§ Considered in Committee.
§ [COLONEL CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]
§ CLAUSE 1—(Provisions as to weekly tenancies.)
§ Mr. Douglas (Battersea, North)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, to leave out Sub-section (1).
The Amendment which I am moving now is preliminary to a series of Amendments to the following Sub-section which are intended to extend the provisions which are contained in this Clause so as to make them apply to tenancies or leases of any length and to ensure that where property suffers war damage, and becomes incapable of use, no rent shall be payable for it either by the immediate occupier or by any intermediate lessee between the occupier and the ground landlord. I move this Amendment in order to cover a gap which is left in the existing legislation dealing with the question of war damage. It is a principle of the scheme which has been adopted and embodied in the War Damage Act that no compensation is payable for any loss of income sustained by reason of war damage. The compensation which is payable is entirely in respect of capital values and not in respect of loss of income. If that principle is to be carried out, and it ought to be, with fairness to everybody, then all incomes which arise out of damaged property should cease automatically at the same time. In the case of an occupier whose income consists of the enjoyment of property, if that property is destroyed, his income is also destroyed, and it is, therefore, unfair that he should be required to pay rent to his superior interest and that that interest should not also suffer a corresponding loss of income.
In addition to that, I want to point out that this Clause as it stands deals with the case which is most easily capable of remedy. The weekly tenant can at any time give a week's notice and put his tenancy at an end. It is true that some do not know whether they have a right to do so, and I do not suggest that it is not proper that this additional safeguard should be given, but it gives a safeguard 1376 to that interest where it is most easy to solve the problem of giving notice to quit, or where the tenant is least unlikely to have a valuable interest in the property. The tenant may lose the whole of his interest and enjoyment and income, yet is expected to go on paying rent to his superior interest. It may be said that there is a remedy under the principal Act whereby a tenant can either disclaim the lease or give notice of retention, but these remedies are not complete. If a tenant gives notice to disclaim the lease, he will lose the whole of the interest which he had in the property, and it falls into the hands of his ground landlord. Not only does he lose the whole of the interest, but he loses his title to compensation except in the case in which compensation takes the form of value payment, in which case compensation is divided between those who are interested in the property at the moment damage takes place. But if the compensation takes the form of a cost of works payment, then the tenant, if he disclaims, has no longer any opportunity to rebuild the property because he has no title to it and, therefore, has no compensation. The whole of the compensation to which he is entitled goes to the ground landlord.
Therefore, notice to disclaim is not a solution of the tenant's difficulties in a very large number of cases. The other alternative is to give notice of retention, but if he does this, he is then, under the principal Act, saddled with the obligation of rebuilding the premises, and it does not follow that he will receive sufficient compensation to enable him to do so. If it is to be a cost of works payment, he may receive sufficient to enable him to do so, but if it is a value payment, it will be divided between him and the other people interested in the property, and although by giving notice of retention he will be saddled with the obligation to rebuild the property, he will not receive the whole of the compensation money which would enable him to do so. In either case the tenant, in many instances, is faced with a dilemma from which there is no satisfactory escape as things stand at present. It would be, at any rate, some easement of the position if he were relieved from the obligation of payment of rent, in the same way as he is deprived of the income out of which that rent would be paid.
1377 This Amendment and the consequential Amendments which it involves on the following Sub-sections are not intended to destroy the operation of the other provisions of the principal Act with regard to notices of retention or notices of disclaimer, where these are appropriate, but it does deal with this grievance, which is very acute and has caused a great many tenants loss and anxiety. In particular, in regard to the question of the dilemma as between the costs of works payment and the value payment, I do not know whether anybody has yet been told with what rapidity these claims can be dealt, but in many cases troublesome problems are involved and, in the meantime, the tenant is left in the position which I have already described.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
On a point of Order. The substantial points raised by my hon. Friend may be covered under a subsequent Amendment which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes). Would it not be more convenient to discuss the position in regard to ground leases on that Amendment, since Sub-section (1) deals, in the main, with weekly or other short tenancies?
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)
The Amendment in my name is in page 2, line 33, at the end, to insert:Where in pursuance of the provisions of this section the rent of any land which is unfit by reason of war damage is reduced the landlord to whom such rent is payable shall as and from the time when the reduction was effected be entitled to reduce pro rata any rent, charge or mortgage interest due from him to any other person in respect of the land and any such other person shall be entitled successively to reduce his like obligation:; in respect of the land.It deals with the appropriate scaling-down.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
I think it would be greatly to the convenience of the Committee if the course which has been suggested were adopted. The object of the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) is to secure parallel relations in the case of ground rents, and it would be convenient to treat that as a separate subject of discussion.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
I was about to suggest that on this Amendment we could discuss all those other Amendments which raise the question of the length of the tenancies to which this Clause should apply, including those Amendments in my own name which provide for extensions. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) seems to raise a rather different point. But if you, Colonel Clifton Brown, were to rule that on this Amendment we could discuss all the Amendments dealing with all lengths of tenancies —weekly, quarterly, half-yearly, and so forth—I think it would be convenient.
§ Mr. Bellenger
In that case I wish to deal specifically with the case which has just been put by my hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea (Mr. Douglas), namely, the position of tenants holding under a long lease which probably has only a short period to run. There are those, for instance, holding ground leases from ground landlords in cases where the lease has originally been made, perhaps 90 years ago and there are another 20 or 30 years before it expires. On the Second Reading of the Bill I expressed the view of the class of tenants who hold their leases from ground landlords and pay ground rents. What is their position? It is best to give a concrete example, because, when legislation of this nature is being discussed in the courts, learned judges have, on occasion, expressed the view that the intention of Parliament was not made clear in the wording of the Statute.
The ground lessee has three alternatives. He can disclaim his lease altogether. He can conditionally disclaim. He can retain it. In all probability, in these cases he would conditionally disclaim, that is to say, if his house was rendered unfit, he would say to his ground landlord "I want to get rid of this lease subject to certain qualifications." Those qualifications would be very substantial and would be related to the sort of compensation he was to get under the War Damage Act. If he gets a cost of works payment, he will probably want to retain his lease. If he gets a cost of works payment which means that he will be reimbursed out of the insurance scheme, for whatever work 1379 is necessary to make his house fit for occupation after the war, that is fair. He stands to lose nothing. He may even gain a little, because his house will probably be put into a better condition than it was in before the war.
What is the position if he gets a value payment? He will soon know whether he is getting a value payment or not, because the Commission have to inform him of the sort of payment they intend to make. On receipt of the information he then has to convert his conditional notice into a complete retainer or a complete disclaimer. If he is informed that he is getting a value payment, he has to make up his mind whether it is worth while retaining his lease. I suggest that in the majority of cases of value payments he will come to the conclusion, especially if his house has been demolished or badly damaged, that it is not worth while undertaking to rebuild or repair the house and returning to the position which he occupied before the original Landlord and Tenant Act was passed, namely, that of full observance of the repairing covenant of the lease. He will say "It is not worth while; I cannot do it" and he will be forced to disclaim. He then surrenders his lease to the ground landlord.
I ought to say in parenthesis that as soon as he gives notice of the conditional disclaimer, all ground rent ceases while the premises are unfit, and that, of course, is satisfactory as far as it goes. I am concerned mainly with the point at which he would have to say "I cannot carry on; the value payment will not be sufficient to enable me to carry out the repairing covenant of the lease, and therefore I hand it back." He hands back in many cases a valuable lease for which he has paid, at some time, a valuable consideration in money. He may have mortgaged that lease. Assume that he has a lease, with about 20 years unexpired and a ground rent of £10 or £12, as in many cases in London, for which he has paid £1,000 and which he has mortgaged for £750. When he is forced to disclaim the lease, that £1,000 is gone subject only to whatever proportion of the value payment he can get out of the War Damage Commission. But this fact remains—that the full mortgage of £750, if he has not reduced it, remains a personal liability chargeable on all his assets.
1380 I submit that is not equality of sacrifice. The ground landlord gets his slice of the compensation. The ground landlord gets the surrender of the lease; in other words, he gets possession of his site, and probably he gets possession of a valuable site earlier than he anticipated. As things are at present, he is then able to re-let the site on a building lease, or sell it at a greatly enhanced value; probably he gets a much greater rent, if it is let on a building lease, and a better and more modern building than he would have been able to get if the lease had run its normal life. I am concerned to get some different treatment for the holders of those leases. Like my hon. Friend, I think that the first consideration should be the ground rent. Should the leaseholder pay ground rent for something of which he does not enjoy beneficial occupation? That was really the consideration on which the lease was granted originally. It is true that when the original building lease was granted, he was given beneficial occupation of a piece of land, but in the lease he was also under covenant to build some hereditament on the land. The whole assumption was that when the original lessee took the lease, he was taking a site at, in those days, a low rent.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I cannot follow the hon. Member's interruption. The leaseholder took the site at a rent which was satisfactory to both sides in those days, and proceeded to build his house; and he was assured that he would get quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the premises. Part of that contract has been broken by an act of war. No longer can he get quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the premises; no longer can he get what he estimated he would get when the lease was originally granted, namely, beneficial occupation of the house, or rent, if he decided to let the house. Therefore, I say that the contract has been considerably altered by an act of war which neither side could foresee. What does the ground landlord say? He says, "That may be true, but you must go on paying your ground rent to me as long as the lease lasts." I suggest that is not a very equitable arrangement, and moreover, the Government have, to a certain extent, recognised that, because in the War Damage Act they have under- 1381 taken not to collect the premium due on 1st July, and which will be due for five years under the War Damage Act, whereby compensation will eventually be paid out of the sums collected. The Government have said that where the premises are unfit, they will not collect that premium, at any rate until compensation is payable; they defer the collection of their rent, or tax, or whatever it may be called. To give another example, in the case of Crown properties, the Government or the Crown have agreed to remit, to waive or to extend payment of ground rent due to the Crown in respect of those properties. I submit that the Government might just as well go further and give equitable treatment to those large numbers of ground lessees and concede the point that as soon as the property becomes unfit ground rent, and indeed all rent, should stop.
I am bound to disclose my own personal interest in this matter, for I am in the position of having lost valuable premises by an act of war. Therefore, I have some interest in the matter. Those who have lost their premises have in many cases lost their all. They have neither capital nor income out of which they can pay ground rent to the landlord. Is it fair to say that the ground landlord should go on drawing something from his site while the war lasts—it may be a long time or a short time—when the lessee, or his tenant, has no means to pay the landlord, and when, in addition he has probably to find considerable sums by way of mortgage interest and at some time or other has to pay the mortgagee? I hope I have not exaggerated the case. There have been some letters in the "Times," one from a very large ground landlord who, I submit, does not quite see this case from the point of view of the most hardly-hit person, the person who has lost his house and everything. I know that some hardship would be caused to ground landlords if my suggestion were accepted, but we all accept the principle of equality of sacrifice, and therefore we ought to accept this suggestion. I know that in this matter the Attorney-General's views are governed by the principle which he learned when he was a student of law, the sanctity of contracts. I agree with that principle as long as it can be enforced, but war cuts across many of the established principles which lawyers have taken in almost with their mother's milk. The principle can- 1382 not be carried out in war-time. I suggest to the Attorney-General that he might at any rate look a little more favourably upon this suggestion than he has done hitherto.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I do not wish to speak at length on this Amendment, because with your permission, Colonel Clifton Brown, and that of the Committee, I would rather speak longer on Clause 9, but since there has been raised the general principle of the distribution of loss between the ground landlord and the ground tenant, I think there are one or two things that ought to be said early in the Debate. The most obvious perhaps, and the least controversial, is that this Bill, and still more the line taken by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), is completely contrary to the recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee. I do not for a moment think that the Uthwatt Committee was infallible, or that we are absolutely bound by its recommendations, but I think it would be both unwise and improper for us to reverse those recommendations on this point, and on this point only, I think, without very much fuller explanation from the Treasury Bench than we have had before.
There is only one other point I wish to make at this stage. I do not understand the argument used by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw—and used by him also in the Second Reading Debate, I believe—that the more buildings were knocked down, the more was the value of the others. It seems to me to be a very odd argument and precisely opposite to the argument usually used by persons of the hon. Member's political affiliations. The argument they use as a rule is that the whole of the value of the land, or all of it that is worth mentioning, is value put on it by other people all around.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Although I belong to a party, so does the hon. Member, but in this case I expressed my own point of view, which I hope will be shared by many Members on all sides.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I do not follow the hon. Member's interruption, so now we are quits on that. I do not follow that argument; nor do I follow the argument, which was partly a corollary of it, about the ground tenant who is not to get a cost-of-works payment but only a value 1383 payment, and who, therefore, is compelled to disclaim. I should have thought that was an argument of an entirely opposite tendency to that suggested. Surely, it must be clear that the tenant has three choices before him. Either he can disclaim the lease, or he can retain the lease, or he can retain the lease upon a condition the fulfilment or non-fulfilment of which will not be known for several, and it may be many, years. He has those three choices, and surely of those three he will not take the first as long as there is any value left in the thing. It is not as if he had even got to find his own money to keep the thing going. As long as the tenant's rights in the site are rights of any value, there is always somebody with whom he can do a deal or somebody from whom he can borrow money. So long as the thing is worth anything, the landlord will get the advantage, if it is an advantage, of the lease being disclaimed, only where, so far as the tenant can find out in the market, the thing has no value. That argument seems to cut the opposite way to that put forward by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw.
There is only one other matter with which I wish to deal. I did say, on Second Reading, that I had some slight personal interest in the matter. I should like to make it clear again that I have a very slight personal interest in this matter on both sides. It has been suggested also that those whom I represent have a great interest in this matter. So far as I know, that is not true. I consulted the academic financial authorities, and I understand they do not wish to take any line in the matter. Therefore, anything I say on this Bill is entirely personal.
§ Sir William Davison (Kensington, South)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) very ably and sympathetically put the case, which undoubtedly is a very hard case, of the lessee who has lost his house, which he may have mortgaged, as a result of enemy action. I do not think, however, that he made the case of the owner equally clear. He gave an instance of a ground lease at a ground rent of, say, £10 where there were 20 years to run. But the owner only accepted that low rent of £10 a year on condition that the lessee should put up a house, and that at the end, generally of 1384 the 80th year, he should get the land and the house, and so be able to have or to let the land plus the house. In the case which the hon. Member gave, where there were only 20 years to run, the owner lost the 60 years for which this very nominal rent was being paid towards the building of the house. Surely he is entitled to some compensation for the loss he has suffered, because in another 20 years he would have had the land and the house? I want to make it clear that there is a serious loss on both sides, and that it is not only the lessee who suffers, but also the owner of the land.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I do not know whether the Committee is fully aware of the fact that, by a tacit agreement reached a few moments ago, we are discussing on this Amendment all questions affecting the length or class of tenancies to be brought under the simpler procedure provided by this Clause. While I do not propose to reiterate at great length the many arguments which have already been used in favour of bringing a wider class of tenancies under that simpler procedure, I think it would be well to recapitulate the attitude which we take up on the matter. I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends will have something further to say upon the subject. When it was decided that a simpler procedure was necessary, that decision was arrived at either to relieve the pockets of persons who would be unable to afford the more complicated procedure of the principal Act, or to take out some classes of property on a different principle. The right hon. and learned Attorney-General might have said that dwelling houses are in some special category and that we ought to give them the simpler procedure. Again he might have said that premises in actual occupation are entitled to a simpler procedure, or that premises below a certain annual value are entitled to a similar procedure. Instead of that, and I confess I cannot see any logical basis for it, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said he will include weekly tenancies of all kinds and bring them within the compass of the simpler procedure.
We have already pointed out that a weekly tenant may pay in a year a considerably higher rent than an annual tenant. We have asked the Attorney-General whether he has been able to produce or find any statistics showing 1385 what percentage of tenancies in this country, particularly of dwelling houses, are let on weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual or longer leases. He has not been able to give us the advantage of any such information. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health on the Front Bench, and it may be that she has made some research into the matter; if so, I am sure the Committee would wish to have the information. For my part, I think the concession which the Attorney-General has made to us, and which he will propose in his next and consequential Amendments, that the advantage of this simpler procedure should be extended to quarterly tenancies, is not a concession of very great value. We appreciate, however, that it is a concession, but we on this side of the Committee feel that the period ought to be extended to at least 12 months. We take that view for the reasons mentioned again to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea (Mr. Douglas), that the shorter the tenancy, other things being equal, the less is the need for a simpler procedure, because there is another way out, provided under the terms of the contract, by the tenant giving notice to quit. I hope it is not even yet too late for the Attorney-General to tell us he will extend the great benefit of this Clause, which we were very glad to see, to all annual tenants of dwelling houses. I am sure that by so doing he would bring in an enormous number of tenants who are equally entitled to that procedure— particularly those who live in the provinces. I hope that before the Committee leaves this question rather more substantial reasons will be given why that concession cannot be made.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
I do not propose to enter into the controversy which has taken place between Members on this side of the House and Members on the other side of the House as to the relative virtues of the ground landlord and the lessee. All I wish to say on that subject is that I hope the Committee will be very sympathetic to the small lessee who at very great sacrifice has bought his own house and has probably lost all he has in the world as a result of enemy action. It is that particular class of person about which I am much concerned. I hope the Attorney-General will give the closest and most sympathetic consideration 1386 to that type of case. This Bill, I believe, goes a long way towards meeting what has been a very burning problem, namely, that of a person having to pay ground rent when his premises are uninhabitable. I hope the Attorney-General will consider very carefully what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea (Mr. Douglas) and see whether he cannot go a little further into relieving these persons of all anxiety.
I wish to speak on the Amendment to the Amendment of the Attorney-General, dealing with the definition of short tenancies. During the Second Reading Debate I said something on this matter which I hope has borne some little fruit, because we now see the Amendment on the Order Paper. On that occasion I drew attention to the fact that while the majority of the tenancies where the rent was lower were weekly tenancies, there was a large number of persons holding tenancies of uncertain duration which, in law, I understand, are yearly tenancies. A yearly tenancy is, among other things, a tenancy where no particular term is specified. There are numbers of people who are tenants at small rents whose tenancies really amount to yearly tenancies. There is also the case of the person who took a small house originally for three years and has held over, and he becomes a yearly tenant. There are many cases in London of yearly tenancies with rents of £30, £40 and £50 a year. You may get in the same street, and even under the same landlord, persons living side by side, one being a weekly, another a monthly and the third a yearly tenant, all paying the same rent, and it would be an anomaly that two of these classes of persons should have the benefit of the simplified procedure, and the third, merely because he happens to be a yearly tenant, though he may be paying his rent monthly—if he pays it weekly, he comes under the terms of Clause I—should lose the benefit of the Bill and have to go through the complicated and expensive procedure which applies to other tenants. This is merely a matter of simplification of procedure. A yearly tenant is, on the whole, not worse off under the Bill, if my reading of it is correct, than a weekly tenant. If his premises are rendered unfit, he gets this reduction more or less automatically, rather than having to go through a complicated procedure. There is nothing in it 1387 financially. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give the benefit of the Measure to yearly as well as to quarterly tenants. If he does, I think he will have met all the serious objections to the Clause.
§ Captain Sir William Brass (Clitheroe)
I did not have the opportunity of listening to the first part of the Debate, but I should like to explain what the position is as I see it. A landlord has let a piece of land for development purposes, and, as a result of that, he has required of the lessee to erect a certain building at a certain cost. While the building is being erected a peppercorn rent is usually charged, for a period of possibly 18 months. The obvious reason is that the tenant at that time is receiving nothing out of the land at all. It is only when the building is put up that he gets any return. Consequently, the position, as I see it, is that where a building lease is granted a mutual interest in the site has been created.
I think the hon. and gallant Member was not present when an agreement was come to. His remarks will come in more appropriately on a subsequent Amendment.
§ Mr. Selley (Battersea, South)
I am in entire sympathy with my hon. Friends, and I should like to speak of the particular class which they and I have in mind. We have during the last 15 years encouraged people to buy houses through building societies, and those are the people who, we think, will receive the greatest injury. May I give a case which is typical of those that I have in mind? I happen, for my sins, to be one of these wicked ground landlords. I have built thousands of houses, and I am retaining the ground rents. A bomb has fallen, wiped out 15 of these houses and killed quite a number of people. It is true that, as the ground landlord, I am entitled to the ground rent, but these people can, if they like, disclaim the lease. The point we are interested in is that they have no chance of rebuilding the. houses with a cost of works or any other payment that will be forthcoming. We are anxious that the Attorney-General should take a sympathetic view towards this very large class of people, who, I am sure, will be the greatest sufferers under the Bill. I appeal 1388 to the Attorney-General to see whether anything can be done. I suggested earlier that there should be a moratorium, with no payment of ground rent or interest. I am in full sympathy with my hon. Friends in their object that people who are purchasing houses and have sustained damage shall not lose their all.
§ The Attorney-General
To some extent the general position of ground lessees arises more appropriately under Clauses 2and 9, although, of course, it is relevant to a discussion on this Clause in so far as it is proposed that the Clause should apply to all leases, irrespective of their length of term. If that were accepted this Clause would apply to leases with 20, 30 or 99 years to run. To that extent it arises on this Clause, but I think some of the larger questions which have been raised about ground leases may be rather more appropriate when we consider Clause 2, the main object of which is to provide a procedure which will be helpful to ground lessees and others with longer leases, and Clause 9, which puts ground leases in the same position as other leases for the purposes of the principal Act and this Measure. On the question raised by these Amendments, I do not see eye to eye with some of the things said about Clause 1. I do not agree that it is right to describe it as merely simplified procedure, nor do I agree that there is no money in it, as it were, that it does not affect rights on one side or the other.
The genesis of the idea which is embodied in Clause 1 is this: Under the principal Act, passed in 1939, the occupier or tenant of bombed property could get out of paying his rent in one way or another, either by issuing a disclaimer or getting relief from rent in between the period when the house was bombed and when it was again repaired. By giving one form of notice or another the loss which occurs between bombing and repair could, in effect, be put upon the landlord. What one found in practice was that a large part of the damage done affected small tenants, weekly tenants, because it is to them that the bulk of the small house property in the country is let. The bulk of the landlords did not seek to exact rent or hold the tenant liable for rent between the time of bombing and repairing when the house was totally destroyed or partially 1389 destroyed. They realised that the tenant could serve a notice of disclaimer under the principal Act or give a week's notice to leave, and the large majority of landlords said, "We shall not seek to exact rent, whatever the legal position."
But there were, unfortunately, a certain number of landlords who did seek to exact rent. Then the question arose whether it was a sufficient answer to the tenant to say, "You could have given a notice to quit or served a notice of disclaimer," particularly having regard to the circumstances in which many of the tenants left. After the bombing they were often taken to a rest centre and then went on into the country. We therefore thought it right to propose to Parliament that in the case of weekly tenants the remission made should be automatic. But we had to distinguish between weekly tenants with short leases and tenants with longer leases. A short term tenant can always throw the house back on the landlord at short notice, and from that point of view there is no particular hardship or unfairness in making it automatic. There is also the fact that under a weekly tenancy, and, indeed, under all short tenancies, certainly up to the period of a quarterly tenancy, there would never be any covenant to repair on the part of the tenant. Nobody will take a short tenancy from which he can be turned out at a quarter's notice if there is any covenant to repair.
When, however, we come to longer leases I think there are very strong grounds for keeping to the procedure of the principal Act, grounds which I think are fair to the landlord and grounds which from a certain point of view are of advantage to the tenant. Take the case of an ordinary seven years' lease or any lease in which there is a year to year period. If the house is bombed and the tenant wants to get out of paying his rent I think it is only right that Parliament should say to him, "You must make up your mind what you want to do, and tell the landlord." After all the tenant will know the extent of the damage which has been suffered by the house. He can be asked, "Do you want to disclaim?" The Act, cutting across the sanctity of contract, of which it has been suggested I am a rigid devotee, says, "You can disclaim." And it may be that will be a very valuable right to the tenant. As one who has himself served a notice of disclaimer, which was 1390 accepted, I feel appreciation of the rights conferred by Parliament under the principal Act, and I would point out that it was a recommendation from the Uthwatt Committee and did not have its genesis in any prophetic foresight on the part of the Attorney-General. I think it was fair that I and others should be in a position to tell our landlords "We want to disclaim."
But the tenant might say, particularly in view of the advantages conferred by Clause 2, "No, I want to retain this lease"—to retain it absolutely or retain in conditionally, that is, provided the War Damage Commission say that it is a costs of work case. But let us go back to the notice of disclaimer. When it is served upon him the landlord can say, "I will make the house fit" and if the repairs needed are small and such as can be carried out at the moment that may be a very satisfactory position for the tenant, who will say, "Either the landlord will have to do these repairs, in which case I will come back and continue living here, or he will accept the notice of disclaimer and I shall be quit of the whole thing." I believe that the machinery under the principal Act was well thought out. It is fair from the landlord's point of view and it left the tenant free to say what he wanted to do, and the only real hardship under that system is now remedied by Clause 2, into which I must not at the moment go in detail.
I have thought over this matter a great deal since the point was raised on Second Reading, and I think there is a real advantage in this automatic remission, and I also think that it would be very difficult to have the two procedures running parallel. Either you must have the principal Act procedure, where the initiative has to be taken by the tenant, or the automatic procedure. The hon. Member said that in his scheme he would leave the two running side by side. But we found it impossible to work that out in practice, because the whole idea of the principal Act is that the tenant goes on paying rent until he serves notice, which relieves him of the obligation by one channel or another.
Reference has been made to the yearly tenancies, but I think we have done right to stop at a quarter. It is difficult to get statistics as to how much of the land is under monthly or quarterly rents. The main conditions are weekly tenancies, and 1391 seven years and possibly three years. Those are the broad conditions, but undoubtedly there are cases in between. The yearly tenancy is much better left with the longer leases, partly for the reason which was given by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), namely, that what in law are yearly leases are very often cases in which some time has been held over. A man has a seven years' lease, but the landlord holds over a period of a year. The landlord has not the slightest intention of clearing the man out, and the latter can get another lease if he asks for it. I do not flatter myself that I have convinced everybody, but I hope that I have shown that there is a real point of substance in restricting the automatic procedure to the short tenancies.
There is a further small point. The longer the period you take, the fairer it becomes that the tenant should have to make some indication to his landlord. In these days, landlords should be looking after their property. It seems reasonable that when a house is damaged the tenant should communicate with his landlord. By giving him the advantage of Clause 2, he can do so without any disadvantage to himself. I hope it will be felt that we have done what we can in this matter.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out to the word "weekly," in line 8, stand part of the Clause, put, and agreed to.
§ The Attorney-General
I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, to leave out "weekly," and to insert "short."
§ Mr. Silkin
In view of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, one must accept the position. I am not entirely satisfied that the yearly tenant should not be included, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would keep the point in mind so that further representations may be made to him on the Report stage, I should, for the present, be prepared to accept the position.
§ The Attorney-General
I am always careful not to give the impression that changes may be made in matters when we reach the Report stage in cases where, as a matter of fact, such changes are unlikely, but on a Bill of this character I can say that I will look into the matter again.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made:1392
§ In page 1, line 8, after "tenancy," insert "as hereinafter denned."
§ In line 14, leave out "weekly," and insert "short."
§ In line 15, leave out "weekly."
§ In line 15, at the end, insert, "holding under a short tenancy."—[The Attorney-General.]
§ The Attorney-General
I beg to move, in page 1, line 16, to leave out "If and so long as," and to insert, "Where for any period."
The object of the Amendment is to ensure that, where land becomes unfit or becomes fit in the middle of a period, the rent can be apportioned. We have used words in the Amendment which will produce that result.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made:
§ In page 1, line 16, leave out "weekly," and insert "short."
§ In line 19, at the end, insert "in respect of that period."—[The Attorney-General.]
§ Mr. Rostron Duckworth (Manchester, Moss Side)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 1, to leave out Sub-Section (4), and to insert:The Amendment has much to recommend it. It gives the effect to the law as it is, because it is prescribed that the sanitary inspector must visit damaged property in order to state whether it is fit or not to be a dwelling-place. This is the procedure to-day. If one goes about in a blitzed area, one sees many properties with notices attached to them announcing that the structure is dangerous. In the second place, it is fairly important that some expert opinion should be taken with regard to the condition of these premises. Under the Bill there is no provision for any person, properly authorised to give an expert opinion, to state what is the condition of the damaged house or whether or not it is unfit for habitation. Only the other day the Minister of Health stated that the vast majority of the houses which had been blitzed were repairable, and under the Bill it is left to the tenant to say whether or not it is fit for habitation. It seems that many tenants will be glad to get rid of their obligations and to interpret the state of the house according to their own advantage. There ought to be some independent tribunal, if there is any difference of opinion as to the certification, and this Amendment provides it. The Amendment also follows the Government's proposal regarding reoccupation by the tenant after repair, with, however, a condition. It is unfortunately the case that many tenants anxious to rid themselves of their responsibilities simply disappear without leaving any address. In this Amendment it is proposed that the fairest way would be to stipulate that if they are to receive any benefit at all under the Bill, they should at least give notice of their address to the landlord or his agent.
- "(4) For the purposes of this Section—
- (a)a dwelling-house let on a short tenancy which has suffered war damage shall be deemed to be fit until the sanitary inspector of the local authority in whose area the dwelling-house is situated declares it to be unfit; and
- (b)the said house shall be deemed to be fit if it has been repaired to such extent as is reasonably practicable at that time, having regard to the circumstances prevailing in the locality, and sufficient to render the house reasonably capable of being used for housing purposes; and if the sanitary inspector of the local authority aforesaid issues a certificate that the dwelling-house has been repaired to such extent as afore said, the production of the certificate shall be sufficient evidence of the facts stated therein, unless the contrary is proved. Provided that—
- (i) a landlord or a tenant who is dissatisfied with the certificate in question may appeal to the county court to determine the question of fitness in the same manner as is prescribed in Section six of the principal Act;
- (ii) a tenant shall not be entitled to any of the benefits contained in this Section unless, within fourteen days of the occurrence of the war damage, he, or his representative, registers his permanent address with the landlord or his agent;
- (iii)if a dwelling-house is deemed to be fit by virtue of this Sub-section, but the extent of the accommodation therein has been substantially diminished as the result of the damage, the rent payable by the tenant in respect of the period during which the accommodation is so diminished shall be reduced to such an extent as may be agreed between him and the landlord or, in default of agreement, as may be fixed by the court."
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I wish to support the Amendment and to endorse what the hon. Member has said. I have nothing further to add.
§ The Attorney-General
This Amendment really raises three points. The first is the one which my hon. Friend stated 1394 first, namely, that damaged houses to which the Clause applies shall be deemed to be fit until the sanitary inspector specifies to the contrary. That would be cutting across the principle of the principal Act, which makes unfitness a matter which, in case of any dispute about it, must go to the court. It would produce an invidious distinction between weekly tenants and others. If you have a long lease and your house is blown up, you can exercise your rights at once under the principal Act on the basis that it is unfit, whereas under this Amendment the remission of rent would not take place until the certificate had been obtained. Various circumstances might arise to make it difficult to obtain that certificate. The local authority's staff themselves might have been bombed out of existence for the time being, or the man might be in hospital, and I do not really think it would be a workable idea. I think the safeguard is quite sufficient. If the tenant seeks to apply the protection of this Clause when the house is not unfit, the landlord has the same remedy—he can sue for rent, and the tenant would be held to have no right to withhold it. I think that making this a condition precedent will put an enormous amount of extra work on sanitary inspectors, and will make it much more complicated. It is much better that unfitness should be a question of fact which, if necessary, must go to the courts.
Then there is the provision about the tenant leaving his address. I have considerable sympathy with creditors, whether landlords or others, who find that those who owe them money, whether lessees or others, disappear into the blue and leave no address behind them. It is particularly hard in the case of lessees, because the normal rule is that you have to find the man, and serve him notice to quit. I think it is unfortunate that this happens in so many cases. No doubt in the majority of cases it does not, and in most of those where it docs the man can be traced.
§ The Attorney-General
No, bat otherwise if he had somebody with whom he particularly wanted to keep in touch, he would find some means of doing so. How- 1395 ever, it is a problem. I do not think it would be right to make it a condition precedent that there should be a registration of address. We have an Amendment on the Order Paper which I think will go some way to meet my hon. Friend's point, and I fully appreciate the reason which led him to put down this part of the Amendment. It seems right, if the landlord has rendered a house fit and the tenant does not turn up, that having done his best to get in touch with the tenant, the landlord may be able, after a period of, say, three months, to take possession of the house. I think this will go some way to meet the point raised by this Amendment.
The hon. Member's third point was that a landlord or tenant who was dissatisfied with the certificate of the sanitary inspector ought to be able to appeal to the county court on the question of fitness. We have an Amendment on the Paper—to Clause 1, page 2, line 19—the effect of which is to enable the landlord or tenant of any land let on a short tenancy to apply to the court at any time to determine whether the land is unfit at the time, and I think that meets my hon. Friend's point. If he is satisfied that we have gone a good long way to meet him, I hope he will see his way to refrain from pressing his Amendment.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I have not heard all that the Attorney-General has said, but I gather that he wishes the Amendment to be withdrawn because he is going to meet it in part. I agree that the Amendment covers a very wide range, and part of that range is to make sure, incidentally, that when premises are damaged they should in fact be promptly inspected. Since I put this Amendment on the Paper I have had an experience of my own, which I will quote, if I may, for the information of the Committee. Thanks to the efforts of Herr Hitler, a fire took place in a flat which is some floors above mine. It was burnt out. The fire brigade, in their efforts to extinguish the fire, pourned in a lot of water, some of which subsequently percolated to the flat in which I live. One must expect that. Later on, nature took a part; hon. Members will remember that it rained very heavily about three weeks ago, and I spent several hours baling out the flat two floors above mine, 1396 into which I had no right of entry. Then I thought I ought to protest to the local authority. This has a bearing on the subject under discussion, as the learned Attorney-General will see in a moment. The local authority said that their duties were only in respect of the working classes and I regret to say they did not include me in that category. So I pointed out to the local authority—which happened to be the Westminster City Council—that they have a duty under the Public Health Act, 1875, Section 91, to inspect the district and abate nuisances.
The local authorities in this country are not carrying out their obligations in this respect. My case is not unique; I have had a number of complaints in my constituency; the authorities seem to think their duties arise only because there is a war and bombs are being dropped. When bombs have dropped a person who lives in a flat is in a terrible situation. The roof is not his, it is over someone else's flat, and is owned by the landlord. I have no right of entry to the other flat, and I can do nothing. I have quoted my own case by way of example. The Westminster Council say they have done all their duties; they have not. This Amendment covers that point. It would force the sanitary inspectors to go and see every building that had been damaged, which they are not doing now. In a great many cases there is substantial neglect on the part of sanitary inspectors in dealing with these cases. I think it will be wise to respond to the appeal of the Attorney-General, having regard to what he has said. Nevertheless, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will take notice as to the extent to which sanitary inspectors, on the instructions of their councils, are failing to ensure that people are protected against nuisance. While thanking my hon. Friend for moving this Amendment, I think he would be wise to respond to the appeal of the Attorney-General, having regard to certain concessions announced.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made: In page 2, line 2, leave out "weekly," and insert "short."— [The Attorney-General.]
§ The Attorney-General
I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, to leave out "a sanitary inspector of".
The Bill in its present form provides for the certificate of fitness being given 1397 by a sanitary inspector of the local authority. It was pointed out to us, or representations were made, that in a badly blitzed area it might be necessary, and desirable, to supplement the services of the sanitary inspector by other suitably qualified persons who could undertake this work. We thought that a good point. Points were also raised on the Second Reading with regard to the great importance of the standard to be followed in these certificates. I am resisting, and did resist then, the suggestion that we should try to set out a schedule of conditions of fitness. In the times in which we live one cannot do that. Conditions may vary from one place to another. Although one wants to have a proper standard, it may vary, and it would be a great mistake to try and define it. That makes it all the more important that if the public in any particular area feel that the standard should be higher, they should be able to make representations. Therefore, in making this point about not defining a standard, we have by this Amendment, and a later one, made the certificate that of the local authority. It is intended that the local authority should, and it obviously will, use sanitary inspectors, when available, for this work. But it seemed there was a certain advantage in making it a certificate of the local authority. If there is complaint in any area that the standard is not as high as it ought to be, the complaint is made, not against an official, but against the local authority. If not satisfied with the result of representations, a person could approach his Member, who could take the matter up with the Ministry of Health.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
As the Committee knows from what I said on the Second Reading I have an interest in this matter. The last few words of the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend gave away the whole of his case. He inferred that sanitary inspectors were not appointed to do this work and pointed out that it would be perfectly competent for any aggrieved person to complain to the local authority, and if necessary to his Member of Parliament, and the complaint would percolate through the various circumlocutory channels to the Ministry of Health.
§ The Attorney-General
I certainly did not intend to give the impression that this 1398 work would be done by local authorities and not by sanitary inspectors. It is certainly our intention that sanitary inspectors should do the work but that the certificate should be that of the local authority.
§ Major Milner
That does not really deal with the point I was making. The main point, as I understand it, is that the standard is being left to the local authority, so that complaints would not be addressed to sanitary inspectors, and that the local authorities would be responsible for the sanitary inspectors' work. That is opening the door to a great deal of circumlocution, which nowadays would not be helpful, and would be a departure altogether from the practice of the last 50 years. Various Acts have laid down sanitary inspectors' duties, and, as far as I am aware, these duties have been quite well performed. This is one of those occasions where if my right hon. and learned Friend will pardon me, second thoughts are not the best thoughts. As far as I understand it, though I have no expert knowledge other than information given to me, sanitary inspectors have a vast number of duties under the various Housing Acts. They have been considered by the Ministry of Health and by various inspectors of the Ministry, local authorities and other organisations as the proper officers to deal with the inspection of the repair of houses, and an inquiry conducted by the Association of Sanitary Inspectors showed that, in the case of 97 per cent. of the various local authorities, the work of housing inspection was done by the sanitary inspector. As we all know it is the recognised procedure, in housing inquiries by the Ministry of Health, for sanitary inspectors to give the evidence in chief as to structure and the sanitary condition of the housing concerned, while the medical officer of health usually gives a general statement of conditions. Not only that, but there are, under present housing regulations, requirements laid down regarding the standards of fitness. My right hon. and learned Friend has laid considerable stress on that matter.
I agree that it is important that there should be uniformity and consistency between authority and authority. I should say, with some emphasis, that it is certainly desirable that standards of fitness 1399 should not be decided by the amount of pressure which can be brought to bear upon particular local authorities. Surely, those who have been entrusted with this work for a great number of years, who already have to decide standards of fitness, are the best persons to give certificates, based, it may be, on a modified standard of fitness, as a result of war conditions. No doubt there will have to be some minimum requirements. Clearly, a house should be wind and weather proof, the roof should be watertight, the water supply in order and adequate, sanitary accommodation and storage should be provided, there should be cooking, heating and washing facilities, and suitable drainage. All those matters are questions of day-to-day practice with sanitary inspectors.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not press his Amendment. I know that he has stressed the point that local authorities should, and, no doubt, will, appoint sanitary inspectors to do the work. But it must be borne in mind that the certificate has to be given, not on the day after a blitz, but after the repairs have been carried out. It will be the duty of the sanitary inspector in any event to inspect the property. I submit that it would be quite uneconomical for local authorities to appoint other people to do duties which already have to be carried out by the sanitary inspectors. It may not be possible in the event of heavy damage for the sanitary inspectors to do the work as expeditiously as one would wish; and, therefore, it might be right to have other people in reserve. To meet that contingency, would my right hon. and learned Friend not accept the alternative which is contained in an Amendment that I have put on the Order Paper, leave in the words which he is proposing to leave out, and add, "or other officials appointed for the purpose by the local authority"? In that way, it seems to me, we should be getting the best of both worlds.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not believe that in practice this is a very big point. There is no doubt that the work could be done by the sanitary inspector. I ask the Committee, however, to accept our Amendment, and we will look into the matter again if necessary. This is not work to which you can apply peace-time 1400 standards; my hon. and gallant Friend realises that. It is also the case that the standards will depend upon what materials are available, and so on. We feel that, in one sense, it is fairer to the sanitary inspectors that they should not be responsible for the certificates, but that the certificates should be issued by the local authorities.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes
I beg to move in page 2, line 12, at the end, to insert:'' At any time after three months following the date of the issue of a certificate under this subsection the tenant may apply to the local authority for the certificate to be varied or annulled, and if the local authority is satisfied that the house has not been repaired to such extent as is reasonably practicable at the time, the local authority shall withdraw the certificate or vary the certificate according to the circumstances prevailing at the time of such application.If I may, for a moment, take the Committee along a somewhat broad approach to the Amendment, I would like to say that Clause 1 is not, as has been said, a concession to tenants, except in the legal sense. Unfortunately, the common law has for many centuries made a tenant liable for rent, whatever circumstances might befall his holding. My right hon. and learned Friend has been reminded of one matter of law which he must have learned in his early days of study—the sacredness of contract. I hope that he will forgive me if I remind other Members of the Committee of another ancient proposition, laid down in the days of Charles I, when a tenant was sued for rent by his landlord, and put up the defence thatPrince Rupert, an alien and an enemy of the King, invaded the land with an army, and with diverse armed men did enter upon him and drive away his cattle and expelled him from the lands let to him, and kept him out, that he could not enjoy the lands.One would nave thought that to be a sensible defence, one which has been developed in many other spheres of our law, that the whole object of the engagement entered into has been frustrated. But the learned Judge, in trying the case in the days of Charles I, laid down that, if the tenant covenanted to pay rent, if the land be surrounded or gained by the sea, he was chargeable with the rent, and much more in this case where the land was occupied by Prince Rupert and his 1401 men. That principle remains the fundamental principle of the obligation of the tenant with regard to his landlord, and it has remained throughout the centuries, except in so far as it has been qualified by certain statutory provisions. It is an unjust principle, and Clause I of this Bill is really not a concession to the tenant but a restoration of a measure of justice. I think that the Committee will agree that that is what it does.
In Sub-section (4) we find what is, in fact, a concession to the landlord. If the landlord repairs a house that has been bombed as far as is reasonably possible in the surrounding circumstances, and if he then gets from the sanitary inspector or other official a certificate that the house is reasonably habitable, the tenant is obliged under the Clause to pay his rent in full. If the house as such remains, he is required, under Sub-section (4), to pay in full for less than he was promised. Therefore the Committee ought to view with favour, as should my right hon. and learned Friend, any provision that would circumscribe this concession. Take the example of a house where the windows have all been blown out, which is quite a common occurrence. The glass has been replaced, as it was in my case, with felt because no glass was available. The landlord could then say "I have done all that was possible in the circumstances, because no glass was available in the locality." He gets his certificate, and as the provision now stands he need do no more. He can go on drawing his full rent without doing another thing, and yet within a few weeks or a month or two glass may become available. Glass may be obtainable, but the landlord does not put it in. Is it not right that the tenant should be allowed to go to the local authority and say, "The circumstances have changed. The certificate is no longer valid. The means are there to put the house into better condition than that in which it was when it was certified"? I ask in this Amendment that the tenant should be given the right to go to the local authority, who should cancel or vary the certificate.
I have used the word "vary" in this Amendment in order to enable the local authority, not to cancel the certificate, but to say, "We give you a fortnight, or a reasonable time, in which to replace the felt with glass, and if you do not 1402 do it, then, at the end of that time, the certificate will be cancelled and you will lose your right to claim full rent." I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to accept the Amendment and so enable the tenant to have the right for which I ask.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I would like to support the Amendment in regard to Sub-section (4). The Bill on the whole is fairly clear regarding a house which is damaged and uninhabitable, and it is also quite clear if the accommodation is reduced, and, I am sorry to say, if it is damaged and the accommodation is not reduced. The tenant who agrees to pay a rent of £20 or £30 for a house is entitled to proper amenities and accommodation. This Bill gives a variable standard of fitness, and no matter what that standard may be—it may be as low as possible, even consist of a tarpaulin sheet—in certain circumstances, the Clause protects the landlord and gives him the right to full rent. I do not say that a landlord ought to suffer because of the blitz any more than a tenant, but surely it is wrong that, in an Act which is to bring relief to people who suffer from a blitz, the tenant should be asked, as he might be under this Clause, to pay in perpetuity the full rent for the house which has very much deteriorated compared with the condition of the house when he took on the tenancy. If a house is blitzed the tenant pays no rent if he continues to occupy it as long as it is unfit, or he pays less rent as may be arranged, but immediately repairs are done the tenant is liable for the full rent. There is nothing in the Bill that requires the landlord to get another certificate or provides that a new certificate should be granted.
I have in mind the circumstances concerning certain houses in a big town which were damaged some three months ago, where there is not the slightest difficulty in executing the full repairs, but after three months the people are still left with a partially blackened-out window, with white canvas to let in a little light, and with all sorts of disabilities inside the houses. There would be no difficulty in repairing the houses, but the landlord has no inducement to repair them, and there is no one who can require him to repair them. He can sit back and draw the rent and need not move a muscle.
1403 I he purpose of the Amendment is that the tenant at the end of three months shall, in certain circumstances, have the right to apply for the withdrawal or variation of the certificate as a check upon such landlords, in order that they might be induced to put houses back into condition. I do not think that the learned Attorney-General has remedied the point of the varying standards of fitness which will guarantee the landlord the full rent no matter how low that standard may fall. I believe it is technically possible, in the case of, say, a town that has been completely blizted so that the people have to live within four walls without roofs over their heads for landlords to obtain the full rent. I would be glad to know where he can point out that that is not the case. I cannot see any justification for a tenant being required to pay the full rent for his house simply because under the existing circumstances—perhaps for reasons of public safety or because he is a ship worker—he must reside in the area.
We suggest that in these cases there ought to be some tribunal with the power to vary the rent according to the accommodation and especially the quality of the accommodation. It may be wrong to put the burden on the landlord, and I would ask the Attorney-General to take into consideration the fact that the proper body to bear the cost is the War Damage Commission. The Commission should take part of the burden off the tenant and part off the landlord, in order that the whole community may share the misfortune instead of the tenant having to bear all the discomfort. A great deal of irritation and serious trouble will be caused if it is insisted that full rent should be paid for a house which has deteriorated. Some provision should be made whereby there could be a modification of rent if property is left completely to deteriorate.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
As a member of a housing committee, I am rather perturbed because we cannot get material, and I think a landlord may try to hide behind a local authority because there was not enough material wherewith to repair houses as desired by the Bill. I would like the Attorney-General to assure us that there will be no such excuse by landlords. The devil will 1404 never die of excuses. A landlord may say, "I have not the material; it lies with the local authority to find the material." Then the local authority may say, "We have not the material because the Government will not let us have it." The Minister of Health has told us that there is priority, but everybody has priority to-day, and they generally come last. A tenant may say, "Look at my house; it is nothing in comparison to what it ought to be according to the rent I am paying." I hope the Attorney-General will accept this Amendment, so making it perfectly plain that no matter whose fault it may be because a house is not repaired for proper habitation, the rent should be scaled down or, in fact, no rent should be paid at all.
§ The Attorney-General
When I heard my hon. Friend start the first part of his speech, I thought he was moving the Amendment to Clause 1, page 2, line 15—to insert, "or the amenities thereof have". They very much overlap, and I do not know whether one can discuss them together.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes
I endeavoured to keep these Amendments distinct as far as possible in the circumstances.
§ The Attorney-General
Well, my hon. Friend was not very successful. I think it is an impossible task to try and keep them distinct, because they really do overlap, and I shall say on this Amendment what I certainly would have said on the other. This is a very important part of the Bill, and it is important that we should get the best procedure for seeing that the rent becomes exigeable only when the whole house is reasonably fit, having regard to the present circumstances. It would be utterly wrong and quite impracticable to have some system whereby you cut off a shilling if one window Was boarded up and so on. If a house is substantially fit to live in according to the standard laid down by the certificates, I think it right that the full rent should be exigeable. If there is a shortage of materials, a certificate should not be given throughout the house until the minimum materials requisite to make it habitable are available.
As I understand this Amendment, what my hon. Friend says is that you may get a certificate quite properly given within a week of the damage. I have 1405 worked in a room which was without windows for five days and bad no lighting for about two months. Nobody really complains about that, but there may come a time when one says that things might be a little better and that something ought to be done which has not been done. I think the form of this Amendment is to some extent misconceived. Under the Bill as it stands it is perfectly possible for the tenant to take the point at a later stage that the house is not fit. All that the certificate does is to give prima facie evidence that the house was habitable according to the materials available at the time. Suppose, for instance, there is a row of houses in a street which have received a certificate of fitness within a week after the damage has been done to their windows. Suppose that six weeks later all the houses except one had their glass put in under the Housing (Emergency Powers) Act.
As regards the house which has not had its glass put back, for a reason nobody can quite understand, I cannot see anything in the Bill which prevents the tenant saying, "This house is unfit. The sanitary inspector's certificate was never conclusive evidence." I think that is possible under the Bill, but it maybe said that is not satisfactory. Perhaps hon. Members would be content with an undertaking that I will look into the matter. I do not think it would be altogether easy to have these periodic certificates, but certainly, I see the attractiveness of a scheme by which, if standards went up, a man would be entitled to say that as things had improved a bit, he ought to be entitled to some more amenities, and that the sanitary inspector or the official of the local authority ought to look at the house again. If one could find a practical way of wording it, this might be worth doing. It should be remembered, of course, that in many cases these repairs are done by the local authorities, and that is particularly so in the class of cases about which we are most anxious, where the people have least resources to do the repairs themselves. I will look into the question whether we could have some scheme by which the certificates could be looked at again in the light of other conditions.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
This is a point which we had intended to press upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and therefore, I am glad that he has undertaken to 1406 look into it. I want only to utter a word of caution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it was already possible under the Bill for the tenant, at a date subsequent to the first certificate of fitness, to take up the point that the house was no longer fit in the light of changed circumstances. That is true, but he cannot take up the point with the person who gave the certificate of fitness; he has to take it before a court of law. That is what we wish to avoid. We want to enable him to take the point to the local authority. In view of what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health as to the hasty and cursory nature, which will be inevitable in many cases, of the inspection by the sanitary inspector or the local authority, it is vital that there should be a review of the certificate of fitness, at any rate once in three months' time. I cannot see any objection to giving the tenant a periodical right of review, say, every three or six months. I am sure that the Amendment is a well-thought-out and well-considered one, and although we are not pledged to the actual words, we intend to press respectfully for some concession on those lines.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I should like to remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman of the position in towns where there has been, perhaps, only one air raid. I have in mind two towns of that sort. In such places the houses damaged are very few relative to the number in the town. It may be that there will never be any more air raids on the town. Therefore, is it justificable that the certificate should be a certificate of fitness in perpetuity if the house has had only first-aid repairs and could, in the course of a month or two, be repaired to a reasonable extent? As the Attorney-General said, what might be reasonable in the first week after a blitz might not be reasonable three months afterwards. Everybody understands that immediately after a blitz, when it is not possible to do many things, people will accept the position, but I would like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider the possibility, in towns where repairs could be accomplished without difficulty, of providing some means of inducing the people concerned to carry out repairs. The standard should be set high in order to guarantee that, in cases where repairs are possible, there will be some 1407 authority, either by way of the tenant appealing to the local authority or the local authority having the power to intervene, to see that the work is done where it is reasonably possible for it to be done.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
That may be so at the moment, but if anything goes through here now that affects England, England being the predominant partner, it will affect us later on. In my constituency, there are thousands of houses that will be affected by the provisions now before the Committee. We are very anxious to know whether, in the case of a house that cannot be made 50 per cent. as good as it was, the same rent is to be charged as before the blitz took place. At the present time, in my constituency, they are demanding the same rent for houses that are not 50 per cent. as good as they were before the blitz. It is not simply a case of there being no glass in the windows. In order to get the folk back into the houses—we are anxious to get them in, and I am very pleased to say that my folk are very anxious to come back to Clyde-bank—the houses are being made ready in a makeshift fashion. For instance, all the plaster is down from the ceilings. It is a gigantic task, and we cannot overtake it at the moment. To get over the difficulty of replastering, the tenants have accepted that boarding should be nailed up instead of plastering being done. I will not elaborate the matter further, because I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman follows my point. It is most essential that we should get some understanding on this matter, because my folk —and I will do all I can to support them —do not intend to pay the same rent for a house that is not 50 per cent. as good as it was before. I want To know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is going to do about this.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith (Rotherhithe)
I represent a London constituency, where out of 19,000 houses, 16,000 have been 1408 damaged—I am referring to Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. It is presumed that 14,000 have "been repaired. Does the Attorney-General think that those 14,000 houses have, in fact, been repaired? I put that to him as a serious proposition. What has happened is that one or two rooms have been made habitable, but no one would dream that Bermondsey Borough Council could by any stretch of the imagination make those 14,000 houses perfect. I ask the Attorney-General what he proposes to do with those houses, because the rents are still the same.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Member will see there is provision for what he has described. In many of these cases, if part of a house has been rendered habitable there is provision for a reduction in rent. I gather that that is the case he has put. When he speaks of 14,000 houses which have been repaired, I presume that that is a statement made by somebody.
§ The Attorney-General
There is to be a certificate of fitness, but if only part of the house has been properly repaired, then there is a provision for a reduction in rent.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes
I am very glad to receive the assurance from the Attorney-General. I accept the position that the onus of proving the change of circumstances will have to lie upon the tenant, but I would stress the point emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), that this matter should be dealt with administratively by the local authorities rather than become the subject of litigation in the courts. I agree that it was possible under the Bill as it stood for the certificate to be queried if the circumstances had altered, but it would not be an easy method. There is no obvious way, except for the tenant to find out from a lawyer at great expense. Therefore, I commend for the consideration of the Attorney-General a system by which the matter can be resolved by the administration of local authorities and their officials. With that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1409
§ Mr. Hughes
I beg to move, in page 2, line 15, after "has," to insert, "or the amenities thereof have."
The purpose of the Amendment is to insert a provision that rent shall be reducible, not only by virtue of reductions in quantity, but reductions in quality as well. This is entirely different from the question of attesting the certificate given by the local authority. It is a matter of principle, quite apart from the question of a certificate. Where reduction by quantity has been conceded, entitling the tenant to a reduction of rent, so also the reduction of quality should be conceded, entitling a tenant to a reduction of rent. All will agree that rent is a payment for something more than cubic capacity. It is a payment for convenience and comfort. Who would demand the same rent for a house with small windows as for a house which was well lit? Who would demand the same rent for a house where the only water supply was a pump at the bottom of the garden? Extensive windows and modern plumbing make a claim of supreme quality in every estate agent's advertisement. They are in fact the very things held out to entice the tenant to pay the rent which is asked.
These amenities and comforts are of actual value to the tenant. Why not recognise the fact that if these values are not there they should not be paid for? Let me give an example. A house may have been bombed and the windows blown out. In the place of glass the windows may have been boarded up. No sanitary inspector or official of a local authority would refuse to give a certificate if that were the only damage. Who could say that a house with boards instead of windows could not reasonably be used for housing purposes? Take the case where the slates have been blown off—there are hundreds of thousands of such cases—and tarpaulin has been put on the roof. That method is quite efficient, and no sanitary inspector would refuse to give a certificate. No sanitary inspector would say a house was not reasonably fit for housing purposes if the water supply was cut off. As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of thousands of houses where water has never been laid on, and I would like to see tenants in the part of the country in which I am living not paying rent until an adequate water supply was provided. In all these cases a sanitary inspector 1410 would give a certificate, because under the Clause the house is capable of being used for housing purposes. The Attorney-General asked whether it was expected that there should be a scaling down of is. per window or something of that kind. That is not so. If there is a substantial deprivation of amenities, then the rent ought to be proportionately reduced. The object of this Amendment is to secure that very just alteration, and I urge the Government to accept it.
§ Mr. Douglas
I should like to give some other examples of the cases which the Amendment is intended to cover. The Bill, like the principal Act, deals with cases where land, including the buildings on them, has been rendered unfit by reason of war damage. I do not know what interpretation the Attorney-General places upon that, but I have always understood it to mean that the house has been rendered unfit by reason of damage to the building itself. There is quite a number of cases in which it might be rendered unfit not by damage to the building but by damage to something adjoining it which interferes with its amenities. Suppose a bomb drops in the street and destroys the gas, electric and water services to the house. The building itself may be repaired so that all the accommodation and amenities remain as they were before, but unless and until those services are repaired and made available, it is no longer in any sense the same dwelling house as it was before, and it is highly inequitable that the tenant should be treated as if he had all the advantages that he had previously enjoyed and which are part of the thing for which he is paying rent. There is an illustration of a case which it seems to me is not covered by the legislation as it stands.
§ Mr. Kirk wood
There are thousands of homes in my constituency of the ordinary common people, the people that this country depends on to win the war. I should like to read a letter that has been sent to me:I was a victim of the recent raid on Clydebank. My house was wrecked by incendiary bombs. It caught fire, and I have been notified by the billeting officer that my house is now habitable. My complaint is that it is not. The kitchen ceiling is all down, in the bedroom there is a hole 5 feet by 3 inches looking up into the rafters, the water is running down the side of the walls when it rains, and the ceiling above the bed is down. It is 1411 a damned disgrace to ask me to go back to it and pay rent for it. I am told by Mr. McLeod, the billeting officer of the parish council, that my billeting money will not be paid after next Wednesday and that I must return to my own home, 108, Dumbarton Road, Clydebank, opposite the public library.Those are the conditions which they tried to impose on my folk in Clyde-bank until I had to intervene and get the Secretary of State for Scotland to lay down a standard of first-aid repairs. Those first-aid repairs are as follow: Roofs to be wind and water-tight, ceilings to be covered, at least with plaster-boarding, windows boarded and dressed with substitute if glass is not available, fires to be in good working order, flues, grates, chimneyheads to be in order, public services, drains, water, gas, electricity, w.c., sink basins to be in working order, rubbish to be cleaned away, front door, lock and key. Now, after getting first-aid repairs, everything is being rushed. No longer have these houses any semblance to the homes that the people were blitzed out of. Working-class houses in Scotland are not owned by the workers but by others. Are they to be allowed to use the power of the billeting officer to force these folk back?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Gordon Macdonald)
I am reluctant to intervene, but the Bill does not apply to Scotland, and the question which the hon. Member is asking could not be answered.
§ Mr. Kirk wood
If anything goes through here in an English Bill which is detrimental to my constituency, I shall have a job to get it rectified when it comes to Scotland.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The question being put by the hon. Member is entirely a question regarding houses in Scotland. That cannot be answered on this Amendment.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
What has happened in Scotland can happen in England. If I get a reply which is applicable to England, surely to goodness it will be applicable to the land of my nativity.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I will put it in regard to Yorkshire, Lancashire, Wales and the adjacent counties, including London. It is all-embracing. This is a very serious matter as far as the Clyde is concerned and as far as discontent is concerned. It is because of that that I am putting the matter before the Committee, so that they shall have some idea that discontent is rampant.
§ The Attorney-General
I entirely agree with the general principle that one does not want houses to be certified as fit and habitable and the full rent to be exigible when, judged by any proper standard, they are not houses in which people should be asked to live. We all agree about that, but I disagree with the view that any reduction in amenities should entitle those who rent houses to a reduction in rent. I think that would be wrong. In war-time we all have to put up with lower standards in all sorts of directions. One has to be fair to everybody, and landlords are entitled to fairness from this House like other people. They are not all rich men. If the house that a man has agreed to rent remains fit to live in, according to the standards which we have to put up with in these days, I think it is right that the rent should be paid.
§ The Attorney-General
Yes, the full rent. If it can be said that the top of the house is not fit to use, that the roof is not wind and water proof, then, I agree that those provisions of this Bill should be applicable which say that if the extent of the accommodation is substantially diminished there should be a reduction of rent. The whole question turns on what the standard is to be. This Amendment suggests a substantial reduction in amenities. I have no real idea what that means, and I think it would be difficult for either a court or a local authority to decide what it means. The word "amenities" is normally used for the more aesthetic side of our lives. A gas-oven may be an "amenity," but it is not the word that would have occurred to me in speaking of it. It would be extremely difficult to put into an Act of Parliament a word which would cover all the things which my hon. Friends have in mind. The test is: Is the house reasonably capable of being used for housing purposes, making allowance for the fact that we cannot have everything we want at the moment?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I think that everyone must agree that the house should be reasonably fit for habitation, but can the Attorney-General show us anything in this Clause which in certain circumstances would prevent that standard deteriorating until it applied to what was nothing more than a collection of stones? There is absolutely nothing here to prevent a landlord still claiming full rent though the tenant is sitting on stones in the middle of one room—provided all the places in the locality are in the like state.
§ The Attorney-General
But first of all the local authority, through its sanitary inspector, must certify that the place is fit.
What the Bill says is fit—Having regard to the circumstances prevailing in the locality.
§ The Attorney-General
Not only that, because it also says:and …reasonably capable of being used for housing purposes.That is a substantive addition.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It is all subject to the wordsHaving regard to the circumstances prevailing in the locality.
§ The Attorney-General
No, the Bill says the houseShall be deemed at any time to be fit if it has been repaired to such extent as is reasonably practicable at that time having regard to the circumstances prevailing in the locality and"—andsufficient to render the dwelling house reasonably capable of being used for housing purposes.''It is clear that we could not lay down in a Schedule what the standard should be, because it would vary from time to time, and very often, after a month, the standard would be higher than it was immediately after the blitz. I think the best thing to do is to leave this matter in the hands of the local authorities who are, after all, democratically elected bodies, to whom representations can be made, and who are under the general supervision of the Ministry of Health, which already deals with this matter to some extent under the Housing (Emergency Powers) Act.
1414 The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr Hughes) raised a point about large windows as contrasted with small windows in connection with the question of amenities. Sometimes I have been glad in winter that windows were rather small. Big glass windows are not regarded by everybody as an amenity. The practical thing is to see that there is a reasonable amount of light available in all living rooms. I believe that any form of words which would seek to define this test of '' reasonably capable of being used for housing purposes" would be so uncertain and so indefinite as to be unworkable. The Amendment would be an invitation to tenants to seek to get courts to say that there must be some reduction of rent, possibly quite a small reduction, because there had been a reduction of the amenities. I believe the proper way to deal with this thing is the way in which the Bill tries to deal with it, that is to bring in all these questions of ceilings, roofs, windows, services and supplies under the certificate standard, the certificate being given to say whether the house is reasonably capable of being used for housing purposes.
The question of a broken water-main has been raised. A water-main may be broken half a mile from a house, and that might interrupt the supply of water, although the house itself may have been unaffected by the blitz. If a main has been bombed emergency arrangements are made to bring water to the people who have been deprived of it. In most cases the main is mended in five days or a week. In London last September and October there was in some cases a shortage of water or the water was cut off for a period. We do not want to see tenants going to court to claim a reduction of rent because the water supply had been cut off for a few days. The right procedure is to have a reasonable standard of fitness, and to see that local authorities get their standard as high as they can, and improve it as materials become more available. In that way, I believe we can get a scheme which would be less likely than the proposal of this Amendment would be to raise court cases, Providing that things remain as they are, I believe we shall be able to get materials for dealing with these matters and making houses reasonably fit.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to first-aid repairs. Everybody knows that people will put up with them, when it is known that the damage is the result of an act of war. But when a house remains in a state of imperfect repair for six or nine months, what might have been treated at first as a temporary inconvenience becomes a serious matter. I understand from the Attorney-General that if a house is in the same condition from, say, 1st May to 1st December and the landlord has not done all that he should, it will then be possible to have the certificate withdrawn so that the house will revert to the position in which the rent is subject to an adjustment between landlord and tenant.
§ Sir Robert Tasker (Holborn)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made reference to local authorities. In the case of London there are not only 28 metropolitan boroughs but the London County Council, which is also a local authority. Will he look into that point between now and the Report stage?
§ The Attorney-General
In regard to the first point raised I have undertaken to look into it. It is of great importance that the standard should not go down a week or fortnight after a blitz. I have undertaken to see whether re-examination of the certificate would be practicable. I will also look into the definition of "local authority."
§ Mr. Kirk wood
Next week, 400 people are coming back to houses in my constituency which have been repaired. They have been out of them for four months and they have been asked to pay rent for that period. What is the reply to that?
§ The Attorney-General
That is a point of Scottish law, and I am not the right person to answer upon it.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams (Ogmore)
Where a local authority deals with cases of persons who have been evacuated, but who are obliged to meet their obligations, would such a local authority be entitled to intervene on behalf of an occupier?
§ The Attorney-General
To what extent local authorities look after the interests of those who are evacuated I do not know, but I will certainly look into the matter, if the hon. Gentleman cares to write to me.
§ Mr. Douglas
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has expressed the difficulty of accepting the Amendment with its use of the word "amenities" which he considers as vague or of ill-defined meaning. A phrase which might be used instead of "amenities" is "extent or nature of the accommodation." Those words are frequently used.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes
I cannot respond to the blandishments of the Attorney-General in this matter and I cannot see why the Committee should be forced to accept the position of "all or nothing." That is the position which the right hon. and learned Gentleman takes up. It is pointed out that the certificate will be carefully given and all matters concerned taken into consideration. The certificate may, subsequently, be altered. I would point out that the Postmaster-General allows a proportion off the telephone bill when the telephone is out of repair.
§ Mr. Hughes
I may have been more fortunate than other hon. Members, but I certainly got an allowance for the period when my telephones were out of action. I understand that the Metropolitan Water Board has made similar concessions, and I am told that the London County Council —landlords on a very extensive scale— have made concessions to the tenants in the amount of rent they have to pay when their houses have been damaged and have not been restored to their previous condition.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to intervene for a moment, I would like to point out that rent concessions are made only when very scanty first-aid repairs— just sufficient to allow people to go back to the house—have been carried out, and not repairs which would enable the house to be certified as fit. I think we all know cases in which something has been done very quickly but has not reached 1417 the stage of fitness defined in the Bill as necessary for a certificate. In cases such as that which the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned, people have been allowed to return to houses which were not really fit to be certified and accordingly less has been charged. That would not be a case in which repairs had reached a stage at which the house could be certified as fit.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
We are not making very good progress with this Bill, and it is certainly not the fault of hon. Members on this side. Will the hon. Lady give an undertaking that what she has just said will be conveyed to the local authorities since she has thought it worth while mentioning it to the Committee?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I am sorry if I have not made it clear. I thought the argument was that in cases where the certificate was given the local authorities were giving graduated rents, that is, when repairs had been carried out and that different rents were being charged. What I think we want to get clear is that when the "fit" certificate is given the rent due is the full rent, except, as one hon. Member has pointed out, when certain parts of the house cannot be used. The point put by the hon. Gentleman was that the London County Council were charging graduated rents, but that is not so in the case of fit houses.
§ Mr. Hughes
I think the hon. Lady does concede my point. I am not concerned for the moment with the exempt standard. The standard laid down in Clause 1(4) is that the house should be reasonably capable of being used for housing purposes. The hon. Lady says there is another standard which has been accepted by the London County Council, that of being just fit enough for the people to return to it. I am not concerned with whether it is the standard laid down in this Clause or the standard under which the London County Council is prepared to allow tenants to go back. What I am concerned with is the principle, which the hon. Lady concedes, that when you find that a dwelling is not up to the standard which the tenant contracted for by way of amenities, then the landlord—in this case the London County Council—should be prepared to concede to the tenant a diminution in rent.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I did not say that the London County Council was conceding a diminution of rent because the house was not up to the pre-war standard; that is why I intervened. What I did say was that there are cases where people are living in houses that would not qualify for the certificate of fitness and are paying something. The houses have had first-aid repairs, but would not get a certificate of fitness until further repairs are carried out.
§ Mr. Hughes
Very well; I accept that. Equal to pre-war condition is standard number 1; reasonably fit for habitation under Sub-section(4) is standard number 2, and just fit to go back to after first-aid repairs is standard number 3. The hon. Lady concedes that in the case of standard number 3, a diminution is granted, whereas in the case of the other standards no diminution at all is granted; she accepts what my right hon. and learned Friend calls "all or nothing." It is for that reason that I am unable to accept the suggestion. I am prepared to assist the Committee and my right hon. and learned Friend to this extent. He complains about the term "amenity." It may not be the right term. He says that so far as he is concerned he does not know whether a gas-cooker is an amenity. A gas-cooker has been the last amenity on earth to many people, and I hope, in that sense, that a gas-cooker will never be one of my right hon. and learned Friend's amenities. If he were obliged, however, as some of us have been, to move from a more or less adequately equipped London home to a cottage in the country, he would realise to the depths of his being—or if he did not his good lady would—that a gas-cooker is, indeed, an amenity. But if the term can be improved or better defined—and we all understand what we are seeking to convey—I am prepared to accept any reasonable suggestion as to defining it in some other way. If my right hon. and learned Friend will go so far, I will go with him; but unless he concedes the principle of some diminution between all and nothing, then I am afraid that I shall have to adhere to this Amendment and Divide the Committee upon it.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
May I make an appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman? What we wish to obtain is some security in a case in which a house has been so damaged as to have no daylight, no sewerage facilities—because it is possible for a certificate to be given when there are no main sewerage facilities, but only the provision of buckets, earth and disinfectant—no water, no artificial light, and no cooking facilities.
§ The Attorney-General: indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
Yes, I must adhere to what I say. Everything I have said is correct: it would be possible for all these services to be out of action for six months and yet a certificate of fitness could be granted under Subsection (4), having regard to the circumstances prevailing in the locality. What we want to be sure about is that where it is possible for some of these public services to be restored, if adequate energy and diligence is displayed, then they will be restored, while if they are not in such circumstances restored, the principle of some proportionate diminution should be considered. Is it possible for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to assist us to get on with the Bill, because as I have said, we are not getting on very rapidly? Can he assure us that he will accept the principle of prompt restoration of services wherever possible, and that he will endeavour to bring that into the Subsection which we are now discussing?
§ The Attorney-General
I cannot, of course, speak for the Minister of Health, but as far as first-aid repairs are concerned, it is his policy to secure the highest possible percentage of first-aid repairs which the supply of labour and materials permit. I take the case which the hon. Gentleman has given as a very good example of how much better it is to work the scheme as provided in the Bill, than to try to introduce something which would entitle tenants to some reduction of rent having regard to certain considerations which would be extremely difficult to define even if we found a word other than "amenities." I do not believe for a moment that local authorities would be advised by the Ministry of Health, nor that they would be willing in the absence of any advice, to give a certificate of fit-ness to a house which, as the hon. Gentleman has said, had no light, no drains, no 1420 water and no adequate cooking facilities. But the scheme of the Bill of course depends upon a proper standard being preserved in the giving of these certificates.
As it is agreed that we cannot have a rigid statutory standard laid down in the Bill we must rely on the democratic machinery both in the local government areas and Parliament for seeing that these certificates are issued on proper standards. I agree that there is some difference as to whether within a certain area, there should be full rates for something which is not exactly of pre-war standard. As a matter of fact it would not do any good to people if we tried to introduce some system whereby there could be small reductions for this, that or the other. Property should be reasonably capable of being used for housing purposes. I would point out to my hon. Friend—I made the point esarlier—that there are two conditions attacked to the certificate. It is true we must have regard to what is reasonably practicable but the certificate has to certify that what is practicable is what is sufficient to make the house capable of being used for housing purposes. I should be sorry if we had to divide, but I still believe the right method is not to attempt to define the standard. That would be a wrong principle and impracticable.
§ Sir R. Tasker
My hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) referred to houses having no drains for six months. Such a thing is impossible in large towns. Houses would be disconnected from the mains for not more than a few days. A point was raised by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) who has been more fortunate than I have been, as I gather he has suffered from enemy action once, while my offices have suffered five times. In each instance the telephone, electric light, gas and water were cut off. I have never heard of any reduction in respect of those services, nor do I know of anyone else in my locality who has been allowed such reduction.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Is the hon. Member not aware that the Postmaster-General allows a reduction on the telephone rental?
§ Sir R. Tasker
I am informing the Committee that my offices have been what is called blitzed five times, and I 1421 have been without the telephone. The Postmaster-General has not allowed me a farthing.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I wish to try to help the Committee to avoid a Division. If I understood the Attorney-General correctly, he made a concession in his last remark to me which, if carried out in the spirit of his remarks, would almost meet the position. The Attorney-General will correct me if I am wrong. He said the standard of fitness was to be such as to make the house reasonably capable of being used for housing purposes, and that he was going to consider and, I take it, confer the right, to vary that certificate if all was not being done to bring the house back to pre-war standard, or as near as possible to it in the circumstances. In that case the certificate would be withdrawn. If the certificate was withdrawn the house would require to be dealt with under Sub-section (3), in which case, if the tenant was still occupying the house, it would be a matter for negotiation between the landlord and the tenant how much rent was to be paid. In other words, when that certificate was withdrawn the house would become subject to adjudication with regard to rent by some kind of fair wages tribunal, either of the two people concerned acting in harmony, or, if necessary, by appeal to the court.
If I am right, the whole point is stated in Sub-section (3), and the only real dispute between my right hon. and learned Friend and myself is the question as to when a house is to be subject to Subsection (3). That must, I take it, depend on the circumstances in various localities. The question is whether there will be a minimum of amenity below which a certificate will not be granted. If that minimum is sufficiently high, as anticipated by my right hon. and learned Friend, no difficulty would arise. That is the whole dispute—what the minimum is to be. It seems a small point, and if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would say that he will look into it and see that the full rate will not be exacted for something below that minimum standard, that would largely meet the point.
§ Mr. Hughes
I entirely dissociate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend. He is falling into the trap of confusing this Amendment with the pre- 1422 vious Amendment. I regret I cannot accept the suggestion he has thrown out, much as I respect his opinion. I do not believe that what has been conceded goes any way towards meeting the point.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The Attorney-General
I beg to move, in page 2, line 19, at the end, to insert:
For the purposes of this Sub-section, an instrument purporting to be such a certificate as aforesaid and to be signed by an officer of a local authority shall, without furl her proof, be deemed to be a certificate issued by the local authority, unless the contrary is proved.
The first part of the Amendment refers to the local authority certificate with which I have already dealt. The second part is a provision under which, if the tenant, as it were, disappears into the blue, and remains there for a period of three months after the house has been rendered fit, and the landlord has made all reasonable efforts to communicate with him and fails to do so, the court, if it thinks fit, may determine the tenancy. I think that is a very fair provision, particularly as we are extending Clause I to rather longer tenancies. I hope it will commend itself to the Committee. The new Sub-section (6) provides that a landlord or tenant may apply to the court—the county court under the principal Act—to determine whether the land is or was at any time unfit. That is the convenient procedure 1423 because the rent in these cases might be above the normal county court jurisdiction.
- (5) Where the court is satisfied, on the application of the landlord of any land let on a short tenancy which has been rendered unlit by war damage, that—
- (a)the land is fit;
- (b)a period of not less than three months has elapsed since the land was rendered fit, and during the whole of that period the tenant has not been in occupation of the land either in whole or in part and has not paid any rent in respect of that period or any part thereof; and
- (c)the landlord has made all reasonable efforts to communicate with the tenant and has failed to do so;
- the court may, if it thinks fit, determine the tenancy and give immediate possession of the tenant's interest in the land and, where the tenant has sublet the whole or any part of the land, the court may give directions preserving the rights of the sub-tenant or determining those rights, either immediately or after the landlord has complied with such requirements as may be specified.
- (6) The landlord or tenant of any land let on a short tenancy may at any time apply to the court to determine whether the land is or was at any time unfit by reason of war damage or any other question arising under this Section in relation to the tenancy.
§ Mr. Hughes
It was my intention to put upon the Order Paper an Amendment designed to meet the difficulty which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out. I am only too glad to support the Amendment which is now on the Paper.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ The Attorney-General
I beg to move, in page 2, line 33, at the end, to insert:(6) Where, under the principal Act, a notice of disclaimer has been served, or a notice of retention has been or is deemed to have been served, before the passing of this Act, in relation to any short tenancy, this Section shall not, unless the notice is of no effect, apply to that tenancy.This Amendment simply preserves and makes clear the position if, under the principal Act, before this Act becomes law, notice of disclaimer or notice of retention has been served. It is not intended to seek to interfere with what has happened under the law.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Are we to understand that all notices to disclaim or to retain in respect of any tenancies before the passing of this Act stand, and are not affected by the Act?
§ The Attorney-General
We had better wait for Clause 2. This Clause deals only with quarterly short tenancies. I think it is rather unlikely, but there might possibly be a disclaimer; and, therefore, this Amendment is necessary.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Whereupon, the YEOMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD being come with a Message, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair.
§ MR. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.