HC Deb 05 February 1941 vol 368 cc977-9
Mr. Silkin

I beg to move, in page 17, to leave out lines 14 to 17.

Clause 20 provides that the contributions already dealt with in the preceding Clause are payable irrespective of any contracts which may be made between the parties for making different arrangements; that is to say, you cannot contract out of the arrangements which are set out in Clause 19. But it then goes on to say: Nothing in this Section shall he construed as prohibiting the making or carrying out of any agreement expressly varying the ultimate incidence of instalments of contributions as between the parties to the agreement. The first party says, "You cannot contract out," and it makes a proviso which enables you to contract out. This proviso will act oppressively against the small man. Obviously, the only man who has an interest in contracting out is the mortgagee or the ground landlord or any other person who is making a contribution. The direct contributor will have no interest in contracting out at all. Pressure will be put upon him to make him enter into a fresh agreement for the purpose of enabling persons who have to make contributions to avoid making them. I can imagine what would happen in the case of mortgages. A mortgagor may be in default in making a payment. The mortgagee would come along and say, "I will give you time to pay, providing you enter into a fresh agreement under which I have no longer to make a contribution under this Act." The mortgagor, if he cannot find the money, will be compelled to make an arrangement of that sort. That happened under the Rent Restrictions Act. Landlords compelled tenants to enter into fresh agreements under which they were able to avoid the restrictions of the Act, and I am afraid that the same thing will happen here. It will only be of benefit to the person who is making the contribution and not to a direct contributor. I hope the Chancellor will see his way to leave out that proviso and prevent contracting out.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I think my hon. Friend may not quite appreciate the purpose of the first part of this Clause, which is to prevent covenants already in leases or mortgages from being construed, as they might otherwise be, as being applicable to the contribution. For instance, a covenant according to which one party or the other is responsible for outgoings might, apart from the first part of this Clause, be construed as meaning that the party concerned cannot recover from the other party what under the Bill he ought to be entitled to recover, namely, a part of the contribution. I think everyone agrees that we must deal with that position. Having dealt with it, however, I think hon. Members will also agree that there must be a provision under which parties can come to an agreement. The object of the last four lines is to enable agreements to be made on difficult questions which may arise in cases where it may be to the mutual interest of the parties to do so. Many of the difficulties which were discussed yesterday, for example the exact amount of the value, would in normal cases be settled by such agreement without the necessity for the dispute being taken before the Commissioners.

I quite appreciate that, as my hon. Friend has said, there is a possible danger that people may be forced to agree to an adverse bargain because of the difficult position in which they are placed, and might give up advantages which the Bill intends them to have. That is a thing which my right hon. Friend would certainly like to provide against as far as possible, but it would be very difficult to provide against it altogether, and I cannot say whether it will be possible to do so by some provision in this Bill. It would be quite wrong not to give parties power to agree in many cases in which that procedure for the settlement of a dispute would be eminently suitable, but my right hon. Friend will consider whether he can make provision in this Clause which will provide a safeguard as far as possible against what my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)

In this connection might I make a suggestion to the Attorney-General? I understand that where a similar situation might arise under the Workmen's Compensation Act, namely, one in which a man who is receiving compensation has pressure brought to bear on him to accept a sum in complete settlement, any agreement which may be arrived at must be submitted to a court for registration. That puts a check on any abuse of a privilege which is extended by the Act. In this case, too, if you took power to compel such agreements to be registered with the Commission, a check would be put upon abuse and some sort of control over such agreements would be given to the Commission. The very fact that the power existed would in itself be a deterrent.

Sir K. Wood

I will certainly consider that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.