§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I would invite the attention of the House to the problem of dealing with the excessive charges now being made upon some tenants of furnished dwellings in Scotland. The subject is an exceedingly complicated one. It is extremely difficult of exposition. It proved intractable to previous Government Committees of inquiry in 1920, 1923, and 1931 when investigations were being made into the operations of the Rent Restrictions Acts. The problem arises chiefly, although not entirely, from the great shortage of houses. In Scotland in pre-war years our overcrowding percentage figure was six times that obtaining in England and Wales. To the serious deficiency of house accommodation in pre-war years there has now been added the fact that in some areas there has been destruction of housing by enemy action. In some areas there is still further overcrowding through the neces- 1254 sities of war-time production, and there is of course every-where a shortage of stocks in the furnishing shops. These are conditions which breed opportunities for exploitation — increasing demand and diminishing supply.
We must observe in fairness that the overwhelming number of lessors of furnished dwellings do not take any undue advantage of the necessities of the lessees and that in hundreds of thousands of cases the terms of let are amicably and equitably arranged between the parties. The last thing I want to do is so to upset or prejudice these amicable arrangements that we might drive lessors into refusing to let their furnished rooms at all. The greatest possible error we could commit would be to take any steps that would limit the amount of housing accommodation presently available. But there are Shylocks among us, people without any social sense whatever, people who use the housing shortage and the national emergency to squeeze the last monetary advantage they can from the necessities and the disabilities of their neighbours. These people are prevented by law from exacting scarcity rents for their unfurnished houses. Every houseowner, just and unjust, mean and magnanimous alike, is limited by, the Rent Restrictions Acts and any of their tenants who sub-let any part of a house as a separate dwelling unfurnished are also limited in their exactions by the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Acts. Sometimes there is no legal right to sub-let at all. For example, there are municipal and private tenancies where sub-letting is forbidden as a condition of the principal let. But to the best of my information and belief the position of the tenant of an unfurnished dwelling separately and legally let is protected by the present law from extortionate charges. When I say "separately and legally let" I mean let with the landlord's consent. If not so let the landlord may get the tenant himself evicted without proof that there is alternative accommodation available, and if the principal tenant lets only part of his house as a sub-let without the landlord's consent then from that part which he so sub-lets he may be himself evicted by the courts without proof of alternative accommodation being available.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that part of the subject, will he make 1255 clear the position of the person who sublets a part of his house without the owner's consent? If there is nothing in the terms of the let to say that he cannot sub-let, is that sub-tenant not protected by the Rent Restrictions Act?
§ Mr. Johnston
I think those intricate points should be put to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, but my information is that the part of the house which is let without the landlord's consent—I do not know what is the legal meaning of the word "consent"—can be held to have been illegally sub-let. Subject to the £90 limit, every house or part of a house that is let as a separate dwelling comes under the Rent Restrictions Acts by virtue of Section 12 (2) of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1920, and it is clear beyond doubt, I think, that an unfurnished sub-let, whether of a whole house or part of a house, is covered. It is expressly provided in Section 12 that the word "tenant" includes the word "sub-tenant" and that the word "let" includes the word "sub-let" and in the case of Roe v. Russell the English Court of Appeal decided in 1928 that the sub-tenant of an unfurnished sub-let had all the protection conferred. by the Rent Restrictions Acts on tenants; and the same decision has been given in Aberdeen Sheriff Court in the case of Simpson v. Aitken in 1938. So I think it is clear that in law the sub-tenant of an unfurnished dwelling is protected by the present Rent Restriction Acts.
Now there remains the problem of the furnished let. By the Rent Restrictions Act, 1920, Sections 9 and 10, it is laid down that only a normal profit is to be permitted, that the lessee may recover any overcharges, and the lessor who charges an extortionate rent may be fined up to £100. Section 9 of the Act defines normal profit—this is extremely difficult, and I am afraid I must stick to my brief—in the case of a house controlled before September, 1939,as the profit which might reasonably have been expected from a similar let in 1914, plus 25 per cent., and in the case of a house controlled after September, 1939, the normal profit is the profit which might reasonably have been expected from a similar let in 1939 but without any percentage addition. The court is directed to have attention to the margin of profit allowed under Section 9 1256 in cases of houses controlled before 1939, but in other cases there is no such direction given to the law courts and it is left entirely to their discretion to say what is a normal profit and what is an extortionate profit.£ A law court is faced by obvious difficulties in determining the meaning of the word "extortionate" There is a great variety of circumstances to be weighed and measured. What, for example, is the furniture worth in any case? What value is to be placed on heating and lighting? There may be the right to have hot water; there may be partial use of a bathroom, a washing house and so on. It is extremely difficult for a law court to estimate the value of these services when they are considering whether a rent for a furnished let is or is not extortionate. In a recent case in the Scottish law courts, the Lord justice General laid it down that before the rent of a furnished let could be held to be extortionate the contract must have been secured by force, fear or fraud or by taking unfair advantage of the unequal situation in which the lessor and the lessee find themselves. If a bona fide agreement to pay a certain sum has been entered into, then extortion is exceedingly difficult to prove. It would appear that in Scotland there is virtually no legal protection against exploitation or extortion in furnished lets, as the law now stands.
As to the extent of the problem, in Glasgow there has been an increase in the practice by which one person becomes the tenant of a number of unfurnished houses, generally houses with from three to seven rooms, let at rents ranging from £25 to £60 a year, and, after placing a limited quantity of furniture in the houses—sometimes a ludicrously limited quantity—sub-lets them at rents ranging from 5s. to 16s. per week per room. Many of the principal tenants are now receiving about five times the rent which they pay to the landlord of the house. For example, in the case of one six-room house rented at £40 a year, the principal tenant has sub-let, furnished, two rooms at 12s. a week each, one at 13s., two at 14s. and one at 15s., thus receiving a total weekly rent of £4, or £208 a year, far a house which is on the valuation roll at only £40. Another house rented by the same person at £40 a year is sub-let, allegedly furnished, by rooms at weekly rents which bring in £231 a year.
1257 I have already said that it is most difficult for the law courts to say when extortionate rents are being exacted. It is true that by Section 10 of the Act of 1923 the value of the furniture has to be a substantial portion of the total rent, but I have heard of cases in which a frying pan, a picture of Moses in the bullrushes, a wisp of linoleum, an old bedstead and a chair were the total furniture provided. I could give a large number of cases, of which we have records at the Scottish Office, of exploitation on these lines. In one case four and a half times the value of the annual rent has been obtained. In another case, this is in Glasgow, the annual rent is £27 and the annual rent from the furnished lets is £135 4s. Another case: annual rent £23 10s., annual rent from furnished lets £114 8s. Another case: £34 on the roll, annual rents from the furnished lets £245 14s. Yet another case, in Glasgow: the annual rent on the roll is £35, and £210 12s. is exacted from the tenants. This is found not only in Glasgow, it is all over—well, I will not say it is all over the country, but the mischief is spreading to other parts of the country. I have instances from little villages in Aberdeenshire—Peterculter and Inverurie—one where the annual assessment is £17 10s. and the place is let as a furnished dwelling at £4 a week. It is the same in Aberdeen City and at Oban. There is a case at Dunoon in which the annual rent is £10 and the place is let at £2 a week. In Ayr Burgh there are a large number of cases and others at Troon, Prestwick and Helensburgh. In Inverness Burgh a place which is assessed at £29 annually is actually let furnished at £5 5s. a week. The same thing is going on in the County of Moray, and in the County of Ross and Cromarty a little house near Invergordon with an annual rent of £7 is let furnished at £120 a year.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
Could my right hon. Friend say anything about the position in Edinburgh?
§ Mr. Johnston
I have a few cases in Edinburgh, but not so many. There are other circumstances there. There is a part of Glasgow, on the South side, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) once directed my attention, where properties are being let to Indians and sub-let by Indians to their own fellow citizens at extraordinary 1258 prices. I have a list of them here, but the House would not want it. At Rosyth, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. McLean Watson), we have one case of a room in a council house actually let at 25s. a week.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
Are there numerous cases of council house sub-lettings? We have a large number in Kilmarnock.
§ Mr. Johnston
Oh, yes. The local authorities have definite powers. The Stirlingshire County Council, for example, have been trying out regulations for fixing the value which should be placed upon particular items of furniture, and they make an arrangement that no furnished room shall be rented at more than 5s. per week in a county council house, failing which there will be eviction of the principal tenant. As I have already explained, there is power to evict in any cases where the principal tenant sub-lets, unless with the consent of the landlord, and the county council can act.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
Did I understand my right hon. Friend to say that there was a case in Rosyth?
§ Mr. Watson
I understood that most of the houses in Rosyth were owned by the Scottish National Housing Company.
§ Mr. Johnston
I will find out the exact particulars, but I can assure my hon. Friend that my figures are correct. It was a council house.
§ Mr. Watson
I am surprised, because sometimes the town council fixes at 10s. per week the amount that should be charged.
§ Mr. Johnston
My figures are that one room in a council house was charged at 25s. per week. The date is 15th October, so that is not long ago.
How do we propose to deal with this problem? The Government do not propose to amend the Rent Restrictions Acts by this Bill. A Committee of Inquiry is being appointed, as has been announced in the House, and it is to deal with the manifold and complicated issues which have arisen in other directions in the Rent Restrictions Acts. Before the Bill was introduced at all, the most exhaus- 1259 tive consideration was given to all possible methods of dealing with the problem. For example, the possibility was considered of fixing maximum rents for furnished lets by applying a fixed ratio to the rent of the accommodation unfurnished. For example, we considered providing that the rent of the furnished accommodation should not exceed, say two, or two and a half, times the rent of the house unfurnished, but this method clearly would be impracticable, owing to the wide variation in the nature and the amount of the furniture and the services which might be provided, and also to the different rent levels for furnished accommodation in different parts of the country. We also considered building up a maximum rent by fixing maximum prices for the various items included in the let. We found that it would be unworkable because of the wide differences between the furniture and the services that might be included in the different lets. It was obvious that once we fixed a figure for furniture, that would tend to be the maximum of the furniture that would be provided. In fact, all methods of controlling furnished lets by fixing a general standard, are open to the fatal objection that if the maximum permissible rent is high enough to allow a reasonable rent for a decent let with good furniture, it would leave room for profiteering where the furniture was flimsy and inferior. On the other hand a maximum set at a low level to catch the shark would penalise the lessor of good accommodation and would probably restrict the total amount of furnished accommodation now available for letting.
We therefore came to the conclusion that each case would have to be dealt with on its merits, and we decided that the best way of doing it was to establish local tribunals, to consist of people well qualified to decide such questions as the value of furniture and services. The procedure before the tribunals will, I hope, be kept simple and informal. The tribunals will fix a fair and just figure of rent in each case, where application is made to them by either party to a contract, either the lessor or the lessee, or by the local authority. The decisions taken will be notified to the parties and to the local authority. The tribunal will keep a register of its decisions, which will be open to public 1260 inspection. Clause 3 of the Bill provides that it shall be unlawful to ask or receive more than the tribunal fixes in each case and £100 fine or six months' imprisonment is the penalty which may be incurred for overcharging.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
I did not understand from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman whether there is an appeal against a decision of the tribunal. He said that the tribunal will fix a fair rent; I have no doubt he means he hopes it will do so. Is there an appeal against tribunal decisions?
§ Mr. Johnston
There is no appeal on a question of fact as to what is a fair rent, but no penalty can be imposed by the tribunal. Anyone who infringes a decision of a tribunal will land himself in the law courts, but there will be no penalty imposed by the tribunal.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
Will my right hon. Friend explain the phrase "the rent of premises "? What happens when there is a change of tenancy?
§ Mr. Neil Maclean (Glasgow, Govan)
In his reply to the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) the Minister said there could be a penalty in the law courts for an individual who had been letting furnished accommodation and violating a decision of a tribunal. Is the onus of taking a recalcitrant owner to the courts to be left to the individual who has been renting the house furnished and who is bound by the decision of the tribunal? Is it clear that there must be a civil action by the occupant of the furnished apartment?
§ Mr. Johnston
Prosecutions by way of law are not civil actions to be undertaken by the parties who are the victims. They will be undertaken by the State. As to the point put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) where a tribunal has fixed a decision as to the amount which may be legitimately charged to a sub-tenant for particular premises, that fixed sum adheres to the premises even if there is a change of tenancy. If, however, the landlord or the tenant in chief should vary the amount of furniture, if he adds to the amount of furniture let us say, it is open to him to go back to the tribunal and ask for a rehearing and a re-settling or refixing of 1261 the amount. The House will note that the rent fixed by a tribunal is not affected by a change in tenancy. It is a maximum rent which can be charged for the particular premises, unless and until there is a change in the circumstances and until the tribunal rehears the case in the light of those changes and upholds its decision.
As to the fear of eviction after an award has been given, please let us note that the decision affects the premises, so that a lessor will not be able to make a fresh bargain with a new sub-tenant. The amount fixed adheres to the premises. In England, where the law is somewhat different and where the local authorities may take a case before the magistrates in any circumstances, where they believe there is undue exploitation, it has been reported to the Ministry of Health that in the 18 months between 1st July, 1941 and 31st December, 1942 there were 206 well-founded complaints of over-charging investigated by the local authorities. In these cases many reductions were made by negotiation, and prosecutions were taken in others. But only in six cases out of the 206 did the local authorities require to use their power of billeting in order to ensure that sub-tenants got decent accommodation. Every Scots local authority has been given powers of requisitioning which may be used to prevent the intentions of Parliament being defeated. After a tribunal has decided a case it would clearly be right to see that the subtenant is not spitefully evicted. That can be prevented by the use of the requisitioning powers given to local authorities in appropriate cases.
Those are our proposed methods of preventing, limiting, and we hope and believe stopping, the cruel extortion upon people who have no homes of their own and for whom the Rent Restrictions Acts have not provided protection. The principle here is that of the rent court and of investigation into the circumstances and arbitration on the facts. It is a principle which we tried so successfully in the fixing of the proportion of rents now payable for partially war damaged houses after a blitz. In these war damage disputes and difficulties we have had 264 fixations and not a single complaint about either the justice or the equity of the decision. The Bill has the backing of all local authority associations in Scotland and since its publication we have had 1262 indications that the local authorities of the city of Dundee, the burghs of Johnstone, Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline, Dumfries, Kilmarnock, Inverness, and Clydebank and the counties of Lanark and Dumbarton would welcome the immediate creation of these tribunals. And not only do these local authorities support this Bill, but the National Federation of Property Owners and Factors have expressed their concurrence. [Interruption.] It is right that that should be said, and I hope that there will be more of this kind of concurrence in the interests of the tenants. On the Committee stage we hope to propose Amendments designed to strengthen the provisions of the Bill. Services as well as attendance will be covered, and I trust that from Parliament there will emerge a useful safeguard against scandalous exactions which, though not widespread, are felt intensely by the victims.
§ Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Ayr and Bute, Northern)
I would like to make a few observations on this Bill. First I would like to thank the Secretary of State for a letter which was put into my hands two or three minutes ago dealing with points I have been raising with the Scottish Office. As I have not had time to look at it carefully, I apologise in advance in case I say anything that has been met in the letter. I represent a constituency which, does a great deal of catering for holiday people. I represent many landladies both of private hotels and boarding houses, and it is from their point of view that I am rather worried about this Bill. I would like to have some points cleared up. We all realise that these controls are necessary in wartime, but I am a little frightened perhaps that in a case of this kind it is going to be continued too long. If you look at the duration of the Bill, it will be found that it is to continue not only to the end of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, but six months afterwards. I can see no reason in the world why it should continue for six months after the Defence Regulations come to an end. What worries me is that six months may easily mean a year in the case of my constituency, because it caters for summer visitors. Supposing the six months were to begin in April or May, they lose that summer period, and therefore it would mean a year. I see no earthly reason why this Bill, which is a war-time 1263 Measure, should not come to an end at the same time as the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act and Regulation 18B and the rest of them.
With regard to the tribunal which is to decide tins matter, and which is mentioned in the Schedule, as hon. Members will see, the chairman of this tribunal has to be an advocate or a solicitor of not less than five years' standing. I cannot understand why the Secretary of State wishes to tie his hands in that way. Everyone of us knows that all solicitors with good practices, which means the good solicitors, are so under-staffed that they are working on Saturdays and Sundays themselves, which means that the only solicitors who will be available will be those who are not good. Why the Secretary of State should want to tie his hands in that respect I do not know. I took this point up with him, and I got a little satisfaction from this letter. The Secretary of State wrote in it:I have given careful consideration to the constitution of the Tribunal and I think that I shall be able to meet your suggestion that the Chairman should not be required by the Bill itself to have legal qualificationsBut surely in a matter of this kind of fixing fair rents it is common sense which is wanted, not legal qualifications. I cannot understand this objection. There is no reason why the Secretary of State should not have a lawyer if he wants one, but why make it essential? I hope he will reconsider that point. Another thing is that I think the tribunals will have to go and see the premises. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the way in which some are furnished compared with others. To assess a rental without seeing the place would be unsatisfactory. I hope that the Secretary of State will not tie his hands by putting legal people as chairmen. Let him have a free choice and get the best person he can for the job.
With regard to the letting of houses with board and attendance, I am very worried about that. If hon. Members will look at Clause 9, Sub-section (2), they will see that it says:Nothing in this Act shall apply to a house or part of a house let at a rent which includes payment in respect of board.I think that is quite reasonable, but the Sub-section goes on with a proviso which washes all that out. This is what the proviso says: 1264Provided that a house or part of a house shall not be deemed to be let at such a rent unless the value of such board to the tenant forms a substantial proportion of the whole rent.The women who mostly run private hotels and boarding houses—I have a bill in my hand—do not differentiate as to what your meals cost. [An HON. MEMBER: "They do not differentiate?"] Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to finish what I am saying, so that I can make my point more clear to him. They do not differentiate. I have a bill here from a temperance hotel in my constituency where I stayed. The bill is made out "Bedroom and meals"; that is all the details given. Let me in answer to my interrupter say that in that particular boarding house where I stayed I arrived at about 6 in the evening, had a very fine tea with fish, everything one could want, went to my meeting, came back to another sit-dawn meal, had early morning tea and a very much better breakfast than you can get anywhere in London. All that, with bed and hot water, cost me 10s,
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
In Lochranza. It ill becomes people to show only one side of the picture. My point is that if it is to be necessary to prove by that proviso that a substantial part is represented by board, it means far more book work for these people. I was in Arran a fortnight ago. The season has ended. These people are short-staffed, they are absolutely played out, they do not get into bed on the day they get up. They are to be asked to prove that a substantial amount is spent on the food. The right hon. Gentleman told us in his speech that they cannot define what "extortionate" means. No doubt that is perfectly true legally. Can they define what "substantial" means? Can the Lord Advocate?
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
In view of the fact that it cannot be explained to me what it means, I hope the proviso will be taken out altogether, and furnished rooms be allowed to be let as they have been in the past in the holiday places. In the case of a perfectly honestly conducted 1265 business of letting rooms which has been conducted for a long time, it seems a pity to make matters so difficult for a deserving class of people to carry on. We know what their season is. We know that they have to charge high rates. Who goes to these holiday places in Scotland in the depths of winter? I hope that this matter will be considered. I feel very strongly about it.
If it is not possible to cut out that proviso, which I sincerely hope it is, I think that the interpretation Clause might have an addition put to it to define what is meant by lessee. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of people not having any choice about where they had to live. I quite agree that they should not be exploited, but to make it more difficult for people who run these businesses in holiday resorts is unfair. I do not see why there should not be added another interpretation to the effect that the expression "lessee" means a person who by reason of his calling must reside in the neighbourhood wherein the house is situated. I think that would cover the person who has nowhere to go. It seems to me unfortunate to have a tribunal to go prying into the affairs of these people who are working hard and doing their best to serve their public, which is what they are doing as everyone knows.
I do not think there is anything more I wish to say except to remark that a Bill of this kind, which has been in our hands since the end of July, has been brought in at the tail end of the Session. I know of course that we cannot have a Scottish Standing Committee to which it could be referred by Mr. Speaker and where it could be thrashed out and got into fair order. I do not now how long we shall have for the Committee stage, which will be on the Floor of the House. It seems to me a pity that a Measure which will affect so many people should be put through in such an undiscussed form as this must be. I therefore appeal to my right hon. Friend to cover those people who let rooms by cutting out the proviso in Clause 9. I know that the Lord Advocate thinks that they might trick the Measure by charging enormous amounts for early morning tea, but the Scottish people are honest. [Interruption]. No, landladies are not too bad. I know it is a popular thing to say that they are bad. What we want to do is not to deal with 1266 the good or bad but to be fair, and I think that the proviso to Clause 9 should be taken out.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
The Bill that is now before us is one that arises very largely out of our serious housing position in Scotland, and I think that the Secretary of State is to be commended for his courage in making an endeavour to deal with what has in many directions—and he has proved it—come to be a very serious grievance among people who are in the position of not having houses which they tenant in their own right, by trying to make their position a more tolerable one. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken directed his attention first of all to the period over which the Bill is to continue. My reaction to the period put to the Bill is entirely different from his. I make the claim that this Bill deals with a matter which is not of war-time origin, although it may to some extent be aggravated during the period of the war. My contention is that protection like this for tenants of furnished accommodation should continue after the war is over and not simply come to an end at a period very shortly after hostilities have ceased. My constituency is very different from that of the hon. and gallant Member. To only a limited extent is it used for the provision of furnished accommodation during the holiday season. Because of the need for people to live somewhere adjacent to their work, many of the houses have sub-tenants in them. It is with them that this Bill seeks to deal. From my own observation, the furnished accommodation is let, in the vast majority of cases, to sub-tenants whom the original tenants know. It is not a question of dealing with strangers in the majority of cases, but with friends, and, one might almost say, fellow-sufferers from the difficult housing situation. In those cases, there is to my knowledge, none of the exploitation with which this Bill seeks to deal. Neither in those cases nor in the case which the hon. and gallant Member cited, of the good accommodation which he obtained in his constituency for a very low figure, will the tribunal be called in.
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
A portion of that 10s. of which I spoke must have been allotted for my board and a portion for my bedroom. It would not have been unreasonable if I had been charged 10s. 1267 for my bedroom, and then my food would have cost me nothing. If that had been the case they would have been subject to the investigation of the tribunal, because my board would not have been a substantial part of the bill.
§ Mr. Mathers
I expect the tribunal to act reasonably, and to deal with these matters in a proper way.
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
However fair the tribunal is, if the feeding part of the charge came to nothing they could not help themselves.
§ Mr. Mathers
The instance given by the hon. and gallant Member related to both board and accommodation. If the board cost nothing there would be only the accommodation to take into account.
§ Mr. Mathers
The hon. and gallant Member has met his own point by saying how substantial the board was for what seemed to him a reasonable charge. In reading this Bill, I was concerned as to how this attempted protection could be given without doing real harm to those who complained about extortionate charges by the tenants of the house in which they had one or two furnished rooms, which might perhaps cost them more than the whole rent of the house. What drives people into paying the large amounts which are sometimes demanded for furnished accommodation is their dire need of somewhere to live. If such people found themselves getting the advantage of a decision by the tribunal, it looked, on the face of the Bill, as if the person who let the accommodation had the simple remedy of asking the other people to leave the house. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that there is not a complete lack of protection for the sub-tenant who has his rent reduced by the tribunal to a reasonable figure, and that the local authorities can exercise power to requisition the accommodation and billet the sub-tenant there if he is threatened with unfair eviction for refusing to pay too high a rent. I hope that this Bill will be given a Second Reading. There will probably be points to look at on the Com- 1268 mittee stage, but I regard this as a real attempt to deal with a serious menace, and I commend the courage of the right hon. Gentleman. I realise the pitfalls, but the very fact that an attempt is being made will be a warning to people who have been exploiting others who are worse placed than themselves in respect of housing accommodation. I think it will be the desire of the whole House to give this Bill a Second Reading, and on the Committee stage to get down to the real inwardness of the Bill, and help the Secretary of State to make it an effective Measure to carry out the object that he has in view.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Ayrshire (Sir C. MacAndrew), I represent a constituency largely composed of holiday resorts. I was rather dismayed to hear my right hon. Friend quote two of them as examples of extortionate letting. In some ways I must disagree with my right hon. Friend, because I feel that all honest boarding-house keepers, lodging-house keepers, hotel keepers and so on will welcome this Bill. I would like to draw attention to a point which may have escaped my right hon. Friend. In those two burghs of Oban and Dunoon there has been extreme difficulty in obtaining lets by Service men and women. In both burghs a great amount of accommodation has been requisitioned by the Services, and it may be said that the Services have got quite enough and that the rest should be left for civilians. But I know many cases where married officers and men are taken into furnished accommodation throughout the winter months, and when the holiday season comes round they are quietly told to leave the house. Friends of mine have gone around the country looking for somewhere to live at a reasonable rent in order to make way for these holiday-makers paying high rents. I very much welcome this wartime measure to control that sort of thing, and to make it possible for Service men, as well as holiday-makers, to go to the tribunal and appeal against unjust eviction.
There is another point which I would like to make. In the case of these furnished lets there will be quite a large number of lessees who will not be prepared to appeal. They would rather pay the high rent, because of the difficulty of 1269 getting accommodation. I wonder how it will be possible for inquiries to be made where extortionate rents are suspected. Perhaps we could be told by the Lord Advocate to-day, or on the Committee stage, whether the police will have power to investigate the charges. I am speaking for a large number of my constituents who are owners or tenants of furnished accommodation which is sub-let to holiday-makers, and I can say that they are perfectly willing for their cases to be brought before a fair tribunal. This Bill will serve a very useful purpose in catching the dishonest ones.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I think we can all agree that this Bill is being produced because of the tremendous overcrowding, due to the shortage of housing. The real solution would be the provision of housing. But, because of the lack of house-building, there is serious overcrowding in cities like Glasgow. I would be the last to deny that even the people who organise flats and break houses up for occupation by three or four families, are serving a useful purpose. Instead of five-or six-apartment houses being occupied by a couple of persons, four small families may be given reasonable accommodation; and that will help to mitigate the serious hardship and suffering. But there are other aspects of the case, deeper than some of those which have been mentioned by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am told that sometimes the actual tenant of the house is not the only evil-doer. I sent on to the right hon. Gentleman an anonymous letter which I received regarding a woman in the Townhead district of Glasgow, who was stated to have got the house that some other woman was after, and it was said that that was the fortieth house she had got hold of. That was a Mrs. Carroll. The houses were all sparsely furnished, and substantial rents were being charged. I thought that the Secretary of State might have sent me some of the details discovered by the investigation. It was rather a short letter, sympathising and saying that he was b dealing with the position. We have not got to know of any of the rents that were demanded or anything as to the woman who had secured these 40 houses. He talks of the house factors' and property owners' collaboration, but that is more theoretical than real. I am told that many people take the houses as tenants from the house 1270 agents or the landlords. The rent is, say, £40, but there is a secret understanding that £10 per month will be paid to the agent or the landlord. That means that a person who takes the house demands more in return from the tenant in order to make up the proviso which is laid down by the house agent. If that is general, you can see how Mrs. Carroll would get hold of 40 houses in the city of Glasgow. She would be an accredited agent for paying that amount of money in addition to the house rent.
There are a substantial number of furnished houses in Glasgow for which the rents charged are not exorbitant. I know of friends of mine who pay 15s. for a room where two or three people have been put into a house. The places are decently furnished, and one cannot grumble and say that the rents are extortionate, but, on the other hand, there are cases, such as the right hon. Gentleman told us to-day, where tremendous amounts are charged for rent. The horrible thing is that a large number of the people who come after these houses are the wives or wives with children of serving men, who with the allowances that they are receiving cannot afford to pay the rents that are demanded. In consequence, only the people who are doing rather well out of the war or are in a decent position are able to pay the extortionate rents, while a large number of families with small allowances are being herded together in houses that are a disgrace.
There is another serious aspect of overcrowding of which I have been told by many people. When they come after a house, even if they are prepared to pay the rent demanded they are asked, "How many children have you? What ages are the children?" They say to some young married couples, "You have no family. Am I to take it that you have no intention of having a family during the period of the war?" All kinds of questions of this description are put to these people. The really most needy members of the population, those with children, are being debarred from a large number of these houses which are being taken over and let at extortionate rents. These are aspects with which the Bill does not deal. I can see a difficulty in regard to the selection of tenants and also of determining what is a reasonable rent. A house which might only contain, as the right hon. Gentleman 1271 described it, a picture and one or two little things, could be called a furnished house. On the other hand one might go to a house which contained very fine furniture, and the rent demanded for it could be justified, but such a rent could not be justified in respect of the house very sparsely furnished.
Do not be mealy-mouthed about landladies. We know that there are very decent landladies, but in some cases landladies are demanding for houses, let on the roll at £40, as much as £30 a month for the houses furnished. Sometimes people have two or three houses. While landladies must be protected if they are being slandered in any way, one must realise that the whole of the west coast is not just packed with all the decent landladies which the hon. Member mentioned. His speech was rather a defence of unreasonable rents. Decent landladies —and there are many—will welcome this Bill in order to bring into line those who are charging extortionate rents. Therefore, the decent landladies will not sympathise with the remarks of the hon. Member. The question of fixing the rents is going to be one of the thorny questions.
A point was raised recently which I thought was very substantial. Is it only on complaint that the rent is to be investigated? If the decent person who, we often find, refuses public relief and would almost starve rather than make application because he does not like to expose his poverty, is being plundered in a vicious manner and does not complain, is there to be any investigation or fixing of rent? Has a person to complain to the authorities of what is deemed to be an unjust rent before investigation takes place? The whole of the furnished dwellings of the country should come under review, and areas should be put in blocks and investigators should find out whether unreasonable rents were being charged. We know from our own experience that a great deal depends on the type of individual who is selected to serve on a tribunal. We know this with regard to hardship committees and employment exchanges. There is the type of man who always refuses to accept either evidence or pleas, and the same might be true of the tribunals. I am not satisfied that the chairman should be a legal man. The chairman might be a legal man and could go into many legal points and could interpret the Bill, but 1272 there is to be a clerk to the tribunal who could surely help to guide the tribunal. There are many men who know a great deal about the problems of buildings, housing, rent and furniture who might, in many instances, be more useful than a lawyer perhaps with no knowledge of these things at all. The Lord Advocate and the Secretary of State for Scotland should consider whether it is essential to have a legal man as chairman of the tribunal. I agree that you must have somebody of wide experience and a certain amount of knowledge in relation to the subject, but I do not think that it is essential that he should be a legal man. It is essential to hold these tribunals and to appoint persons with a little knowledge and with human sympathy.
I am not going to say that the problem is one that cannot be solved in a reasonable manner. I have heard of many complaints in relation to furnished houses in the City of Glasgow. On the other hand, as I have said, I know of many people who are happily housed in war-time houses and who would rather have a house of their own. They are being charged fairly reasonable rents, and they are fairly well furnished, and the tenants receive very decent treatment indeed. Some of them are friends of mine and people with whom I am associated and have visited, but there are a number of people who are exploiting the poverty and the necessity of the population, and it is essential that their operations should be curbed in a very substantial way. I return to where I began. The overcrowding which undermines the health and morale of the nation is all due to the lack of houses, and I am satisfied that a greater measure of activity should be indulged in at the present time in the provision of houses. The war is being made the excuse for every reactionary measure and for the lack of operations. A tremendous number of houses could be provided for the population even with the limited amount of materials and labour available. That is really the cure for overcrowding. Until we get houses built there will continue to be this cancer in the life of the nation. We have, in places like Glasgow, seven, eight, nine and 10 persons living in a single apartment house. There are tubercular cases among these people. Take whatever action you like to curb the activities of these parasites who are living on the needs of the nation 1273 and exploiting them, pay homage to those who are providing furnished rooms in a decent manner, but above all let us keep our eye on the great necessity for a housing drive even in time of war. All these diseases and frictions to-day are the price that the nation is paying for the tremendous blood bath of war.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I think that this Bill is very much overdue. I live in a constituency which wants 3,000 houses, and it has 800 sub-tenants. In many cases extortionate rents are being charged, little children are living in these sub-tenements, and there is literally no home life. Therefore, all I wish to say is that I hope the Bill has a speedy passage through this House and that in spite of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Northern Ayrshire (Sir C. MacAndrew) this House will not be deterred from the main and simple issue outlined by the Secretary of State. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Bill, because it is largely overdue. The larger question of housing can be dealt with on another occasion, on which we shall have a bit to say, but this is a short Bill to meet the situation which many of us have had to face in the shape of letters year after year and nothing could be done. As my county council supported this Bill last week, I have great pleasure in endorsing it.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
I, like other hon. Members, join in welcoming the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in bringing forward this Bill. There have, as we all know, been many questions during the last few months in this House on the scandalous and unhappy state of affairs which undoubtedly exists in certain parts of Scotland and has made the Bill very necessary. My right hon. Friend obviously represented the view of Members of this House who are interested in Scottish affairs and who represent Scotland when he took the initiative in introducing this Bill. There is no fundamental difference between any of us on the desirability and the necessity for it. There are, undoubtedly, scandalous instances which could be quoted by any one of us, and doubtless the Secretary of State and the Department at St. Andrew's House have many more than we as individuals could produce. But the evidence is abundant that there are scandalous instances of gross 1274 profiteering on the part of individuals. It is not by any means confined to one class or section of the community. I would like to emphasise that, because it has so often been suggested that profiteering is indulged in by only one particular class of employers or property owners. This Bill is aimed at any section of the community. There is evidence among all classes, even down to the humblest, of scandalous instances of profiteering. The object of this Bill is universal. It is to cripple the black market in the necessities of the people in regard to homes. That a black market exists there can be no doubt. This is the first real attempt to control it, and I, like others, welcome the Bill whole-heartedly.
There are, however, one or two points with regard to the Bill itself which I would like to raise with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, who, I expect, will reply to the Debate, and which I daresay other hon. Members will like to raise if they can catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. I noticed that it is up to the Secretary of State to say whether or not the provisions of the Bill shall be brought into effect in any particular area. In other words, if I have interpreted the Bill aright, I gather that it does not have immediate universal application throughout Scotland as from the date of the passing of the Bill. Each individual county or area has to be scheduled, as it were, by a decree of the Secretary of State that the Bill is applicable to that area, which presumably he will do after consultation with any county, burgh, Member of Parliament or other persons who have evidence to bring about the area. I am not quite happy about that. Why should that be necessary? If it is needed in Scotland, why should it not have automatic application through that country? I cannot see the object of this qualifying Subsection of Clause 1 of the Bill, and I would like the Lord Advocate to give me an explanation, if it is possible to do so. At any rate, I record my dissatisfaction with it at the moment.
I am a little worried about the fact that this appeal from an aggrieved party to the tribunal may occur at any time after the contract for the rent has been fixed and the individual is in residence. That does not seem quite right. Some may argue—and it is an argument I would appreciate—that a wrong is a wrong any- 1275 how and the fact that it was discovered two or three years afterwards does not matter. It seems wiser to give the aggrieved party ample time, say six months or a year, to make his complaint but to leave it for an indefinite period, so that he may be inspired to make it two or three years afterwards when everything has been settled and fixed, seems rather hard luck on the other party to the agreement. It may not be a big point—I do not think it is—but it is a point of justice. There must be some time limit within which an aggrieved party should make his decision to appeal. Do not let the period be entirely indefinite and unlimited.
I am also a little worried, and others may be, too, about the fact that there is no appeal against the decision of the tribunal. I am prepared to agree that the great majority of tribunals will act wisely and justly and, as the Secretary of State optimistically said, will fix a just rent as a result of their decision. But human beings vary in their qualifications, capacities and sense of justice, and these tribunals will not be specially qualified to make decisions of this character necessarily so. Even an advocate is not necessarily qualified. I entirely agree with those hon. Members who have suggested that it is quite unnecessary to make it a sine qua non that an advocate or a solicitor should be chairman of the tribunal. I agree. It ought not to be a sine qua non. No one will expect that these tribunals will be perfect. What I am worried about is that some of them will be imperfect in their decisions, with the best will in the world, because their qualifications are not of the highest, and in these difficult days, when it is hard to find folk, that might well occur in certain districts.
Another thing I am worried about is that decisions will vary considerably from district to district. It is almost inevitable. It is very difficult to get uniformity in these decisions. The decision of one tribunal affecting a rent in one district might be contradicted by the decision of another tribunal in another district. That will cause a certain amount of heart-burning and make an invidious distinction. There is no appeal when the decision has been made, however unfair, unqualified and mistaken it may be. However much it differs from other decisions a short distance away, the decision is final. I would like the Lord Advocate to consider that 1276 point, because that does not seem to be quite right. I have always been a great believer in the right of appeal. We have always had that right against unwise and unfair decisions.
§ Mr. Buchanan
No, we have not always had the right of appeal. For instance, in cases of hardship people may be sent away and may suffer without having the slightest right of appeal.
§ Major Lloyd
Perhaps I did make a sweeping statement, but my hon. Friend, with his strong sense of justice, will, I know, agree that everybody ought to have the right of appeal so far as possible against what is considered to be injustice in the first instance. In this Bill there is no right of appeal at all against a decision which may vary from district to district or which may not be quite fair. I have nothing more to add except to say that I hope the Lord Advocate will consider these points and that we shall have an opportunity of putting down Amendments on the Committee stage.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
I hope hon. Members who do not come from Scotland will pay attention to the fact that the Secretary of State held several disarmament conferences before this Bill came into the House. I attended one myself as a member of a local authority. The Secretary of State makes a practice of disarming all his critics and then producing his Bill. However that may be, I think everyone will agree that the ultimate solution of this problem is an adequate supply of houses and I am realist enough to believe that an adequate supply, despite all that may come from the Government Front Bench, will not be here within the next 15 years. In any case, this is not a problem which is peculiar to the war; it existed in Glasgow long before the war broke out and was caused, in the main, by a scarcity of dwellings. I know it is no use stressing the obvious, but may I point out that on a previous occasion I suggested that there should be a compulsory register and that all persons who desired to let or sub-let ought to register with their local authority their intention to do so? It is no use tribunals chasing people round the countryside either inviting complaints or throwing out suggestions that complaints will be received. If a proper register was kept by the local authority and if it was illegal for persons 1277 to let accommodation unless they were on that register, you would simplify the machinery to a very considerable extent. It is true, as the Secretary of State said, that persons at the moment, under the Rent Restrictions Acts, have protection, but it does not operate, because those Acts are too complicated. Moreover, in industrial areas, in the main, persons do not want to embark on what may be costly litigation. As a consequence the law is being flouted and violated every day of the week where the sub-letting of furnished or unfurnished dwellings takes place.
I am not competent to deal with the legal aspect, but I should like to know whether the machinery set up under this Bill supersedes the machinery of the Rent Restrictions Acts. One of the substantial difficulties has been that the standard rent has never been allocated. My view —and I am not alone in this—is that the basis of any rent charged to a sub-tenant ought to be the basis of the allocation of what the proportion of the standard rent is to the principal tenant. That fixes a definite sum. That sum might be considered excessive, but the fact remains that the landlord would be restricted to the percentage he is entitled to get on that allocation. It is an absurd task to ask the ordinary person to try to understand the complications and formulae about standard rent.
The point about advocates or solicitors being chairmen of the tribunals has been mentioned. There are any number of legal assistants with the local authorities, officers who could be seconded for this work as and when required and who could give legal guidance which may be necessary to the chairman. I agree with other Members that when it comes to a question of determining facts a person who has had intelligent experience of local authority administration is just as good as any legal gentleman. I believe that the majority of people are terrorised when you mention that the legal fraternity have anything to do with a particular Measure.
With regard to the problem of farmed out houses this type might be called "gentlemen farmers" and it was just as serious at one time. I could keep the House for hours with harrowing details which have been brought to my own notice as Convener of the Glasgow Cor 1278 poration Housing Committee. In a small way the Glasgow Corporation have in operation the control of sub-tenancies, because no tenant of a corporation house is permitted to sub-let unfurnished. They are permitted to sub-let furnished. That was imposed upon Glasgow by the influx of population when lodgers were becoming the rule instead of the exception, and, with a view to regularising it, permission was granted, but, in the main, furnished sub-letting is sub-letting of the complete house because the tenant has been evacuated. The terms of the sub-let are laid down by the Department and are communicated to both parties. They are that the sub-tenant of a furnished house meets the overheads, the rent and the rates, and relieves the principal tenant, who has been evacuated, of that responsibility, plus—I do not know of any case where there has been any figure higher except in exceptional circumstances—10 per cent. for the use of the furniture. I do not say that in some cases that may not appear harsh. All I am trying to indicate is that this thing can be controlled effectively and that aggrieved sub-tenants would be more confident in approaching the local authority, if the terms of the let were not being adhered to, than in going to an outside body. I hope the Secretary of State will give serious consideration to compulsory registration with the local authority of all persons who intend to sub-let furnished or unfurnished.
§ Mr. Francis Watt
(Edinburgh, Central): I generally find myself able to congratulate the Secretary of State on the various Bills that he brings forward, and I am pleased to say that this case is no exception. There has been for some considerable time what may plainly be described as a ramp in the letting of furnished houses and apartments. I am glad to know that shortly we shall have a remedy. It may be that there have been certain protections in the case of houses belonging to corporations, such as that mentioned by the hon. Member who has just spoken, where it appears that to some extent the Glasgow Corporation have certain powers to restrict the misuse of sub-letting, but in the main there has been no protection whatever, and the instances that have been given by the right hon. Gentleman show that there is a very great need for such a Measure as this. I cannot say, 1279 speaking from a legal point of view, that I see very much the matter with the Bill. I think it is a very good Bill. With regard to the proviso in Clause 9, it seems to me that, unless you have some sort of definition as to what is meant with reference to rent, it will be very easy for unscrupulous landlords or landladies to evade the Act altogether, I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman could have done other than make the provision he did. The point that strikes me as a lawyer is this: First of all, we are dealing with an emergency. We have to get quick results and to get tribunals able to give quick remedies; therefore to some extent it was probably necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to say, "I am not so much considering the question of an appeal from a Tribunal but, first of all, get a decision." Of course, every case may not be like these atrocious cases that have been read out. There are borderline cases when both sides may think they have something to say for themselves and, broadly speaking, if you have no appeal, everything turns on the various tribunals which the right hon. Gentleman sets up. I do not doubt that his intention is to get the best people possible; therefore there would be really nothing very much to appeal about. In Scotland we have appeals and appeals. We have what is known in the criminal law as the appeal on a stated case. No more useless form of appeal can very well have been thought out, because you have an appeal in law, but the man who decides the facts says to himself if he knows his decision is going to be appealed against, "If I Stated the facts as they ought to be stated, I might look a bit of a fool, so I am going to state them to make myself look as little of a fool as I can." Time and time again I and my brothers at the bar have landed ourselves against a stone wall because we could not get a fair statement of facts from the sheriff or magistrate.
Would the hon. Member explain further? Do I understand that he is criticising the Bench of the country?
§ Mr. Watt
I should be far from doing anything of the kind. I was speaking rather of our methods of appeal and saying that, great and good as the Bench undoubtedly is in every department, human nature remains the same, and it 1280 would be unnatural to expect a man to state a case as badly as it could be stated against himself. An appeal of that description would not be very much good in this case, because the whole matter is one of fact. The question what the rent should be in any particular circumstance is a question of fact, and therefore eminently suitable for the people to hear the case in the first instance and see the witnesses and decide. Accordingly, if you are to have an appeal that is worth while, it needs to be an appeal where the evidence is before the appellate tribunal, and it should not be restricted to a question of law. At the same time I am inclined to agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) that it would be better to make sure that we are not inflicting any injustice on anyone and that we should have some sort of provision for an appeal, but the evidence should be before the appellate court. Do not let us have this travesty of justifying an appeal on a question of law alone. But the whole matter comes to this. Whether you have an appeal or not, you must have a really first-class tribunal. It is no good for any tribunals to decide anything so far reaching as this question of furnished rents in connection with a Bill which is going to carry us a long time ahead unless they are composed of the best possible people.
That brings me automatically to say this. I noted what the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) said about the intricacies of rent restriction. This is not quite so intricate a Bill as some, nevertheless it seems to me that the whole matter is not one which the ordinary business man, or tradesman if you will, is really trained to deal with. It requires the mind of someone who has had an expert and practical training in legal matters. I certainly say, from no selfish standpoint, that in the interest of justice, and in fairness to all parties concerned, where it is at all possible you want a chairman of one of these tribunals who has legal experience. I know that it has been customary, particularly in Glasgow, to cast aspersions upon the usefulness of the legal profession, although a year or two ago various individual members of the Corporation were, no doubt, grateful for expert legal assistance, and from time to time members of the public generally have found that in the hour of need a friend of the legal pro- 1281 fession is sometimes a friend indeed, and they were generally delighted to pay him before the case started, though sometimes not so delighted when the case finished, but on the whole I have never yet heard that in criminal law the legal profession was regarded as unnecessary. In questions where you have to look through Statutes and wonder what it all means, and where you have not got the right hon. Gentleman always here with his lucid explanations to tell you exactly what they mean, I think the legal profession is of assistance, and, accordingly, I say that the provision regarding the chairmanship should certainly stand, subjected it may be to some modification, because perhaps in the far West it might be difficult to obtain a chairman with the qualifications. But again it all comes down to this: If you have not a great many appeals you could get completely impartial and unbiased men from the East who would with pleasure go to the West of Scotland and see how the landladies in North Ayrshire and Bute are getting on. It is a nice part of the country and there is no need to worry about legal assistance.
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
I particularly referred to solicitors, who are overworked, and not to advocates, who are not.
§ Mr. Watt
I do not regard myself as an underworked man, and most of my colleagues think they have enough to do, but, if there are underworked solicitors—I have not yet met one in the East—it might be a good thing to get them into training and operating in the West of Scotland, and on the other hand if you have overworked solicitors, if you can make the conditions reasonably attractive, I believe they will find time to do a little more work and come and help the West of Scotland out of its difficulties. But, seriously, I think you will find that you will get economy of time and much more satisfactory results if you employ legal aid. May I give one instance from my own previous experience of the sort of thing that happens where you do not have legal assistance in matters of this kind?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
I hope the hon. Member is not going too much into reminiscences.
§ Mr. Watt
All I wanted to say was that you may well find that the mind which is not trained according to the laws of evidence picks up some point which is not 1282 evidence and makes it a subject matter of the beginning of a case against a member of the public, and there should be proper guidance from one of these tribunals. In this Bill where such questions as what is a fair rent has to be decided, expert guidance is certainly wanted. Accordingly, unless any strong argument is advanced to the contrary, the Bill should stand.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I wish to say something on this Measure, because it to a large extent affects the Division I represent. Parts of the City of Glasgow are faced with a serious situation, particularly those parts that used to have what are described as good residential property. In those parts where there were large houses the position has become very acute in recent years. The problem had developed before the war and it has developed further since. Even if it were only for discussion of the problem I would welcome the introduction of this Bill, but no one would say that it presents the golden rule for getting over the difficulties of the situation. The Bill does make some attempt to deal with what is admitted on all hands to be a very difficult problem.
I am not going to discuss Committee points like the question whether the legal profession is the best to be on the tribunals or not. That is a point that can best be dealt with in Committee. Sometimes I have sympathy with the legal profession and at other times I feel that they are about the worst possible bodies. After the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Watt) has spoken I would not give a legal man a place. Yet in the old days, when we had Lord Cooper and legal men of that type in this House, one had a feeling that they contributed something of great importance to a discussion apart from just the legal merits of it. When one goes to hardship committees which are confined almost exclusively to the legal people who preside, one often comes away with a bitterness towards them. I would remind those who attack the legal profession of the recent Hereford case where it was not the legal profession that put them into the mess but the legal profession that took them out of it. One can feel great pride in the legal profession when it defends us against injustice, such as it did in that case. One cannot make 1283 generalisations in these matters, however. We have to deal with the circumstances and I feel open-minded on the issue. I am not an enthusiastic believer in the amateur judge. The Hereford case does not make one too proud of amateur people.
One weakness of this Bill has not been touched on. The machinery is too cumbersome. What I want in connection with a Bill of this kind is some protection for the tenants against eviction, which is their greatest dread. The great fear of these people is that if they make a stand against injustice, they will be thrown out of their houses. If they have protection against eviction without the consent of the court, I am positive that most of the rack renting would disappear. The public have access to the court and if a person is able to go and say that he is to be evicted because he has complained that he is charged an extortionate rent, and proves it, I am certain that the court would see that no eviction was granted. The right hon. Gentleman agrees that that is a real danger, but says that two steps have been taken to meet it. One is that the local authority have power to billet, and the second is that they have power to requisition houses. That is a very cumbersome machine. The kernel of the Bill is not whether a lawyer should be on or not. It is how the tenant is to be protected. It is no use saying to a person that his rent will be safeguarded if he is left open to the greater danger of eviction. A person may complain that he is paying 16s. a week for a shocking place, as most of these places are. We sometimes talk about slums, but slums are nothing to them. I can picture a terrible slum in my Division but it is nothing to these places, because even in a slum, when a person goes in and locks the door, the house is his. In these other places there may be eight different rooms occupied by eight different families and not even a lock on the doors. There is no decency or privacy. If one of the tenants says, "My rent is extortionate, I am going to complain," the moment he whispers that, the moment he says it as a piece of gossip in the Co-operative store or a shop, the owner or the person who lets the house knows and the tenant is turned out.
What protection is there under this Bill? The right hon. Gentleman says there will 1284 be power to billet, but that is no use, because the tenant is out before proceedings are taken. It is a dreadful thing to see these people turned out. I have seen them. I have a great regard for our sheriffs and the courts in many ways for they defend these people, but this is what is happening. You may go down a street in the morning and suddenly see furniture flung into the street. It is a terrible sight. The power to billet will not meet the individual case. The individual will take no step if it is going to endanger him and his family. The other points we can argue out in Committee as Scotsmen usually do with a fair amount of commonsense and reason, but this eviction business is the kernel of the matter. You leave the right to fling out the tenant, but there is little protection for the person who complains.
§ Mr. Johnston
I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend's point of view, but will he tell me what is the delay that he envisages in the Act of requisitioning?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Let me try to state a simple case. Take the instance of a street like Abbotsford Place in Glasgow. A woman is paying 16s. a week for a terrible place with no bath or anything. She says that it is a terrible rent and that she is going to the town council to get them to start a complaint. The landlady knows about it, because people talk. Women in these circumstances talk and it is a good thing that they do. The next day the woman finds that she is turned out. Her remedy then is to go to the town council or to the Secretary of State and say, "I have been put out because I threatened to complain," but in the meantime she is without a home. It is no remedy to her for property to be requisitioned after she is on the street. It may be a remedy for somebody in the future, but it is no remedy for that person.
There is one other point which was touched on by the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd). The local authority as I understand it have power to take the initiative in setting up these courts, but the Secretary of State if he cares can settle the matter after consultation. It seems to me that it would be 1285 better if we merely said that the Secretary of State should set up the courts. If they are necessary, they should be set up throughout Scotland. If I have spoken somewhat heatedly about the right of eviction it is because I think it is the only issue in the Bill worth discussing. If a woman, particularly, thinks her children may be turned on to the streets she will do anything rather than risk complaining, unless she is given protection. We must protect her and her children, and unless we can do it in some other way than by this cumbersome way of billeting I do not think the Bill will be the success we want it to be. I appeal to the House and to the Scottish Office to give protection against evictions.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
I should like to underline, what the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has just said. I do not want to be thought to be in any sense ungrateful to my right hon. Friend for what he has done, nor do I want it to be suggested that I do not understand how intricate the matter is, because in my right hon. Friend's own phrase it is a manifold and difficult issue. But I know that my right hon. Friend cannot get beyond the position that the necessity for the Bill rests upon the scarcity of houses. People are only willing to pay the sub-rents which my right hon. Friend seeks to control because of the fear of which the hon. Member has just spoken. Unless we can remove that fear I do not think the Bill will control these sub-rents. There are several possible loopholes in the Bill. I take a little pleasure in saying that I am no lawyer. I so often find myself in conflict with my hon. Friend for one of the Edinburgh Divisions who dealt with the provisions of the Bill that I should be discourteous if I did not take this opportunity to say that I agree with him in the eloquent plea he put up, only on this side of the House we usually dismiss that eloquence with a simple phrase: we call it "trade union solidarity"; and even when I disagree with the grounds of the argument I should always have respect to such an honest opinion so eloquently uttered. There are several points on which I hope the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply will give us some guidance before we come to the Committee Stage. The hon. and gallant Member for North Ayr and Bute (Sir C. MacAndrew) has already 1286 referred to sub-section (2) of Clause 9. It contains a curious phrase:Unless the value of such board to the tenant forms a substantial part of the whole rent.Why does it not say "the price of the board," if that is what is means? Why the word "value"? I suggest that if a tenant-in-chief has two possible subtenants in a queue—and in the districts where this tribunal will operate there will not be two but 20 or possibly 200 in the queue for each sub-tenancy—he will say to them: "The rent in the register is Ins. but I am prepared to offer a cup of tea in the morning; will you two make an offer for the price of the cup of tea?" Of course, that is an oversimplification of the position, but it is an indication of what would occur in my Division, or in that of the hon. Member for Gorbals, because people are desperate for a room. What is the law officer going to say if the rent is 10s. and the seven cups of tea per week, of no determined strength, without sugar and without milk, are to be listed at 7s.? Is that a legal charge? Apparently the tribunal is not asked to say what should be charged for the food, the phrase being "the value of such board to the tenant." The tenant himself might go before the tribunal and in an effort to retain the accommodation say, "I do not consider I am being over-charged." What would be the position if the local authority initiated an action and the tenant-in-chief brought along the sub-tenant, whose only concern is to save himself from being put into the street, to say, "I do not think I am being over-charged for the tea"? I take it that my learned Friend will have to say that it would not be within the competence of this tribunal under Subsection (2). I have had private conversations with my hon. Friend on this subject and still I am not clear what is meant by Clause 2, and I would not raise it if it were not important to try to establish what will be within the jurisdiction of these tribunals.
Sub-section (1, a) of Clause 3 says:On account of rent for those premises in respect of any period subsequent to the date of such entry, payment of any sum in excess of the rent so entered.What troubles me is that the tribunal may fix a rent and the tenant-in-chief may go back to the sub-tenant and say "Out.
1287 Our contract is finished." He may then either add or remove a stick of furniture, and, as I understand the answer given by my right hon. Friend, he may eventually be brought back to court, though it is not obligatory to go back immediately. He may also say to the sub-tenant "Are you prepared to pay an additional 5s. for this additional chair?" and if he is not he will get another sub-tenant who will pay. Under Sub-section (2) of Clause 7 there is another difficulty to which my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) has referred. How is the tribunal going to prove what secret agreements there may be unless the sub-tenant is prepared to give evidence; and I say, and I am sure my right hon. Friend does not disagree with me, that if the position is desperate enough in any neighbourhood the sub-tenant will go before the tribunal to give evidence in favour of the tenant-in-chief? My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals said that if a woman dared to speak in a shop or in a queue and her statements filtered back to the tenant-in-chief there would be an eviction. Frequently it will be found to be the wretched and horrible truth that the person who went to the tenant-in-chief to say that the tenant was complaining was some poor, desperate wretch who was trying to elbow another equally desperate woman out of her sub-tenancy.
I cannot stress too strongly how dreadful the position is, and I do not think I need do so, because it is this position which has driven the right hon. Gentleman to bring this Bill before the House. He seems to make two replies to this point—one I take second-hand from the hon. Member for Gorbals. He apparently assumes that local authorities have the power to billet. I am afraid that I do not know of this. I know the local authority has power to billet if a person has been dispossessed of a home through being bombed out even though it apparently does not put that power into operation for a sub-tenant bombed out, but it is quite new to me to learn that the Scottish Office are billeting. It is equally new to me to learn that the Scottish Office are prepared to requisition. I know of no case in which the Scottish Office has done it.
That is quite a different matter and I think I have a right to ask some questions. If the Ministry have the power to requisition why has this mess arisen? My right hon. Friend delegated to local authorities the right to requisition, and we were grateful when he did so, but it has not worked, and he knows that it has not worked, because the local authority represents local people. In my own Division, and this is not an isolated experience, the local authority have proposed to requisition this or that house which my right hon. Friend has approved as suitable, but the owners or tenants-in-chief have a right to appear before the local authority, and the local authority an elected body, had to safeguard their position, and the requisitioning of several approved houses was never proceeded with. I have not explored this new position, because until the Debate started I had not heard the suggestion that the Ministry could requisition. If they can requisition is there not a possibility of my right hon. Friend requisitioning and then asking the tenant-in-chief to act as his agent at an agreed rent, as a rent fixed by the tribunal? I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, who knew he had these powers, has not explored the position.
No, but my right hon. Friend, with his usual zealousness—and I do not mean anything other than I say—has gone to great lengths to try to ensure that this Bill shall be passed. He has been engaged in consultations on the subject for four months now, and I congratulate him on the pains he takes, but it is no reply to my suggestion to say that the Bill is not yet passed. My right hon. Friend knew he had these powers, but I can say without undue vanity, though I have kept abreast of this subject, that this is the first time, I think, that he has disclosed to the House that he had these powers. Am I wrong?
§ Mr. Johnston
There is no mystery about it. The policy up to now has been to delegate these powers to local authorities. The power of requisitioning has been given to Ministers of the Crown, and it may be exercised by Ministers of the Crown, but up to now powers have been delegated to local authorities.
My experience drives me to the conclusion that there would have been more requisitioning if the Ministry had operated these powers, because of the difficulties in which local authorities have found themselves. The second point is not a matter of opinion but a matter of fact. I think, therefore, that my right hon. Friend might have considered how he could marry that power to this Bill. It does not seem any protection to the sub-tenant who is out on the pavement to know that the local authority may then requisition. It would have been a very great and a much bigger deterrent than the £100 fine if that power had been embodied in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman should have inserted in the Bill the obligatory operation that, wherever such an offence took place and was proved, not by the cumbersome process of law, but by simple appearance before a tribunal. The Scottish Office in these circumstances would then requisition that property. That would have been a sufficient deterrent and would lead the subtenant to believe that he had a protection, which, I say, he does not enjoy under the Bill. Obviously, I would not oppose the Bill but I hope that I have made plain my point of view. I know the difficulties with which the Secretary of State for Scotland has wrestled, but I would be dishonest if I did not say that I think the Bill leaves such loopholes that unscrupulous owners or tenants will find a way through it, that there is no protection for the sub-tenant and that the Bill will therefore fail in its main object of protecting him.
§ Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)
I do not intend to say very much, as most of the points I had in mind have been dealt with. I think the Bill will do some good. I am not going to find fault with the Secretary of State for Scotland for trying to remedy an evil simply because he does not at the same time do other things that I may want even more. The passing of the Bill will prevent people from overcharging so much by the fear that they may be brought before a tribunal. I hope that the Bill will have a good effect. I recognise that it is difficult to legislate for everybody who tries to cheat. Some of us were beginning to hope that human nature was getting a little better, but it does not look very much like it when we are presented with 1290 such a picture of demoralisation in the carrying-on of property. The landlord exploits the builder, and the builder exploits the tenant, and now we have a picture of the tenant exploiting other tenants. It all puts me in mind of the story of the parasites, one living upon the other until we got down to the very lowest stage.
The demoralising part of it is that people do not seem to do anything unless they can get a profit out of it. I agree that in one respect the position in housing may be made worse by limiting the profit that a man can take when he lets off part of his house. If they do not make a profit, a good many people just will.not let at all. Even the power to requisition will not affect the matter. Many of these people are already living in disgraceful and overcrowded conditions. I know some of the houses to which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) referred. They are big old-fashioned houses whose population went west. They were left pretty derelict. There is another class of persons who live in a two- or three-apartment house. They let one of the rooms and are content to pig it in the kitchen. If you say to them, "You are only to charge 5s. for the room when you let it," those people will probably not think it worth while to let the room, and they will turn the people out with no place for them to go. The question of requisitioning is not quite a simple matter. You could not requisition those houses, whose occupants should not be allowed to take people in if they were living under normal conditions. Again, you cannot requisition one house simply because the occupiers had been letting before, without requisitioning all the other houses, including those where people are living in a four-five- or six-apartment house. Before people can be given any security the question of requisitioning must be gone into on a wider basis.
It was a mistake to limit requisitioning to the local authority. I am always in favour of giving power to local authorities, but there are not many houses in Glasgow that could be requisitioned, because most of them are let up. Glasgow Corporation have no power to requisition the houses outside their boundary, and local authorities outside the boundary may not desire to have undesirable Glasgow people coming into their areas. The Scottish 1291 Office will have to take different methods, and make the Bill wider.
On the question of children being refused, I am the last person in the world not to have consideration for children, but after all, if somebody lets one room in a house to a couple, that is very different from letting it to a family. We ought to have some consideration and not force a family into a part of a house. I read in a Glasgow paper where a woman was complaining that the landlady of the room she occupied objected to her child making a noise in the middle of the day because the landlady's husband was on a night shift and slept through the day. After all, the man has to have his rest. The whole thing is wrong and follows upon families living in a divided house. There was a case of a young couple who took a room. A baby was arriving, and the young woman was told she would have to go. I was very sorry for the woman, but I could see the landlord's position. The whole thing comes back to the shocking shortage of houses. Something more drastic will have to be done. We may have to commandeer all the houses in existence and space the rooms out, as they do in Russia. I hate it myself, because I do not like to share a house with anybody, but I think that something further will have to be done in that connection. I realise the difficulties of the Secretary of State, but this is not the worst evil in Scotland. Instead of starting with the sub-tenant, it would have been better to have started at the top and to have dealt with the landlord, who is the chief criminal so far as housing is concerned.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Last week the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), supported by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), raised a very important question on Scottish housing but received very little satisfaction. I think every intelligent Member in the House, and I believe also the Scottish Secretary, is perturbed at the crisis that exists in connection with the evil housing conditions in Scotland and would agree that it is one of the most serious problems facing Scotland. It is at the bottom of many of our problems of health, such as tuberculosis. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) said that the Secretary of State for Scotland had a habit of meeting all 1292 kinds of critics and disarming them before he brought in a Bill; the hon. Member does not appear to understand the process. The Secretary of State meets critics of a Bill, and they disarm him in regard to almost everything that he does. As a result, when we get anything from the Secretary of State for Scotland it is already filleted.
Take the proposition he brought in regarding requisitioning. He did so at a time when there was a most terrific problem of refugees who were all crowding into the big cities after the blitzes. He decided that local authorities should have power to requisition, but the authorities where great masses of people were coming in could find few or no houses to requisition, while local authorities with houses to requisition were not troubled with overburdened populations. There are certainly houses in Glasgow that could be requisitioned, but round about upon the outskirts of Glasgow there are any number of big houses that ought to be requisitioned. This matter ought not to be left to local authorities; the Secretary of State for Scotland should requisition every house in the country.
We read in the first Clause of the Bill:Where the Secretary of State is satisfied upon representation by, or after consultation with, the council of any county or burgh.he may do certain things. What does that mean? In my copy of the Bill I scored out those words. I am of opinion that the Clause should say that when the Secretary of State for Scotland is satisfied that it is expedient, provisions of that kind should have effect in any area, consisting of the whole or part of any county or burgh and so on. The Secretary of State should get on with the job. Never mind about making a consultation. There is not a county council, city council, or town council anywhere but this principle should be put into operation right away. In every part of Scotland this power should be operated by the Secretary of State. Every area should be brought under the Act.
I am not going to criticise the law courts. It is true that in many cases, particularly on appeals, you get very fair judgment from the law courts. I have never had any fair judgment myself, but I know others who have. What happens in the law courts is beside the point. What we are faced 1293 with is the fact that whenever any appeals of any kind are considered we are told that the chairman of the tribunal must be a solicitor. The lawyers have got a grip of everything. They are like some great black octopus, with tentacles everywhere. I do not object to a solicitor being chairman of a tribunal, but what we should lay down is that every chairman of a tribunal should be an honest man. That does not of necessity rule out a solicitor, but to say that the chairman must be a solicitor is an imposition on the people of the country. There is no reason whatever why this special trade union should be able to hold on to all these positions. I remember reading a long time ago in "Old Curiosity Shop" the passage in which a lawyer says to Daniel Quilp, "Give me a glass of water," and Quilp expresses his disdain as he exclaims, "What? Water for a lawyer? Molten metal for a lawyer." The Scottish Secretary seems to believe in molten metal for the lawyers but after it has passed through the mint.
It is quite obvious to some of us that the Secretary of State for Scotland is getting into the evil hands of "our noble families" and the legal fraternity.
§ Mr. Gallacher
That is so. We all remember seeing another right hon. Gentleman standing at that Box. I have never seen anyone expand so much as he did. He seemed to grow before our eyes into such a mighty man. His name was Thomas. The other side sucked him dry and then threw him out. They tell me he is on relief now. I would warn the right hon. Gentleman not to allow himself to be utilised by these very questionable elements in Scotland.
What we are anxious to do, and what the Bill should be concerned in doing, is to provide the very best conditions possible for the masses of working men and women in the big cities. It is always the working men and women who are affected. Surely the Secretary of State, with all his knowledge of the history of Scotland and the part played by the working class of Scotland, will not hesitate to admit that in all questions of this kind some of the very best men to act as chairmen of tribunals would be representatives 1294 of the trade unions or representatives of the co-operative movement who have such close contact with the lives of the working class.
I want to emphasise the point about the scarcity of housing as the basic question, because I want to suggest another change in the Bill. Exception was taken by the hon. and gallant Member for North Ayrshire (Colonel MacAndrew) to the fact that Clause 10 (2) of the Bill provides:This Act shall continue in force until the expiry of six months from the date when the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, ceases to be in force.I cannot understand why that period of six months should be put in the Bill. The Bill is introduced because there are masses of people suffering from injustice. There would be no sense in bringing in the Bill if it was not an effort to remedy that. The injustice arises because there are nothing like sufficient houses in Scotland. Yet six months after the war is over you will go back from justice to injustice. How can anybody justify that? If this Bill represents a measure of justice in a situation where there is the extraordinary exploitation of the needs of families, surely that measure of justice will be required when the war is finished just as it is required when the war is going on.
We have had much discussion outside the House about what is going to happen when the war is over. Some leaders of one or other of the parties suggest, and rightly suggest, that the controls which are so valuable now should continue when the war is over, but others come along and suggest that we want to get rid of the controls and get back to the dear old days of private enterprise as soon as possible. We are to go back to the system that brought us derelict areas, mass unemployment and mass starvation. Here in this Bill we get capitulation to the anti-planners, capitulation to the evil forces that want to see us back where we were when the war started, back to the opportunity for robbery and exploitation. I would like whoever speaks in this Debate to face up to this question. Is it the case that this desperate situation has arisen because of the lack of houses in Scotland? If it has arisen because of the lack of houses, then I suggest to the Secretary of State that the Sub-section which I have just quoted should read something like 1295 this: "This Act shall continue in force until adequate houses have been provided so that exploitation in the matter of rents can be avoided." There is no justification for the machinery of this Measure being withdrawn until the basic cause of the trouble—the lack of houses—has been removed. Therefore I suggest that when we come to the Committee stage the Government ought to accept an Amendment to ensure the continuance of the Act. Like others who have spoken, I give a welcome to the Bill. We will do our utmost to strengthen it in the Committee stage, and I hope that the Secretary of State when we reach the Committee stage will be amenable to reason.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
I should not like this Debate to come to an end without offering my thanks to the Secretary of State for introducing this Bill. It is not the Bill I would have liked to have seen, but it is a step in the right direction if it can at all rectify the unhappy state we have fallen into and put an end to the ramp that has taken place in sub-letting. Like other hon. Members, I am a little concerned about the permissive Clause. It is always a little disquieting to me when legislation is introduced to find that it is provided that where the Secretary of State, after consultation with other people, thinks it is expedient to bring the Act into force he may make an order directing that it shall have effect. We have heard about the property owners of the past. Some of their descendants are not very much better, and many still control the county councils. If it is left to them, they will not ask for the powers that are given in this Bill. Why we cannot have an Act that shall have effect in all burghs and counties it is very difficult to understand.
This sub-letting business is not confined to Glasgow. Whenever Scottish matters are discussed in this House we always hear a lot of talk about Glasgow, as if Glasgow was Scotland. As a matter of fact, I seriously doubt whether Glasgow is in Scotland. At any rate, there is a fairly large part of Scotland outside Glasgow, and I think the most progressive sections of the community are not to be found in that hovel called Glasgow. I live in a part of the country where this exploitation has gone on unchecked for many years before the war. As has been 1296 already stated, housing scarcity has always played into the hands of those prepared to make money out of that state of affairs. The county of Ayr is very attractive, and that fact brings many people to our locality. It is a two-edged sword. First of all it affects the people who come into the county to get rest and health and recreation, because they are exploited by people who have accommodation to offer. That in itself would be bad, but the effect of it is to exploit the people who have to live there permanently. There is nothing so sad as people who have lived for eight or nine months in rooms being informed that they have to get out willy-nilly to make room for the people who are coming, who will naturally be expected to pay more money. So it affects both sections of the community. It affects those who come down and those who are permanent residents in the area. Living accommodation cannot be had in Ayrshire to-day for love, and it certainly cannot be had without a great deal of money. It is a problem which has to be faced very seriously in our area.
The question of housing is of course at the root of the whole business, but I wonder upon what basis these tribunals are to work when they are set up. On what general lines are they to work, what is the scope of their operation and what is the datum line to be fixed with regard to the question of rent? Is there to be any flat-rate rent that the tribunal can fix, or is there to be any general instruction issued as to how they are to work? Otherwise I cannot see how the tribunal is to be the success which it is expected to be in this Bill. And what is to constitute a furnished house or furnished rooms? The most difficult and degrading thing about the whole business is that some rooms which are let as furnished rooms contain no furniture. A bedstead or a wash basin or something stuck in a corner is the way some persons concerned get out of their liabilities under the Rent Restrictions Acts by letting rooms as furnished apartments. Is there to be any amount fixed or any standard fixed, before premises can be termed furnished apartments or a furnished house? On what basis is payment to be assessed for furnished houses? I should like to know whether the Secretary of State could tell us whether a house is to be taken at its value or valuation and 1297 a portion that is lopped off for the subtenant is to be valued in accordance with that principle. Then are you to take the furnishings that are in the house and place a value upon these, so that the tribunal will be able to arrive at some decision as to what should be paid as rent for these sub-let houses? There is nothing in the Bill to guide us. I cannot find any indication in the Bill as to how the thing is to operate. Surely from whoever is to reply we should have some sort of guidance, something that would indicate how these tribunals are to act.
I have heard something said about the powers of requisitioning houses. There has been no attempt made to requisition. At the week-end, I think it was, we saw the results in some of the Sunday papers. I am not sure as to the figures. Powers were given to the Corporation of Aberdeen, I think it was, to requisition, They requisitioned 32 houses that had been unoccupied since the war or certainly after the war began. Immediately notice was given of requisitioning 30 of those concerned came scurrying back to occupy their houses, although they have been probably in. Ayrshire, where we have a good number of evacuees, while retaining houses in Aberdeen. Is this sort of thing to be tolerated, and how in the name of goodness are we to overcome these difficulties other than by a Bill which lays down the fundamentals on which this subletting shall be done?
I have no faith whatever in this statement that the chairman of the tribunal shall be a solicitor or an advocate. It does not appear to me to be a question of law at all but a question of common sense, and if the local authorities are able to get powers to acquire sites, build houses, let houses, fix the rents, conduct the whole business of house letting on an enormous scale, surely out of the ranks of those people can be discovered people who are the type of person able to be chairman of a tribunal such as this. It is not a question of law at all but a question of arriving at a decision as to the fair rent which should be paid for part of a house which has been sub-let. In spite of my criticism, I am glad to see the first steps taken in this Bill, but I hope that when it comes to the Committee stage the Secretary of State will be able to meet many of the criticisms which have been made here to- 1298 day and will be prepared to accept many of the suggestions which have been made in the Debate by hon. Members.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
One thing about which there has been no question to-day is that there has been a ramp, especially during the period of the war, with regard to furnished lodgings or furnished apartments or furnished rooms. It has arisen mainly during the war although, as has already been said, it existed before the war, but before the war it was prevalent only in very well defined areas and for very understandable reasons. But since the war began we have had so much shifting of population from one part of the country to another that there has been overcrowding in certain areas. It is due to the fact that ordinary tenants of houses who would never have troubled themselves with lodgers or sub-tenants in the years before the war either have been induced or have thought it right to allow part of their houses to be used by lodgers or sub-tenants, and we have had during the period of the war charges made for that accommodation absolutely out of all reason.
From what the Secretary of State said in his opening speech to-day I have some doubt as to whether we should allow this Bill, when it comes to the Committee stage, to continue in its permissive form, for a local authority to be able to put this Measure into operation and to set up the tribunal or to allow the local authority after consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland, or the Secretary of State after consultation with the local authority, to set up a tribunal. That would be all very well if this thing of which we complain and for which we are seeking a remedy was limited to special areas in Scotland. The Secretary of State in his own statement drew attention to cases where scandalous rents. were being charged for furnished apartments even in rural areas—and rural areas far removed from industrial areas. If that is the position, if this is going on more or less over the whole of Scotland, I do not see why the right hon. Gentleman should refuse to look at this matter again and see whether there cannot be general application of this Measure, that it should apply to the country generally. I can quite understand the attitude of the Secretary of State if there are areas in the country where it would be absolutely un- 1299 necessary to set up these tribunals, but if as he says these extortionate rents are being charged for furnished apartments in rural areas, it seems to me that the case for either a limited or partial application of this Measure to Scotland is gone and that it should be applied to Scotland generally.
I have listened with considerable interest to the discussion which has taken place with regard to the effects of this Bill on those who are occupying these furnished apartments. It is said that if a sub-tenant complains about the rent that is charged, before that sub-tenant knows where he is, he will be on the street, he will be evicted from these furnished lodgings, and there is nothing to prevent it. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) was very emphatic on that point. The answer the Secretary of State gave was that he had power to requisition property if that should happen. I hope that when the Lord Advocate comes to reply he will face up to this point with regard to the power to requisition. One is required to keep in mind in connection with the house from which that sub-tenant is to be evicted that the tenant is only a tenant of the house and not the owner of the house; the owner of the house is somebody else. It seems to me that the difficulty the right hon. Gentleman will have in requisitioning is that he is to requisition property because of something that a tenant has done, and the tenant has no control over the property at all; the tenant is merely a tenant in that property. He is the cause of the trouble by evicting the sub-tenant, but the property does not belong to the tenant, it belongs to somebody else. I hope the Lord Advocate will tell us how in these circumstances it would be possible to requisition property which does not belong to the man who has evicted the sub-tenant from the house.
The Secretary of State mentioned a case at Rosyth. I hope that the Lord Advocate will be able to clear up the point which I raised. The Secretary of State said that it was a council house. At Rosyth almost all the houses are owned by the Scottish National Housing Council, on behalf of the Admiralty, whose employees have first claim on those houses. It is true that in a very small part of Rosyth there is a number of council houses, and I wonder whether the par- 1300 ticular house to which the Secretary of State referred is in fact a council house or a house coming under the control of his own Department. Because of complaints about excessive rents for sub-lets, the Rosyth Town Council were compelled to change their policy. Before the war they were building houses as fast as they possibly could. They made a rule that there was to be no sub-letting in council houses. Because of the influx of population to Rosyth, they had to change their policy and allow sub-letting. Then came complaints of excessive rents for the sub-let rooms. Some time ago the town council laid it down that not more than 10s. a week could be charged for any room sublet in a council house; so if 25s. is being charged, as the Secretary of State said, I would like to know whether that is going on under the town council or under the Department for which the right hon. Gentleman has some responsibility. At any rate, the town council have done their best to prevent profiteering or exploitation in their houses. Even in my area, although there may not have been many complaints, it is true that there has been a certain amount of extortionate charging for sub-let property, because of the great demand. This shows the difficulty facing a local authority at present, without additional powers. Something more is required, and I welcome this Bill, because it sets up machinery to deal with the situation.
I agree that it is unnecessary to have lawyers as chairmen of these tribunals. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) has said, we have publicly elected representatives of the people on local authorities; and these are not the only people capable of taking part in public life. If, as he says, we have members of our local authorities who can site houses, build houses, equip houses, fix rents and do all the rest of the work in connection with the housing of the people, some of these individuals could become chairmen of these tribunals, especially as each tribunal will have a clerk who, in all likelihood, will have some legal knowledge, and perhaps a knowledge also of building, furnishing, and that sort of thing. I think we can man these tribunals in Scotland with perfect satisfaction in that way. The tribunal will have before it the rent of the whole house, and the first thing it will have to decide is the amount which 1301 ought to be paid for a room in that house. Apart from that, it will have to assess the value of the furnishings. What is there about that which requires a great amount of legal knowledge. It might be necessary in some cases, but I think these tribunals could be well constituted with men and women—because I think a woman would have as much knowledge of the value of furnishings as a man would have—without appointing legal gentlemen. But even if we have to accept the lawyers as chairmen, I welcome this Measure and the setting up of the tribunals, as a means of getting rid of this difficulty. It is a difficulty which may be with us for some time. It is possible that six months after the close of hostilities, or after the Emergency Powers Measures have been withdrawn, we shall have to continue this Measure. We may have,to continue it until sufficient houses have been erected to make sub-letting largely unnecessary. This trouble 'has arisen because populations have been shifted in excessive numbers during the war. Possibly, when the war ends, a large part of these populations will go back or will scatter, but if they remain where they are we may have to keep the Measure in operation for much longer than is proposed in the Bill. That is a matter to be considered when the time arrives. I welcome the Bill; and I hope that, in Committee, the Secretary of State will be prepared to consider reasonable Amendments, and that we shall get an instrument to rid us of this grievance which has troubled so many of our people in Scotland for such a long time.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. J. S. C. Reid)
Many hon. Members have said that the reason for the necessity of this Bill is the shortage of homes. That is perfectly true, and there is really no satisfactory solution except the provision of new houses in adequate numbers. But that will take a long time. We must do something to cover the intervening period. Every hon. Member who has addressed the House to-day has agreed that we must do something; we cannot leave things where they are. One or two hon. Members have suggested that parts of this Bill go rather too far, but on the whole the criticism has been that we have not gone far enough. The reason is that we had to consider whether it was better to make an elaborate 1302 and comprehensive scheme or to introduce the simplest possible scheme and to get it through in the shortest possible time, covering up the obvious loopholes, but not trying to be too elaborate. Wisely, I think, we chose the latter alternative. We have produced the simplest Bill which seemed to be at all adequate to meet the situation. Most hon. Members have agreed that we could hardly have done anything else. Therefore, I do not think I need take time to-day in saying anything about the general principles of the Measure; I will restrict myself to answering specific questions put forward in the Debate. I shall take them, as far as I can, in the order in which they were asked.
The first was from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Ayrshire (Sir C. MacAndrew). He asked, "Why do you fix a time limit of six months after the emergency period?" The answer is that that was the time limit fixed in 1939 for the Rent Restrictions Acts, and that it highly desirable that when a review of those Acts is made—and hon. Members are aware that a Committee is being set tip for that purpose—those Acts and this should come to an end together, so that the future, whatever it may be, of this whole chapter of legislation may be considered as one. A great deal has been said about the desirability or otherwise of having lawyers as the chairmen of tribunals. My right hon. Friend has been impressed by what has been said during the Debate, and by representations which he has received, and we are prepared to look into the matter with a view to introducing an Amendment making it possible to appoint any properly-qualified person to the office of chairman. I have no doubt that a good many of the chairmen will be lawyers, appointed on their merits, but I think there is a good deal to be said, particularly in respect of outlying areas, for not being too limited in the choice of chairmen; therefore, these suggestions will be very sympathetically examined, and an Amendment may be proposed. Then came the only two suggestions that the scope of the Bill might be slightly narrowed. Both came from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Ayrshire. One was about board, and the other was that not all types of lessee should get the benefit of this legislation. It would be so difficult to distinguish between one lessee and another that we see no possibility of, and no justice in, making that distinction.
1303 On the question of board, I would say a little more. The present scheme—which we think is the right scheme—in Clause 9, is broadly that where a substantial amount of board is provided by the landlady, there should be no control. Control in such circumstances would be extremely difficult. But where either no board is provided or only an insubstantial amount, there should be control. That is the meaning of the Clause as it stands. It is asked, what is the meaning of "insubstantial"?
§ The Lord Advocate
I was just coming to that. The next question is, What is meant by insubstantial, and who determines it? It is determined by the tribunal, if it comes before them. How do they determine it? People generally know whether they have had a substantial meal or not. You have to look at what has been happening during the let, since it began. It may have been going on for weeks or months. The tribunal will be informed what, day in day out, the landlord or landlady has provided. Is it early morning tea, or breakfast or supper, or what is it? There is no question of the parties being able to put a price upon it. The committee, as sensible men and women, will say, "We have heard the kind of meal it is. What is this, broadly speaking, worth to the tenant? What would be a fair value to put upon it from the tenant's point of view?" You compare that with the rent for the week and decide whether the amount to be attributed to board is a substantial proportion. I do not think that we should lay it down whether the percentage should be 7, 10s, 12 or 20 per cent., but leave it to the commonsense of the tribunal to say whether in their view such and such a value which they attribute to the board from the tenant's point of view is or is not substantial compared with the whole rent. No doubt people with commonsense will decide that without any difficulty.
§ Mr. Gallacher
This is rather a dangerous point. Is it the amount of food or the amount of charge that is made that is to determine whether it is substantial?
§ The Lord Advocate
I thought that I specially made it clear. The amount of charge has nothing to do with it. It is the amount of food and the value of the food to the tenant. What the tribunal has to do, having acquainted itself with what is generally provided, is to say, "What would be the value of this to this tenant?" You cannot get it down to the nearest sixpence but you can decide the broad view of the question.
Why then use the word "value"? I see the difficulty, but why should we not have the amount or the number of meals rather than the value? Surely, if it is value, the court is going to say what sum is spent on food?
§ Mr. Mathers
Is it not that the Lord Advocate is saying that in fact the taking of rooms at the seaside, with board included, for a week or a fortnight in summer-time is practically excluded from the provisions of the Bill? That, I understand, is what he is saying.
§ The Lord Advocate
Certainly, if there is full board provided, there can be no doubt at all. Nobody would say that that was not substantial. Probably if it was half-board, the value of that would be substantial in comparison with the amount of rent. Accordingly, most houses of the character of summer-letting are excluded by reason of the board from the Bill but when you come to border-line cases of the kind the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) has in mind the word "value" is the best word to use. We want to get away from prices fixed by the parties which may be fixed with an ulterior object. The landlady may want to put up the apparent value by putting up the price and thereby getting the let outwith control. What we want to do is to get down to the facts of the situation. It is not the amount of food, the weight of it or the number of loaves of bread but the value of the food which is the true criterion, and the value not for the landlady but to the person who is going to eat it. Accordingly, it seems that this is the best way of getting down to the real facts and seeing whether it is a furnished let or a let with board.
The next question was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) and also by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). How do cases come before the tribunal, 1305 and on whose complaint? It is made clear in Clause 2 that either the lessee or the local authority can raise the matter. A diligent local authority is in a position to hear a good deal through its officers about what is going on. I have no doubt that a very large proportion of lets at extravagant sums will one way or another come to the knowledge of the local authority if the local authority chooses to keep its eyes and ears open. We think that that is a proper method of approach to the tribunal. That raises another matter. Why do we take the local authority with us in the initial stage in Clause I before making an Order? It is because in this, as in so many other matters, if the local authority is co-operating, the Measure is likely to work well. If the local authority does not want the Measure in its area, it is not at all likely to work well and probably not worth extending to the area in such circumstances. If the local authority does not like the Measure it is not going to put up complaints.
§ Mr. Stephen
Does that mean that the people in the particular area are to have no protection because they happen to have a reactionary local authority?
§ The Lord Advocate
No, Sir, my right hon. Friend has the responsibility to make an Order, but he must consult the local authority. The attitude of the local authority seems to be an important and relevant consideration in weighing up the pros and cons of putting the control into operation.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) raised the question of whether complaint should be allowed a long time after the parties had gone into occupation. That would be inevitable in the case of existing tenancies. Unless you are to rule existing tenancies out of the scope of the Measure altogether, you cannot put a time limit on the complaint. A complaint can only occur when the Bill becomes an Act, and we do not see any reason for excluding a case of overcharge merely because the bargain has been going on for a long time. That being so, there seems to be less reason for putting on any kind of time limit with regard to future bargains. We are not at all convinced that that would be desirable.
With regard to the question of an appeal from the tribunal, as I said a few 1306 moments ago we want to have the simplest possible scheme, and an appeal would certainly complicate the scheme very materially. We do not think that it is the kind of position on which an appeal would be of very great value. Let us say that the Tribunal's figure for rent was 30s. and that the appeal on one side would be for 35s. or, on the other hand, that it should be 25s. It is not a question of reversing a Court's decision but of modifying, and probably only slightly, the figure reached by the tribunal in the first instance. The tribunal to which an appeal would have to be taken would necessarily be a tribunal less well acquainted with the conditions in the neighbourhood, and if the appeal tribunal had to inspect for itself, the amount of travelling it would have to undertake would be very great indeed. I am not a bit worried by the fact that there may not be uniformity. The tribunal will judge of the circumstances of the case, and one of the circumstances certainly will be the average of rent in that particular area. I am sure that there are different levels of rents in different areas in Scotland for similar accommodation. Therefore, there will not be complete uniformity in this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) wanted a compulsory register. We want simplicity, and to build up a compulsory register in present circumstances would be an elaborate and long business. It may turn out to be that further steps are necessary in order to achieve satisfactory results. This Bill is not necessarily the last word, but we prefer to go at a rate which we think we can manage rather than introduce rather elaborate legislation which may cause more embarrassment. Certainly we cannot amend or overrule the Rent Restrictions Acts in this Bill, but we are trying to deal with the cases which do not come within the scope of existing control. We did not adopt the remedy suggested by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) of giving security of tenure largely for this reason. If a person, when letting furnished premises, and particularly part of a house, knows that the tenant may get security of tenure, the landlady will be very much less willing to let. Nothing is more likely to dry up the flow of accommodation of this character than the knowledge on the part of prospective lessors that they may be 1307 saddled with a tenant they do not like under security of tenure. Therefore, we do not think that it would be desirable to enact security of tenure in this Bill.
§ Mr. Buchanan
A person may have paid the rent regularly, and then suddenly one morning the landlady may not like the tenant, and the tenant and children may be turned into the street. Is that the only reason?
§ The Lord Advocate
No, I am trying to put forward what seemed to me to be the chief reason. After all, the purpose of all this litigation is to get house room for people who need it. What we must avoid at all costs is dissuading potential lessors from making their accommodation available to lessees. We cannot compel people to let, and if we put so many obstacles in the way of people who do let, we shall dry up the source of house room we have at present, and we must be careful about that. That in itself is a good reason for not adopting security of tenure in this case.
May I suggest that the bulk of cases to whom these tribunals will apply are business sub-lets, cases concerning people who have acquired properties for the specific purpose of subletting? It is a business. I share the Lord Advocate's fears about a tenant who sub-lets almost as a measure of good will. It is not my experience that that type of tenant charges an extortionate rent. It is these business sub-letters. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested that he could requisition, but I suggest that he has not met my point.
§ Mr. Maclean
Suppose a tenant complains to a tribunal about excessive rent, and the rent in thereby reduced. What protection is there for a tenant being allowed to remain in the house and not being ordered out at the earliest moment by the landlord?
§ The Lord Advocate
The first line of protection is that if the landlord does order him out, he cannot get any more from the tenant's successor. You can put out a tenant you do not like, but you can get no financial gain out of it, 1308 and we think that on the whole people will be less inclined to put out one tenant for the sake of getting another at no higher rent. The second thing is power of requisitioning or billeting. If it is found that the person who has taken a house is being turned out unreasonably and improperly it is open to the Secretary of State or, if he delegates his powers to the local authority, then to the local authority to requisition and put the dispossessed person in under those powers. Similarly, there are extensive powers of billeting, and if somebody is put out, these powers may very well fit the situation. I think the hon. Member for Gorbals was exaggerating a little when he spoke of people being turned out on the streets next morning.
§ The Lord Advocate
It does happen, hut it should not happen. It should not happen, because everybody who is a weekly tenant is entitled to a week's notice, and accordingly, although the landlord can if he so desires give a week's notice to go, he cannot under any circumstances put an unwilling tenant out of the door on to the street. That is the point. There is at least a week in which to invoke the assistance of the local authority or the Department.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman know what has happened? Police have pleaded for tenants and have been told to get about their business.
§ Mr. Speaker
We are not in Committee now. We are really debating what might be more suitable for an Amendment on the Committee stage than for a Second Reading Debate.
§ The Lord Advocate
I hope I have made plain the position. I have explained what the alternative protections against eviction are. First, that you cannot profiteer; second, that if you evict unreasonably there are very extensive powers in the hands of the Secretary of State to combat that by requisitioning or billeting. I think further details might be left to the Committee stage.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock asked one or two further 1309 questions. The only one I have not mentioned is one about Clause 3 (1, a). I would like to make it clear that once a rent is fixed by a tribunal and registered in respect of the particular accommodation, that rent cannot be exceeded lawfully without going back to the tribunal for authority. It is no use putting in more furniture or supplying more services. That does not entitle the landlord to take more rent unless he goes back to the tribunal and says, "The circumstances have altered; I want to be authorised to put the rent up." The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) wanted to know about a case that was mentioned. I am told it arose in Townhill, and as far as we know it was a municipal tenant.
§ The Lord Advocate
To be quite honest, I did not quite follow what it was, but I think it was a question of sub-lets, and that the hon. Member was doubting how far sub-lets, unfurnished, were covered by the Rent Restrictions Acts. They are covered by the Rent Restrictions Acts, broadly speaking, unless they are sub-lets of corporation property, which are not covered at all, or are illegal sub-lets. Sublets, under our law, are perfectly legal unless they are prohibited by the lease and accordingly the number of sub-lets not protected by the Rent Restrictions Acts ought to be of comparatively small proportions.
§ The Lord Advocate
Subject to somewhat obscure provisions in the Rent Restrictions Acts about statutory tenants. The last thing I would like to do at this Box is to give an authoritative interpretation of the Rent Restrictions Acts.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for the next Sitting Day.—[Mr. Drewe.]