HC Deb 04 February 1942 vol 377 cc1226-9
Mr. Rostron Duckworth (Manchester, Moss)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, after "business," to insert: or on offer to let for any of these purposes. The reason for this Amendment is that it should give power to disclaim on requisitioning on the part of leaseholders who have temporarily vacated their premises, a right which is possessed now by occupying tenants. Unless this is altered, it appears to me that another injustice will be added to the very many which are suffered by leaseholders who have had to vacate their premises, owing possibly to enemy action or police advice or sickness, or perhaps for urgent family reasons. In most of these cases they would rather have remained in their premises, but they have been compelled to vacate them, and it seems a little unfair that the benefits of the Bill, which are really rather considerable, should apply only to those in occupation of their premises. It may be said that if the premises are empty, they need not trouble about the requisitioning, but there is always a financial loss where property is requisitioned, the unfortunate leaseholder is not able to sublet it and must continue to hold it as long as the Government remains in possession, and he cannot enter into possession of the property again while it is requisitioned. For all those reasons I think the case is on all fours with that of an occupying tenant.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

I should like to support the Amendment. My hon. Friend has put the matter very clearly. The Amendment appears fair, just and equitable. It seems to me extraordinary that a tenant who is not in possession should be put in a disadvantageous position as compared with a tenant in possession. It may well be that a tenant who is out of possession had to leave the premises for some reason connected with the war, something beyond his control. It may well be that the Government will retain possession for a very considerable time—and the tenant not in possession will have the lease hanging like a mill-stone around his neck, whereas the tenant in possession will be free to disclaim. We do not know how long the war will last—and I feel that Parliament should do everything it can to protect and help people who have suffered by it. It is not always possible to protect everyone but we should do everything we can when opportunity offers. I feel that when it is possible we should do this, and this, in my opinion, is a fair case. I therefore ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to adopt this Amendment, or an Amendment that will do something similar in substance and spirit. In these words I beg to support my hon. Friend.

The Solicitor-General (Sir William Jowitt)

I am sorry that we cannot accept the Amendment. This Clause deals only with the case where premises have been requisitioned, and it follows the lines of the report made by Mr. Morris, who investigated this question. We have to hold the scales evenly and fairly, as far as we can, between landlord and tenant. Landlords are not all rich people who need not be considered. The landlords have given voice to some complaints about this matter for the following reason: We are giving the tenant an option, and he will exercise it only where it suits him. Where premises have been requisitioned, they may be, for instance, on the East or South-East coast, where they have gone down considerably in value, or they may be in the suburbs of London, where they have gone up in value. In some cases the tenant will make a good thing out of the requisition, because he will get from the occupying Department more than he is paying to his landlord. In other cases he will do badly for he will get less than he is paying to his landlord. The grievance of the landlords is that the tenant will always exercise the option in cases where it is to his advantage and not in the other cases, and the landlord will be left with the latter cases.

We have, following Mr. Morris's advice, limited this matter to a strict class of case; that is to say, we have dealt only with cases where tenants are in actual occupation. Short leases where the tenants are in actual occupation seem to us to be cases of special hardship, and we think it right to deal with those cases. If, however, we once go round that and open the door wide and depart from Mr. Morris's recommendation, all the landlords will be saying that this Bill is a monstrous injustice. That is why we do not think it proper to go beyond the narrow limits to which we have deliberately confined the Bill.

Mr. Rostron Duckworth

I am rather impressed by the explanation given by my right hon. and learned Friend, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Solicitor-General

I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, to leave out from "the," to "serve," in line 15, and to insert "material date."

This is a matter of drafting. We have repeatedly in the Bill referred to a long phrase, and I am proposing to take out that phrase and substitute the words "material date," and in the definition Clause to define what the material date is.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 33, leave out from the first "the," to "direct," in line 35, and insert "material date."—[The Solicitor-General.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.