§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House will be aware that the Government policy on rent restriction has already been outlined in general terms in the White Paper which was issued last month. That policy has been settled in the light of the exhaustive examination of the matter which was made both by Lord Marley's Committee in 1930 and recently by a Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Ridley. I would like to express our indebtedness to Lord Ridley and to all his colleagues for the time and attention and trouble that they gave to this matter. With regard to the houses in what are called class B, the Government have adopted the recommendation of the Ridley Committee, and it is embodied in the Bill—that generally, and subject to certain conditions as to time and notice, etc., houses in class B with a yearly value or rateable value exceeding in 1931 £35 in Scotland and in the Metropolitan Police District, and £20 elsewhere, should be decontrolled at the expiration of the present Acts. It is also provided that the remaining controlled houses in class B and class C shall form a single class and shall be subject to the same condition of control as now apply to houses in class C.
I hope to deal in detail a little later with both those matters, but first I must say a few words on the policy and question of rent restriction generally. The House is aware that both the Marley Committee and the Ridley Committee gave careful consideration to this general question. The Marley Committee was appointed by the Labour Government and had as its chairman Lord Marley, a Labour Peer, and other members of that Committee were Doctor Marion Phillips, who was then, and I believe is to-day, the chief woman organiser of the Labour party—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]— Mr. Ben Gardner, Sir Ernest Simon, the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham 1134 (Captain Cazalet), the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), and, with the exception of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham), they were unanimous in their conclusions after hearing much evidence both written and oral. They duly presented their report to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who was then Minister of Health. The Marley Committee stated:It is not desirable to retain control longer than is necessary.They also stated:The suggestion that decontrolled working-class houses should be brought back under control cannot be supported. It would create as many anomalies as it would cure.On the long view they stated that it would do more damage to the good housing of the working classes than would be compensated for by any immediate benefit which it might confer on the relatively small proportion of present tenants who would be affected.
The final conclusion of the majority of the Marley Committee, that is to say with the exception of one member, was that restrictions should at once be lifted from any class of property as soon as it could be shown that they were no longer needed in the general interest. The Ridley Committee, which has just reported, have taken the same view as the Marley Committee, and on this question of major policy the Government agree with these views without reserve or qualification. The Government also agree with both Committees that the question of continuing control of any particular class of house must be regarded as dependent on whether the shortage of houses in that class is at an end or is likely to end within a reasonable period.
I see that there is a suggestion made in the Labour Amendment which appears on the Paper, for the establishment of permanent tenancy courts. I draw attention to the statement on this particular proposal because it was carefully considered by the Marley Committee and rejected by them, or rejected by the majority, excepting one member. The extract which I shall read was signed by all the members of the Marley Committee except the hon. Member for Hamilton. The Committee said:Some of us, if we had had the task of devising the original system of rent control in this country, would have perhaps proposed 1135 the setting up of rent courts in preference to the system which was in fact established. This system, into the operation of which we were appointed to inquire, is not one on which a system of rent courts could easily or appropriately be grafted. We examined with care the suggestions which a few witnesses made to us, that rent courts ought to be set up in this country. Their proposals were of a tentative character only and they did not envisage clearly what sort of court they desired or precisely what function it could fulfil under our British system. It was not clear, for example, whether these new courts were to be obligatory courts of first instance, from which an appeal would lie to the county court, or whether they were to be substituted for the county court, or whether they were to be subsidiary courts to which resort would be optional, or whether, as some witnesses seemed to suggest, they would be similar to mere reference committees on the lines of the committees contemplated in Part II of the Act of 1923.They stated later:For our part we see no necessity for an additional judicial tribunal. Nor do we see anything that is of advantage in substituting at this late stage a new and untried court for the county and sheriff courts, which administer the Rent Restrictions Act in England and Scotland respectively and now possess a unique experience and knowledge of the Acts. Moreover, almost all the witnesses, including those who advocated the setting up of rent courts, expressed complete satisfaction with and appreciation of the work of the county and sheriff courts.I need hardly assure the House that, in relation to these particular Measures which we are considering to-day, the Government have given careful consideration to the matter of future decontrol, and I would say at once that there is a marked difference between the housing situation in England and Wales and that in Scotland. So far as Scotland is concerned, the question of further decontrol, in the opinion of the Government, must be the subject of special consideration, and the Government do not feel that they would be justified in framing any general system of decontrol until the conditions have materially improved there. But the Government believe that in the case of all three countries it is in the national interest that decontrol should be effected as soon as there is an adequate supply of housing accommodation. We believe that an indefinite continuance of control would be indefensible, and that was the judgment both of the Marley Committee and the Ridley Committee. We do not believe that control is a desirable permament measure, and the ultimate object of the Government is to bring control to an end 1136 as soon as it is no longer needed in the general interest.
The Marley Committee in their report gave a number of housing figures for both England and Scotland, and pointed out that the figures suggested that the shortage of houses for the working classes was in many areas then still acute, but that for other classes the shortage had been or was being steadily overtaken. The Ridley Committee further emphasised this aspect of the question and suggested further decontrol by area, the state of overcrowding in each area, as judged by the standard fixed by the Housing Act, 1936, being treated as a sort of yardstick for measuring the pace at which decontrol should proceed. In that connection I would say this: The Government agree that future decontrol should be progressive and should be related to areas and determined in the light of local conditions, but apart from the fact to which I have more than once drawn the attention of the House, that the present overcrowding standard is necessarily a low one because it is the basis of penal provisions and is a beginning, we consider that while the degree of overcrowding is an important factor it is not the only factor, and that there are other considerations to be taken into account in answering the question whether in any area the shortage of houses is at an end or is likely to end within a reasonable period.
Therefore, in our judgment, it would not be wise at this moment to attempt to lay down an automatic time-table some years ahead for matters in which there must inevitably be an element of uncertainty. We think that the exact method and time at which such local decontrol should be brought about in England and Wales are matters for further examination in due course. It is true, of course, that that will mean the appointment of another committee, but, as the "Manchester Guardian" said in a recent leading article, the proposal is "none the worse for that"; and as at present advised I contemplate that the inquiry of this committee should be completed by the autumn of 1941, so that its report may be available at the time when the general review of housing finance will be taking place; because, in connection with that and other matters, we must obviously be guided by housing progress. Whenever this committee sits, we believe 1137 all considerations on housing must be taken into account in deciding on future decontrol.
Since the Armistice, there have been built in England and Wales more than 3,500,000 new houses; and, of these, 1,000,000 have been built by local authorities for letting, while private enterprise and local authorities together are now building houses to let at the rate of 140,000 per annum. There is also, of course—and I think this is a matter that has to be taken into account, not exactly for the same reason, but for reasons appertaining to these proposals—a considerable number of new houses built for owner-occupiers of moderate means, "the better paid members of the working classes," as the Marley Committee describe them. In fact, since the War one person out of every four has gone into a new home; and, on the other side of the picture, there is the fact that the number of owner-occupiers in England and Wales to-day is between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000. The number of new houses of all classes is being increased at the rate of more than 70,000 local authorities' houses and 260,000 private enterprise houses per annum. The Ridley Committee, in their recent report, pointed out that the supply of houses has much more than kept pace with the growth of population. In England and Wales, in 1921, there were 4.67 persons per house, while in September, 1936, there were 3.64. It is important also for Members to have before them such figures as I have in connection with class C houses. There were some 5,000,000 of these in 1914, and to-day there are 6,300,000—an increase of 26 per cent. I am glad to say, also, that new class C houses are being built at the rate of 160,000 a year. A larger proportion of class B houses in the lower category are evidently being occupied to-day by persons who previously lived in class C houses, and many of these are persons who are in regular employment and belong to the ranks of the better-paid workers.
Another matter to which I wish to refer is the extent of decontrol to-day. We must have in mind that important aspect of the present situation. Lord Marley's Committee, it will be recalled, stated that they were satisfied that a shortage no longer existed in respect of class A houses—over £45 in Scotland and the 1138 Metropolitan Police district, and £35 in the rest of England and Wales. Following their recommendation, some 600,000 houses were decontrolled, making some 1,200,000 of such houses, new and old, no longer subject to rent control. The Marley Committee also recommended that, so far as B class houses were concerned, the gradual process of decontrol by the landlord obtaining vacant possession was desirable and should be continued. There are 950,000 class B houses controlled; some 600,000 decontrolled, and, with some 1,400,000 new houses, we find that to-day about 2,000,000 of this class are not controlled. Put by way of percentage, the proportion of controlled class B houses has been reduced from 60 per cent. in 1931 to 32 per cent. in 1937.
There was another important recommendation of the Marley Committee in relation to class C houses. They recommended a stricter control of these houses, and decontrol on vacant possession ceased on the passing of the Act of 1933. To-day, some 3,600,000 class C houses are controlled, and 2,700,000, including 1,500,000 new houses, are not controlled. Therefore, the percentage of class C houses controlled has been reduced from 78 in 1931 to 57 in 1937. It is in these circumstances that the Ridley Committee recommended that houses in the upper range of the present B class, with a rateable value in 1931 exceeding £35 in the Metropolitan Police district and Scotland and exceeding £20 elsewhere, should be decontrolled. The Government have accepted that recommendation, and provision is made for this in Clause 2 of the Bill. I think it will be generally agreed by those who have read the report that undoubtedly the Ridley Committee, whether one agrees with their conclusions or not, carefully examined the position of tenants in this category, and they undoubtedly heard many witnesses.
Class B houses in England and Wales as a whole in 1914 numbered 1,500,000. An astonishing change has taken place, and to-day there are nearly 3,000,000— an increase of 100 per cent.—and this number is being increased at the rate of 130,000 per annum. Of that total of 3,000,000 houses, rather less than 1,000,000 are controlled to-day. The Government agree with the majority of the Ridley Committee that these figures show that, in general, there is not now such a 1139 shortage of B class houses that if control were removed scarcity rents would be exacted. In fact, A class houses were decontrolled, on the recommendation of the Marley Committee, when the supply of houses of that class had increased by only 40 per cent., instead of the present figure of 100 per cent. for class B, and when the proportion of class A houses controlled was about 45 per cent., instead of the present 32 per cent. for class B. I can, at any rate, inform the House, from my own perusal of the report—and any member who has studied it will agree with me—that a very large number of witnesses who appeared before the Ridley Committee agreed that, in fact, the decontrol of class A houses was accomplished without hardship.
The Government also agree with the view of the Ridley Committee that it is necessary to make a distinction between the highest-rented houses in class B and the lowest-rented houses in that class. The highest-rented houses in class B differ little from class A houses, while the lowest-rented houses constitute undoubtedly the fringe of working-class houses. After a careful examination of all the evidence, the majority of the Committee, including the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) and Sir Miles Mitchell, came to the conclusion that those class B houses with a rateable value in 1931 exceeding £35 in Scotland and the Metropolitan Police District and £20 elsewhere, could be merged into the A class and decontrolled forthwith, without giving rise to any appreciable number of cases of hardship. It was the majority of the Committee, including the hon. Member for East Birkenhead and Sir Miles Mitchell, who is known to all Members of this House as an ardent housing reformer in Manchester.
The Government see no reason to disagree with this recommendation. It will involve the decontrol, as from September next, of a maximum number of some 400,000 houses in England and Wales, with controlled rents at the moment of from about 27s. to 34s. per week in the Metropolitan police district, and from about 16s. to 26s. per week in the rest of England and Wales. But there is this important matter which I want the House to keep before it in connection with this proposal, that houses which would otherwise become decontrolled but which on 1140 the 6th December last—that is the date when the Ridley Committee reported—were sub-let and occupied as two or more dwellings, will continue to be controlled until the landlord obtains vacant possession. This provision is necessary because, as the Ridley Committee pointed out, in London and in some of the other large cities, a great proportion of the working classes are housed in B class houses.
All who are familiar with life in London know that thousands of such houses in London are occupied by two or more working class families, one of them being the family of the tenant who takes the whole house, and the others being his sub-tenants. The immediate decontrol of such tenancies would undoubtedly cause hardship, so the existing position is left unchanged by the proposals in the Bill and the existing occupants remain protected. In such cases these homes, as one may term them, will not become de controlled until the landlord obtains vacant possession. I would also like to call the attention of the House to the very important fact that in addition to such decontrol there will, when we come to decontrol the upper class B houses, be the same safeguards for tenants and land lords as were laid down in the Act of 1933. Mortgages, for instance, are to be controlled for six months after the passage of the Act, and as far as notices to quit are concerned, there must be at least one month's notice, and the date specified in the notice must be no earlier than the 29th September next.
I would like the House to observe that tenants of combined shops and dwelling-houses are to have the benefit of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1927, when they cease to be entitled to possession under the Rent Restriction Act. This Act provides that in certain circumstances, as set out in the Statute, the tenant of premises used wholly or partly for carrying on trade or business, not being agricultural holdings, shall be entitled on the termination of his tenancy, unless a new tenancy is created, to compensation in respect of improvements effected by them or alternatively to compensation in respect of the goodwill attached to the premises.
§ Sir Percy Harris
That is rather an important point. Supposing a sub-tenant 1141 of a B class dwelling leaves, does the tenancy automatically come under control?
§ Sir K. Wood
I would like to give a considered answer to that question, and I now speak subject to correction later on. I think that it depends, in the first instance, whether it is in the higher category B or in the lower category B. If it is in the higher category B, I think that it will depend upon whether the subtenancy comes into the vacant possession of the landlord. The lower category B, as I will show in a minute or two, will join class C. I will give the hon. Gentleman a clearer statement a little later. I would like to say a word about lower B class houses. Clause 3 makes provision so that the remaining controlled houses m class B and class C shall form a single class and be subject to the same conditions of control as now apply to houses in class C. This carries into effect the judgment of all the members of the Ridley Committee, even the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). The lower B class houses are merged in class C, because the circumstances in both are not sufficiently unlike to warrant any difference in treatment. To take the position outside London, the C class houses comprise those with a rateable value up to £13, and the lower B class those with a rateable value from £14 to £20. Many families occupying C class houses are of exactly the same status as those occupying the lower B class houses, and the proposal to stop further decontrol of lower B class houses will increase the pool of controlled houses available for this section of the community and will encourage the abatement of overcrowding and increase the general mobility of tenants.
It is proposed in Clause 4 of the Bill that decontrolled class B houses in the lower range of rateable values shall be registered in the same way as the present decontrolled class C houses, that there shall be no further registration of decontrolled class C houses after three months from the amending legislation, and that for class B houses the registers shall be finally closed within a year of amending legislation. I think that every member of the Ridley Committee will agree that the procedure for registration of decontrolled houses has not, in practice, proved as successful as it had been hoped, and the proper course in the view 1142 of the Government seems to be to close the registers as soon as possible, as recommended by the majority report, and that we propose to do.
I will now say a word or two on a number of minor Amendments which are of some importance and which were recommended in the majority report, and will be found in the Bill. They are designed to assist landlords and tenants, and they are incorporated in Clause 5. It is proposed in Sub-section (1) of that Clause that in court proceedings the onus shall be placed upon the landlord to prove that the house is decontrolled and not as, at present upon the tenant to prove that the house is controlled. This is a reversal of the High Court decision of 1936, with which many hon. Members may be familiar in the case of Heginbottom v. Watts, which, in its turn, reversed the previous practice which had obtained since the inception of the Acts. The decision in this particular case placed upon the tenant an obligation which he was seldom in a position to fulfil and undoubtedly it has led to a good deal of discontent. I think that it can be said—and one does not want to be unfair in matters of this kind—that the landlord upon whom it is how suggested that the onus of proof should be placed is, in general, in a much better position to know the history of the house.
Another important proposal is that contained in Sub-section (5) of the Clause, that the service of any notices required; to be served by the tenants on the landlord shall be deemed to be good service if served at the address of the agent. Further, if legal proceedings are contemplated, the agent must, under penalty, disclose the full name and address of the landlord. This Amendment is designed to assist tenants wishing to take proceedings against landlords for breaches of the Rent Restrictions Acts. At present the-form of name and address inserted in the rent book is frequently insufficient to enable a summons to be served, and the majority of the Committee also recommended that rent books should be provided for all working-class houses which are not in service occupation. This recommendation is welcome on general housing grounds, because the provisions-of the Housing Acts requiring the insertion of notices in rent books, and similar documents are rendered, to some extent 1143 at any rate, ineffective where there is no rent book. This will involve an Amendment of the Housing Act, and it cannot, of course, be dealt with in a Rent Restriction Bill; it will have to be the subject of future legislation at an appropriate time.
It is also proposed, in Sub-section (7) of the Clause, in conjunction with the Schedule, that sanitary certificates issued for the purpose of enabling the tenant to pay a reduced rent for a house not in reasonable repair should no longer be required to specify the works needed to put the dwelling-house into a reasonable state of repair. This proposal is designed to meet the difficulties which have arisen, particularly in Glasgow, in the case of houses which are past repair. The Glasgow Corporation represented to the Committee that owing to a sheriff court decision they are at present debarred from issuing sanitary certificates in respect of houses included in their slum clearance programmes as incapable of repair and needing to be demolished. As a result of this decision the tenants of these houses, I am informed, are compelled to pay the full rent and are deprived of the benefit of the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Acts under which a reduced rent may be paid for a house not in reasonable repair. It is, therefore, proposed to put any doubt on this matter at rest, and that will be done in the Bill.
It is proposed in Sub-section (7), again in conjunction with the Schedule, that the right to apply for an order for possession of a house required by the owner for his own occupation, without proving the existence of alternative accommodation, which is now only enjoyed by the owners who acquired their houses before July, 1931—the date of the Marley Report—should be extended to owners who acquired their property before the date of the Ridley Committee's Report. A similar recommendation has been put forward by previous committees and accepted by the Government of the day.
§ In Clause 5 (2) it is proposed that the benefit of current compounding allowances for rates should go to the landlord. As the law stands—it was decided by the House of Lords in the case of Nicholson versus Jackson—that in calculating the "permitted increase" to the standard rent there may be added only the increase 1144 in the rates actually payable after deducting the compounding commission payable to the landlord. This Amendment of the law which is incorporated in the Bill was recommended and defended in equity by the Lord Marley's Committee, but it was not then recommended for adoption, in order to avoid the considerable recalculation of rents which would have had to take place. But since the date of the Marley Committee's Report there has been another legal decision—Strood Estates Company, Limited, versus Gregory, under which it was laid down that in calculating the net rent the full amount of the rate and not the compounded rate must be deducted from the standard rent. I do not think there is any conflict between the two sections of the Committee regarding the second decision, which was in favour of the tenants as against the landlords, as strengthening the case for amending the law as to the calculation of permitted increases to counteract the effect of the decision in Nicholson versus Jackson. The only objection previously taken was that to alter the law would involve a large number of recalculations, and these are now necessary in any case in view of the decision in Strood versus Gregory.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
In some cases the local authority give the landlord a discount if the rates are paid by a certain date. It varies from 2½ per cent. to even higher than 15 per cent. in some cases. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that the landlord will get that 15 per cent., or is it to go back to the tenant?
§ Sir K. Wood
This gives the benefit of the compounding allowances, and it is right, to the landlord. In Clause 5 (6) it is provided that the period allowed by the Rent Restrictions Acts for recovering overpayment of rents should be extended from the present period of six months to one year. This Amendment was strongly pressed by bodies representing the tenants. The principle of extending the period was supported in the minority report, which, however, recommended that the period of recovery should be limited only by the Statute of Limitations. The recommendation of the majority report is that the period should be extended to one year, and that has been adopted in the Bill. The majority report also recommended that the Rent Restrictions Acts should be consolidated. That matter raises 1145 very technical difficulties which are at present being considered.
The Ridley Committee referred at some length to a matter which was not strictly within their Terms of Reference, namely, the general procedure of levying distress in England and Wales. The majority of the members of the Committee considered that certain cases brought to their notice called for some alteration in the law so far as uncontrolled houses were concerned, and the Government agree that there is a case for examination. This will involve a general alteration in the law of landlord and tenant, and it is, therefore, proposed to set up immediately a committee, under the chairmanship of His Honour Judge Lilley, to examine the whole question.
Let me, in conclusion, sum up the policy of the Government and the proposals in the Bill. As far as future policy is concerned the Government have adopted the recommendations of the majority reports of both the Marley and the Ridley Committees, that it is not desirable to retain control longer than is necessary, and that the question of continuing control of any particular class of house must be dependent on whether the shortage of houses is at an end, or is likely to end within a reasonable period. As regards the proposal in the Amendment which is to be moved by the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Johnston), the Government take also the same view as Lord Marley's Committee that theysee no necessity for an additional judicial tribunal.The respective recommendations of the Ridley Committee as regards B class houses are adopted, and a number of minor but valuable alterations in the present law are to be made.
§ Mr. Stephen
With regard to those minor Amendments, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the rent book is to be made compulsory?
§ Sir K. Wood
Not in this Bill. We shall have to do that in general housing legislation. Finally, as regards future decontrol, the Government believe, as at present advised, that it should be related to areas, that it should be determined in the light of local conditions, and that the matter should be further considered after investigations which, as far as we can now see should be completed 1146 by the Autumn of 1941. I submit this policy and the provisions of the Bill as a practical and reasonable contribution towards the solution of a difficult problem and one which I hope will commend itself to the House.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Johnston
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House regrets the proposal to deprive many tenants of the protection of the law and thus increase the hardships of a section of the community; it rejects the assumption that the remaining measure of control can only be temporary, and records its opinion that, as the need for protecting tenants will continue indefinitely, permanent tenancy courts should be established to control the relations between landlord and tenant in respect of all dwelling-houses.The Minister of Health is probably the most astute and ruthless brain in the Government, but no one would ever guess that from his observations this afternoon. I sympathise with him, as the whole House must, on the extraordinary complexity of the Measure that he has had to introduce and the difficulty of explaining it. He is unfortunate that he always has handed to him the duty of explaining Measures designed in some way or other to lower the purchasing power of sections of the working class. Whether he is reducing the subventions to approved societies, on behalf of the Government, or whether he is reducing housing grants to local authorities, or whether, as in the Measure he has introduced this afternoon, he is opening the door for a further increase in house rents, he can always be guaranteed to do it with a maximum of gracious urbanity, with a sort of facade or artless simplicity, with a great surplusage of sweet, airy nothings, with a repetition of disarming clichés and with an exaggerated atmosphere of Puckish innocence. By these means he seeks to disguise the fact that the essential purpose of this Bill is to provide the necessary machinery whereby 450,000 families in this land may have their rents increased. There are 50,000 houses in Scotland covered by this Bill and 400,000 in England and Wales, so that a total of 450,000 houses are affected. Those 450,000 houses will, in the vast majority of cases, be subjected to an almost immediate increase in rents arising from the passage of this Bill.
1147 Before we examine the Bill in detail, let us recall the historical origin of rent restrictions legislation. When the War broke out, in August, 1914, the Reservists were called to the Colours. Ten days after the Reservists were called to the Colours their wives, unable in some instances to pay their rents to the landlords and factors, and in other cases unable to pay the increased rents that the landlords and factors in munitions areas were demanding, because of the influx of munition workers, were being ruthlessly evicted from their homes. In Glasgow, in one case, a Reservist's wife and family were evicted and put into the street because of arrears of 2s. 2d. in rent. One of the moderate leaders in the Glasgow City Council, at that time, David Barrie, moved a resolution in the city council demanding that the house factors and the house property owners in the city should be called upon to be much more considerate in their treatment of the poor.
In one week in September—I am speaking mainly of Glasgow, because it was the city with which I was then most concerned—six Reservists' wives and their families were forcibly evicted in the Springburn Division. Six weeks from the outbreak of War the Town Clerk of Glasgow declared that no fewer than 3,768 citations for evictions for arrears for rent had been served and 738 families had already been evicted. As a result of this state of things there were strikes in munition works, and widespread discontent. There was an adverse effect upon recruiting. It was obvious that there was no sense in going abroad to Flanders to fight Prussianism if Prussianism was to be established in their own homes in Glasgow.
It materially affected wage rates. When rents rose wage rates had to be increased to meet the rise in rents, and the Government had to set up a Departmental committee presided over by Lord Hunter to examine the causes of the rent upheavals which were occurring not only in Glasgow but in every munition area in Scotland and England. This is fundamental. What did Lord Hunter and Professor Scott prove. It will be found in Command Paper 8,111 of 1915. They proved that the increased rents exacted in the city of Glasgow were exacted despite the fact that there were considerable numbers of unlet houses in the city. 1148 These increased rents were being exacted despite the fact that there was no shortage of housing accommodation at that time. In Glasgow 8,998 houses were unlet at Whitsuntide 1915, and yet, despite the existence of these vacant houses, rents jumped up in some cases by 23 and 25 per cent. Lord Hunter and his committee considered 370 houses in one area arid found that the increased rents were from 10 to 25 per cent. In addition, the poor tenants had to pay increased rates upon these increased rents. There were cases given in the evidence before the committee where tenants had to pay £5 18s. in increased rent on a £19 rental, despite the fact that there were about 9,000 vacant houses in the city at the time.
When this report came to hand the Government introduced a Bill of which Mr. Walter Long was in charge, which provided for a limited increase in rent—the War Restrictions (Increase of Rent) Act, 1915. Since then there have been four separate committees of inquiry, the Salisbury Committee in 1930, the Onslow Committee in 1923, the Marley Committee in 1930 and the Ridley Committee in 1937. We have had progressive decontrol, by landlords getting possession, by slum clearances, the demolition of dwellings and by conversion to business premises. In 1933 a Measure was passed in this House decontrolling entirely class A dwellings. That was a dwelling over £45 in rent in London, over £45 in rent in Scotland and over £35 elsewhere. These rents after 1933 were decontrolled. Now we have this Bill which deals with the class B house, that is a house of a rental between £20 and £45 in London, between £26 5s. and £45 in Scotland and between £13 and £35 in other parts of England and Wales. That is the category of house we are considering this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman, following the recommendations of the Committee, proposes to divide this class B house and to decontrol everything over £35 in London, everything over £35 in Scotland and everything over £20 in the rest of England and Wales. All under those figures is to be controlled and all over those figures decontrolled.
Our first complaint against the Measure is that it perpetuates a mass of injustices and anomalies. The right hon. Gentleman never said a word in justification of the difference between the rents charged and the security offered to tenants in the 1149 same economic class. There are in class C houses tenants whose rents are controlled, who have security of a kind, and tenants whose rents may be increased and who have no security. Persons working in the same factory, in the same pit, living in the same street and on the same side of the same street, are paying vastly different rents for the same quality and extent of housing accommodation. The right hon. Gentleman proposes to perpetuate that injustice and anomaly. Indeed, he proposes to extend it, because he is now bringing in a lower category of class B house, and says that the anomalies and injustices perpetrated on some class C tenants, as against others in the same economic class, shall be carried over to the lower rung of class B tenants. The report of the Committee tells us precisely what this means. They got their evidence, I take it, from the Ministry of Labour. What is the evidence they gave to the Ridley Committee? They say:In London the average controlled house is let at 8s. 6d., a decontrolled one at 12s. 6d. and a local authority one at 10s. 6d. County boroughs, excluding London, 5s. rod. for a controlled house, 7s. 6d. for a decontrolled house and 7s. 2d. for the local authority house.In other words, there is practically a 33⅓ per cent. increase in rent on the decontrolled house over the controlled house.Other urban districts excluding Greater London, the average controlled rent is 5s. 6d., the decontrolled rent 7s. 2d. and the local authority rent 6s. 11d.There is a difference of 25 per cent. between the controlled rent and the decontrolled rent. The difference in rent, therefore, is from 25 per cent. to 33⅓ per cent. in favour of the controlled house; the decontrolled rent is higher by 33⅓ per cent. Therefore the Bill is designed to extend the number of families in this land who will be brought into circumstances in which their rents may be increased by 25 to 33⅓ per cent. Let the right hon. Gentleman consider this case. Here is John Smith in a home of £34 rent, still being given security, still being protected against an arbitrary rent increase. Another John Smith is living in a house with no rent limitation, no security, in a decontrolled house of £10 to £15. How is that justified? How does the right hon. Gentleman justify a perpetuation of these anomalies?
There is also a difference as between districts. There is a difference between 1150 Scotland and England and London, and I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he speaks this evening, will fulfil a long-standing pledge and give us some explanation of his views on the difference between the rating system in Scotland and the rating system in England. In Scotland a tenant when his rent is fixed by the landlord discovers that the landlord having to pay half the rates adds to the rent his estimated proportion of the rates, but he never calls it rent. Rent and rates are put on the valuation roll as rent, and the tenant has to pay rates therefore upon rates. He does not do that in England, and I am utterly unable to appreciate what effect derating has had in Scotland on the tenant's position. The fact is that there are two fundamentally different rating systems operating in this country. In Scotland we pay rates upon rates, but in England they do not, and the Secretary of State who is responsible for Scottish administration will doubtless be able to give us some explanation why in Scotland it is proposed to continue this system, whether he justifies it or not, and whether he can assure us that in the long run we shall lose nothing by it.
The Minister of Health was at some pains to criticise the Amendment, but before I say a word on the Amendment I should like to draw his attention to the fact that no statistical evidence whatever was given to the Ridley Committee in justification of these changes. On page 4 of the report of the Statistical Sub-Committee, the right hon. Gentleman will see that the sub-committee says that it "assumes" that there will be 40 per cent. decontrol of class B houses in England, and that on page 5 it says that it is "probable" that there will be one-third decontrol of class B houses in Scotland. There is no evidence, and the whole thing is based on assumption.
Moreover I draw the attention of the Government to the fact that there was a conflict of evidence on the part of their own witnesses. The spokesman for the property owners of Glasgow, Mr. Fletcher, in his evidence before the Ridley Committee, said that there is no shortage of class B houses in Glasgow. Mr. Rutherford Fortune, representing the Joint Committee of Legal Societies in Scotland, a solicitor to the Supreme Court, said that there is a shortage of class B houses in Glasgow. In London, 1151 the Bermondsey Council in their evidence, declared that decontrolled houses in their area are already rented at 25 per cent. more than the controlled houses, and that 11 per cent. of the population of Bermondsey is overcrowded. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who is chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, declared in his official evidence that the rent of class B houses, when subjected to decontrol, sometimes jumped by 100 per cent., and he added that 75 per cent. of working-class people in London live in sub-let houses because, of the scarcity which exists. The Standing Joint Committee of the Women's Industrial Organisations, in their evidence, said that the rent of class B houses, when subjected to decontrol, jumped from 35 per cent. to 100 per cent.
Average statistics are of no earthly use in a matter of this sort. In some districts, undoubtedly, there will be a shortage of class B houses, a rise in rents, and gross exploitation. The house-owners go one better than the Government, for in their evidence before the Ridley Committee they admitted that there would be these jumps in rent, but said that they had a remedy. For instance, Mr. Murray McGregor, representing the Federation of Property Owners, said that hardships would undoubtedly arise—that is, if class B houses were decontrolled—but that he and the people for whom he spoke were in favour of giving a discretionary power to the sheriff in the law court whereby those hardships could be avoided. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister, of Health does not do that. There is no safeguard and no appeal to the court under this Bill. Even the Federation of Property Owners, in their evidence, prophesied that there would be hardships, but said that in those cases of hardship they were in favour of an appeal to the law courts, in order that the hardships could be obviated or minimised in some way. The Bill provides for no appeal. There is to be automatic decontrol of houses above the £35 figure. Mr. Miller Fletcher, representing the property owners of Glasgow, said, in his evidence, that tenants ought to have the right of appeal to the sheriff against unreasonable increases in rent and unreasonable notices to quit. The Government gives tenants 1152 no right of appeal either on the one count or the other.
I come now to our Amendment. By this Bill, injustices are being perpetuated and new injustices perpetrated; in this Bill, the Government do not go even as far in obviating these injustices as the house owners want to go. In our Amendment we ask—not that this would be an ideal remedy—that tenancy courts shall be set up by the local authorities in every area and that landlords and tenants shall have equal rights to make appeals before those courts. All landlord-versus-tenant questions, not merely questions of rent and eviction, but all questions involving contractural relationships between landlords and tenants, would be taken before those courts. It may be suggested that there should be an appeal from the decisions of those courts on questions of law and stated facts, but the details of the mechanism of the courts is a matter which could be discussed, if the Chair permitted an Amendment to be moved, at a later stage. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health that there are other countries where these courts have functioned successfully.
The right hon. Gentleman's Department supplied a great volume of evidence to the Marley Committee on the question of tenancy tribunals in other countries. I commend to him a further study of what has happened in Denmark. I do not know what regulations govern the tenancy courts in Denmark at present, but the right hon. Gentleman's Department supplied valuable evidence to the Marley Committee proving that in Denmark such courts had functioned successfully and had prevented an enormous number of grievances. When I was in Russia, I attended some tenancy courts, and I saw nothing which was more interesting in the social legislation of Russia than those courts. They have worked well and have remedied an enormous number of grievances.
§ Mr. Johnston
Against all classes. I do not know what has happened outside Moscow and Leningrad, but in those two cities the houses were put up by the trade unions and by local authorities, both of which are organs of the State, and certainly they were not put up by the central government. I attended a large number 1153 of the sittings of those courts and saw them at work. In Denmark, Russia and Norway, tenancy courts have worked successfully. In Scotland we have had some experience of the Land Court, where rent and tenancy questions have been settled and hardships obviated. I am sure that there is no Scottish Member in any part of the House who would propose that the Land Court should be scrapped. As the Secretary of State for Scotland knows, these courts have prevented a very large number of serious injustices from arising in tenancy cases in Scotland. The Land Court stands in loco parentis between the tenant, the smallholder, the crofter, and sometimes the State.
I think there will be cases where the landlord ought to have the right to appeal to a tenancy court. I have heard of one case which I would like to quote to the House. A lady in Devonshire supplied me with particulars of her case. She says that her father was a poor man who had an income of about £2 a week. He built his house with his own hands. The rent charged to the tenant was £28 per annum and the rateable value £27 per annum. The tenant had an income of about £12 a week. That same tenant, who would not move to allow the daughter of the owner of the house to get possession but stayed in the house at a controlled rent, was himself the owner of houses which were decontrolled, and on which he will be able to put on the 40, 50, 60, or 100 per cent. increase. Obviously nobody wants to protect that sort of thing. No party in the State pretends that such injustices ought to be winked at. But they are winked at in this Bill.
The Government are dodging the difficulties, and nobody knows better that they are dodging difficulties than the very astute right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. He knows that injustices in tenancy questions are rife throughout the land, but that there is no remedy in the Bill. All that is happening in the Bill fundamentally, apart from one or two small debating points, is that the door is being opened for 450,000 fresh families in the lower grade class B houses to have their rents increased, at any rate in every area where there is not a scarcity. What will this mean? Take the case of a house in London with a rent now of £36 or 14s. a week. Say the rates are 15s. in the £. That is £26 in rates. The total which the tenant now has to pay is £62. 1154 If we allow the rent to be increased, not as my hon. Friend the Member for Peck-ham, who is chairman of the London County Council Housing Committee, suggested in his evidence, by 100 per cent., not by 50 per cent., but by 10 per cent., and that is lower than the minimum figure supplied by the Ministry of Labour to the Government's own Commission, there is £3 10s. going on to the rent. Then there are the taxes upon that £3 10s. at 15s. in the £. That means another £6 10s. to be lifted out of the pockets of that tenant immediately this Bill passes.
§ Mr. Johnston
With pleasure, and I hope we shall have the hon. Member's support in the Lobby. I said that if the rent of the house was £36 it would become a decontrollable house under the Bill. The rent to-day is 14s. a week. If the rates are 15s. in the pound that is £26 of rates added to £36 of rent making a total sum which the tenant at present has to pay of £62 per annum. If only 10 per cent. is added to the rent of that house that is £3 10s. going on to the rent after decontrol. Then 15s. in the pound on that £3 10s. has to be added and there is a total of £6 10s. which the tenant in London will be called upon to pay. In Scotland it will be worse because, as I have already indicated, the tenant in Scotland will have to pay rates upon rates. How the Secretary of State for Scotland is going to justify that, I do not know.
§ Mr. Johnston
Now we are getting at it. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain how it is not so.
§ Mr. Elliot
I will deal with the matter in my own speech and in my own time but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to read the Glasgow evidence.
§ Mr. Johnston
I have read it. Have I not quoted it? Have I not said that there is going to be great hardship and have not property owners said that there is going to be hardship?
§ Mr. Johnston
All I say is that the Ministry of Labour have declared that in some areas there is no surplus of class D houses. The Ministry of Labour have given evidence to the two Royal Commissions and have declared that the normal experience has been that under decontrol, both of class C and class D houses, there has been an increase in rent. No property-owning class of which I have ever heard or read, ever created except for a scarcity. Why should they? Every property-owning class deliberately creates for a scarcity and never for a glut. They create for a scarcity in order to get a higher price for their commodity.
§ Mr. Johnston
All history and all experience show that no property-owning class ever deliberately promotes a glut of the commodity which they are trying to sell. They deliberately try to create a scarcity market with the object of getting a higher price. That is common form.
§ Mr. Johnston
The Secretary of State for Scotland has said that he will deal with that point later on.
§ Mr. Johnston
Why otherwise should you have an organisation of the shipping industry to take ships off the market? Why should you fine farmers who till more than a certain number of acres? Why should you place a limitation on milk production? I hope we shall hear all about those matters later on.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
That is not the fault of the capitalist class. That is a case of the State interfering with the capitalist class.
§ Mr. Johnston
I will leave the hon. Member to the tender mercies of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. May I recall that the evidence given before Lord Hunter's Committee in 1915 showed that increased rents in certain munition areas were compatible with the existence of as many as 9,000 unlet houses. It all depends on the quality of the unlet houses. You can get figures about the surplus of houses but what are they worth? Lots of the houses are out of date or ought to be out of date and people simply will not lower their standards of housing and go back to the standards which their grandfathers thought were good enough. It is erroneous to suggest that because you have a certain number of unlet houses on the valuation roll, you have a surplus which will prevent, by competition, the owners of the better class houses from raising their rents. I suggest that in the past that has not been so and that it will not be so in the future.
I conclude by saying what I have already hinted, that we welcome this Measure in so far as it does not scrap rent restriction altogether. We recognise that the right hon. Gentleman has been compelled to bring in this Bill, otherwise the Rent Restrictions Acts would lapse. But we do not welcome the perpetuation of injustices. We shall strive to remove those injustices. We would bring all contractual relationships between landlord and tenant within the purview of locally elected tenancy courts, for reasons which I have already attempted to outline. We would permit landlords who have grievances to come before the courts with those grievances. But we do not believe that the homes of the people should be made bargaining counters for exploitation and robbery such as undoubtedly obtain in hundreds of thousands of instances up and down the land. We agree that, as far as possible, all houses should be provided by the local authority and that no exploitation of any kind should take place. [Laughter.] An hon. Member opposite sniggers at that remark. He believes in robbery and exploitation. I do not, and the purpose of debate is to express our views. I believe that houses should be let at cost price.
§ Mr. Johnston
I believe certainly that the houses should be let at cost price to the tenants and that every human being should have security of accommodation. That does not exist now. The Bill intensifies existing anomalies and injustices an inasmuch as—The toad beneath the harrow knowsExactly where each tooth point goes,we do not believe in your averages. This is a great human question and there are thousands, and hundreds of thousands of varieties of conditions. We believe that these difficulties and differentiations can best be obviated by the tenancy courts which we advocate and we would bring all houses, whether they are at present decontrolled or not, within the purview of those courts.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Spens
I desire to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for the provisions contained in this amending Bill. It is useless to attempt to argue with those who believe that the rents of all houses below a certain level should be fixed and controlled by law. I shall come later to the modification now suggested, which is that they should not be fixed and controlled by statute law but should be referable to tenancy courts. That may or may not imply a trusting belief in the much-abused profession to which I belong, but as it is suggested that these courts are to be elected, I am rather inclined to think the proposal is that the rents should be entrusted, not to an impartial lawyer but to someone with more partiality, elected by some majority of some council.
I was struck by what the right hon. Gentleman opposite said—that under the Rent Restrictions Acts we were perpetuating a vast number of personal injustices. There is no question about that. The reason is that we have interfered—and I do not say that we were not bound to do so in 1915—with the liberty of the subject. In spite of all the words which come from the other side of the House, both above and below the Gangway, about the liberty of the subject, one can be certain that whenever the National Government attempt to restore the liberty of the subject in any respect we meet with the strongest criticism from the two Opposi- 1158 tion parties who, outside this House, champion that principle. I want to remind the House that these houses under the Rent Restrictions Acts about which we are talking are pre-war houses, that every one of them was built and completed prior to 1915, and that they are some of the very worst houses that we have in the whole of the community. The fact that they have been so protected during all these years has been one of the greatest impediments to those exceptional landlords, as I suppose hon. Members opposite would call them, who would, if they could, improve their property. If he owns houses from which he can get only a low standard rent, the normal landlord is not in a position to do the modern improvements which he otherwise, quite rightly, might do.
In these circumstances I am convinced that it is in the interests of the community to get back to ordinary freedom of contract in respect of houses of all classes as soon as we can. I agree, being a good Conservative, that we must not go too fast, and I regard it as of great importance that in this Bill we are distinguishing between two quite separate categories of houses. We are proposing to decontrol class B houses. It must depend upon the quantity of other houses of comparable rents which are available in the country at the time to make that a wise move. I would remind the House also that, although it is true that any of us can take instances where, on decontrol, an attempt has been made to jump the rents against the tenants, these decontrolled B class houses will come into competition the moment they are decontrolled, not only with other decontrolled B class houses, but also if the landlord attempts to raise the rents, with the new houses that are erected in the areas with comparable rents. In the ordinary case where a B class house has been charged at 7s. 6d. and the landlord attempts to raise it by 2s. 6d. or 3s. 6d., he will be up against the rent which is being paid for other previously decontrolled B class houses, and also the rents which are being paid for the post-war new houses which have been erected in the area.
If you consult any ordinary housewife, you may be certain that, if it is a question of continuing in her present 7s. 6d. or 8s. 6d. B class house at an extra 1s. or 1s. 6d. a week, she will in fact go into 1159 a new house. The bogy that rents of these decontrolled houses are going to be rushed up at once is, I believe, being vastly exaggerated all over the country. We have to remember how many of the new houses of the B class have been erected during recent years, namely, 1,400,000—a tremendous figure. I agree that there are or may be certain districts where there is still not a surplus of B class houses—that came out in the evidence given to the Commission—but I will say, quite frankly, to my right hon. Friend that one of the things which I welcome more than anything else in this committee's report is the suggestion that the ultimate stage of decontrol should be by areas, and I hope that in due course we shall see that idea given legal effect. For the moment, however, it is not in the Bill, and my only doubt, if I have a doubt at all, about the wisdom of this proposal is whether or not there are not some areas in which it would have been wiser to have dealt with this question by areas rather than solely on national lines. Having regard to the figures, it is clear that in the vast majority of cases the decontrol of B class houses will not and cannot result in any substantial rising of rents, and I believe it will be one stage on the road to getting people out of these old, disreputable, pre-war houses and into the more modern and better houses that have been built since the War.
§ Mr. Johnston
Will the hon. and learned Member read paragraph 21 of the report of the Marley Committee, on page 17, where they say thatthe decontrolled rents of houses range on an average from 85–90 per cent. above the pre-war rent … as compared with the 50 per cent. increase in the rent … of a controlled house"?
§ Mr. Spens
I know that, and, of course, it all depends on the circumstances of the particular district. I see hon. Members opposite shaking their heads, but these economic laws cannot be altered by a Marley Committee or by anyone else. If in fact you have available to let, either out of the new houses or out of the previously decontrolled houses, four houses at or about similar rents, with two applicants, you will not get a rise in the rent, and no report of any committee will ever convince me that what I am saying is not accurate. I believe that not only is the possibility of this rise in 1160 rents immensely exaggerated throughout the country, but that the continuance of this control over a great many undesirable old houses has had a bad effect on the improvement of housing generally in the country, and I think that the sooner we can get these houses into competition with modern houses the sooner will there be a general improvement in the housing of the people.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
The assumption of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument is, I understand, that there will be a sufficient number of houses built by the local authorities to accommodate all the people who are living in the class B controlled houses. Is he right in assuming that the local authorities will build more houses than are required? If that is so, there will be a certain number of B class houses that will be unoccupied as a consequence.
§ Mr. Spens
The hon. Member has misunderstood me. I was dealing with the point which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, quite rightly, from the report that the rents will all rise the moment decontrol takes place, and I was suggesting that in any area, in the case of the individual B class house which is about to be decontrolled, if the landlord attempts to put up the rent by 2s. 6d. or 3s. 1d., the tenant has not got to remain in the house unless he wants to. If the tenant therefore has, in the district in which he lives, an opportunity of getting, at about the same rent, another house—[An HON. MEMBER: "He has not!"]—I can assure the hon. Member that in some districts he has.
§ Mr. Spens
Yes, that is the whole point: whether the 1,400,000 new houses that have been erected together with the houses already decontrolled are going to prevent rents rising. My suggestion is that the party opposite are in fact exaggerating generally the effects of the decontrol of these houses. Therefore, I welcome the Bill as a move forward, which I believe in the end will be of great benefit. I have said that, on reading the evidence, there appear to be certain areas in the country where that is not the position, and my doubt is whether it would not have been wiser, even for this next move forward, to have done it by areas instead of nationally. However, my right 1161 hon. Friend knows a great deal more about local conditions than I do, and he is asking the House to do the thing nationally. When you come to the last stage of the decontrol, and when you are dealing with what will then be C class houses, I am delighted to see that chat is to be done by areas, because I believe that when you get down to that class of house, every 6d. on the rent is a matter of vital importance to the tenants.
Now I would like to say a word about these tenancy courts. If it means, as it may mean, that hon. and right hon. Members opposite would prefer to have their leases and tenancy agreements made for them by the courts, because that is what it comes to, it is exactly another instance of the touching faith of the layman in some sort of judicial body. It is exactly the same as the touching faith of the layman that His Majesty's Judges are capable of making a better will for him than he is for himself. A Bill in regard to that matter is at present going through the House. Apparently the judiciary is not only to make the will of the individual citizen; he is now to start making these contracts of letting and teasing. Where is that going to end? It is not the job of the judiciary to do that sort of thing for the layman. In this country we have always understood that we were free to enter into our own contracts on the terms that we thought fit and proper, and if we have made a bad bargain, as many of us have as we have gone through life, we have had to bear it, or if we could find a legal ground, perhaps we have gone to the courts and asked them to get us out of the difficulty. But this idea that our contracts of leasing and letting are to be made for us by some sort of judicial body is, I suggest, just another interference with the individual liberty of all of us, which I am extremely surprised to find coming from hon. Members opposite, who put themselves forward as the champions of individual liberty. Whether it will be supported by hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, I do not know, but I suggest to them also that it is exactly the same thing as preventing individuals making bargains for themselves. Nobody knows everything that some other person knows, and the individuals themselves are the only people who know all the circumstances. They should, therefore, make their own bargains, and that 1162 is what we have always understood in this country to be the freedom of the subject. This suggestion that we should have them made for us by a judicial body, although very complimentary to the members of my profession, is, I believe, not a wise course to follow, and I hope the Amendment will be rejected.
§ Mr. Johnston
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the recommendation as to unfurnished rooms, that the rent should be fixed by the county court? Is he in favour of that?
§ Mr. Spens
I am dead against it. It is not the job of the courts. Whenever I see this sort of suggestion I strongly object to it, although it means work for the lawyers. It is not the job of the courts to make bargains for other people. It is a job of the individual to make his own bargain and it is the job of the courts to say whether individuals have stuck to their bargains. I hope the House will not enter into this sort of idea that it is the job of the judiciary to make bargains for individual laymen, because it is not.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Sir P. Harris
I am not going to be bold enough to enter into a legal controversy with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens), who is skilled in the law and a great authority on the law of property. I would point out to him, however, that the whole series of Rent Restrictions Acts is a deliberate interference with the freedom of contract. If he is going to suggest that after the War the ordinary occupier of a house had any choice of contract, any power to make a free contract, or any personal liberty to make a bargain, he is unacquainted with the realities of life.
§ Sir P. Harris
It is simply a question of expediency with the hon. and learned Gentleman. He is the last person who should object to these restrictions because he has been a constant and loyal supporter of a Government which has interfered by legislation with the supply of food in order artificially to raise the price. As a matter of fact, the interference with the power to make contracts which is involved in rent restriction legislation is 1163 to keep prices down, and that appeals more to me than it does to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) is not able to be here, because he is a far greater authority on this subject than I am. He has spent many laborious days on the Departmental Committee, to which we owe a debt of obligation because it heard a lot of evidence and did a lot of useful work.
The ownership of house property is a legitimate form of investment. We want to make that clear. There is no attack on the landowner as such. In the Midlands the buying of house property is a common form of investing savings which is undertaken by humble folk who often come within the definition of working-class. They are entitled to a reasonable return for the investment of their capital. Since the War no form of investment has been so safe and secure or has brought to the investor such a regular return on his capital. There is far less fluctuation in working-class property than there is even in War Loan, and that is saying a good deal. In some towns, certainly in the case of class C houses, there are no vacancies. I would almost give a prize to anybody who could find a vacant house in any working-class district in south and east London. It was different 30 years ago when I first entered public life. We then sometimes heard about what was called "midnight flits," when people went away from their homes without paying the rent because they found vacant accommodation elsewhere. Those ideal days have long gone by, and it will be many years before they come back.
Purchasers of controlled working-class property who have bought since the War have bought with their eyes open. They knew they were buying controlled property, and yet this is the section which is calling out for a change in the law. They had a considerable margin. They had a 40 per cent. increase over 1914 rent to cover the cost of repairs, and this excellent report points out that since 1920 there has been a fall in the cost of repairs. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman in his criticism that it would be better to deal with this problem by areas. There is not one standard throughout the country. Conditions vary between Scotland and England and they 1164 vary between London and the Provinces. Incidentally, there is a great need for some consolidation of the law. This Bill is that undesirable kind of legislation, legislation by reference. I have been in the House a good many years and I had considerable difficulty in understanding the complex Clauses of the Bill. Even with his lucid mentality, it took the Minister of Health nearly 50 minutes to explain it, and I do not think that even my hon. and learned Friends are clear about all the Clauses. If that be so to Members of the House, who are experts in reading legislation, what will be the experience of ordinary people in the back streets? They are extremely puzzled and are always writing to me to ask what their legal position is. There is considerable consternation as to what the effect of this new Measure is likely to be.
I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that the right way to deal with this problem is by areas. There is something to that effect in the report. To decontrol a whole section of houses all over the country will cause considerable hardship in many parts. The London problem is a problem on its own, and it has been intensified during the last 20 years by the enormous increase of the area. As London becomes larger, the pressure at the centre, instead of becoming less, becomes greater. The other day I quoted figures from the survey made under the 1935 Act. It showed that overcrowding under the low standard fixed by the Act is, throughout the country, the comparatively small figure of 3.8. In Shoreditch it is 17 per cent., and in Stepney 15 per cent. That is confirmed by the Ridley Report, which says:The people of East London are so closely-packed, that even if all the existing property were removed and the ground covered with new blocks of tall flats, it would be impossible to rehouse them without overcrowding. The only hope of abating the overcrowding in the East End is to encourage the movement of the people into less overcrowded neighbouring areas, and at the same time to secure that any house which becomes uncrowded remains tin crowded, The necessary mobility would be destroyed if control were removed from surrounding uncrowded areas. People would tend to say in the place where they had a controlled house, and there would be further pressure on the controlled accommodation from people living in the uncontrolled areas adjoining. This suggests that it is necessary to consider London as one unit for purposes of rent restriction, at least so far as class C houses are concerned.1165 They qualify their remark by limiting it to class C houses. On the other hand, in Bethnal Green, a typical borough, 20 per cent. of the people are living in B houses from which protection under the Bill is more or less withdrawn. The difficulty is that the slum clearance policy of the Government, which is good in itself, and the replacing of slums by block dwellings, far from increasing the number of rooms in a particular area near the centre of London, is actually decreasing the number of rooms. What is perhaps more serious is that it is replacing houses by block dwellings. It may be proof that English people are old-fashioned or prejudiced, but the ordinary working man prefers a house with a front door going on to the street to the best flat in a block dwelling. That means that the demand for small houses is not decreasing, but increasing, because the number of houses is actually declining as houses are pulled down to make way for block dwellings. During the last three or four years, far from their being less competition for the existing houses, there is, if anything, more.
I am afraid that when control is taken off B houses fresh hardship will be caused. This Bill recognises that problem because it allows special treatment where houses are providing homes for two or more families, which is the ordinary thing throughout the east of London. The majority of the houses are let in two tenements. On the other hand, it makes no concession to the large family. One of the most serious problems, and one before which housing legislation is breaking down, is the tendency of local authorities, and private builders too, to build houses for small families rather than for large families. I am sorry the Minister himself is not here, but I submit to his deputy that there ought to be some special provision for the London area, particularly to meet the needs of large working-class families. In London, and I believe it applies also to Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and all our other great cities, there are thousands of people who, because of their occupation, must live near the centre. London has the great markets of Spitalfields, Billingsgate and Smithfield, where work starts very early in the morning, and ordinary working men—and a good many sections of the working class who are above the ranks of unskilled workers—must live on the 1166 spot, and if control is removed they will have to pay extra rents, because there is no alternative accommodation. It is true that there has been a considerable improvement in transport, but that does not by any means meet the special conditions in the centre of London.
Then there is the special case of the small shopkeeper. Most of our side streets have their small shops, which meet the necessities of the people. Most of our ordinary working-class houses have little larder accommodation for food, and the people have to buy from hand to mouth. These small shopkeepers do meet a need. On the other hand, they are faced with severe competition from the multiple shops, and, if I may say so, from the co-operative stores and are feeling the pressure not only of rents but of rates. As far as I can see from the complex provisions of this Bill they will come under class B and, if protection is removed, will almost certainly have their rents raised. There is another cause of alarm, arising from the demand for small workshops. It is a common practice to buy up houses as soon as they are vacant and to turn them into small factories and workshops, very often under bad conditions, and, of course, that means a decrease of housing accommodation.
I suggest that the Minister should be prepared to consider Amendments to his Bill excluding certain areas. I do not want to be selfish and suggest that the concession should be confined to London, because it may be that it should apply to Glasgow, Liverpool and all the other large cities, but if this Bill is to go through in its present form, with the whole of class B houses decontrolled, I am afraid that it will cause severe hardships, and create great discontent among a decent hard-working class of people who have enjoyed the advantages of this legislation for over 20 years.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Beaumont
The Minister of Health has added yet another to the series of Measures dealing with rent restriction which have been presented to Parliament during the last 20 years or so, and I think that this Bill can certainly be described as a successful attempt to steer a middle course between those who would decontrol houses altogether and those who-would seek to place all working-class houses under rent control. Unlike hon. 1167 Members opposite I believe that we must look forward to the eventual abolition of rent restriction, because however necessary it may have been in the years that have elapsed since it was first imposed, and however necessary it may still be to-day, it is an artificial system placing a restriction upon one particular class of property owners only. It is because of this that it has been important for us to be on the alert to adapt it to changing circumstances, and to work towards the goal of dispensing with it altogether when conditions permit. Besides, it has not been altogether without its serious disadvantages.
After the War and in its early stages the uncertainty as to the future of control caused, to a certain extent, a vicious circle, in which the supply of houses was restricted by control while control was necessary because of the shortage of supply. Again, it has brought a certain amount of hardship upon a number of owners of small property by its arbitrary limitation of the value of their properties, and it has also tended to prevent the improvement of property, the pulling down of old property and the replacing of it by new. Moreover, the system of decontrolling a house when it becomes vacant has also had its disadvantages. It has tended to immobilise people and to prevent them from moving either to a more suitable house or to a district where employment is available, because if a person's rent is controlled he will naturally be averse from moving from that house to a decontrolled house at a higher rent. I am glad to see, therefore, that this system is to be discontinued, except in the case of class B houses occupied by more than one family, and that in the future the remainder of the houses will either be decontrolled entirely or else controlled whatever changes may take place in their tenancies.
Nevertheless, in spite of those objections, rent restriction has undoubtedly brought security of tenancy and a definite limitation of rent to a very large number of working people, and however much one would like to see these artificial restrictions go one has to admit that the full play of supply and demand could not yet be allowed to take place. In fact, there are districts in which it may yet be many years before rent restriction can be finally abolished, and I am glad 1168 that the Government have accepted the view that the abolition of rent control cannot come all at once but can only be brought about with full regard to the different circumstances in each individual area. The area which I represent is one of those in which one could not contemplate without apprehension the complete abolition of control in the near future.
§ Sir P. Harris
On a point of Order. This Bill affects England, and there are two Ministers representing the Ministry of Health, but all we have present is one of the Scottish Law Officers, no doubt quite capable of dealing with Scottish problems. I think the hon. Member is entitled to have some representative of the Ministry of Health listening to his speech.
§ Mr. Beaumont
As hon. Members may know, Portsmouth is practically an island, and building land, where it exists at all, commands a very high price. The provision of houses at low rents is, therefore, a matter of great difficultly, and it is quite usual to find dockyard men and other workers paying as much as 40 per cent. of their weekly income in rent, and for the rents of houses to be raised on decontrol by anything up to 80 or even 100 per cent. One of the principal difficulties that faces us in Portsmouth is the housing of naval ratings and their families, and the position of many of the more poorly paid ratings is extremely precarious. The amount of their pay which they are able to allot to their wives, together with marriage allowance, if they are entitled to it, certainly does not permit of payment of the high rents which obtain in many places, and of course still more serious is the case of the man Who although he is married, is not entitled to the marriage allowance.
Housing is a vital question to all sections of the community, but I think it is especially so for the naval rating, and the problem of finding suitable accommodation for him at a suitable rent is very acute. Not long ago a most helpful scheme was started to try to deal with the problem. It is known as the Victory Housing Scheme. It was started unofficially by naval authorities. The money was borrowed from the Public Works Loan Department, the land belonged to 1169 the Admiralty and was obtained on favourable terms, and an attractively-planned housing estate of some 120 houses was built, and more have been constructed since. The houses are let at an inclusive rent of 12s. 6d. a week to those on the lower rates of pay, preference being given to families in poor circumstances and in bad surroundings. This is a scheme which, so far as it goes, is excellent, and great credit is due to those responsible for its inception. But it only touches the fringe of the problem, and even this scheme does not cater for the lowest-paid ratings, because there are many married ratings, especially those who are not in receipt of marriage allowance, who are unable to afford a rent of 12s. 6d. and who, therefore, have to seek other accommodation wherever they may be lucky enough to find it. When one realises that many of those men can only afford to make allotments to their wives of some 15s. or 16s. a week at the most, one can understand how urgent is the need for the provision of cheap accommodation, and how desperate would be their position if any further rise in rents were to take place through the disappearance of control. I believe that the Bill affords a further measure of protection to these people, because it brings some 650,000 more of the smaller houses under stricter control and ensures that they shall not become decontrolled, at any rate for the time being.
I do not believe that the decontrol of some 450,000 houses in the higher ranges of class B will cause any hardship and any chance of hardship is rendered more remote by the decision of the Government to exempt from decontrol houses of this kind which are occupied by more than one family. There is no doubt that this practice is carried on to a very considerable extent, and, if I may refer again to my own area, it is extremely common among dockyard workers, and, especially perhaps among retired dockyard men, whose pensions, if they get them at all, are not so very large, to find two families sharing one of these houses, each family having its own separate accommodation and dividing the rent between them. If those houses were all to be decontrolled many of these families would be faced with a substantially increased rent, but I believe that the decision to treat one of those houses as two separate dwellings will effectively prevent any hardship that 1170 might be caused by decontrol of class B houses.
I support the Bill because I believe that it is a wise one, and that the Government's policy with regard to rent restriction is on the right lines. The building of houses has been progressing at such a satisfactory rate that it is now possible to visualise the eventual end of rent restriction, and it should not be long before another measure of decontrol can be undertaken, beginning with the larger houses which are still under control. But while it is also true that the smaller type of house is being built in large numbers, I do not believe that this is necessarily so in every area, and I think it is, therefore, perfectly sound that final decontrol should depend upon the particular circumstances in each area. The Bill is another step in the direction of the termination of an emergency system, but it is not a headlong or irrational step, because while it decontrols some 450,000 houses it also brings some 650,000 of the smaller houses under stricter control and safeguards their tenants. It is because of these facts and because the Bill takes a perfectly fair line as between the landlord and the tenant, that I welcome it and support its Second Reading.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Pearson
I beg to ask for the indulgence of the House, in addressing it for the first time. I represent an area in which people have suffered severely and long from bad economic conditions, and my fond desire was to make a few remarks in my first speech about the hardships that my own people have had to undergo for a number of years, and about the need for urgent measures of reconstruction in order to relieve that position. That has been denied to me for a while, and I have to wait for another opportunity. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are against rents control, and we join issue at once with them on that matter. We feel that State interference is necessary and good. The Bill proposes to decontrol approximately 450,000 houses, 50,000 of which are in Scotland. They are mainly of types inhabited by the black-coated lower middle class and other wage-earners who have been unsuccessful in getting a C type house.
Those tenants already feel the burden of high rents. The Minister of Health professes a belief that decontrol on the 1171 scale proposed will not appreciably raise rents, but I am unable to discover any foundation for that belief. There is a very considerable shortage of what is known as the B type house, and the tenants inhabitating this type are, for the most part, unorganised, and belong to a particularly silent and suffering section of the community. I believe that they should be protected, and not shorn of every vestige of legislative protection as is intended by the Bill. The Minister suggested that only a very small measure of decontrol will be brought about. There is a saying that the more insignificant the flower the handsomer the bees that are attracted to it. The truth of the observation is borne out by the measure of satisfaction shown by property owners' associations. Those associations see the sweets of high rents. It should not be only their necessities that are considered. Rather should it be the good of the greatest number. If control is taken off, the new position will be felt very keenly and the tenants affected will be roused to strong resentment. Obviously, they are to be the first victims of a progressive policy of decontrol, which is only another word for being the captive of the landlord. This Bill is the thin end of the wedge which is to be dirven in progressively and at an accelerated speed. This is the fear and this is the anxiety now being held over the heads of tenants generally. We wish to mitigate, and not to increase those misgivings. The Bill is too drastic an alteration of the law which has prevailed since 1920—with modifications in 1923 and 1933.
In my opinion, the Bill is an unwise step, because it interferes with what has been accepted as a more or less established condition in relation to increases of rent and to security of tenure. The whole idea underlying the Bill is to destroy the root of control, so that the branches of control will, presumably, wither away of their own accord. We should endeavour to incorporate in the Bill something that will help the people who will suffer under decontrol. Rents will go up. Figures can be brought forward to show, and every day experience teaches, that rents go up after decontrol as much as 25 per cent. and 30 per cent., and in some cases even more.
1172 I would make a strong appeal that something should be done to establish tenants' courts. Much can be done in that way to mitigate the hardships that tenants have to undergo at the present time. We must remember that shelter is a cardinal feature of life. It is one of the great trinity—food, clothing and shelter. I would also urge the Minister of Health to answer a question which was put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) regarding Clause 5 (2), which relates to compounding, or what we call in some places the discount. In my area the discount amounts to as much as 15 per cent., and there will be a definite hardship upon tenants who have to bear the added burden of losing the discount, which may reach a figure of 13s. or 15s. for the half year. That is not the only thing; in such an area as ours the rates, owing to the burden of public assistance, are continually on the climb, and an added burden will be a real hardship to a large number of people.
§ 6.39 p.m.
May I be allowed, on my own behalf and, I believe, that of every other Member present, to offer our heartiest congratulations to the hon. Member who has just spoken? I believe that everybody will agree as to the sincerity of his views and the moderation with which he put his case. What one always says on an occasion of this kind is really meant to-day, that is, that we all hope to hear him on many other occasions.
I have been a member of two Departmental Committees which have reported on this difficult and complicated question of rent control. The Government have in each case accepted practically all our recommendations, and we cannot, therefore, oppose the Bill. It is difficult to find anything to criticise in it. One cannot really appreciate the implications of this subject without realising certain facts about housing. The Minister of Health has mentioned some of them and I do not want to repeat them, but they are so remarkable that attention should be called to them. It is no mean feat that we have built nearly 3,500,000 new houses in this country since the War. That means that from 10,000,000 to 12,000,000 people, men, women and children, are living in better housing conditions to-day than they would have had if those houses 1173 had not been built. The percentage of the number of people per house is encouraging. The figures which the Minister gave showed that there has been something like a 25 per cent. improvement in overcrowding conditions in England and Wales since 1914, and they show also that the problem is by no means yet solved, although very considerable steps have been taken to deal with it.
No one could have been a member of those committees without realising what hon. Members upon the Socialist benches have said, namely, what a very great part rent plays in the weekly budget of the working people of this country and what a very high percentage of their earnings still goes in paying rent. When the Bill reaches the Statute Book there will be about the same number of houses controlled as have been built since the end of the War, about 3,500,000, and that means that the Bill will affect the rents paid by about 10,000,000 people. I do not wish to deal with the case of Scotland, which in so many ways is behind us in the matter of housing. I am not arguing about the reason for that, but I am afraid it is a fact. Overcrowding in Scotland to-day is six times as great as it is in England. It was suggested to us that the people of Scotland preferred to live together to a greater degree than was preferred in England, because they wished to have more money to spend in other directions.
I have never thought it was a very good argument. Whatever may be said, hon. Members cannot get away from the fact that housing conditions in Scotland to-day are far behind those which prevail in England. It is obvious that any solution of the problem must be largely a matter of compromise. If it were possible to do away with all control, in a comparatively short space of time, a year or two, the housing problem and rents would have settled themselves. [Laughter.] It would not mean that a very considerable number of people would meet with hardship. If hon. Members who were laughing at me and interrupting me would study the figures in the report they would see that almost everywhere, except in London, the difference between rents in decontrolled houses and those which local authorities 1174 charge, is infinitesimal. I do not say that that statement applies to London, because it does not. London is an exceptional case. I mean that, if rent restriction were done away with, it would not be long before the natural law of supply and demand would result in rents very little more than are being charged for controlled houses to-day. [Interruption.] I have given the figures, which are in the report, to substantiate my argument. However, I realise that that is not a possibility, and I will not pursue it further.
We are not dealing here with a new problem. We have 20 years of complicated legislation behind us in this matter. The whole basis of the system of rent restriction was, of course, the question of supply and demand, and the question of supply and demand still governs the suggestions that we made in our report and the conclusions which the Government have accepted in this Bill. Whatever hon. Members above the Gangway may say, if we accept, as we must accept, the fact that house property at the present time is a legitimate form of property, the landlord comes out second best under this Bill. The present Act establishes an important new principle, namely, that decontrol shall in future be gradual, geographical, if I may use that term, but automatic; and I accept the Government's contention that some further examination is required as to how exactly the process of decontrol shall be carried into effect. I assert, however, that overcrowding must be the overriding consideration before decontrol is authorised in any part of the country.
Anyone who sat on these committees will also have been impressed by the great variety of conditions and, as in other matters, the danger of generalising on a subject of this kind. As I have already said, London is exceptional. We had a good deal of evidence from people in the North, particularly in Manchester, where in some districts there were literally hundreds of houses empty; and that adds force both to our proposal and to the Government's acceptance of it that decontrol should be brought about at different times and in different ways as it affects different parts of the country. We have to recognise the hardships which control imposes on certain sections of the community. It is clear that those hard- 1175 ships are not nearly as numerous as the hardships that would be imposed on other sections if control were done away with, but we had a good deal of evidence and all of us received quite a number of letters from small people like widows and others in a similar position who really do suffer hardships under the control system. They own a small amount of house property, and the tenants in their houses are paying them controlled rents, which certainly have been increased by a percentage, but not appreciably since 1914; but, although they own those houses, and could let them for double, and in many cases treble what they are now receiving, they themselves, not living in controlled houses, have to pay a rent two or three times as much as that which their tenants are paying. I admit that that is one of the necessary hardships of an artificial system such as prevails to-day in the control of house property, but it is one which must be recognised as a very real hardship.
Then there is the case of trustees who have to administer house property. There is the greatest possible difficulty in keeping your houses in really good repair if you cannot get your tenants out, and, of course, you cannot in any circumstances increase the rent beyond a very small figure, however much you may be disposed to spend on the property. Case after case was brought to our notice where landlords were willing and even anxious, merely in their own interest, to make considerable repairs and spend considerable sums of money on improving their property, but could not carry out the repairs as long as the houses were controlled. Moreover, there is the complicated question of the position of mortgagors under this legislation. As the report says, the committee were almost equally divided as to whether any steps were required in that matter, and, as the Government have not expressed any view upon it themselves, I do not wish to deal with it now.
I am glad that the Government, in Clause 5, have accepted some of our smaller but not unimportant proposals. The two most important are in paragraphs (e) and (f) of our report. One of these deals with the question of putting the onus on the landlord to prove decontrol, rather than letting the matter rest with the tenant. That has been accepted by the 1176 Government, and I gather, though it is very hard to understand the phrasing, that it is already in the Bill. The second is with regard to the rent book, which I consider very important. I am not quite sure yet as to how exactly the Government intend to carry it into effect. I know they say they agree with it and wish to see it in operation, but it is a little difficult to understand exactly how it is going to be done. Whether it will require a special Bill or not I do not know, but, if that be the case, I think that the sooner such a Bill is introduced the better, and it will certainly receive unanimous support in all quarters of the House. I do not believe that these two matters will affect a very large number of people. I do not believe that the majority of landlords are really harsh, unsympathetic, cruel people, exacting every penny from their tenants. But it is certain that there are some, though I believe they are a minority, who require the light of publicity which would result from the printing of their names on the rent book. This would not affect the large majority of landlords, who, I believe, are perfectly reasonable people. Some of us on the Committee had hoped that, by compromise and concession, we should have been able to get a unanimous report. I am sorry that we did not, but I believe that this Bill is a fair solution of a highly complex, difficult, and longstanding problem.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Silkin
The hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) has at any rate given a message of hope and comfort to the people of London. He has admitted that, so far as London is concerned, the effect of decontrol will undoubtedly be that rents will be substantially increased. He tells us that London is an exception; but the blessings of this Bill will fall both on the just and on the unjust, and London will suffer from the Bill, although London is admittedly an exception. The hon. and gallant Member rather let the cat out of the bag in dealing with the hardship of the poor owners of property. The hardship he referred to was the inability of the poor owner of property to get possession and to charge, as he said, often two or three times as much rent as before. But that is our case; that is the case against decontrol. Before that, the hon. and gallant Member was explaining that rents 1177 anywhere else would not be affected. If rents anywhere else are not to be affected, where is the hardship on the owner?
I said that the cases of hardship were very few in comparison with the hardships which would be imposed if there were complete decontrol.
§ Mr. Silkin
The hon. and gallant Member certainly gave the House an impression that, apart from London, decontrol had no substantial effect on rents. On the other hand, he spoke of the poor owner who could not get for his controlled house the rent that he would be able to charge if he could get possession.
§ Mr. Silkin
The hon. and gallant Member evidently appreciates that decontrol generally means an increase of rents. The Minister of Health indicated very clearly the vital differences in outlook between hon. Members on the benches opposite and those on these benches. We on these benches regard the control of rents as an essential factor in modern economic life. Rent is the largest single item of expenditure in the working-class budget, and we feel that it is wrong that rents should be left to the free play of the laws of supply and demand, particularly as fluctuations of rent are possible to-day to such an extent as to involve families of small means in very great hardship and privation. The control of factors in the working-class budget is not a new principle. It is a very old principle. We have recognised, for instance, for nearly a century, that railway fares must be controlled; we control the prices of gas and electricity; we control the price of milk, and we are tending to control the prices of other food products. We also control industrial assurance—a very small matter in comparison with rents. I see nothing wrong in principle in controlling what is the most important factor in working-class life.
The Minister has endeavoured, as have other hon. Members, to establish that there is no longer a housing shortage as regards dwellings coming within the category of class B. The right hon. Gentleman referred with pride to the three and a-quarter million dwellings erected since the end of the War. I think that one hon. Member made it, by the time it got 1178 to him, three and a-half million. The Minister compared this with the growth of population. I submit, however, that the important factor in deciding whether this increase in the number of houses has affected the housing shortage is not the increase of population, but the increase in the number of separate families. Since 1918, there has been an increase in the number of separate families throughout this country of no less than 2,000,000. The census figures show that in London in the 10 years between 1921 and 1931 the number of families increased by 355,000, or 19.5 per cent., as against a population increase of 9.7 per cent.; and within the same period there was an increase in the number of dwellings of 279,000; so that for the 10 years between 1921 and 1931 there was an actual shortage created of 76,000 dwellings, that being the number by which the number of separate families exceeded the number of new dwellings erected. The same process has gone on since then.
§ Mr. Silkin
I have not the exact latest figures, but I have every reason to believe that this process has continued in very much the same proportions. Moreover, a large number of houses each year are demolished and not rebuilt. A considerable number are converted into business or industrial premises. And then again—and this is something that we all welcome—there has been a changed outlook on housing since the end of the War. Families have spread themselves out. Occasionally families which were living in two or three rooms have, where they had the opportunity, taken possession of a whole house. That is a very good thing, but it does create a greater housing shortage. In spite of all that, in London two families out of three are sharing a house which was intended originally for the occupation of one. These houses by their construction and the amenities they provide are quite unsuited for multiple occupation. There is a lack of water supply. Quite commonly a tenant has two rooms on the second floor, for which he pays, perhaps 15s. or 16s. a week, and has to get his water supply from the ground floor, going down two flights of stairs. The same applies to the water closet. Of course there is no bathroom, and there are no facilities for the storage of food, for the washing of cloth- 1179 ing or any of the other amenities of life. Dwellings of that character are included in the number of dwellings that are available, and are classed as dwellings with separate accommodation.
The Minister has referred to the overcrowding survey, but I submit that the overcrowding survey is really no test of the housing shortage, certainly not a complete test. But even under the survey, inadequate as the Minister himself admits it to be, there were last year nearly 350,000 families in England and Wales who were overcrowded. And furthermore there was a similar number of families on the verge of overcrowding, which makes, even on the basis of this very low standard, a total of 700,000 families in England and Wales who were living in inadequate accommodation. As against that number, I think we have been told that 2,000 houses have been provided. How can the Minister have the face to come to this House and say that the housing shortage is being substantially met in any category comprising persons with limited means? Until suitable separate dwellings are available for every family of two or more persons the housing shortage cannot be said to have been met, and there should be no further decontrol until it has. This Bill, on the admission of the Minister himself, is going to involve hardship to at least 450,000 families, or about 1,500,000 people.
Let us examine for a moment who are these families. First of all they are large families who have to live in large dwellings and pay higher rents because of the size of their families and these are the people that we are going to penalise. This Bill will hit the man who takes the more serious view of his responsibilities. Where a person with a large family chooses to live in inadequate accommodation his house will remain controlled, but where a person has taken a more serious view of his responsibilities and made a sacrifice to provide his family with adequate accommodation, he will have his rent increased. Then we are going to penalise the higher paid manual worker and the black-coated worker, the man who to-day is having a very hard struggle to keep up appearances. A third category is the small shopkeeper who may have carried on for years under a weekly tenancy. The effect of this Bill will be that he will lose his 1180 business, or he will have to pay a higher rent, which many of these men cannot afford. I admit the Minister has referred to a protective Clause in the Bill, but he knows quite as well as I do that that provision is really illusory, that very few shopkeepers will have the knowledge or the legal assistance or the capacity to take advantage of that provision; and anyone who has had the opportunity of studying the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act, which is the protection that is offered to the small shopkeeper, knows very well how illusory and unsatisfactory the benefits of that Act really are. The hardship will be twofold. It will involve a loss of security, and it will involve an increase of rent.
The Departmental Committee in their report admit that there is an average difference in rent between controlled and similar decontrolled dwellings of 5s. d. a week. That is a substantial sum, but that average does not take into account the working-class families who are occupying parts of houses, on which point the Departmental Committee state that they had no information. It is just in that category of dwellings where the greatest exploitation occurs, and if the committee had taken account of parts of dwellings, which are also to be decontrolled, I submit that that figure of 5s. 6d. a week would have been substantially higher.
I have had the opportunity of getting some official figures for London, showing the variations of rents paid by applicants to the London County Council for houses, and I think it is fair to assume that the higher rents represent decontrolled rents. These are the variations. For one room the rents of applicants varied from 3s. to 14s. a week; for two rooms, from 5s. to 21s.; for three rooms, from 6s. 5d. (which is presumably a controlled or protected rent) to 25s. So the figures go on, up to six rooms, of which the rents vary from 13s. 11d. a week to 30s. a week. That gives an idea of what decontrol has in practice meant in London. The evidence goes to indicate that there will be corresponding increases as soon as decontrol takes place.
§ Mr. Silkin
Yes, that is the county of London. The Minister gave the House the impression that he was meeting the difficulties of the sub-tenants of larger houses, but I submit that the Bill does not attempt to meet the difficulty of a sub-tenant of a house of which the rateable value is over £35, or even £45 a year. There are a large number of houses in London, and possibly in other parts of the country, of which the rateable value is £50 or £60 or £70 a year, which are let off to two or three or four different families. The effect of this Bill will be that every one of these families' dwellings will be decontrolled. I believe it may have been the intention of the Minister in this Bill to ensure that those dwellings should be controlled, but the effect is going to be to decontrol all of them, and I feel it makes very little, if any, difference to the occupier of two rooms in a house, paying, say, 20s. or 25s. a week, whether those two rooms happen to be in a house which is rated at £35 or less, or more than £35. The same considerations apply, and both categories of tenanacies should be protected.
I regret very much that nothing has been done to strengthen the law requiring the owner of premises to carry out his obligations to keep the premises in proper and habitable repair. The owner takes his 40 per cent., and I quite agree that theoretically the tenant can go to the medical officer of health, pay 1s. and get a certificate and serve it on the owner, and then, until the repairs are done, he can recover the 40 per cent. increase by going to court. But that is really a very cumbersome proceeding and very ineffective, and indeed very few tenants know about it, and still fewer take advantage of it. This is really a very serious question to tenants, and I feel that the Minister should have done something to strengthen this provision in the Bill. We have become accustomed to Measures from this Government which tend to benefit the property-owning class and to worsen the conditions of the people and attack our social services. The latest two housing Measures, the 1935 Act and this Bill, are very good examples. This Measures strikes one more blow at the security and standard of life of the poorer section of the community, and I can assure the Minister of Health that it is being watched with the greatest 1182 fear and anxiety by millions of our less fortunate fellow citizens.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Sir Cooper Rawson
I should like to appeal to the Minister on one point only, with regard to class B houses. I have had many communications from my constituency, where there are a lot of old-fashioned houses which have been turned into flats, and my constituents are very apprehensive about their being decontrolled. I would like the Minister to make the position a little clearer instead of indiscriminately putting houses all over the provinces under the £20 or more rateable value. In my constituency the houses are probably rated higher than in many towns in the country—almost as high in fact as in London; and consequently an exceptionally large proportion of houses there will be decontrolled, even though the high level of rents indicates that there is a housing shortage. Therefore, a great many people will be in decontrolled houses, and will be faced with great difficulty in finding accommodation elsewhere. I beg the Minister to make it clear what their position will be, and to put my constituency, if possible, in the same category as London. That is asking rather a lot; but I would ask him to put us in a little better position than on the £20 annual valuation basis. A constituent of mine, who is a working man, only doing odd jobs, has lived for years in a basement flat, the value of which up to recently was £8 a year, but on reassessment this was increased to £24 a year. That is a very serious matter if he is to be decontrolled. In my constituency there are many high houses, with several occupied by several families. These will be seriously affected.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Duncan Graham
I have had the privilege of being a member of the last three rent restriction committees, and I was unable to convince my colleagues on any of those committees and make them look at the matter from the same standpoint as myself. On the Onslow Committee, I differed from the majority of my colleagues. The next time I had an opportunity of dealing with the question was when the Labour Government set up a rent restriction committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Marley. I again held an opinion different from that held by the majority of my colleagues on the committee. I have never heard any argu- 1183 ment that would justify my changing the opinion I held. On the Onslow Committee, I think I was the only rent payer on the committee. There were very few rent payers on the Marley Committee, and I do not think there were many on the Ridley Committee. I know something about the position from the standpoint of the tenant. I do not believe that landlords in Scotland are any worse than those in England. They are all much alike: some good, some bad; and the bad ones prevail over the good ones. I did not agree with the majority of the committee that was set up by the Labour party.
I do not agree with the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. Johnston) to-day on the question of rents. The rating question is an entirely separate and a very difficult one. As I have already said, whatever the method adopted by the landlord in England—it may be different in England from what it is in Scotland—the object of the landlord in both countries has been the same. The evidence that was submitted by the landlords to all the committees of which I have been a member was that there would probably be hardships, and in many cases increases in rent. I quite appreciate why they made that statement. No organisation of landlords can make certain that each individual member of the organisation will play the part that the organisation itself believes in. There is no question that decontrol, as in the past, will increase rents. That is my main objection to this Bill.
Again, I do not agree altogether with the criticisms expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Clackmannan, in his opening remarks, about the Minister of Health. I think the Minister is a kindly-disposed individual. I think he is one of those men who feel just as they look. [An HON. MEMBER: "How does he look?"] He has a wonderfully kindly expression, but he does not think that the Bill will have the effect that we on these benches have suggested, and he expects much good from it. However, you know the old proverb about the way to a certain place, which is unnameable in this Assembly, being paved with good intentions. We have had experience of that. We are not taking good will or good intentions as being sufficient. All 1184 the Acts that have been passed as a consequence of the reports of the committees have meant that the landlord, in most cases, was able to ride roughshod over every precaution which had been taken to safeguard the tenant. I could mention hundreds of cases from my own constituency where the tenants have been, I do not want to say defrauded, but certainly deprived, of the advantages that were presumed to be provided for them in the last Act.
I remember the time when I could get a one-apartment house for 1s. a week, plus coals; now, such houses are letting at from 4s. to 5s. a week. You cannot compare housing conditions in Scotland and in England. My experience is that a two-apartment house in Scotland has a larger cubic capacity than a three-apartment or four-apartment house in England. The cost of building here is much higher. Until recently, we depended in Scotland on stone-built houses; but now they are built of brick, or something worse than brick. We are following the English custom; and now there is an attempt, even by some of our own friends here, to follow the English custom in regard to rating. I hope that there will be considerable thought about this before it is put into legislative form.
During the last year, the Government did a very good thing. I do not believe the Government are all saints; neither do I believe they are all devils. I believe they sometimes do a good thing, though there is a great deal of groaning from hon. Members on their side when they do. They made a survey throughout the country, and I think that, with the evidence they have collected, they have rendered a valuable service; because we now know the number of houses that are admittedly uninhabitable. In Scotland, 1,024,992 houses were surveyed, of which 814,349 were in burghs and 210,643 were in county districts. The average number of empty houses was 6,699, inclusive of houses with up to six apartments. That is considerably less than 1 per cent.; and a very large number of those houses will be occupied by the black-coated workers: the people with assured incomes of something like £200 or £300 a year, living in houses of four or five apartments. This Bill will hit those people as severely as it is likely to hit similar people in London, as the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) has shown.
1185 But, apart from the ordinary working-class population, there are a considerable number of persons who will be affected by the Bill. Those of us who come from Scotland, on whichever side of the House we sit, know that the vast majority of black-coated workers there live in tenements. Take Edinburgh, Glasgow or any of the comparatively small towns, and you will find that the rent of those houses will bring them outside control, and put them in the position of being subject to a considerable increase in rent. Do not let us delude ourselves that the owners are not intending to increase rents. They make that perfectly plain. I am not making any complaint about their doing so, because they are fully justified in trying to get the best out of the conditions under which they are living. I suppose that all of us would do the like thing, and I am not complaining about it at all and am merely mentioning that the landlord is quite honestly putting forward the claim that when he gets the opportunity he intends to increase rents. I really feel that not only will that be a mistake, but it may turn out to be a disaster. You are making preparations for war, and perhaps intend to fight somewhere in two or three years' time. When you enter into a war you will expect, as you did in 1914, the working classes to be behind you. I do not know that I can use the proper expression to describe exactly the feeling that existed among the working classes from 1914 to 1918 with regard to the actions of the house owners. The same sort of thing might happen again. The same thing will happen unless rent restriction is continued.
I have been a minority member on each of these committees, because I believe that it is the business of the State to provide houses. I have absolutely no sympathy with the argument very often used on behalf of the house owner, that he is in a different position from that of anyone else in the community. He is not. There is not a Member on the opposite side of the House who would tolerate for a moment leaving the butcher, or any other members of the community who supply us with food and milk or other necessities of life, with full liberty of action. We put restrictions upon them and they are just as severely restricted under the law as is the landlord under the Rent Restrictions Acts. It is admitted that the three main essentials of life are 1186 food, clothing and shelter. It is agreed that Parliament has the right to control the individual so far as the community are concerned by restricting his power to impose unreasonable prices for the supply of goods or to refuse to provide not merely quantity but quality.
I have felt many a time when sitting on these Committees that some of the persons sitting with me ought to have had my experience and that of every member of the working-class community living in one- and two-apartment houses not merely because of its size or lack of ordinary accommodation, but because of its filth. Sometimes I have felt that it would be an advantage to some of our opponents if they could live for six or 12 months in some of the houses in my constituency, where the tenant of a house has to keep dogs in order to prevent rats from eating his children. It cannot be said that the landlord is playing an honest part when he does not attempt to provide something better. Slums are talked about as though they were a comparatively small element in these towns. In the majority of the houses occupied by the working classes at the present time in Scotland and in the North of England—there is overcrowding in the North of England almost as great as in Scotland—the conditions are almost indescribable, and the Rent Restrictions Acts should be continued until the State is prepared to take over the responsibility of providing houses for the whole of the working people of the country. In Scotland, the only people who are doing it now are the municipalities. Private enterprise no longer exists in Scotland, unless it is for the purpose of providing houses for those who are able to purchase them. These people are in a very considerable minority. We are not in the habit of legislating merely in the interests of the comparative few. Opposition from this side will be shown to all efforts to bring about the decontrol of houses until the Government are wise enough to realise that it is as much the duty of the State to see that the housing conditions of the people are as good as the conditions relating to their food supplies for which Parliament has legislated in the past.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I listened, as I expect other hon. Members did with great interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman 1187 the Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). I thought that in the earlier stages of his speech the hon. Member was really being very conservative in his outlook, because he was really making a plea in favour of leaving everything alone. I agree that towards the end he became a little lyrical, particularly on the subject of the rats, though, honestly, I do not see what the rats had to do with it. I once lived in a rented house where there were rats, but I did not make a speech about them. I exterminated the rats, which seemed to be the rather obvious thing to do. [An HON. MEMBER: "Get on with the Bill."] I did not raise the question of the rats. As hon. Members opposite thought that it was very impressive when it was raised—it was really rather an unnecessary thing to say—I considered that it was just as well to make this point. As soon as I do this hon. Members who cheered the reference to the rats say, "Get on with the Bill." They might have said that earlier to the hon. Member.
This is a very great problem for any Minister of Health adequately to deal with. It would be rather interesting if we were magicians to twist the House round and find hon. Members opposite under compulsion to introduce a Rent Restrictions Bill. There would have been a profound modification of some of the speeches to which we have listened if a Labour Minister had been responsible for introducing a Bill for the continuation of rent restriction for a further limited period. [Interruption.] Everybody agrees that it should be for a limited period—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—but that it should be ended as soon as possible. There has been a universal recognition by every committee that has sat, and by every Minister who has had responsibility, that the thing is fundamentally bad.
§ Mr. Williams
Let us look at the position for a minute. Hon. Members opposite must not think that I am not familiar with the problem. It is only 18 months ago that a very undesirable property owning company, in the way they carried on their business, terrified some 300 of my constituents by issuing notices of their intention to raise rents. All of them, I think, were illegal, and I tried to do what 1188 I could to stop that improper action. I am not blinding myself to the fact that we have created a vast new vested interest. About 3,000,000 persons are the owners of this vested interest. We have transferred the capital value of these houses in part to the tenants, and they intend to stick to it. I do not blame them. It is a perfectly natural attitude to take up. I have thousands of them in my constituency. They are paying for their houses less than they would have to pay if they built new houses of exactly similar type to-day.
§ Mr. Williams
Let us look at it. Never mind about the rate of interest. They were producing a sum of money. Suppose the same amount of money would purchase so many loaves of bread, and that those loaves were the rent. If they were paying in the same number of loaves of bread to-day, everybody would say that it was an equitable transaction, but it would really represent more money. Therefore, every landlord who is the owner of a restricted house is receiving less in the way of an economic rent than he was receiving in pre-war days. He is getting less in regard to his bread, his tobacco or his beer or whatever standard you. may measure it by. It may be said that the landlord received too much in pre-war days, but the landlord is receiving less to-day measured by what every town council is charging tenants for the houses they build. All these municipally-owned houses are let at rents which in relation to the controlled rents are extortionate.
The plain truth is that in the panic in the latter part of the year 1915, when in a few areas there was an undue demand for houses, we passed an Act of Parliament without due consideration and without contemplating what its ultimate results would be. We have got ourselves into a tangle from which it will take 1189 years to extract ourselves, and we cannot pretend that it is otherwise. I do not blame hon. Members opposite. They think that there are votes to be got out of it. What is the real problem? The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is trying to eliminate the slum problem in this country, and we all wish him well irrespective of party, but the Rent Restrictions Acts are creating new slums almost as rapidly as he is eliminating them. The owners of many of the rent restricted houses are totally unable to keep them in proper condition, modernise them and do the things which they ought to do. Therefore, we are creating all the time a new class of slum entirely as a result of the Rent Restrictions Acts.
I know that it is quite impossible to terminate the system, but let us show some recognition of the fact that it has brought great evils to this country. Many people in 1915 predicted that it would create a housing shortage, and their predictions have been borne out in practice. We have heard a good deal of reference to Scotland. I never attempt to understand the Scottish system of land tenure, rents, rates or taxes as they use mysterious words, which I do not understand. That is why this House is always deserted by all the English and Welsh Members on days upon which we have Scottish Debates, We do not understand the language, but I do know this about the Scottish rating system as it has been influenced by rent restrictions. It was maintained in 1920 that the rates in Scotland had reached their maximum, and as a consequence there was a Section or Sub-section of the Act which really provided that if there was any increase of rates after that date, the landlord and not the tenant should pay it. The net result of that is that the Scottish landlord is receiving a rent which has diminished since 1920 because of the effect of this rating provision. In other words, rent restriction has operated more harshly on landlords in Scotland than in England. I am not a Scottish Member, but I represent a large number of Scotsmen, and they are good enough to invite me to their dinner on Burns night.
§ Mr. Williams
They go on inviting me. No one can deny that the Rent Restrictions Act in Scotland operates more 1190 harshly on the landlords than it does in England. That is undoubted. Is it interesting or uninteresting that the failure to provide houses in many areas in Scotland has been much greater than the failure in England? How it is that there has been almost a complete failure in Scotland on the part of private enterprise to provide houses, whereas in England the great mass of houses has been provided by private enterprise? Why has private enterprise been virtually killed in Scotland? Is it because the operation of the Rent Restrictions Act in Scotland has had the effect of destroying initiative on the part of the capitalist? The capitalist is a shy member. He is a most timorous creature, always afraid of war and strikes. Frighten him, and he goes somewhere else, where he is less threatened. That is natural. The capitalist is a most timid and craven creature, in whatever form he appears, and if you make conditions such that he cannot operate, he does not operate. There are worse conditions in Scotland than in England in these respects, unless the people in Scotland are less confident than the people in England. Hon. Members opposite would not agree that that is so. They are rather proud of their country.
§ Mr. Williams
Then it is not from lack of ability; it is due to some other factor. What other factor is there? There have been no suggestions of any other factor. I am satisfied that the Rent Restrictions Acts—I realise that we cannot bring them to an end instantly, because that must be a gradual process—have produced grave evils and hardships and their continuance is producing great evils and hardships. There has been a considerable decline in house building in London and the southeastern area. House building is the largest single occupation in my constituency. I do not mean the building of houses in my constituency, but Croydon is the centre of a big building industry. A large number of my constituents are engaged in the building industry. The fluctuations of employment in Croydon between summer and winter is nearly two to one, due to the seasonal influences affecting the building industry. Anything that is adverse to the building industry is of vital importance to tens of thousands of artisans in and around Croydon, who earn their living in the building industry.
1191 I have made inquiries and I find that in the whole of the south-eastern area there has been a very marked decline in the number of plans passed, and a definite slackening of employment. That is a matter of great concern to all of us, but it seems to be of special concern to us because we have been fortunate and have not experienced the acute unemployment that has been felt in other parts of the country. There are some areas where there has been over-building, but what is the great problem that one meets in travelling through London and the surrounding areas? We find great areas where houses ought to be swept away, not because they are slums but because they are out of date. Why cannot they be removed? The Rent Restrictions Act is blocking the path of rebuilding in these areas.
§ Mr. Williams
I agree that there are other factors, but I could tell the hon. Member of firms in my district who are willing to undertake great schemes of rebuilding and who are definitely hampered from doing so, because sometimes they may not be able to get out, perhaps, three or four people. I was in Croydon at midday to-day, standing by a small cottage, which is rent restricted. The man who is the tenant is a prosperous individual and lives 20 miles away, while his son occupies the house. Every effort has been made to get him out in order that a very important improvement can take place, the extension of a public hall and the widening of a road, in order that public safety at that point may be very much increased. The owner of land there has offered a piece of land free of charge to the corporation—
§ Mr. Jenkins
Does not that prove conclusively that there must be a shortage of houses that are suitable? If an application were made to the county court and alternative accommodation were offered, the tenant could be compelled to go.
§ Mr. Williams
The question of alternative accommodation is difficult. Alternative accommodation is not considered 1192 right and proper unless it is provided at exactly the same rent, or something like it. I am merely stating that every effort has failed. The right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Johnston) has quoted cases of hardship. One of my constituents wrote to me the other day and said: "I have a house, rent controlled, which I owned for many years. I want to live in the house. I earn £2 10s. a week, while the occupant of the house earns £5 a week. I have applied to the court for possession, and have been refused." It is intolerable that that state of things-should exist, and this Bill does not deal with it. Examples have been quoted where the Bill will inflict great hardship on humble people. I have quoted instances which show the hardships of the present system. In due course another committee will have to be appointed and the House will have to take its courage in both hands and do something, which may be temporarily unpopular, in order to end a state of things which, in some respects, has become a great evil.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) seemed to contradict himself repeatedly. He pointed out that the Rent Restrictions Act was responsible for the slums in Scotland. Evidently, in his opinion the Act does not create a slum problem in England.
§ Mr. Stephen
It appeared to me in listening to the hon. Member that he said there was not much building in Scotland, that slum conditions resulted from the slackening of building, and that that slackening was due to the Rent Restrictions Act.
§ Mr. Stephen
Therefore, the hon. Member is of the opinion that the Rent Restrictions Act is responsible for the slum conditions in Scotland.
§ Mr. Williams
What I tried to say was that the rate of building in Scotland has been much less than in England and that private enterprise in Scotland is almost non-existent and I ascribe that to the fact that the Rent Restrictions Act operates more rigidly in Scotland than in England.
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. Member has qualified his statement by saying that the Act has been more rigid in Scotland than in England. It has not been more rigid in Scotland than in England. Therefore, I say that the hon. Member's argument contradicts itself. He drew a comparison between Scottish and English people, but really it was only his contradictory argument which was responsible for the differentiation between the people of the two countries. He said that the Act was creating devastating effects, but he still felt that it was necessary to continue it, because of the effects that would proceed from its discontinuance. He suggested that hon. Members on this side of the House are taking a certain line because they feel that it has a certain electoral value. It is evident that he regards it as having an electoral value. He suggests to the Government that they must contemplate stopping it, but he asked them not to stop it as long as it might interfere with their electoral prospects. I do not know why he should have such an antipathy to Scottish people, unless it is due to the fact that two Scottish Members represented his constituency before he did. After their experience of the present Member I have no doubt that Croydon will go back to a Scottish representative again.
In introducing the Bill the Minister was very complacent about its proposals. Perhaps he has a certain amount of justification, but my impression is that his complacency may be very sadly disturbed when the effects of the Bill are felt in the country. The Bill will take out of control 450,000 houses and will affect hundreds of thousands of people who normally, I should say, are supporters of the party opposite. The previous Measure of decontrol in 1933 did not operate nearly so harshly as the present Measure will operate. The houses that were rated at over £45 under the other Act were occupied to a fairly large extent by people who were in a position to take advantage of the building of houses and were able to buy houses for themselves, but many of the 450,000 houses affected by this Bill are occupied by people who will not be in a position to buy houses for themselves or to take advantage of the terms of the building societies. Therefore, a very great hardship will be imposed on many people.
1194 I congratulate my hon. Friends above the Gangway on the fact that on this occasion they have put down a reasoned Amendment. In 1932 my hon. Friends on these benches were the one party responsible for a reasoned Amendment on the Second Reading of the Bill for taking away control. Hon. Members above the Gangway have evidently repented, or possibly from their experience of the 1933 Act they realise that, in spite of the report of the Marley Committee, greater hardships have occurred under that Measure than was contemplated. The Amendment which we put down on that occasion was:That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which makes no provision for the reduction of rents of working-class houses, fails to restore control to houses already decontrolled, and proposes to decontrol certain classes of houses at present under control."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1932; col. 207, Vol. 273.]No hon. Member above the Gangway went into the Lobby in support of that Amendment and, unfortunately, the third Member of our party was ill and unable to be present. I think a good many hon. Members above the Gangway agreed with us, and some did go into the Lobby in opposition to the Third Reading. At the same time I should like to pay a tribute to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham), who has always taken a great interest in this subject and who served on the Marley Committee and was responsible for the minority report. The tenor of his speech to-day was very much in favour of the Amendment we moved to the previous Measure. Let me examine the position. Many hon. Members say that it is necessary to get rid of control as soon as possible; that the control of rents is an unfortunate legacy from the War and that the problem to-day is how to get rid of control as expeditiously as possible. Why do they want to get rid of control? Why do owners want to get control?
§ Mr. Stephen
In the great majority of cases there can be only one object for wanting to get rid of control; and that is to raise rents. It may be that in some 1195 cases they want to pull the houses down and use the site for building something else. There may be a percentage in that position, but it is a very small percentage indeed. Then there is the other argument, that the reason why many people want to get rid of control is that they want to get possession of their houses in order to reconstruct them; they want to put them into a good state of repair, and if they can only do so everything will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. I do not know whether hon. Members really put that argument seriously before the House. The great bulk of pre-war houses are owned by people who have not the slightest intention of spending a lot of money in repairing them. They were allowed to charge an additional rent in order to carry out repairs, but it is noteworthy how little has been done to spend the money allowed for repairs on repairs. Quite recently I drew attention to a case in my own constituency by a question which I put in the House. Then the repairs took place, at a cost I am told of hundreds of pounds, but nothing had been done until I drew the attention of the Secretary of State to their condition. The same thing 1s true of a great part of working-class property in the city of Glasgow, and no doubt it is also true of working-class houses in other great cities and towns. Much of the allowance for repairs has not been spent on repairs at all.
§ Captain W. T. Shaw
Is it not a fact that there have been more repairs to these houses than to those which are decontrolled?
§ Mr. Stephen
Until a few years ago the houses which were decontrolled were largely new houses built since 1914, and, consequently, do not call for much repair. As to the amount that has been spent on the old houses, I do not know whether more has been spent on them than on the newer ones. I should as a matter of fact greatly doubt it. But the argument is, why treat houses differently from anything else? Why put houses into a position that you can have only a controlled rent for houses? Why not treat food in the same way; why not treat bread in the same way? I have a recollection that a maximum price has been put as to what can be charged for the ordinary loaf. In fact, there is inter- 1196 ference in almost everything by the State. For example, if some people in Scotland who are very badly housed decided to build houses for themselves and had not much money, they would want to build as cheaply as possible. They can get the material much cheaper from the Scandinavian countries to build wooden houses. The State comes in at once and interferes and says that they will have to pay a tariff on the stuff which comes from the Scandinavian countries; if they are going to build their houses with material which can be bought cheaper in another place they must pay a tax upon it. Is not that interference with the liberty of the individual?
The hon. Member for South Croydon is enthusiastic to put a tariff on this and a tariff on that, but says that in the case of a man who owns a house and wants to let it, he should be in a position to let it for as much as he likes and to extract from another individual in the community as much as he can get out of him. There is interference by the State all along the line, and I believe, far from there being any extension of decontrol, there should be an extension of control and that all houses which are being rented should be brought within the control of the State. The circumstances in which control was brought in have been referred to. The hon. Member for South Croydon said it was done in a time of panic and hysteria, and should never have been done at all. In the War you conscripted the lives of millions of people in this country, but you did not conscript the houses for which these people were paying heavy rents. There simply had to be restriction upon the amount of the increase in rents which owners could charge from the families of men who were conscripted to fight the battles of this country. The position really should be met by an extension of control, not by decontrol. It is intolerable the way in which the people of this country in these houses are being treated.
I know that we can get figures of so many millions of houses which have been built and that, consequently, if control is taken off now, the people in these 450,000 houses will not be put into any difficulties at all. I have a realisation of what will happen in my own division. There are three wards in the division, 1197 two of them working-class wards where the houses are small, where overcrowding is great, and where there are thousands of slum houses. In the other ward in which I am always in a very big minority at election times, there are thousands of people who are going to feel the evil effects of this Measure. The Secretary of State will appreciate what I am saying because his division of Kelvingrove is similar to the Camlachie division. In the Park Ward of Kelvin-grove there will be a similar position to that which will occur in the Dennistoun ward in my own division, where people are living in houses from £30 to £35 a year rent. They are having a hard struggle to live. They are bank clerks, teachers, warehousemen, civil servants, municipal employés, many of the black-coated brigade, who have a difficulty in keeping up appearances. These people are now going to find that the protection they have had in regard to rent is to be taken away. I make bold to say that there will be a general increase of 20 per cent. in the rents of these houses. The same thing will happen throughout the city, and an intolerable burden will be placed upon these people.
I protest against the way in which the Government are acting. The property owners have kept up a persistent agitation, and the general interest of hon. Members opposite, who always seek to protect the property owners, has led them to make far too light of the interests of many other people who have supported them on occasions. I suggest that a sounder policy would be to extend control to all houses and to reduce rents to the pre-War figure. I have heard it said in the Debate that there have been four committees of inquiry into rent restriction; but there have been five committees, for there was the Constable Committee, which inquired into and issued a report on the Rent Restrictions Acts in 1925. There was a majority report and a minority report, and the minority report, for which the leader of the Labour party in Glasgow, Mr. P. J. Dolland, was responsible, proposed that there should be an immediate reduction of 25 per cent. in the rents of controlled houses, and a further reduction within a maximum period of two years. Various other proposals were made by that committee, one of them being that there should be a rent-book of a certain type. 1198 The Minister of Health has promised that the Government will introduce legislation providing for such a rent-book, but I would like the right hon. Gentleman to give some indication of when that legislation will be introduced. We are entitled to a promise in that respect in order that we shall not have the same experience as we had after the issue of the report of the 1925 committee. We were told then that this legislation was to be introduced, but we have not yet got it. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will give an assurance in that matter.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) referred to the difference between the rating systems in Scotland and in England, and said that in his opinion we should have to watch carefully any proposed legislation to bring the Scottish system into conformity with the English system. I think that the House, in dealing with rent control, should also take into consideration the question of rating. A previous Conservative Government introduced a Measure for derating business property, and I believe it is equally necessary that there should be derating of working-class houses, for the burden of rates on many of those houses is far too great to be borne by working-class persons with their small incomes. I think the time has come when the whole question of rating should be reconsidered, and I regret exceedingly that the hon. Member for South Croydon and other hon. Members were responsible for rejecting a Measure introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), which would have entailed a different rating system. In my opinion, the whole question of rates calls for the consideration of the House. If a working-class person contemplates building a house, he has to face the fact that he will have to pay heavy rates on that house. If he wants to get out of slum property by getting a house for himself, the question which he has to consider is how much the burden of rates will be. In dealing with the question of rent control, we ought also to take into account the question of rating, and to see whether it would not be possible to arrange that the burden of rates should be assessed on the basis of the capacity of the individual to pay rather than upon the house which a man is trying to get for himself and his family.
1199 I would like now to deal with the question of repairs, in connection with which the position is somewhat different in Scotland from what it is in England. In pre-war day, the practice in Scotland was for the owner of the property to be responsible for the decoration of the house which he let, but after control came into operation the house owners in Scotland got rid of their duty of decorating the house. I have seen references to this subject in the reports of the various Committees, and in the report of the Marley Committee, it is laid down specifically that the Rent Restrictions Acts give adequate protection to the tenant in regard to repairs. On page 35 of that report, it is stated that:It is necessary to mention one aspect of the question of repairs to which several witnesses have attached importance, namely, the definition of 'repairs' and the question whether it included or should include decorations. There are different standards of repairs under the Rent Restrictions Acts, the Housing and Public Health Acts and certain local Acts. Much the strictest standard known to the general law is that of the Rent Restrictions Acts which speak of 'good and tenantable repair.' This wording as interpreted by the courts appears to require decoration where it would be usual and customary; and we do not think that any further provision than this would be appropriate in Acts, the object and effect of which is to limit the power of owners to exact the market rent of their properties.In another part of the report, it is stated that in pre-war times it was the practice in Scotland for the owner of the house to carry out such decoration. That is not being done in Scotland now. In one case in my division, where the house had to be put into a state of tenantable repair, the sanitary official inspected the property and advised the people to have the paper stripped off the walls. That was done, and afterwards the sanitary authority offered the people some distemper to put on the walls. I hold that, according to the law, the owner should have to undertake the duty of decoration in those circumstances, and since the sanitary authority in Glasgow say that there is no power in this respect, as far as the Bill refers to Scotland, I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to see that provision is made for dealing with the point so that tenants in Scotland will get the same protection as tenants in England.
We believe that for pre-war property there should be pre-war rents. The rents 1200 now being charged for these miserable hovels are shocking. Provision ought to be made to get rid of the increases permitted under the Act of 1920 and subsequent Acts. There should also be an extension of control to all houses so that every person in occupation of a house can receive adequate protection. I would also stress the point that the committee which is to inquire into the working of the law of distress should get to work quickly. The position to-day is intolerable, especially the way in which people can be cleared out of their houses, and I hope an improvement will soon be made in the law on that matter. I protest against the Bill as increasing the hardship of half a million people who ought to receive consideration from the Government, and whose difficulties ought to be realised. I hope there will be an agitation in the country which will lead to a new Measure to restore pre-war rents for these houses, extend control to all houses and protect the people in their homes.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Croom-Johnson
The Debate to which I have listened for the last 2½ hours has been largely concerned with the housing problem in the more thickly populated areas. I wish to examine one of the great difficulties which was inherent in the original Rent Restrictions Act passed at the beginning of the War. We all remember that the necessity for that legislation arose because in certain areas there was a considerable housing shortage induced by the conditions of wartime. There was no time it was said then, for any comprehensive measure to deal with local circumstances throughout the country. The result was that in a great many districts where there was no real housing problem—I refer to the remoter and less densely populated areas—rent restriction and control were imposed which would not have been found necessary in those areas had there been time to examine the problem in detail.
In the intervening period I have watched very closely Parliament's attempts from time to time to get rid of some of the difficulties which were inherent in that legislation. I am not one of those who think that it was necessarily panic legislation. I am certain that at that time there was a problem which had to be met, and had to be met hastily, but, of necessity, it could not be met thoroughly or in the most efficient 1201 way. I have followed year by year the Debates on this problem in order to see whether it is not possible that we are approaching it from the wrong angle. A great many statistics have been submitted to the House this evening, but I suggest that those statistics are all subject to one vital criticism. We are talking by and large of all houses throughout the country. We get figures for a large district like London, or for the country as a whole, whereas we really want to examine this problem almost area by area, to discover the true situation. One might well say in one breath that there was a shortage of half a million houses and say in another moment that there was a surplus of, say, a quarter of a million houses. I am, of course, taking purely illustrative figures. Yet in each of those two instances, there might be considerable areas in which it was necessary to prolong control and other areas where control was unnecessary.
As far as the future is concerned, I welcome something which I should have welcomed when we were considering the previous Measure of this kind, namely, the announcement of the Government's proposal to set up a committee of inquiry into the situation, area by area. I cannot help feeling that we are apt to treat this matter on what I may call the flat-rate basis of statistics for the whole country, without paying sufficient attention to the difficulties which may arise in certain rural and other areas. I have said I should have liked something of this sort earlier. I gather that it will not be practicable in the case of those houses which it is now proposed to take out of control.
There is another difficulty arising from the necessarily hasty legislation which had to be produced at the commencement of the War. In certain areas where, it often happened, no difficulty existed previously, there has in the course of years grown up some discontent among people, who are owners in a small way—perhaps of one house in each case—whose circumstances have changed and who want to return to a district which they left during the War. They cannot get back their own houses. They want to do so not for the purpose of raising the rents but for the purpose of living in those houses. In rural areas there is often difficulty in building, at modern prices, houses which would provide the accommodation available in older and perhaps more desirable 1202 houses. It is a real problem for the man who wants to go back to his own little town or village. I have had, in the course of the last few years, not a considerable but a certain number of extremely hard cases from people whom, I suppose, hon. Members opposite would regard as capitalists, because they owned their one house into which they had put their savings in former times, and yet I have been bound to invite them to do one thing, and one thing only, namely, to go to the county court, where they were met at once with the plea that there was no alternative accommodation for them. That is a second difficulty which has arisen.
We want to proceed in this matter with some care. It so happened that directly I resumed my own daily work after the War, I was fortunate to get into a case about the then existing Rent Restrictions Act, and as a result of the thing coming out on the right side, I was for a few years given cases which came from practically all over England and Wales. They did not come from great landlords. With one or two exceptions, I cannot remember in those days appearing on behalf of anybody who could have been described as even a moderate-sized landlord. They were mostly small owners of property, very small people who owned at most one or two houses, and a very large number of tenants, and I formed the conclusion that the Act had produced a large number of inequalities and injustices, that the system of control which had been set up in those circumstances was a bad one, and that some system was necessary, but that, whatever it was, the system of control under the Act of, I think, 1913 or 1914 was a system which should have been very greatly improved. From the point of view of sweeping away these inequalities and getting rid of these injustices, I quite frankly looked forward to the time, having no pecuniary interest in the matter whatsoever, when we should be able to get rid of the particular system of control which had been set up.
I think hon. Members opposite imagine that because some of us dislike the system that was set up, we are either blind to the problem underlying the whole question of rent or that we desire that there should be no method at all of watching the bad landlord while encouraging the good one. Nothing has struck me more—I have given expression to this sentiment more 1203 than once in this House—than the appalling principle that the lower you go down the scale of earnings, so, it seems to me, the higher you find the percentage that is taken out of those earnings for rent. I have said so over and over again. But you do not remedy that injustice by producing a large number of injustices at the expense of small individuals, very often, as has been referred to in this Debate, at the expense of small landlords, when the person who has been benefiting has, in many cases that have come under my immediate notice, been a tenant in a better financial position than the small landlord who was suffering by reason of this Act.
While recognising the problem, I feel that we are not really doing anything to help it by preserving a system which, in the years when I saw it working in my own every-day work, convinced me that there was a very high percentage of injustices produced as the result. There were people in quite small places living in houses which looked alike, having the same accommodation, but with very different rents. It is all very well, but you cannot go and speak to these small people and try to explain to them on the basis of an Act of Parliament why one of them is paying so many shillings and another is paying perhaps twice the amount in rent for similar accommodation. There is the problem, and some time or another it has to be tackled, but it will not be dealt with by preserving a system which will produce difficulties and inequalties, and I hope that, as a result of the inquiry which we are to have, as promised by the Government, in connection with the question of future decontrol area by area, we shall get information which will enable us to look at this problem from another angle. The problem is that the further you go down the social scale, the higher is the percentage of earnings that goes in the rent that has to be paid for necessary accommodation.
That is all that I want to say on the immediate problem, on what is, after all, the big subject which interests us all with regard to this Bill, namely, the question of decontrol. It will not deter me in the very least from voting for decontrol that what I have had to say about it may either not have been understood or even not have appealed to hon. Members opposite. I think that what the 1204 hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) said earlier in the Debate was not perhaps completely understood on the benches opposite. I think he was trying to make the point, which I have been trying to make since, that in very many instances the difficulty of getting possession of a landlord's own house affected him more from the point of view that he wanted to go and live there himself, and that in the meantime he was having to pay more for accommodation in a decontrolled house than for the accommodation he could get in his own. That is not a fantastic thing at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "He could get it if he wanted it."] What is his chance? I am going to say a word about the terrible cost of the litigation which these Acts have produced. No one who has spent, as I have in my time, days and days in the county courts can support the idea of a system of control under these Acts of Parliament which can only be administered and settled by resorting to litigation. County court judges had the most difficult tasks to encounter and to solve, and they had in many instances to try to resolve the problem which of two hardships was the greater—that of the small landlord asking for his premises and that of the tenant with, perhaps, a family.
§ Mr. Cassells
The hon. and learned Gentleman raised a question as regards costs. Is that not a cogent argument for tenancy courts?
§ Mr. Croom-Johnson
I propose to say a word about the Amendment which has been moved from the Front Bench opposite. I had not lost sight of it, and I am obliged to the hon. Member for reminding me of it. I am dealing at the moment with the questions which have arisen. For my part, as the result of what I have seen of the system which was introduced during the War years, I say definitely that, while we must protect the people who have been protected by it, the system should be swept away completely at the earliest possible moment. Then comes the question whether we are to put anything, and, if so, what, in its place. There is some little confusion about this. As I visualise courts of all sorts, their job is not to make bargains for people. They are not suitable things for doing it. The job of the law courts, as I see it, is to interpret or to enforce contracts 1205 that people make, and not to make the contracts for them. This problem, I feel, may have a tendency to substitute another form of litigation for the form of litigation on which such inordinate amounts of money have been spent, mostly by people who cannot afford what is unfortunately, in this country, very largely a luxury, namely, litigation. I have expressed my general views why I support the main subjects of this Bill apart from the details, which are the things to which we ought to pay attention.
I should like to call attention to two points on Clause 5. The first Sub-section is one to which insufficient attention has been paid in the Debate. That is the provision under which, as it has been expressed this evening, the onus of proof is placed upon the landlord to show that the Acts do apply to his particular dwelling. If I may be forgiven for dealing with something the pinch of which every lawyer who has had to deal with this problem has felt, I should like to put it in this way. For about 16 years the practice of the courts was to make the landlord prove that the premises did not come within the purview of the Act. Then, as a result of a legal decision, there was a change, and it was held by the courts that it was the tenant's job to show that the Act did apply to the house. A moment's reflection will convince us that the one fellow who really knows, or ought to have known, the history of his house and the details of the previous lettings, was the landlord, and not the tenant; and to put upon the tenant the burden of saying that the Acts did apply to the house was to put upon him a burden which it was most difficult for him to discharge. I want to thank the Minister for putting this thing right, as is attempted to be done in Clause 5 (1) under which the older practice is to be reverted to, so that it is to be for the landlord to show, if he can, that the Acts do not apply to the house, and not for the tenant to show that they do. That is much more satisfactory. It will prevent a good deal of unnecessary burden and expense on the tenant.
I come to Sub-section (2), about which I am not so happy. It deals with the question of houses where the rates have been compounded. Here, again, there have been different decisions in the courts as to what the true position is Hon. Members know that you may get 1206 what is sometimes called a discount on your rates. The landlord makes himself responsible for the rates on a number of properties, and then he pays them to the local authority under a discount. Therefore, the amount of money that he actually pays for the rates is something less than the full rates for all the houses. The theory of it under the original Act which empowered it was that the local authorities saved the collecting charges and they were sure of getting the rates over a whole area instead of having to collect them from a number of people who might have difficulty in paying. Now comes the problem. When you are dealing with the question of increasing the rent, what, in regard to the rates, is the landlord to take into account? Is he to take into account the full amount of the rates which are notionally charged upon a particular house, or is he to charge, or be at liberty to charge, such rates less the discount which he has had allowed to him? Here, again, at one time it was thought that the landlord could take into account the notional amount of the rates without giving the benefit of the discount. Then came a much later decision in which the contrary was held to be the case, and, as I understand this Sub-section, it is proposed as the result of the investigation and recommendation of the Majority Report of the Committee, that the position is to be put back to what it was originally, before a decision in the House of Lords, and that the amount of the allowance which the landlord got is not to be taken into account.
I have not had either the opportunity or the time to read the information upon which the majority of the Committee came to the conclusion which is embodied in this Bill, and without that information all that I should like to say about that Subsection (2) is that if the landlord pays only the actual figure of the rates, that is, the notional amount less the discount, I have some difficulty in understanding why it is thought better to give him the benefit of the discount for the purpose of increasing the rent. They may be Very good reasons of administration—there may be a hundred reasons—but all I can say is that, speaking for myself, I should like to examine that question and see whether there is any justification for going back to a former decision. I observe from the report that the effect of passing Sub- 1207 section (2) will be that in a large number of cases there will probably have to be a re-examination of the figures, and if that is so, then on the grounds of convenience I suggest that it might be better without this Sub-section. So far as my experience of these matters go, I feel that in this Bill we are moving along the right lines, but when we have disposed of this form of control we have not by any means disposed of the problem which lies at the root of all these problems.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Has not the hon. and learned Member found that where this percentage has been given back to the tenant it has meant, in six months, a week's rent for the tenant?
§ Mr. Croom-Johnson
As I say, I want to examine this point. That may be one of the advantages which have induced the majority of the Committee to report in the way they have done. If in some instances that advantage has been given to the tenant, and I could be sure that by passing Sub-section (2) we were going to benefit the tenant in this matter, I should, of course, be most disposed to consider it.
§ Mr. Croom-Johnson
I am not sure that I quite agree. In conclusion, I cannot leave the speech of the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) without any answer at all. He is apparently desirous not only of putting back the legislative clock by bringing back into control houses which, as the result of many debates in this House, have been decontrolled, but wants to put it back so as to control—as I gather, under this system, extravagant and wasteful as it is—all houses. All I can say about it is that at a moment when we are beginning, at long last, to see the time when we shall have sufficient decent houses for our people, the one thing which would be likely to interfere with the work that is going on—especially as regards all those edifices which are being put up by private enterprise—would be to adopt the policy which he wants. He sees one end of a problem without paying attention to both ends of it, and if we were to take this system and to apply it to all houses, we should, I am morally convinced, be doing something which would interfere in the future with the good work which has been done in 1208 the last few years in the direction of getting more and more houses for our people.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Gardner
I do not often trouble the House, but I once introduced a Bill on this subject, and the present Minister of Health, led by the present Prime Minister, came upstairs and gave me a most generous lesson in Parliamentary procedure. I have never forgotten it. We are now invited to talk about this Bill, and there is only this to be said from my standpoint, that it is a poor one and is intended to pave the way for complete decontrol. It will be a disastrous Measure for a good many people. It is estimated that 450,000 houses will go out of control if class B houses from £35 to £45 a year are decontrolled, and that means that a certain number more homes will be affected. Not only will rents go up, but assessments will be affected. At present assessments are kept down by the control of houses, but when they go out of control the increase in rent will mean that rating authorities may increase the assessments upon the houses.
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) said rent restriction was wrong. It is not rent restriction that is wrong, but the present situation. About half the houses are now protected, and many of the others are shamefully exploited. He said that rents charged by public authorities are extortionate. I deny that. They are based on the cost of houses, palliated I admit by subsidy. We of the Labour party do not expect to get houses for nothing, but we do want protection from the ramp which is now going on. As a proof that public authorities are not extortionate, I will give two cases within my own knowledge. West Ham built a number of flats with four rooms, scullery and bathroom. The cost of erection was rather above the average, because we had to reinforce the whole site with concrete, as the ground underneath was not to be trusted. The rent of those flats is 15s. a week. There are in my own constituency flats with three rooms and a scullery, but no bathroom, which were 7s. 6d. a week before the War, but they are nearly all decontrolled, and they go at 17s. 6d. a week, showing that the landlord is guilty of extortion, because they did not cost him what the West Ham flats cost the public authority.
1209 That is the kind of thing against which we wish to be protected. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) and I share the distinction of being the only two representatives of this party on the Marley Committee now left in the House. The Minister claims that we threw overboard tenancy courts. He knows that no slippery politician on this side of the House ever does a thing like that. Our view was related to the circumstances existing at the time of the Marley report. We did not rule out tenancy courts in every set of circumstances, only in that given set of circumstances.
§ Mr. Gardner
This Bill proposes to end those circumstances in 1941, and therefore our Amendment stands upon the Paper. It is intended to be a buffer between tenants and extortionate landlords. It has been argued to-day that decontrol will bring houses now controlled into competition with new and uncontrolled houses, and that, as a consequence, rents will go down. No instance has been produced of rents going down in such circumstances. According to the Ridley report, 600,000 B houses and 1,200,000 C houses have been decontrolled, and rents are higher than ever, whereas, according to the argument, they should have gone down. I agree with the hon. Member who said that the highest rents are charged in the poorest districts. In West Ham, thousands of workers are employed in dock and waterside work. They must live near their work because they are liable to be called on at any hour of the day or night. In the dock area it is possible for them to be called on at midnight. They must live near their work; otherwise they will miss their turn, which is a serious matter for men employed in the docks. It means that they drop down in the calling-on book and lose work in consequence. Not only that, but they have to sign on twice every day at the employment exchanges or at the places provided for them. That again shows that, in work or out of work, they cannot afford to live away from the district.
Rents in the dock area are extortionate. Three or four weeks ago a poor woman from Silvertown came to see me because she was alarmed at owing two or three weeks' rent. She was afraid 1210 that the landlord would put her into the street. She was paying one guinea a week for three rooms. I guessed that she lived in a half-house, and I asked her what the rent was of the other half of the house. She said it was a guinea too. The landlord had divided the house into two, and was receiving two guineas a week. A controlled house in the same category lets for about 17s. a week in West Ham. That will show hon. Members how the poor are exploited. It is not a solitary instance. One of my constituents came to me recently. We had put up the rates. We do that sometimes; in fact, we have rather a reputation for putting up the rates. She was perturbed, and her husband had sent her because he thought the landlord was putting on too much to account for the increased rates. Her rent for a half-house was us. 6d. It was a rather better type of house. I asked her the rent of the other part of the house, and she said it was one guinea. That is another instance of the shameless exploitation that goes on.
Tenancy courts should be and must be set up. When rent control goes altogether, if it does go, there will still be 1,000,000 houses, according to figures given to-day, enjoying largely the benefits of control. Every public-authority house is practically under control. Public opinion will not allow you to charge anything over cost and depreciation. It is notorious that the moment a public authority puts up rents there is an agitation, not only from the tenants but from other folks who are not directly concerned. They will not tolerate the rents of public-authority houses being put up to as high a figure as landlords are at present charging. Landlords will charge more if they get the liberty to do so. When the Leeds Corporation tried to work a rent pool, that is to say, to put all the rents into a pool and to allow people with larger families to live in their houses at reduced rents, there was a revolt and, as a consequence, the Labour councillors lost their majority. That shows how difficult it is to interfere with rents in that way.
Houses that public authorities have built are subsidised, and the authorities cannot put the rents up beyond cost, depreciation and maintenance without the Ministry of Health taking notice of them. The moment they begin to make a profit in aid of rates the Minister will begin to 1211 reconsider the subsidy. If the practice of making a profit on houses in aid of rates were to become general, the Minister of Health, with his cheerful smile, if he were still in office, would lead another legislative lamb to the slaughter. He does it all the time. There is no chance of justice being done in existing conditions or in conditions which are likely to ensue if control goes. Nobody who has watched the position can deny that the present position is unjust and unfair. The only way in which it can be met is to give a right of appeal to all tenants and to give to landlords a chance to justify themselves in the courts which have been proposed.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Sir Francis Fremantle
It is very interesting to me to hear speeches from some old colleagues with whom I worked on the Marley Committee's report. I do not understand why the hon. Member who has just spoken took to himself the credit, if such it be, of having dissented from the majority on that occasion.
§ Sir F. Fremantle
I am still more delighted to be in the same Debate as the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) although on opposite sides of the Table, becauseWe twa ha'e paidled i' the burn.Everybody who has inquired into this very difficult subject knows the great amount of interest that the hon. Member has taken in it and the sincerity and genuineness of his opinion. He brought forward many points from which we could not dissent. So much has been said about the history of the matter that I think it will be interesting and important for us to realise how continuous the history has been. It, obviously, began with the efforts that were made to stop the sudden demand upon houses with the influx of aliens, and we had that first committee, the Hunter Committee, to which reference hs been made. I would like to remind hon. Members of the conclusions set forth in the Hunter Committee's report, because no one has put it better:The final solution of the housing question, so far as the working classes are concerned, is that wages should be sufficient to enable workers to pay economic or commercial rents for suitable houses. It is an unsound 1212 policy to subsidise all houses because some tenants are unable to pay an economic rent. Assistance should be given to those only who for good reasons are unable to pay for proper housing, and it is in the interests of the State that the numbers of these should be reduced to a minimum.I think it is well that we should be recalled to that main line, which ought to be common to us all, for a long-term policy. It may be a very long term, but that statement surely disposes of the suggestion that what we should aim at is that the State should be responsible for providing houses uneconomically. If the State is not to provide them uneconomically, there is no reason why they should not continue, as at present, to be paid for partly by private enterprise or by the State according to the local desire, as long as free play is given and there is no scarcity of housing. These committees one after the other have recognised that the line we must take is towards a reduction of control where possible. I am surprised that suggestions should have been made from the opposite side of the House as though the ideal were to get control all along the line. Control may be necessary for certain purposes, but increased control of any one vital necessity in the country leads us nearer and nearer to dictatorship and that totalitarian State to which I am sure we all equally object, whether it be Russia on the one side or Italy and Germany on the other. That is the natural drift, unless we stand against it wherever possible. It is only by standing against it, and trying to maintain the natural interchange of private enterprise by demand and supply, that we can support the democratic principle as opposed to totalitarianism.
Quite clearly, the question here is whether the need for control has come to an end. The Hunter Committee, in 1918, propounded the definition of increase of rents which was embodied in the Act of 1919, while the Salisbury Committee in 1920 standardised the permitted increase, and I think we ought to recognise at this stage the debt that we owe to Lord Salisbury and his Committee in 1920 for putting these matters on a proper footing. References have been made, sometimes rather carelessly, to the 40 per cent. increase as being allowed for repairs. It was very definitely laid down that 28 per cent. was allowed for repairs, 10 per cent. for increase in the rate of mortgage interest, and 5 per cent. for increased yield 1213 on owner's capital. The amount allowed for repairs was 28 per cent.
The Onslow Committee, in 1923, started to recommend decontrol, and proposed decontrol in three stages, corresponding to the three stages through which increase of rents had been allowed. It was proposed that they should be decreased in these three stages, and the Onslow Committee recommended that the three years in which the decrease should take place should be 1923, 1924 and 1925. I also can claim, like the hon. Member for Hamilton to have submitted a minority report on that occasion. I was rather proud of the fact, because, not only did I suggest that the years proposed for decontrol were rather too soon, but in my reservation I made a definite case, though I could not get anyone else to sign it, that, instead of decontrol in one batch equally all over the country, greater elasticity was required, and that there should be a variation of dates by local option in different areas. We are coming round to that, and at last there seems to be some hope, in the White Paper though not in this Bill, of allowing for further decontrol, and certainly final decontrol, according to the needs of different areas. I cannot understand that proposal not being agreed to by hon. Members opposite.
Some extraordinary statements have been made to-day, even by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who knows so much about these matters and is Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council. He actually said that there were 450,000 houses which it was now proposed to decontrol, and that there would be 450,000 cases of hardship. To anyone who knows, for instance, the seaside towns, it is ridiculous to suggest that there the decontrol of the upper B class houses will mean hardship. Of course it will not. On the other hand, it must be recognised that our committee proposed, not only that these 450,000 houses should be decontrolled, but that the lower B class houses should remain under control, so that, while in the one case the landlords will have the benefit of decontrol, in the other case the tenants will benefit by the fact that decontrol of the lower B class houses will not be allowed on vacant possession. These will number 650,000 houses, and that is the kind of balance which was in the mind 1214 of the Ridley Committee, who, I hope, have held the balance fairly between the two sides.
In trying to get back to normality, it is a very great advance to have done away with all the different classifications, and to have brought all the houses that remain under control into one class, namely, the lower B class houses and the C class houses, so that there will only be one variety of houses to be dealt with. That will be a great advantage in the county court, where these cases take so much time. It is sometimes asked, Why not control houses just as food is controlled? But the price of food is not controlled. In a general kind of way it is still open, as is the price of clothing and, to a large extent, unfortunately, the price of wheat. Rent is unique. The hon. Member for Peckham asked, Why cannot you control rent as you control electricity, railway rates and gas? But the reason why those are controlled is because they are monopolies. Where a public monopoly is given it is right and natural that in return for that monopoly there should be control. There is no proper analogy with rents. A great many of us think that the experiences of the past 20 years control of houses, which will enable us to see where the difficulty lies, will also enable us to get back to the stage when there can be economic free play in housing, after a sufficient number of houses have been built in each category.
But the real crux of this matter has hardly been alluded to in the Debate to-day, that is, the question of whether we are to have definite finality in this matter of decontrol. The report of the Ridley Committee gave a definite year and a definite scale. It proposed that by taking the measure of overcrowding—which is an official measure available for the first time from the reports of this series of committees—as being the measure of the shortage of houses you can obtain a definite finality. The Government have not accepted that. I was surprised to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet), who was my colleague on the last two committees, say that the Government have swallowed the whole of our report. They did not swallow that part of our report, and I should very much like to have that point cleared up by my right hon. Friend when he replies 1215 this evening, because I thought I heard the Minister of Health say that they had arranged for such finality, for all rent control to come to an end—I thought he said by 1941. It surprised me so much at the time that I am sure I must have misunderstood him. The proposal in the Ridley Report was that rent control should come to an end according to the percentage of overcrowding shown by the overcrowding survey, in years which would range from 1941 up to 1950, and the end should come in 1950. Now the Government, according to the White Paper, say that a further survey should be made and a committee be set up for the purpose, and presumably that will include other points besides the question of overcrowding—and there I hope we shall have the support of a good many Members on the opposite side, because that covers a certain reservation made on the Opposition Benches.
But I think the Government have made a right choice there, and have improved upon our proposal in that Committee, because they say that it is necessary to take everything into account in order to get an economic solution of this problem. I make no apology for having signed the report setting definite dates, for this reason. It has to be borne in mind that if we admit that this is a question of the shortage of houses in each class, the shortage is gradually being made up by the local authorities, and if you give finality it will obviously be a strong stimulus to the local authorities to get on with their work and to provide houses at rents that the working classes can pay, and especially the working classes of that particular degree of employability which is so difficult to deal with because they have such a lonw standard of income. At the same time the Government have not yet made their decision. They are appointing another committee, and I hope that that matter will not be left out of account.
I imagine that hon. Members opposite definitely do not believe in finality. In their Amendment they want to establish a permanent control with tenancy courts. That is not a matter for this Bill. Each of these committees on which I have sat has shown in its report a great measure of sympathy with the idea of establishing some kind of court which would deal with these questions, and thus relieve the 1216 county courts. Perhaps also they would be rather less formal than the county courts, although, as we say in each of these reports, we believe, after all that it is best to keep the county court procedure, which certainly seems to have been very friendly where people have made use of it. If you do have a system of tenancy courts it will have to apply to all houses, including the vast number of houses built since 1914. This Bill can deal only with pre-War houses, but only a small proportion of the houses of this country come under it. On the other hand, if you want a system of tenancy courts to be a permanent measure of control, a permanent and quite different form of legislation will be required. But we can put that aside for the present; we have to make the best of the present Bill. Each of these reports has stated that we have to recognise sooner or later that either we want housing to be brought back in the end to an economic basis of demand and supply, or we do not. The Marley Committee, with eight Socialists, and only one Liberal and two Unionists, agreed with that suggestion with only one dissentient. I would like to end with a quotation of a passage in which they draw their conclusions. They write:… we fully appreciate that, in imposing control on those who own or have invested their money in house property, Parliament is imposing on one section of property owners restrictions which it is imposing on no other; and, whenever restrictions of this kind are imposed in the general interest, cases of great hardship among the class controlled are bound to occur. We are, therefore, of the opinion that the restrictions should at once be lifted from any class of property as soon as it can be shown that they are no longer needed in the general interest.Our main conclusions flow from the premise that decontrol of any class of houses should depend on whether the shortage in that class either has been or is being rapidly overtaken. I believe that our committee, the Ridley Committee, went as thoroughly into the evidence on every side—the hardships to the tenants and to the owners, both in England and in Scotland—as could be done by this House if it spent its whole time in listening to it. I believe it was a fair summing up of the evidence, and, although there would be continued hardship and great objections from the property owners on the one side, the balance was in favour of the tenant—of those who can least afford to suffer hardship, as it should be. 1217 I shall, therefore, in the interests of health and housing" and of the tenant, very strongly support the Second Reading.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sure the House will forgive me if at this late stage of the Debate, to which I have listened continuously since four o'clock, I confine myself to one or two of the major points involved. I have often doubted whether it was right for hon. Members who have had the advantage of sitting on a committee and expressing their considered views in the report, to any length they wished, to gild the lily, when the Debate takes place on the report, by adding other reasons in support of their views. On consideration, I think that perhaps it is a very good thing they do. After listening to speeches such as that which we have just heard, and that of the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet), one finds that it is possible to detect the exact kind of mental bias with which the matter is approached. The real view of both those Members is that the tenant has been protected long enough, and that the real value of this Bill is that it affords some relief to the hard-pressed landlord. We on this side cannot take that view. There is one passage in the White Paper with which I cordially agree. The White Paper says:The simple fact that a house was built before the War does not appear to the Government to provide a good ground for the application of a distinctive system of control, and the main issue which is raised by the majority and minority reports "—and may I interpolate, by this Debate?—is whether there should now be instituted a permanent system of rent control to be applied to all houses whenever erected or or whether the partial system of control instituted during the War should be terminated as soon as this can reasonably be done.As I see it, that is now the issue, and I have no doubt that the right thing for this House to do is to institute, as soon as it can reasonably be done, a permanent system of control—not necessarily rent control, but housing control. Early in the Debate, questions were raised about freedom of contract. There is no hon. Member in this House, except perhaps the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), who any longer believes in freedom of contract. There is no such thing. Even those hon. Mem- 1218 bers who have taken part in this Debate and supported, in part, the return to freedom of contract, have hastened to add, "but not yet."
The whole policy of this Government has been not to allow freedom of contract on any aspect of social affairs which involves questions of wide public importance. The greater part of their social legislation has been in the direction of controlling supply where prices have fallen, in order to raise prices to what they consider an economic level; and what we are claiming, in this rent restriction business, is control of prices in the opposite sense. Here you already have a scarcity, and scarcity produces high prices. We say that, in those circumstances, the duty of the State is to protect the consumer against high prices. This is the very antithesis perhaps, but nevertheless part, of the same social outlook. There is no question of freedom of contract, and the Government themselves, I believe, would not base their case on any such antediluvian principle. If there is not to be freedom of contract, the question boils down to, what degree of control is advisable at any time in the public interest? It is not merely a question of rents. The hon. Member who preceded me drew a distinction between the control which we now have, and which presumably he wants to continue, on services which he regards as being monopoly services, and houses. Apparently, in his view there is such a distinction; but is there not an element of monopoly in the housing market? There is a monopoly element in our land system, and does that not translate itself into the housing problem?
§ Sir F. Fremantle
That is the very point. So long as it is a monopoly—in other words so long as there is a shortage—we should continue control.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am glad that we are in such agreement. I would point out that land is always limited. If control is to remain as long as monopoly lasts the hon. Member must agree that control should be permanent. When you are dealing with the rehousing problem, overcrowding and slum clearance in the heart of big cities, anyone who ignores the land factor in that problem is ignoring one of the basic factors. All the efforts that have been made in the Debate to show that a rise in rents is not to be anticipated 1219 if control is removed, serve only to convince me of the inevitability of such a rise. For what else do they want decontrol? If they say they want it in order to clear houses, the answer is that if people could go into other places and pay the same rents the houses could be cleared now. It is out of the question that anyone would plead for decontrol unless he was certain that the result would be a rise in rents.
Points have been made from time to time about the landlord being treated differently from any other member of the community. He ought to be treated differently, because he is different. He has, both economically and legally, rights, powers and privileges that no other member of the community has, and he has always had these rights. He is the pampered pet of the community and has always been so both economically and legally. I have already hinted at the economic aspect of it and I have not time to develop it, but look at his rights legally. What other creditor in this land is entitled, without going to any court or getting the leave of any court, to take the law into his own hands and distrain on his debtors for payment of his rent? There is no one else who has ever had that power, or who has that power now. Is there anybody in this House who is prepared to argue on its own merits the right of the landlord to have a greater power of enforcing payment of the moneys due to him than have other creditors under the law? Why should he have a privilege greater than that of the baker, the butcher, the doctor, the shoemaker or anyone else?
§ Mr. Silverman
Or the solicitor, the manufacturer or anyone else. It is quite right that people should pay their debts and that there should be methods of enforcing the payment of debt, but why this distinction? Any other creditor has to go to court, prove his case and get an order before he can distrain, but not the landlord. Apart from control, the landlord can, at any time, distrain for rent that is overdue by five minutes, and I believe the hon. Member who preceded me in the Debate will remember that a good deal of evidence was given before this committee of the vices which follow from that right. It is fair to say that 1220 even the majority report of this committee was in favour, at any rate, of some measure of control over the right of distraint, even in the case of uncontrolled houses. The Minister in introducing his Measure was inclined to consider that and the further recommendation that there ought to be a rent book, and he promised another committee to inquire into it.
§ Mr. Silverman
There is to be another committee to decide whether or not it ought to be the law of this country that a landlord receiving weekly payments from a tenant ought to give a rent book.
§ Mr. Silverman
I shall be happy to do that, but I did listen to the right hon. Gentleman. At any rate we are to have another committee about something which the present committee has already recommended, and I do not think that there is any doubt about that.
§ Mr. Silverman
I certainly thought that I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that he was going to appoint a new de-parmental committee to consider the whole question of landlord and tenant law, and that to that committee some of the recommendations in the majority report which are not legislated for in this Bill were to be referred.
§ Mr. Silverman
Perhaps the Secretary of State for Scotland can assure us on this point, because I believe that a good many hon. Members are under the same impression as I am myself.
§ Mr. Silverman
I heard the right hon. Gentleman say "No." There is no time to explain what he did say, but the Secretary of State for Scotland can perhaps deal with the point. There are two other points to which I wish to refer, one of which is the question of repairs. I am extremely disappointed to find that nothing is included in the Bill to deal with the obligation of the landlord to repair even where he accepts, and has accepted for long periods, the statutorily allowed increase of rent in order to cover repairs. The thing is rapidly becoming a grave public scandal. A great many of these houses, as the right hon. Gentleman himself knows, are in a very grave state of disrepair. There was a provision in the Housing Act of 1925 that in regard to houses of a certain value—and that value would make them controlled houses under this Measure—there should be a condition implied that the house was, at the beginning of the tenancy, reasonably fit for human habitation, and that the landlord should maintain it in that condition throughout the tenancy. What reason is there why that provision should not be applied to every house within the system of control in which the landlord has availed himself of the right to charge the extra percentage for repairs? If in fact, he accepts the payments for repairs, why should he be under no legal liability to do those repairs, or under legal liability with insufficient and totally inadequate sanction? I recommend to the right hon. Gentleman the desirability of introducing what I think would be almost a non-controversial Clause to apply to houses within these Acts the provision of Section 1 of the Housing Act of 1925.
Housing has now reached the stage when it ought to be a social service administered, like so many other social services now are, by a court free from the atmosphere of the ordinary legal courts which deal with questions of contract and other things arising out of contracts. I have no time to develop that point, but it is something which the right hon. Gentleman might very well consider favourably, and it would, I think, command the backing of wide sections of the population irrespective of party.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Sir John Mellor
The hon. Member for Upton (Mr. Gardner) has expressed the view that assessments of decontrolled houses would go up, and whether that be 1222 so or not, I think that, if it does happen, it will be real evidence that the rise in rents which he foretells in these cases would be fairly justified, and not due merely to scarcity. I say that for this reason. The Central Valuation Committee has recommended to assessment committees that they should not take scarcity rents into account in arriving at assessments of property. Therefore, if the assessment committees do, as advised, ignore scarcity rents, then, if the assessments go up it will be evidence that a rise would be fair, and would not be exploitation. The best that can be said of rent control in general is, that it has been, and still remains in some cases, a necessary evil.
I entirely agree with the steps which the Government are taking under this Bill and the further steps which they propose to take with regard to future decontrol by areas as being the best way of tapering off control. The only satisfactory cure for the shortage of houses is, in the long run, the building of houses. I do not think that anything can be better calculated to defeat the building of houses than the terms of the Opposition Amendment on the Paper to-day. They speak of bringing under control all dwelling houses by means of establishing permanent tenancy courts. I am certain, as has been stressed in many cases in this Debate, that nothing can be better calculated to discourage investors from investing in new houses, and generally to discourage the building of small houses throughout the country, than the threat of those houses being brought under some form of control. The Amendment also regrets the proposal to deprive many tenants of the protection of the law. Protection against what? Protection would no doubt be justified if it were protection against profiteering, but there can be no profiteering unless there is shortage. I do not think that it ought to be contended that any tenant has the right to be protected by law from being charged an economic rent.
We have heard a great deal from hon. Members of the Opposition about the hardship to tenants. There are many landlords who have been deprived of the control of their property for over 20 years. Many of them are people of very humble means who have invested their savings in that property. Although I know that hon. Members above the Gangway are 1223 against private ownership, they ought to recognise that this House has an obligation to protect minorities, and undoubtedly, as compared with tenants, landlords are in a minority. The proposal for tenancy courts is singularly unfortunate, especially when it is suggested that the personnel of those courts should be popularly elected. In the United States of America in some of the courts the judges are popularly elected. It cannot be desirable in the interests of justice, and certainly it is not dignified when one sees placards "Vote for so-and-so to be judge." If the proposal to have tenancy courts in this country came into being, we should see placards: "Vote for so-and-so, and lower rents."
Rent restriction emerged entirely out of the War, in quite exceptional circumstances, but I cannot think it was ever intended that rents should be permanently kept at an artificial level. If it happens that there are people in this country who cannot afford to pay an economic rent, then those people should certainly receive the attention of the public authorities; but I do not think that it is just to expect landlords exclusively to bear the burden of maintaining those people in houses at a rent which is far below what is economically reasonable. There have been many cases of bad landlords, but there is a far greater number of good landlords. I think these Rent Restrictions Acts have had an unfortunate effect in the relationship between landlord and tenant. It is a very personal relationship, or it should be, in which there should be a mutual interest, and the intervention of a Statute between the landlord and the tenant must destroy the chance of good feeling and co-operation between them. I trust that it will not be long before we shall see the withdrawal of restriction altogether, with all its anomalies and injustices, and I think the Government are taking the best possible course to that end.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Ammon
I am sorry if I am keeping others out of the Debate, but the Secretary of State for Scotland wants a fair time for a reply, and there are one or two questions that I want to bring to his notice. Hon. Members opposite must have agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Johnston) that if there is anyone who is entrusted with the handling of a Measure and can 1224 give the impression that you are to get something when you will get little or nothing, there could not be a better Minister chosen than the Minister of Health. Again and again he has brought to the House Bills which purported to be beneficial to the community, but which on examination have proved that while he has given with one hand he has taken away very much more with the other. There have been some Bills in connection with which he has got the credit for benevolence, but he has passed on the cost of them to the local authorities. In the present case, while the Bill does add to the class C houses, the net result will be that a larger number of people will suffer very severely from the operation of the Bill than are suffering at the present time. May I, in passing, pay a tribute to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Pearson) for the excellent speech, both in tone and manner, which he delivered. I am sure that we shall all look forward with pleasure to hearing him again.
There is scarcely any speaker—I say so with respect—who seems to have given thought or attention to one particular aspect of the subject which I should like to mention. Again and again there has been reference to the poor landlord, who seems to be a sort of relative to the widows and orphans we hear about when ever any large private monopoly is attacked; but no one seems to have given any thought to the fact that there is growing up in connection with the control of houses the same thing as has grown up in regard to ordinary commercial trade. Large financial trusts and combines are getting hold of large blocks of property and in some cases almost complete control of working-class houses in particular districts, and are able to get more or less a monopoly control of the houses or a monopoly rent from the tenants.
It would be well that the attention of the House should be called to the operations of such concerns as Rosslyn Estates, the Threadneedle Trust, the Metropolitan Housing Corporation and another concern whose name I have forgotten, who instituted a libel action against my hon. Friend the Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) because in a speech he commented—unwisely as it turned out, because he committed libel—on the way they did their business. It would appear that a good deal of money which has been lying idle in the banks at a small 1225 rate of interest has found an outlet in the buying up of large numbers of working-class properties in different districts. That having been done, pressure is brought to bear upon tenants, where they are controlled, to get them out, and, where they are decontrolled, in forcing up the rent. I will give some irrefutable evidence in regard to that point before I sit down.
In introducing the Bill the Minister said there was no suggestion that there would be what is called a scarcity rent arising from the introduction of the Measure. I hope that I shall be able to convince him that he is wrong, because it is bound to happen in certain districts which are wholly built up, or where it is impossible to find any room for extension unless houses already in existence are demolished. It is operating at the present time. The committee of enquiry have drawn attention to the fact that there is a considerable decline in private building, and plans already in hand for about 140 authorities bear out that statement. That indicates that there is bound to be a decline in house building in the immediate future, and that a time is coming when landlords will be in a strong position indeed. The hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) and the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) ran out the old bogy of the liberty of the subject, and that we should want a multiplicity of officials. There is no more interference with the liberty of the subject in the matter of rent control than any honest man need be afraid of when meeting a policeman in the street. All that we want to see is that unfair advantage is not taken of people in a weak position.
The House must keep in mind the fact that rent control arose out of certain events in 1915, that when the nation was in great distress and trouble patriotic landlords did not scruple to take advantage of the situation, and endeavoured while the men were at the front to enforce rack rents on the women. That led to serious riots in Glasgow, and so alarmed the then Prime Minister that hurried legislation was introduced to meet the situation. There is no reason to think that the character of these landlords has been changed in recent years. They have been held in check, but now there seems an opportunity, with a Government favourable to them, once 1226 again to exploit the community. Therefore this Bill has been introduced.
I have been amused at the difficulty which hon. Members who have supported the Bill have found in keeping a balance. They have all entered a sort of caveat with regard to the difficulties they might find in their own constituencies when the Bill comes into operation. The hon. Member for Central Portsmouth (Mr. R. Beaumont) made an eloquent speech in defence of this Bill and then proceeded to point out that owing to the circumstances at Portsmouth great distress will arise if decontrol is brought in. That is valuable testimony from the other side as to how the Bill is going to operate to the detriment of the community. The hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) said that landlords were not harsh and would not take advantage of the situation, but as I have said they took advantage of the distress in 1915. A little practical experience is worth a good deal of theory. I have a letter here from a constituent of mine who is in a house which will be decontrolled by the Bill. With it he enclosed two letters from two other landlords, each of whom demanded an increase in rent. He says:The new owners are the South Bermondsey Estate, of about 600 houses, a great number decontrolled, just ordinary working-class houses of seven rooms. I myself being a omnibus conductor, a trade unionist, and an ex-service infantryman, fought in the trenches at the age of 18 with the first 20th London Regiment. The enclosed letters show what has happened in seven months' ownership. What will happen in seven years? I rented this house at 25s. per week and was asked to pay another 1s. by the old owner, and now the new owners are having a turn. My next door neighbours pay 20s. 6d., and the other gets change out of £1. Some pay 17s.; others much more than 28s. as improved rent.This form is not unique. The landlord puts in a deep sink for 6d. and a copper for 9d., and then these increases go on to the rent. This is not peculiar to this corner of London, but it is operating largely in the Metropolitan boroughs of London where these firms are getting control. This company more or less poses as a philanthropic institution, but the House will get some idea as to the nature of their philanthropy. The letter goes on to say:As Claude Leigh, Limited, are buying property all over London you can see the magnitude of this rent racket, and what with food prices soaring, we shall be in a tight 1227 comer before long, and many of my neighbours' wages are much less than my own.This man has some political insight, notwithstanding the fact that he is a bus conductor, because he says:In my opinion these new owners have inside information that the Rent Act comes off next year, and will leave them in a position to extort any rent they wish to demand of us, with the usual notice to quit.I have several cases to show how these firms operate. I have had them officially checked at the town hall of Camberwell, so that there should be no dispute about the facts. They indicate what is happening. There is class B house with a rateable value of £30. The permissible rent chargeable is £47 12s., but in one case the rent charged is £55 and in another £85. Houses with a rateable value of £34 and a permissible rent chargeable of £50 8s.—in one case the rent charged is £78 and in another £90. Take another case: rateable value £37, permissible rent chargeable £53 4s., in one case the rent is £75 and in the other £85. Take another, rateable value £41, permissible rent chargeable £64 8s.; the rent charged is £80 in one case and £95 in another. Take the last instance I will give, rateable value £44, permissible rent chargeable £63, the rent charged is £83 in one case and £100 in another. These are cases in Camberwell. The right hon. Gentleman knows the division. This company has bought the whole estate of between 400 and 600 houses. By various means they intimidate the tenants in order to get them out of controlled houses. Sometimes they make the conditions so difficult that the tenants move out. In that way, the rents are forced up. Unfortunately, some of these people are so timid that they will not stand up for their rights even when one fights their cases for them.
One man, who was paying a rent of £1 12s. 6d. a week, came to me about the matter, and I persuaded him to go to the town hall and to get a return. He did so, and the return showed that the amount of rent he ought to have paid was a maximum of 21s. a week; but he had been intimidated to such an extent that he was afraid to insist on his rights, and although he had an authority from the town clerk to pay a lower rent, he went on paying the higher rent. The same man also got a return as to the repairs that were necessary, and it showed that the house was in a most deplorable con- 1228 dition. I want hon. Members to understand that it is one thing for them to talk here about people being able to enforce their rights, but it is an entirely different matter when the people are faced with landlords. The position is still more difficult when the people are living in a crowded neighbourhood and when the important factor is that they should be as near as possible to their work because of the early hour at which they have to start. I have particulars of another case where a man was first of all paying 16s. a week, and now, owing to a change of landlord, the rent has gone up to £1 15s. a week.
In view of such evidence, it is sheer nonsense for the Minister to say that decontrol will not cause rents to increase. The houses to which I have been referring are of the type that will be decontrolled, and I ask the House to consider the matter carefully before passing this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) made a speech which was based on knowledge and understanding. I am sure that the House will agree that no one has a better knowledge on this matter than he has. My hon. Friend, perhaps against his will, has had to meet the housing problem by building a large number of flats, and one of the results of his operations, apart from the fact that the landowners are becoming rich beyond the dreams of avarice because of the amount of money they were able to extract for their land, and the fact that the class C tenant is catered for by the municipalities, is to increase still more the rents of the houses to which I have referred, which are rented by the higher-paid artisans and middle-class persons. Hon. Members will be on an entirely false track if they imagine that we can measure the problem by saying that there have been so many millions of houses built within a certain number of years. In a large measure, the houses that have been built have simply replaced houses that have been pulled down, and in some cases fewer houses have been built than formerly stood on a given piece of ground. In some cases, open spaces have been created, and in other cases blocks of flats have been built in which people have been warehoused rather than housed.
One hon. Member said that my hon. Friends seem to be concerned only with the more congested areas. On Monday I 1229 went to South-East Essex to speak on behalf of the Labour candidate, and I found that, interested as the people there were in our international and political problems, they sat up and took notice at once when they learned that houses of over £20 a year were to be decontrolled. That was where they came in and they will probably feel the effects even more because there is less building in progress in such areas that elsewhere. The hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom-Johnson) said it was not to be taken that he and his hon. Friends were, blind to the difficulties or had no method of dealing with them. But according to what he said he is going to support a Bill which will perpetuate the hardships I have already indicated, and make it possible for people to be exploited even more than they are being exploited now. If he were Member for my constituency he would have a continuous procession of people coming to him because they are alarmed at what is happening to their neighbours and have got wind of this Bill and how it is likely to affect their position.
The hon. and learned Member repeated what has been said from this side of the House time and time again, namely, that the people with the smallest incomes pay the highest prices for the necessaries of life. They pay higher proportionately, not only in rent, but in food prices, and everything else than better-off people. Anybody who is acquainted with crowded, working-class, poor districts knows that the people who buy their household commodities in sixpennyworths and pennyworths and halfpennyworths pay much higher prices than those of us who are more fortunately situated. This proposal involves an additional burden and an increase in the cost of living which will begin to take effect very quickly.
It is not only a case of landlords taking the vast profits which I have indicated. I would be prepared to accept to some extent the position stated by the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham in regard to the individual landlord, but what we are getting in relation to house property, as in other things, is the growth of large corporations or companies, such as those of which it has been said that "they have neither bodies to be kicked nor souls to be damned." They are impervious to all arguments about hardship and distress. Their main concern 1230 is to provide profits for their shareholders, and wonderful is the variety of ways in which they try to do it. In one part of London the district surveyor ordered some necessary repairs to be made to certain houses. The property-owners at once said that the repairs could not be carried out while the tenants remained in the premises and that the tenants must remove. One tenant was silly enough to move into the house next door and at once found that he had to pay a 15s. increase in his rent, having lost the advantage of control. Another was sensible enough to come to me for my advice and I told him to stop even if they pulled off the roof. Then they tried something else. The house had a square bay window. They put in a round bay window and wanted to add a shilling to the rent, on the ground that it was an additional amenity.
They are the things that are being done, because that is not an isolated case. Plenty of my hon. Friends can bear testimony to the fact that that sort of thing is happening all over London, and probably much further afield. It is a deliberate policy. I have a letter here from a poor chap who was asked to go out of his house, and, persuaded that it was in his own interest to do so, he went out. Then he thought, a little bit late, and wrote to the landlords—the people I have already mentioned—asking them if they would give him something towards his removal expenses. They replied:In connection with your request for removal expenses, we cannot understand your remarks referring to the question of ex-Dense, inconvenience, etc., for we would point out that there is no suggestion of compulsion. However, in the circumstances, we have given the matter every consideration, but regret that we are unable to make any allowance.That is indicative of what is happening at the present time in anticipation of what will happen a little later on, and I say, without any fear of contradiction, that as soon as this Bill becomes law, if it does—and I hope it will not, in its present form—it will at once bring about a tremendous amount of increased distress to the best of our artisans and to those men and women who try to put a good front to life and who are the very cream of the community. You are doing this at a time when there is the burden of increased cost of living and when you are appealing to the people to build up an A1 nation, to go in for physical culture 1231 and all those things that will make a fitter nation. However good might be the intention behind it, and in spite of the fact that it might give some advantage to a few people in category C houses—but even that must be taken with a pinch of salt, in that I have not the slightest doubt that the Minister has visualised the fact that authorities such as the London County Council and others are beginning to supply the needs of people who would normally be in category C, so that there will be lots of those people concerned in that category—it will hit great numbers of people, with the decline in private building, the increased burden of the cost of living, and the gradual buying up by financial companies of the great mass of our houses, so that they will be dealt with as monopolies in the future. The Ministry, in what they are doing, are deliberately aiming a blow that will severely hurt the very best section of the community, and I am sure that in days to come the right hon. Gentleman will have very grave cause for regretting his action.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Elliot
I think the Government have no reason to complain of the reception which the House has given to this Bill. I have sat through many debates on Rent Restrictions Bills from 1922 onwards, and I can truthfully say that the atmosphere in the discussion of this Bill is quite different from the atmosphere in the discussion of any other Rent Restrictions Bills. I think it is true that a considerable measure of agreement has been reached on all sides. It was interesting to note the ecstatic way in which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) hailed the agreement to which he was able to come with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), and yet he need not have been so surprised. "Houses first" has been a slogan of ours from the beginning of these discussions. We have always agreed that until scarcity had been removed, control should not be taken off, and we seem to be agreed that when scarcity has been removed, control should either be removed altogether or very greatly modified.
§ Mr. Silverman
The exchanges I had with the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir 1232 F. Fremantle) did not concern scarcity so much as monopoly. He had said that he thought control should remain as long as monopoly conditions remained. I pointed out that, in the view of many people, there was always an element of monopoly in any question where land was concerned, and I thought that the hon. Member agreed that as the monopoly factor was permanent the control should be permanent, too. If the Government accept that, then indeed there is a surprising measure of agreement.
§ Mr. Elliot
I noticed the vexed question of land taxation beginning to come in. I hurry away from that in case the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) should come in. Rent restriction would come to a complete stop while the subject of land taxation was chivvied about across the Floor of the House. The question that has been argued to-night is this. Here is a class of house, a million in number, known as the class B houses. Is it desirable or not that certain alterations along the lines of greater control, and also along the lines of less control, should take place? This Bill does two things. It increases the stiffness of control on half of a category of houses, and diminishes it on the other half. I suppose that 650,000 houses are concerned in the anomalies of which hon. Members complain. The very difficulties in which the poorer man finds himself are removed by this Measure. The ordinary man in the lower category will know where he stands much more clearly after this Measure passes than he does now.
The point which the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) was making, that he could not get his constituents to take advantage of the provisions of the law which this House has laid down for their protection, will be diminished, because if the law is clear it will be easier to get people to take advantage of its provisions than where it is obscure. Nobody can protect the hon. Member's constituents if they will not take advantage of the provisions laid down by Statute and of the careful and punctilious devotion to their interests which is shown by the hon. Member, when he leads them along to the Town Hall, gets them a certificate for a shilling—I do not know whether he pays the shilling or not—and then finds that they are unwilling to take advantage of it. The only remedy is that to which he re- 1233 ferred, namely, to have sufficient houses so that alternative accommodation will be available.
The Opposition Amendment pays very little attention to the points which have been put by hon. Members in various parts of the House, notably by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). He complained that on a previous occasion the Opposition had not been able to vote for his Amendment which demanded a reduction in the rents. I suppose that with great Christian charity he is going to vote for their Amendment to-night although it makes no mention of a reduction of rents. Whether he has decided that that cock will not fight, or whether he has for once forgiven Members above the Gangway, I would not like to say.
§ Mr. Stephen
It is impossible for us to get an Amendment with the Opposition Amendment on the Paper. We still stand by the Amendment we proposed on a previous occasion.
§ Mr. Elliot
I have known occasions when the hon. Member and his Friends, when they could not vote for the Opposition Amendment, have put their views on record on the Paper in another Amendment. I can only think that he does not wish to be embarrassed by having an Amendment on the Paper when he is going to vote for the Opposition Amendment, and that we are to see that great quarrel healed for this evening.
I was more than interested in the constructive proposal which was brought forward by the Opposition for tenancy courts. Our proposal for dealing with the evils arising out of scarcity is, as we have always said, to abolish the scarcity, and we believe that only by the provision of an adequate supply of houses will it be possible for this evil to be swept away. But the Opposition bring forward an Amendment which was elucidated during the Debate to a rather interesting extent. They say in their Amendment:Permanent tenancy courts should be established to control the relations between landlord and. tenant in respect of all dwelling houses.I did my best to acquaint myself with what this proposal meant, and I read with considerable care the evidence given by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) on this subject before the Ridley 1234 Committee. But it seemed that he was not nearly so definite in his ideas as hon. Members have been to-night, because the House learned with intense interest, and some astonishment, that apparently what they had in mind was a judicial court popularly elected by the local authorities. I understood the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) to say that, and I should like to know whether I am interpreting him correctly.
§ Mr. Elliot
See how interesting the proposal is. If a local authority changes, of course the composition of the court will change, too. If, for any reason, a Labour majority is replaced by a Conservative majority on a local authority, the judicial tribunal will, I suppose, be replaced, too, and we shall be well on the road to the remarkable conditions which sometimes adorn and sometimes do not adorn the administration of the United States of America. Surely the right hon. Gentleman must realise what a very slippery slope he has embarked upon. What is it that this court is to administer? Is it to administer this Statute, or a code of morals, or the opinion of those who compose the tribunal? The House is entitled to an answer to those questions when it is asked to reject this Measure, which, let hon. Members note, would bring about abolition of the control of houses altogether. If this Measure were rejected, the control of houses would come to an end. When the House is asked to reject this Measure it must ask hon. Members opposite to explain in a little more detail what it is that they actually propose.
As I say, the tribunal which was suggested to the Ridley Committee was something of a very different order from what they have proposed to-night. It was something in the nature of a judicial tribunal, and it was supposed to be run with a salaried officer at the head, and there were to be appeals from it to the various courts of the land. Do hon. Members still propose to allow appeals from this court? I think the right hon. Member for West Stirling indicated that they would. In that case what becomes of the argument that by this means tenants will escape being dragged through the Law Courts? It would merely mean 1235 the interjecting of a previous stage into the process by which, as the hon. Member for North Camberwell said, great and powerful corporations are dragging small men through the courts one after the other up to the highest court in the land, while the whole issue is fogged and confused by an initial examination by some tribunal elected by a local authority and working under rules quite different from the ordinary judicial rules to which we are accustomed in this country, and not in any way protecting the tenant in the long run. It is a very remarkable proposal to have brought forward. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman said he would do his best to elucidate it later in the Committee stage. We shall all look forward to that, and shall hope to have the advantage of the presence of some of the hon. Members opposite who are learned in the law, because I can imagine a very interesting discussion between them and hon. Members on this side of the House as to the functions and the constitution of courts and as to the Statutes under which these remarkable bodies would operate.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member is always willing to stand up for his opinions, however unorthodox they may be. I have no doubt that he will place his views upon these tribunals before the Committee. I say again that a tribunal of an order produced from a popularly elected body, transformed by whatever kind of political change takes place in that body, is not a very desirable kind of tribunal to introduce into the judicial machinery of this country.
§ Mr. Westwood
In Scottish administration to-day that kind of change takes place in respect of summary jurisdiction. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the laymen who carry on the administration of the law in Scotland are dishonest?
§ Mr. Elliot
No, certainly not, but I say without hesitation that they are operating under very well understood statutory authority.
§ Mr. Elliot
Well, that applies to the valuation courts, too. The right hon. Gentleman must give the House a great deal more information than he has already given so far. The local authorities already have power to publish information for the assistance of tenants of controlled property. I think it is agreed that perhaps they do not make as full a use of that power as they might, and that criticism on this ground is justified. Both my right hon. Friend and myself are willing to accept the Committee's recommendations in that respect, and in any circular issued from the Ministry of Health or from the Scottish Office in connection with this Bill we shall impress upon local authorities in England and in Scotland the necessity of making full use of their existing power. I believe that the Minister of Health will be prepared also to call attention to the further powers of local authorities in England and Wales to institute proceedings for alleged contravention of the Rent Restrictions Acts. Those two steps should go some way to meeting the criticisms on which some at least of the arguments of the Opposition have been founded.
Apart from the proposals, which I must say seem nebulous and ill-thought-out, for the establishment of tenancy courts, the main proposition of the Opposition is that the effect of the present Bill will be to deprive many tenants of the protection of the law and to increase the hardships of a section of the community. That is, I think, the main attack that we have to meet. The section of the community in question is, I think, the tenants of the houses in the upper range of class B, which the Bill would decontrol. Let us take into consideration also the fact, to which I have referred, that the Bill increases and makes more steep the control upon 650,000 other houses of class B. It simplifies the law and abolishes many of the anomalies of which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have complained. I think we are all agreed upon that point, so that I need not labour it. Let me say in passing that from 50,000 to 100,000 houses which would otherwise fall out of control remain in control, and that that 1237 figure is by no means an unsuitable one to compare with the 450,000 houses which will fall out of control if the provisions of the Bill are accepted.
§ Mr. Elliot
In 1940 or 1941. Let us at the moment deal with what we are asked to deal with to-night, namely, the evils which are said to be likely to result after the Bill passes, and not with what may happen in 1940 or 1941. I have no hesitation in saying that the Government are fully satisfied from the reports of the committees and from the information at their disposal that the inhabitants of the 450,000 houses in question will not, as a whole, be subjected to hardships as a result of the proposals of the Bill.
The hon. Member for North Camber-well adduced evidence to show that this evil would result. But the Committee was set up to consider these very points, and I can adduce evidence on my side to show that this evil will not result. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling took the argument on to a ground that is very familiar both to himself and to me, namely, our own City of Glasgow. The hon. Member for Camlachie noticed that point, and stressed it during the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. But I was interested to note that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the hon. Member for Camlachie paid any attention whatever to the really remarkable evidence that was led by a great local authority which is certainly not by any means a supporter of the present Government, and the evidence of which is, I understand, acceptable to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling though not perhaps so acceptable to the hon. Member and his Friends below the Gangway.
§ Mr. Johnston
This is merely logic-chopping. Will the right hon. Gentleman address himself to this fact, that the two representatives of the property owners of Glasgow who gave evidence before the committee admitted that there would be hardships if the proposal were carried out, and offered solutions, and the Government have not accepted their solutions?
§ Mr. Elliot
It is a little hard, when the right hon. Gentleman himself adduced evidence and when I gave rebutting evi- 1238 dence, to call it logic-chopping. He might have thought of that before he put forward an argument of some length dealing with this point. Would the right hon. Gentleman take the evidence of the property owners of Glasgow against the Corporation of that city? Let me give the official evidence led by the Corporation of Glasgow before the Ridley Committee. The Corporation of Glasgow—where, mark you, the housing position is worse than in any other part of the United Kingdom—said that in 1914 there were 404 vacant four-roomed houses in the city, and in 1936 there were 471. That is to say, there were more of these houses vacant in 1936 than there were in 1914. Taking five-roomed houses, in 1914 there were 678 vacant, and in 1936 there were 1,075.
The right hon. Gentleman says that that is all very well, but it has nothing to do with the case; that rents were raised when there were vacant houses before the War, and raised they will be again. Let me take the official evidence which was led by the Corporation of Glasgow, from the rolls and books in their possession, as to the actual rents paid before and after these houses were decontrolled. In Glasgow, during the year 1936–37, 5,340 decontrolled class B houses changed hands. The controlled rents of those houses amounted to £180,687. The rents in 1935–36 and in 1936–37, after the houses had changed hands and become decontrolled, when this steep and tremendous rise in rents, according to the right hon. Gentleman, must have taken place, amounted to £181,000; that is to say, while the rents amounted to £180,687 before decontrol, they amounted to £181,000 after decontrol. Here is no theory, but chapter and verse, and the right hon. Gentleman must deal with these statistics before he can dismiss our contention that in many cases an increase of rent will not take place.
There is nothing hidden about these facts. Attention was drawn to them in the minority report. The minority asked, Why should the Corporation of Glasgow be building non-subsidy houses at a rental of £43 per annum if there was an abundance of houses to let in Glasgow of the value of £35 to £45? Does that not knock the bottom out of the argument that the city can never produce an excess of houses by any manner of means? There are the houses; there is the building taking 1239 place; there is the lack of any rise in rents—all the points to which the right hon. Gentleman asked the House to pay attention.
Here are these things, not founded on any theory but on chapter and verse—recorded statistics brought by one of the strongest opponents of the Government, the Corporation of Glasgow. We are entitled to draw the attention of the House to the facts. These conclusions are enforced by contrasting the present position with the position which existed prior to the decontrol of the class A houses under the 1933 Act. In dealing with class A houses the evidence led by the Corporation of Glasgow was that there was a decrease of rental after control. Here are the figures. In the case of 7,205 class A houses, for which information is available, the total rental in 1933–34 was £424,000, and the total rental in 1936–37, after decontrol, was £410,000. These figures were given to the Ridley Committee to enable them to make up their minds on this problem, and it was after considering that evidence from the Glasgow Corporation and others that the Ridley Committee by a majority decided to recommend, as it has recommended, that the upper class B houses should be decontrolled, and stated that it did not believe that the tenants of these houses would be injured by the measure of decontrol proposed.
§ Mr. Elliot
I take it they were. They were the official figures led by the Corporation of Glasgow. I am certainly ready to defend these figures against any Committee or to the House as a whole. Of course they were valuation roll figures.
§ Mr. Elliot
Really, the hon. Member must not throw aspersions on the evidence which the Corporation of Glasgow produced. These are comparable figures, put in by a responsible public authority, and I am perfectly certain that the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Cassells) does not wish to disparage them.
§ Mr. Cassells
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the valuation roll is no true indication as to the real rental charge?
§ Mr. Elliot
I said that the Corporation of Glasgow led this evidence before the Ridley Committee, and I trust that Corporation to place honest evidence before that committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling quoted a case of a lady in Devonshire who was suffering very hardly on account of a house she owned being controlled and her not being able to get possession of her property. All agree that in certain circumstances decontrol ought to take place and the owner ought to be able to get possession of his or her property. Evidence to that effect was not only submitted to the Ridley Committee, but was given by Opposition speakers to-night. The Government have realised the special difficulties which exist, for instance in London, and we have paid attention to class B houses, in occupation of two or more tenants and, as right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen know, these are specially protected in a clause of the Bill. As the hon. Member for Camber-well agrees, that is certainly a concession to meet the dangers which he fears, although of course he claims that that concession is not sufficient. He is very far from satisfied. But I have here a letter from an admirer of the Government saying that:After carefully reading through the new Rent Bill and checking up all the cross-references … I want to congratulate you "—This is to an official of the Department—and also Sir Kingsley Wood for having produced a most useful Measure. It certainly checks many of the abuses at present being employed by speculators against numbers of poor, old and ignorant persons. And from the generous way the House of Commons treated the Leasehold Bill, which is aimed against abuses by the same class of speculators, I hope you will have an easy passage for this Bill.[HON. MEMBERS: "What is the address?"] The address is not unknown to hon. Members opposite. It is, "1, Roman Road, Bedford Park, W.4," and the signature is "Dan Rider." Although we have not been able to satisfy hon. Members opposite, we have had a resounding success with the War Rents League.
I also have to deal, though very briefly, because time is short, with the complaints made by hon. Members on this side, and on the other side also, that control is itself a hardship, and that evil is being 1241 done by the persistence of control. I hoped to give some time to the argument which I have heard on the special position of the Scottish landlords, but time will not permit to-night, and it will be impossible to go into the matter at length. But there is certainly a case there which will have to be discussed. I am sure that until the supply overtakes the demand it will be against the interests, not merely of tenants but of landlords, to go hastily and rashly into the policy of decontrol, and to break up the solidarity, and the sense of fan-dealing, which have existed ever since this system was brought in. Both landlords and tenants are satisfied that this House gives attention to their problem, and protects them against evils such as hon. and right hon. Members opposite have brought to our notice. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the rent book question?"] In a word, I will answer that by saying that, while we are desirous of bringing in legislation about that, I
§ cannot promise that it will be brought in before this is on the Statute Book.
§ More important than either the rent book or the discount problem is the question of the supply of houses. At present, we are producing house room at the rate of nearly 4,000 new rooms every day. If you compare that figure with the natural rate of increase of the population, you will find that for every two persons being added to the population, we are adding three houses, or nearly 12 rooms. That gives us a far better chance in future of having sufficient houses at reasonable rents than anything which has been brought forward by the Opposition.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 258; Noes, 138.1245
|Division No. 113.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Gluckstein, L. H.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk N.)||Goldie, N. B.|
|Albory, Sir Irving||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)||Grant-Ferris, R.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Cox, H. B. Trevor||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.|
|Apsley, Lord||Critchley, A.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Astor. Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Croam-Johnson, R. P.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Cross, R. H.||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Crossley, A. C.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Crowder, J. F. E.||Hambro, A. V.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Cruddas, Col. B.||Hannah, I. C.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Culverwell, C. T.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Harbord, A.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Bernays, R. H.||De Chair, S. S||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||De la Bère, R.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hely-Hulchinson, M. R.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Denville, Alfred||Hepworth, J.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Doland, G. F.||Higgs, W. F.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)|
|Brass, Sir W.||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Dugdale, Captain T. L||Holdsworth, H.|
|Brooklebank, Sir Edmund||Duggan, H. J.||Holmes, J. S.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Duncan, J. A. L.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Dunglass, Lord||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)|
|Bull, B. B.||Eastwood, J. F.||Hulbert, N. J.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Eckersley, P. T.||Hutchinson, G. C.|
|Butler, R. A.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Elmley, Viscount||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Emery, J. F.||Keeling, E. H.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Errington, E.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)|
|Cazalat, Thelma (Islington,. E.)||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Kimball, L.|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Everard, W. L.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Fildes, Sir H.||Lamb, Sir J. O.|
|Channon, H.||Findlay, Sir E.||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Fleming. E. L.||Leech, Sir J. W.|
|Christie, J. A.||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Lees-Jones, J.|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Furness, S. N.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Levy, T.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||Liddall, W. S.|
|Lipson, D. L.||Petherick, M.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Locker-Lampion, Comdr. O. S.||Plugge, Capt. L. F.||Storey, S.|
|Loftus, P. C.||Procter, Major H. A.||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.|
|Lyons, A. M.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Ramsbotham, H.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|M'Connell, Sir J.||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Raid, Sir D. D. (Down)||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. Oslo of Wight)||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Tate, Mavis C.|
|McKie, J. H.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Magnay, T.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Touche, G. C.|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Rothschild, J. A. de||Turton, R. H.|
|Markham, S. F.||Rowlands, G.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Marsden, Commander A.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Russell, Sir Alexander||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Maxwell, Hon. S. A.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Ward, Lieut.-Col, Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Salmon, Sir I.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Salt, E. W.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Samuel, M. R. A.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Moreing, A. C.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.||Wayland, Sir W. A|
|Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Weddorburn, H. J. S.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Savery, Sir Sarvington||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Munro, P.||Scott, Lord William||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Seely, Sir H. M.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||Selley, H. R.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Wise, A. R.|
|O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Simmonds, O. E.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Wragg, H.|
|Owen, Major G.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Palmer, G. E. H.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Patrick, C. M.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Peat, C. U.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Peters, Dr. S. J.||Spens, W. P.||Captain Hopeand Lieut.-Colonel|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Marshall, F.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Groves, T. E.||Maxton, J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Messer, F.|
|Amman, C. G.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Milner, Major J.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapal)||Montague, F.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Hardie, Agnes||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)|
|Batey, J.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Muff, G.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Hayday, A.||Nathan, Colonel H. L.|
|Benson, G||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Broad, F. A.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Bromfield, W.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Paling, W.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Parker, J.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Hollins, A.||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Buchanan, G.||Hopkin, D.||Pearson, A.|
|Burke, W. A.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Cape, T.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Price, M. P.|
|Cassells, T.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Chater, D.||Jones, J. J. (Silvertown)||Ridley, G.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Riley, B.|
|Cooks, F. S.||Kelly, W. T.||Ritson, J.|
|Cove, W. G.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Kirby, B. V.||Sanders, W. S.|
|Daggar, G.||Kirkwood, D.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Lathan, G.||Shinwell, E.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Lawson, J. J.||Silkin, L.|
|Day, H.||Leach, W.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Dobbie, W.||Lee, F.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Leonard, W.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Ede, J. C.||Leslie, J. R.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Logan, D. G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Lunn, W.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Frankel, D.||Macdonald, G. (Inee)||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Gallacher, W.||McEntee, V. La T.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Gardner, B. W.||McGhee, H. G.||Stephen, C.|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||MacLaren, A.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Maclean, N.||Stokes, R. R.|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Mander, G. le M.||Thurtle, E.|
|Tinker, J J.||Watson, W. McL.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Tomlinson, G.||Westwood, J.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Viant, S. P.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Walkden, A. G.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Walker, J.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Watkins, F. C.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)||Mr. Mathers and Mr. Adamson.|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.