HC Deb 13 September 1939 vol 351 cc649-51
53. Sir P. Harris

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he proposes to introduce legislation dealing with civil liabilities, especially liabilities for rent and rates, in the case of individuals who find their businesses completely dislocated by war conditions, as well as for those who have joined the armed forces?

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I have been asked to reply. Legislation dealing with civil liabilities has already been passed, and I would refer the hon. Baronet to the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act and the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Act. The working of these Acts and the whole problem referred to in the question will be kept under review.

Mr. T. Williams

What is to happen to persons who have long leases and whose businesses have been virtually detroyed by evacuation, or in other ways arising out of this development?

The Attorney-General

I quite agree that there are cases outside the Acts to which I have referred and which, as I have said, will be kept under review. I must add that I think the general experience during the last War was that many of these cases, if not most, were met by reasonable release from their obligations of those who were concerned. It is very important that those who are concerned should take all steps possible to release such people from obligations which press unduly upon them. I said in my original answer that the whole problem is being kept under review.

Commander Locker-Lampson

Why do we not have a moratorium as we had in the last War?

The Attorney-General

There is, in a sense, a moratorium, in respect of the execution of judgments under the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman who put the question had in mind merely the question of delay but the question of the actual liabilities.

Mr. J. Wilmot

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware not only that the liability will still remain but that many persons, because of their public service, are facing virtual bankruptcy and that landlords are not displaying the public spirit to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred?

An Hon. Member

Some are.

The Attorney-General

I quite agree. I think I made it clear that the Act to which I referred does not go into the matter of contractual liability. I do not think I can add to my previous answer, which recognises the existence of these cases and assures the House that this problem is under review.

Sir P. Harris

If I put the question again in a week's time will a fuller reply be given on behalf of the Government?

The Attorney-General

I do not think I could give that assurance. The problem is one of great complexity and raises points other than those which have been suggested. I do not think I can go to-day beyond the assurance which I have given.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give special consideration to the cases of men who have been called to the Colours and who have liabilities for insurance premiums which they are unable to meet by reason of the fact that they have not now the same income as they had before they joined up?