HC Deb 20 May 1938 vol 336 cc743-8

In the case of any notice as defined in section one of this Act, served at any time after the eleventh day of February, nineteen hundred and thirty-eight, and prior to the date on which this Act shall come into operation, by which the lessor's right of re-entry or forfeiture would, but for the operation of this Act, have become enforceable by action or otherwise, but such enforcement has not commenced before the operation of this Act. the provisions of this Act as to counter-notice shall be available to the lessee, and time therefor shall commence to run at the commencement of the operation of this Act. —[Mr. Errington.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.34 a.m.

Mr. Errington

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

The purpose of the Clause is to stop a loophole in this excellent Bill. The measure of the success of the Bill is the measure of the need for this new Clause. On nth February last, the Bill was given a unanimous Second Reading, and as a result, considerable publicity was given to its terms. since that time, at any rate in the constituency which I represent, schedules of dilapidations have been sent in to almost every leaseholder who comes within the terms of the Bill. The result is that all the persons who have received these schedules of dilapidations before the Bill becomes an Act will not be protected by it. It is, therefore, impossible under the terms of the Bill for a counter-notice to be served. It is a matter of surprise to read that the demands under these dilapidation schedules are no less than they were prior to the Second Reading of the Bill. Should anybody be unwise enough to ask how many years purchase would be required in order to purchase a freehold, he will be told that it is somewhere between 40 and 60 years. In addition, "the costs for the schedules which are delivered amount to some nine or ten guineas, with the possibility of an increase.

It is,. however, a fortunate fact that one of the safeguards in Section 146 of the Law of Property Act, 1925, is that reasonable time is allowed to tenants in which to remedy the breach. In cases which have come before me, a period of three months has been allowed in which the repairs can be done. Therefore, it follows that if a schedule of dilapidations is delivered, say, on 20th April, the earliest date on which proceedings could be taken would be 20th or 21st July. It is on this basis that an opportunity is taken in this new Clause to extend the time for delivery of counter-notices under the Bill, until 21 days after the coming into force of the Measure. That, however, is subject to two conditions—first, that no proceedings for enforcement have been commenced, and secondly, that notice for dilapidations has been given since the Second Reading of the Bill. I would have liked to have made the Clause retrospective even where proceedings had been started, but that would raise the gravest difficulties, and I doubt whether such a proposal could be framed satisfactorily. This new Clause will not catch all the cases where schedules have been delivered since the Second Reading of the Bill, but I submit that a sufficient number will be caught and will come under the provisions of the Bill to make the passing of this new Clause worth while. It may be said in objection to this Clause that it is retrospective, but in that regard Craie's "Statute Law" uses this expression: If a statute is passed for the purpose of protecting the public against some evil or abuse "— I submit that this is a definite evil and abuse— it will be allowed to operate retrospectively, although by such operation it will deprive some person or persons of a vested right. My first submission is that this is a case of an evil and an abuse and, therefore, it is not so desirable as it might otherwise be, that there should be no retrospective action. My second answer to possible objections is that it not really retrospective in the ordinary sense because it only goes back to the Second Reading of the Bill and this flood of schedules of dilapidation has arisen only as a result of the Second Reading of the Bill. It has been extremely difficult to draft this Clause, but I submit that it is most desirable to have some such Clause in the Bill in order to protect those people who are suffering as a result of the advantage which has been taken by leaseholders of the position caused by the Bill.

11.41 a.m.

Sir R. Clarry

I beg to second the Motion.

One of the few regrets which I expressed during the Second Reading Debate on this Bill was that it did not operate in a retrospective sense so as to catch some of those exploiters who have been damaging the interests of tenants for a very long time. The proposed new Clause is rather complicated, but I think it is essential to insert something of a retrospective nature in order to meet the point which has been explained by my hon. Friend the Mover. If the Attorney-General does not feel able to accept this new Clause, perhaps he will undertake to see what can be done to meet this situation when the Bill goes to another place.

11.42 a.m.

Mr. Higgs

I appreciate the motives of the Mover and Seconder of this new Clause. On the other hand, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Errington) has seen fit to move it. This problem received very serious consideration both before the Bill was introduced and since the Second Reading. The hon. Member for Bootle, I take it, speaks for his own division in particular. I have received letters from all over the country from people who are interested in this Bill, and the information which they give me points in an entirely different direction. During the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill the Trealaw Estate was frequently referred to. Yesterday I received a letter from the Trealaw Leaseholders Association from which I quote the following passage: I am sure you will be interested to learn that since the Bill received its Second Reading and such wide publicity was given to the matter, we have not been troubled at all in this locality. I have received many similar letters from other localities pointing out that already the Bill is proving effective. My real reason for opposing the new Clause is that, generally, in connection with problems of this description, the Government do not favour retrospective legislation and I am rather afraid that this new Clause, if adopted, might jeopardise the chances of the Bill becoming law. I appreciate that this matter is very serious to a certain number of people, and that in certain cases the Bill has probably come 10 years too late. On the other hand, I think it advisable that it should be a clean-cut Measure and that we should, if possible, do without a Clause of this description. I hope, therefore, that the Mover will see his way to withdraw it in view of the fact that I can assure him that the effect of the Bill has already been felt in other districts, and that the conditions which he has found in his own division do not appear to exist all over the country.

11.44 a.m.

Mr. H. G. Williams

May I reinforce the appeal of the promoter of the Bill? I sympathise with and appreciate the motives which underlie the new Clause. On the other hand, I am always afraid of giving sanction to retrospective legislation. The dangers of principle involved in it are so great, that, even in minor cases, where there is some superficial advantage in it, I think we ought to abstain from a course which, if followed logically, would involve us in the profoundest difficulties. Therefore, on the ground of general principle, I would ask my hon. Friend not to press the Clause.

11.45 a.m.

Sir P. Hannon

I would like again to join with my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), this time in asking my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Errington) not to press this Clause. The fact is that the Bill has already made a profound impression upon the mind of the community as to its utility, and I believe that in a large measure terror has been getting into the hearts and consciences of a great many people in cases where the evils and abuses which this Bill is designed to remedy have been in evidence. I am sure the Attorney-General does not favour retrospective legislation by this House as a general principle, but, apart from that fact altogether, I believe the Bill is going a long way towards remedying what has been a real blot in the administration of leasehold property in this country, and I trust my hon. Friend will not pres his Clause.

11.46 a.m.

Sir Charles Edwards

On the Second Reading of this Bill I expressed the hope that it would not be overloaded. Looking at this proposed new Clause, while I think it is a very good one and while I wish I could support it—and wish indeed that it could be carried back for 10 years, though I have not heard of this abuse having been operative 10 years ago—still, I think we ought to get the Bill through as it is, and I therefore strongly support the appeal which has been made that the Clause should be withdrawn. When the Bill goes to the other place, I cannot imagine them putting in a retrospective Clause. We have tried that in several Bills in this House, but we have generally failed, and I believe that we should fail in this case also. The best thing to do, so long as the Bill is necessary, as it is, and so long as people are being harassed, as they are, over these leaseholds is to get the Bill through as it is as soon as possible. In my view everybody who is friendly to that position, as I believe the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Errington) is, ought to support the Bill as it is, because I believe that that is the only hope of getting it through Parliament.

11.48 a.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I, also, think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Errington), who moved this Clause, might be wise to respond to the appeal that has been made to him from more than one quarter of the House, and in particular from my hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs), who is in charge of the Bill. Everybody supports the motive behind the Clause, and many of us wish that it had been possible to stop this abuse some years ago, but the insertion of this Clause would, I believe, introduce into the Bill, which in its present form, I think, has general support everywhere, a point susceptible to attack on principle. Although one appreciates that my hon. Friend has in mind a number of hard cases which this Clause might assist, on the other hand we have had the assurance from the promoter of the Bill— who, as we know, has been very much in touch, naturally, all over the country with cases where this abuse has been going on—that in many parts of the country at any rate the fact that this House has endorsed the principle of the Bill has already led to a mitigation of the abuse which it is designed to meet. That is perhaps also a factor which my hon. Friend might bear in mind in considering whether he should not withdraw his proposed new Clause.

Mr. Errington

In view of the appeals which have been made to me, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.