always look back with great affection. I was glad to see that the Chairman of the Committee which issued that report was alive and well in another place this evening. I hope that when this Measure arrives there we shall hear what Lord Marley has to say about it. I think that the only uncharitable thing which has been said about me to-night was said by two hon. Members whose calling ought to make them much more charitably-minded towards other people. I think the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) was the only one who attributed bad and wicked personal motives to me.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I wish the right hon. Gentleman would quote any uncharitable reference from me. On the contrary, I have the highest esteem for him.
§ Sir K. Wood
I will talk to the hon. Member privately. I hope that he will allow that other people have the same motives as, no doubt, he would like them to attribute to him. I do not think that it assists our discussions to attribute personal reasons——
§ Sir K. Wood
As a matter of fact the origin of this Bill goes back to the two Committees which have been referred to so frequently in the Debate. I have quoted from the Marley Report so extensively on account of the remarkable constitution of that Committee. In the chair was Lord Marley, a Labour Peer. One member of the Committee was one of the most respected women Members of the Labour party, Dr. Marion Phillips. Another member was the hon. Member for Upton (Mr. Gardner) who, I think, has been let off very lightly in the proceedings on this Bill. Generally the com- 1276 plexion of that Committee may be said to have been Labour. To what conclusion did they come on matters of principle? They came to the conclusion that it would be wise, in the interests of the tenants of this country, that as soon as there was a sufficiency of housing accommodation control should end. What is now being said from the Labour benches is that control is a good thing in itself.
§ Mr. Montague
What we said in the Minority Report, and what this party says on the question of the continuance of permanent control, is that it should be in the form of tenancy courts and not in the form of rent restriction, which is quite a different question.
§ Sir K. Wood
I will tell the hon. Gentleman privately. His committee gave a very firm recommendation on the subject of tenancy courts, and on this was founded very largely the recommendation made by the majority of the Ridley Committee. I have no reason to depart from the statement that I made when I introduced this Measure that I believe it is a practical and reasonable contribution towards an admittedly difficult problem. I maintain that we have endeavoured in reason and justice to hold the scales as evenly as we could between the interests of landlords and tenants.
A point that has been overlooked, perhaps of necessity, because we have been dealing with Amendments of a certain class, is that by this Measure we are ensuring to the tenants further protection for houses in the lower B category to the number of something like 650,000.
§ Sir K. Wood
I do not think the hon. Gentleman should say that. One of the proposals in the Bill is to do that. As to how one should describe this Measure, I hope that the hon. Member for West Leyton, whose special duty it is to put forward truth and honesty, will not de- 1277 scribe it, when he gets up on the platform, as he did in this House. It is only right that I should tell him that one of the things which the Government have done is to ensure further protection to something like 650,000 homes of the lower B type.
§ Sir K. Wood
If the hon. Gentleman looks he will see that it lasts till 1942. If the hon. Member for West Leyton will give some credit for this in describing the Measure, I shall have more regard for him than otherwise. Hon. Members can equally say that under these proposals a number of upper B class tenants will be decontrolled, and that would be a fair summary of them. I should be quite content if the two statements were made in conjunction, because i could then be said that the Government had endeavoured to hold the balance as evenly as they could, and to carry out the recommendations of the committees which were specially set up to consider this matter.
Hon. Members have made many prophesies to-night as to the consequences of decontrol of the upper B class houses. Similar dismal forebodings were made about the decontrol of the A houses. What was said then? "All those people would be sacrificed at one stroke." One might almost hear the same words to-night about the upper B class houses. Curiously enough, the words that we heard to-night about throwing these people to the wolves were heard when the A houses were decontrolled. Hon. Members said it was a political blunder of the first magnitude. As a matter of fact, I looked up the evidence of the Ridley Committee. I was not able to read it all, but one witness in whom I am particularly interested, since he is the chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, when asked whether any hardship had flowed from the decontrol of the A houses, replied that he could not say that there had. I hope there will be an equally satisfactory result so far as the upper B houses are concerned.
London is in a special position. Exceptional treatment has always been given to it. If you look at the position of the upper B class houses in England and Wales, you see that the rate-able value 1278 varies between £20 and £35, whereas in London the bulk of the B class houses will undoubtedly be in the upper B category. Further, the majority of the upper B class in London will probably be occupied by two or more families and control will therefore be continued by the Bill. When regard is had to both these matters it will be agreed that measure of special consideration has been given to London.
I have only one other question to answer. One of my hon. Friends asked about local authorities giving advice on this matter, but that would not be without difficulty, especially when proceedings were pending. A number of authorities already give advice, and I will perhaps take an opportunity when this Bill is on the Statute Book to issue a communication to local authorities.