It appears that through an error an Amendment put down by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) appears under Clause 2 instead of Clause 1. It is accordingly the first Amendment to be called.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I apologise to the Committee for a clerical slip for which my writing may have been responsible. The Amendment which appears on the Order Paper under my name attached to Clause 2 should really have been an Amendment following the first word in Clause 1. Accordingly, I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, after "Where," to insert:after inquiry into the probable effect of this Act upon the supply of furnished apartments to let.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
In view of the fact that the Amendment originally placed on the Order Paper was 207 somewhat loosely taken care of, could I ask the hon. Member to repeat in a louder voice exactly what his Amendment is?
There was a little noise, and I will gladly repeat that the Amendment that I am now moving is to follow the first word in Clause 1, "Where." I suggest that, in considering the effect of this Bill, the first requirement is to assess the size of the problem with which the Bill is intended to deal. In his introductory speech on the Second Reading, the Secretary of State made it plain that the great majority of householders were charging quite reasonable rents for sublet furnished rooms. My right hon. Friend said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1943; col. 1254; Vol. 392.]If the Secretary of State meant what he said, as I am sure he did, and if his statement is accurate, as I have no doubt it is, we are concerned in this Bill with only a very small minority of people, who deserve the censure of Parliament. I do not know the actual figure—it has not been given—and I would like an estimate from my right hon. Friend. But if the total of houses in Scotland where sublets take place is somewhere about 500,000 or 600,000, and if my right hon. Friends says that in hundreds of thousands of cases the rents are fair, there cannot be more than 2,000 or 3,000 cases where other conditions prevail. I do not think I would be far wrong if I said that the number of cases with which this Bill is concerned does not represent more than one-tenth of one per cent. of the total number of houses in Scotland. I am open to correction, but that is my estimate. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) has a better estimate, I will willingly give way. As many of the houses with which this Bill is intended to deal may accommodate three, five or seven sub-tenants per house, the effective percentage may be less than that. The purpose of this Bill is to deal not with householders in general, but only with a minute proportion of the total number of householders in Scotland. In the denunciation of the evil deeds of those people I am in complete accord with my 208 right hon. Friend. The exploitation of defenceless families in the manner described by my right hon. Friend is surely the most cruel and heartless action which any body of citizens could take. I am 100 per cent. with my right hon. Friend in desiring to punish such people. I would go even further than he in exacting punishment, provided—and this proviso is vital—that by punishing that minority you are not thereby inflicting much more severe hardship upon the subtenants immediately affected and upon the hundreds of thousands of other sub-tenants whose only desire is to get a roof over their heads. It is because I am not assured on that point that I move this Amendment.
There is no dispute as to the importance of the issue. Indeed, it is the overwhelming issue with which we are concerned. If by instituting these rent tribunals, and in effect threatening every lessor of furnished apartments with an inquisition into his business, you frighten lessors into declining to let at all, which seems to me to be the inevitable result, you will have dried up the supply of furnished apartments, and your final result will be infinitely more anti-social than the original cause. You will have cured one evil only to replace it with another more cruel. The Secretary of State himself saw that danger. That was abundantly plain from his opening speech, in which he said:The last thing 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1943; col. 1254, Vol. 392.]The Lord Advocate was even more emphatic on this very point. It is worth while reminding the Committee of what he said:After all, the purpose of all this litigation is to get house room for people who need it.The whole Committee would agree that that is a fundamentally true statement. He went on: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1943; col. 1307, Vol. 392.]209 Indeed we must be very careful; and it is to ensure that the Scottish Office is exceedingly careful on this complicated, dangerous topic that I have tabled my Amendment. Apart from the Minister's words on the Second Reading, I can conceive no sign of care or wise consideration in this Bill. It appears to me to be a slapdash effort, distinguished only by its bad qualities. I must really take the Lord Advocate to task. Hon. Members will recall the opening sentences of his speech in winding up the Second Reading Debate. He said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1943; col. 1302, Vol. 392.]
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must point out to him that this is a comparatively narrow Amendment and not one on which we can discuss the general principles of the Bill.
May I be permitted, with respect, to submit that it is not a narrow but a very broad Amendment? The point of it is that until the Secretary of State makes a full inquiry into the whole effect of the Bill nothing should be done under the Bill. Therefore, I would ask permission, at least to consider in relation to it the wider principles of the Measure. I do not wish at all to suggest that the Lord Advocate was inattentive to the Debate on the previous occasion or that he was unwilling to recognise what is the purpose of a Second Reading discussion, but a greater travesty of the facts than that given by him in his speech I cannot imagine. I listened to a good many of the speeches made from the Opposition benches, and I read the reports of others—
I must again point out to the hon. Member that if this discussion is kept on the wider basis on which it is at present, it will not be a discussion of the question of an inquiry, but of the Clause as a whole, and that would not be in Order.
I thank you, Mr. Williams. I am aware of that possibility. I hope I shall not appear to be challenging the decision of the House on the Second Read- 210 ing, but the point which I wish to raise is of immense importance to us in Scotland. It was raised by almost every hon. Member in the course of the previous Debate, and I have endeavoured to put down a constructive Amendment to meet the difficulties which were then indicated. As I say, I listened to or read all the speeches made on the Second Reading, and I can hardly recall a case of a Measure being so very plainly damned by faint praise. There was not a single speech from the Opposition side, not even those of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) or the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), and very few from this side which did not, in effect, denounce the Bill as going the wrong way about the task which it purported to perform. For the Lord Advocate in such circumstances to decline to say anything about the general principles of the Bill was, I think, very strange in view of the number of people in Scotland who are concerned about this Measure.
Let us see how the principles of the Bill, as it is now drafted, and without my Amendment, would operate, and the Committee will be able to judge whether to accept the Amendment or not. I take first the case of the actual subjects, namely the lessees whose rents will be determined by the rent tribunals. If the determination is against a lowering of the rent, then the lessees, clearly, will be no better off and may well be worse off, for this will likely destroy whatever harmony previously existed in their relations with the lessor. Hon. Members know that discord in a small house full of people of different families, may be a hell upon earth for all concerned, and I would not like to be responsible for causing that in houses in Scotland. But supposing the determination lowers the rent, will the lessees, that is the sub-tenants, necessarily be advantaged? I admit a few of them may be, but, for many, a bleak fate lies in store, for sooner or later the lessor will decide that it no longer pays, that it is no longer worth the trouble to let the rooms at the reduced rent.
§ Mr. McKinlay
On a point of Order. If the hon. Member is to be permitted to travel over what was covered in the Second Reading Debate, I submit that other hon. Members should not be ruled out if they seek to answer the points which he persists in raising.
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) has put the Committee and the Chair in a very difficult position, first, by getting his Amendment on to the Paper in the wrong place, and then, when it has been put in the right place, by making what is quite clearly a speech on the main principles of the Bill. The Amendment, as I have already pointed out to him, is limited to demanding an inquiry, and that in no way justifies the hon. Member in trotting out the general principles of the Bill one by one and dealing with them as he is now seeking to do.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
May I ask what is to happen to the hon. Gentleman now? He has his speech written, and how can he depart from it?
I believe it is often the case that a blind eye is turned to hon. Members as regards the use of notes, but perhaps the hon. Member will now be able to continue on the question of holding an inquiry and nothing more.
I do not wish to go beyond the Rules governing the procedure of the Committee, and I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay). But I think we would all agree that I am really dealing now with the main points of the Bill and the main difficulty which we all feel—
That is precisely why the hon. Gentleman is out of Order. He will persist in dealing with the main points and not with the detailed point of his Amendment.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I think it ought to be made clear that on the Second Reading the House decided in favour of tribunals. The hon. Member is now trying to argue against tribunals and is reopening a matter which was decided on the Second Reading.
As far as that point is concerned, obviously this Amendment deals only with the necessity for an inquiry, and the discussion should be confined to that, otherwise there is a danger that we shall find ourselves in a discussion on the general principles of the Bill.
I can only endeavour, Mr. Williams, to keep within the Ruling which you have very properly given to 212 the Committee. I was trying to consider, as is, I think, appropriate on this occasion, what would be the effect of Clause 1 upon—
We are not discussing Clause 1. We are discussing the hon. Member's Amendment and not the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill".
I will put it more concisely. I wish to consider the effect of my Amendment on Clause 1 as now drafted, and the effect of not including my Amendment, which I think would be in Order. I was trying to point out that, as the Clause now stands, the lessees concerned would find themselves in the greatest possible difficulty. There were some cogent and penetrating remarks upon this point by the hon. Lady the Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie). The truth is that unless this Clause is accompanied by a clear provision preventing the eviction of a tenant, it will be impossible to make the Clause work.
Having listened so far to the hon. Member, I am now convinced that this Amendment should never have been called. I will, therefore, now call the Amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher).
On a point of Order. May I take it that I shall be able to raise some of these points on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill"?
Not the points which the hon. Member has already raised. He cannot repeat his speech.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, to leave out from "satisfied," to the first "that," in line 7.
I would put this point to the Lord Advocate. Words that are not necessary can never help a Bill. If they have any effect at all, it is to retard the work that a particular Bill is supposed to do. I suggest that these words are absolutely unnecessary. If you leave out these words, there is nothing to prevent the Secretary of State for Scotland from consulting the local authority, if it should be essential to consult them. To put in words like these and to make representa- 213 tion by or consultation with the local authority obligatory is patchwork legislation which cannot be any credit to the House of Commons. A very strong case is presented to the House of Commons by Member after Member, and as a result the House of Commons is satisfied that tribunals must be set up in particular areas of Scotland. Someone has said to me that the democratic method is to consult the local authorities in matters of this kind. I would reply that this is a form of democracy without any content, and a form of democracy without any content is red tape.
Every Member of this Committee who has taken the slightest interest in this business knows that a tribunal is absolutely necessary. If the Bill were to pass all its stages and a tribunal were to be set up, everybody would be satisfied. What is the sense of suggesting that there should be representations by, or consultations with, the local authority in Glasgow to consider what we all know to be absolutely necessary—the setting up of a tribunal? We get to this position. For instance, the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), who is associated with the housing committee, makes a case for a tribunal in Glasgow, as did another hon. Member from the Glasgow area. The House of Commons is satisfied that the case is made and decides to set up a tribunal in Glasgow. "No," says the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs, "you cannot take a decision to set up a tribunal in Glasgow until you have had consultation with me." That is the idea contained in this phraseology. Suppose I were the Lord Provost of Glasgow—Heaven forbid that I should ever be—and we passed this Bill. Suppose the Secretary of State for Scotland writes me a letter in which he says: "My dear Lord Provost, we have passed the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Bill. Arising out of this Bill permission is given to set up tribunals. I would like to meet you and your Council on Tuesday of next week to discuss with you the desirability or otherwise of setting up such a tribunal in Glasgow." What would I reply? I would say, "My dear Secretary of State, why do you want to waste your time and my time and the time of my Council? I know, the members of my Council know, and you know, everybody in the country knows, that a tribunal is necessary in Glasgow. 214 If you want to consult us come and consult us." If the council of the area represented by the hon. and gallant Member for North Ayrshire (Sir C. MacAndrew) are of the same mind as the hon. and gallant Member, they will not want a tribunal. There is nothing whatever to prevent the Secretary of State, if these words are left out and he considers it necessary, from meeting the council in that area and discussing with them the setting-up of a tribunal, although in that particular area I would not have any consultation at all. I would decide to set up a tribunal and then meet them to discuss the matter.
I was nearly tempted to follow some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). That is the danger of an hon. Member making a Second Reading speech on a Committee point, and I will refrain. All that I want to impress upon the Committee is, that these words serve no purpose whatever. They do not help in any way, and they represent a type of patchwork legislation that can only have a hampering and hindering effect on the local authority. We have the responsibility for making a decision, and let us not hesitate to make that decision. The areas in which these tribunals are required immediately are known to us all and to the Secretary of State. Let us decide that the tribunals must be set up in these areas, and then the Secretary of State can have all the consultations he desires with the local authorities in connection with their personnel and their operation.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
I beg to support the Amendment which has been so ably moved by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and which should not require very much persuasion on my part to get the Secretary of State for Scotland to accept. Nobody knows better than he what we hope to achieve in putting down the Amendment. He knows not only of the area represented by the hon. and gallant Member for North Ayrshire (Sir C. MacAndrew) but of other areas all over Scotland of a reactionary character, and he knows the state of mind he is up against in connection with this Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman does not accept the Amendment, they will find ways and means to retard a tribunal being appointed. We wish the Secretary of State for Scotland to have the power 215 to set up tribunals whether the particular council is willing to accept a tribunal or not. If he found that a council was adamant, it would be easy for him to come to this House to seek power to deal with it. I do not think that that would be necessary. The majority of the people of Scotland, after reading the Debate which took place last week, in which the hellish conditions under which thousands of folk live in Scotland were laid bare, are prepared to back the Secretary of State for Scotland in order to try and get rid of them, and it is in order to strengthen his hand that we ask him to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. McKinlay
I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will not give way. I think that the complete answer is that part of the agitation out of which this Bill has been borne is an agitation carried on by the local authorities. I have no desire to make any reference to the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) at all, but I want to issue this warning. Unless he puts himself into touch with the local authority in an effort to co-operate even in his backward areas, he may find himself in rather an invidious position. It is because the information has been collected that the Bill has made its appearance. As far as the Amendment is concerned, I have been a member of a local authority for 12 years, and this is a local authority problem. It ill becomes anyone who subscribes to the policy of the Labour Party to do anything to take away the functions of the local authority.
§ Mr. McKinlay
My hon. Friend asks, "What functions?". The functions of the local authority in relation to housing and public health. In any case, if the worst happens, there is nothing contained in the Clause as it is printed that prevents the Secretary of State for Scotland "on representation by, or after consultation with" from taking action. It does not necessarily follow that the Secretary of State's action is going to be determined and dictated by the attitude of the local authority. I do not read anything in this that would prevent the Secretary of State from taking action if in his judgment, after consultation and although the representations were all against it, such action were 216 necessary. My view is that the Secretary of State has an overriding authority. It may be true that we have reactionary authorities, but need I draw the attention of Members of the Committee to the fact that, if we have reactionary local authorities, they are the products of the people who put them there, and to destroy the powers and functions of the local authority is no way to achieve the object you may have in view?
§ Mr. McKinlay
I did not interrupt the hon. Member, and I want to say definitely that I hope the Debate will be carried on without any undue offensiveness. I come from the best training school for membership of this House. I am not ashamed to say that it was in the Glasgow Town Council, which no doubt has produced its quota of half-wits as well as county councillors, although that is by the way. All I am asking is that the Secretary of State should not give way to any Amendment which would have the effect of ruling out the local knowledge possessed by the local authorities. Consultations took place before this Bill was framed, but—let me be quite brutal—I think the Bill is an anaemic attempt to deal with a very serious problem, although it does establish a principle for the first time and uses the local authorities in the establishment of that principle. Members should think twice before taking away from local government any of the local authority's functions.
§ Mr. McKinlay
I will tell the hon. Member. We have been up against this for years, and members of local authorities, not confined to any particular party, know perfectly well that this question is linked up with the public health administration of the local authority. It is closely linked up with all the local authority's social activities. For instance, let us assume a Secretary of State of the calibre of one who used to be the hon. Member for Greenock. Supposing—
§ Mr. McKinlay
The difference between us is that I had to deal with him as a housing convenor, and the hon. Member did not.
§ Mr. McKinlay
My difficulty was that without consultation with the local authorities the subsidy under the 1924 Act was withdrawn, and that abortion known as the 1933 Act was substituted, without consultation with the local authorities, and rents fixed at 6s. a week, without consultation with the local authorities.
§ Mr. McKinlay
Without consultation with the local authorities the local rate contribution jumped from £3 10s. to £8 16s. if the houses were built. This Committee ought not to consent to any Measure which would in any way lessen the influence of local government, which is the backbone of our political democracy. Far too many encroachments have already been made on local government during this war. We shall have a big enough struggle to get back what should be their prerogative after the war, and it is because I am jealous of the work local authorities are doing that I hope the Secretary of State will resist this Amendment.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
Like the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay), I hope very much that the Secretary of State will resist this Amendment. I listened with very great interest, and I am sure the Committee did, too, to the entertaining and ingenious speech of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). The hon. Member made great play in protesting his love of democracy and proceeded very ingeniously to endeavour to persuade the Committee that the deletion of these words could be accomplished in a thoroughly democratic manner, that the Secretary of State need have no need for consultation with local bodies, that he could decide by himself and that he could interpret the needs and wishes of the people in various parts of Scotland on this very vexed topic. I am most decidedly of the opinion that if the right hon. Gentleman acted in such a manner, it would not be in the best interests of democracy. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire showed the Committee that the Secretary of State—I myself should have preferred the word "shall" rather than "may"—is more or less 218 bound to have these consultations. If, afterwards, he is not satisfied or convinced by the arguments of the local authorities, he may decide to act on his own initiative and brush away the objections which have been raised. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) referred to North Ayrshire. I take it I shall be in Order in saying that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Ayrshire (Sir C. MacAndrew) voiced the feelings of the people in his constituency the other day. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs referred to reactionary local bodies in various parts of Scotland. He told the Committee that if these local bodies are reactionary, it was entirely the responsibility, or neglect of responsibility, of the electors who sent them to those bodies to interpret their wishes to the community. I know that if the hon. Member and I debated all day, we would never agree as to what local bodies were reactionary and what were progressive.
The reason why I want to see the words retained in the Bill is because in the areas which have been mentioned, like North Ayrshire, we have not the same number of people coming as summer visitors. But we do have a very large number, and it is in that sort of area where there might be trouble if these words were taken out. Indeed, I go so far as to say there would be big trouble. Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Ayrshire, I am not at all happy about the future of these people who let apartments year by year. I want to see their interests safeguarded just as much as the two hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway and the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs want to see the lamentable position regarding furnished houses in towns and industrial districts of Scotland put right. Nobody in the towns or industrial districts need have any fear because these democratic words are in the Bill. I hope the Secretary of State will tell us when he replies that he intends to retain these words in the Clause.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
I want to support the Amendment, and to do so without heat. The speech made by the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) almost led one to believe that he is the only member of a local authority. I have been a member of a county 219 council, not for 11 years, but for 25 years, and I, too, have been able to consider the reactions of the people. It is true that the City of Glasgow has a Labour majority and that to that extent it may be quite easy to fall in with the wishes of the Secretary of State in regard to the problems such as those which are set out in this Bill. It is also true to say that this is a local authority problem, but if the local authorities refuse to work and act, it then becomes a problem for others. The difficulty about the whole matter is that it is permissible instead of being compulsory. There are many Acts on the Statute Book which have never been operated simply because of the permissive Section which has stated that the local authority "may" operate something instead of "shall." The Secretary of State and his Under-Secretaries know perfectly well that that is true. I can quite understand the reason for the friendliness of the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) towards the Secretary of State, because he comes from the most reactionary part of Scotland. If the Bill stands as it is at present, there will never be any requests from his local authority.
The hon. Member says that I come from one of the most reactionary parts of Scotland, but, in the words of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), the electors have hitherto continued to show their trust in their representatives on local bodies and in Parliament to put forward views which he now terms reactionary.
§ Mr. Sloan
The very fact that they have been sent back again is sufficient proof of the reactionary nature of the hon. Member's locality. If the Bill stands as it is, I cannot see that the preference is as great as it otherwise would be it the permissive nature is to remain. Why should it be necessary for discussions with local authorities? The Secretary of State would find it difficult to impose on them a tribunal they did not want. Then you would have claims that you were overriding democracy. The Secretary of State consults with the county council, and they say, "We do not want this, there is no necessity for it. Why should you attempt to impose upon us something that we do not want?" If the Bill is to be of any 220 use at all, the whole question whether the tribunal is to be set up or not should be taken out of the hands of the local authority. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire quotes cases of things which have been done without consultation with the local authorities. Many housing subsidies have been granted and put into operation, and the local authorities have refused to build the houses when they have had the subsidies. If we are again to be driven back to arguing the question with the local authorities, it will detract a great deal from the value of the Measure. I hope the Secretary of State will agree to the deletion of these words in order to make it more waterproof.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
I hope the Secretary of State will refuse the Amendment. I take my stand on very much the same ground as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay). When I came to this House and for many years after I was a member of a county council, and I have always been very jealous of the powers of local authorities being cribbed or confined. I want to see more power in their hands and less in the hands of the central Government. I want to see local authorities consulted by the central Government on many more things than they are consulted on at the moment, and I certainly think, as this is a local government problem, the local authorities ought to be consulted in the setting up of these tribunals. They are not empowered to set them up; it is the Secretary of State who is to set them up after consultation with the local authorities. They are only to be consulted. That does not mean that their opinion will in every case be taken by the Secretary of State; even in spite of them the Secretary of State may come to the conclusion that he is justified in setting up a tribunal, and he is quite right to retain that power in his hands, but he would not set up a tribunal in any area without consultation with the local authority, and in my opinion he has a right to consult the local authority before he sets up a tribunal, whether in a progressive or in a reactionary area. The local authority should be consulted at least. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why, if they are agreed already?"] The tribunal is to be set up for dealing with this particular problem, and the local 221 authority has a right to be consulted because it is a local problem.
Local authorities in many areas have been dealing with it already. In my constituency the town council have dealt with the matter. First of all, they took up the attitude that there should be no sub-letting in council houses, and they prohibited it, but the influx of population became so great that they had to abandon that. Then the question of the fair amount that should be charged for subletting was raised, and it reached such a pitch as to create an outcry, with the result that the town council had to lay down a rule that no room in a council house should be let at more than 10s. a week. The thing has been going on, and something requires to be done, and I welcome the Bill for that reason. The point is a very narrow one. It is whether or not local authorities should be consulted, and I say they have a right to be consulted. I suppose that if these bodies were called local soviets, they would be worthy of being consulted, but because they are town or county councils they are not to be trusted.
§ Mr. Watson
Yes, and evidently the word makes a lot of difference. If a local soviet is to be trusted, I am prepared to say that a local town or county council, even if it is reactionary, has a right to be consulted. I hope the Secretary of State will stand by the Bill as drafted, because without the co-operation of the local authorities the Measure will not be as effective as it might be. We want it to be effective, and undoubtedly it will be more effective if local authorities are consulted both with regard to the setting-up of tribunals and taking an active interest in their work. Clerks will have to be appointed, and I dare say they will be drawn from the offices of the town or county council. More than likely facilities will have to be provided for the meetings of the tribunals, again by the town or county councils. Why the personnel of the tribunals should be more or less drawn from the local authorities or from the local authorities' areas and the local authorities themselves ignored and the whole power retained in the hands of the central Executive, is more than I can understand. I am very jealous of power 222 retained in the hands of the central Government. I want to see more in the hands of the local authorities and less in the hands of the central Government.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken. Unfortunately I have not had the benefit of experience in serving on a local authority, and I am very sorry for it, but I represent an area containing more independent individual local authorities than any other area in Scotland. We have 21 or 22 small burghs, not to mention the county council, and I may as well tell the Committee plainly that if any suggestion such as this were embodied in the Bill for giving the Secretary of State power to come into any of these local authority areas and undertake a Measure of this kind without consultation, the whole of those local authorities would be up in arms against him, and I should be proud to take part in the controversy. There is too much dictation to local authorities by the central authority. I would give the local authorities much more power. I would give Scottish local authorities the same power as is possessed in England, where cases of this kind can be taken to the magistrates, and that would have the same good effect in Scotland as it has had in England. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman does not adopt that course. I sincerely trust that he will stand by the Bill.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
We have had another wide Debate upon a very narrow point, whether or not the Secretary of State should consult with the local authorities in any area before a tribunal is set up. It is not provided that the local authority will have any right of veto on whether a tribunal shall or shall not be set up. That power is vested in the Secretary of State. What is involved is that the Secretary of State shall set up tribunals where he is satisfied that they are required, after consultation with the local authority. I should have thought that the reasons for this provision were pretty obvious. First, I think there is great substance in the fact that the local authorities in respect of some of their functions complain that they are dying the Chinese death by a thousand cuts. I do not think that that is right. I believe that the less centralised bureaucracy and the more local democracy that you can have, the better. We insert this Clause 223 because we want to preserve local democracy in every way we can. We want the aid of the local authorities in carrying out the functions of the Bill. It is not only the suggestions that the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) put up which will require to be considered. For example, there will be the choice of meeting places for the tribunal. Centralised direction from St. Andrew's House will not get us an appropriate meeting place in a local council chamber, save with the good will of the council, or unless we take specific powers to order it. We shall also require clerical assistance, and in some areas we may require aid from the sanitary inspectors and from the staff of the medical officer of health, and much will depend upon good will.
§ Mr. Johnston
No, not at all. All these things must be taken into consideration before it is decided whether we will have the tribunal in "X" area or in an amalgamation of areas. The hon. Member for South Aryshire (Mr. Sloan) will observe that this Clause has another sub-section which provides that if the Secretary of State so directs the same tribunal may act for more than one area. Therefore, it may be necessary for us to persuade a local authority in one area to make its meeting place, its staff and so on available for wider areas than are covered by its own boundaries. Further, all the local authority associations are supporting this Bill. I do not say that means that all the individual units in those associations support the Bill, certainly not, but it shows that we are starting out with the associated goodwill of the local authorities, and my own view is that it is highly desirable to get the assistance of local staffs, local meeting places and all the rest of it, and that can only be done if we at any rate consult them. We might have said in the Bill that we would plank down these local rent courts willy-nilly, but it is to be noted that there are other functions—billeting, requisitioning and the like—for which the help of the local authorities may be needed. While it is not essential that the local authorities should consent, I hope and believe that we shall get the goodwill of the large majority of local authorities in Scotland; and for the black sheep, the authorities which will not co-operate or 224 help to make the Bill work, we still have power through central direction to make it work. I trust that after these explanations the Committee will agree to reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. Gallacher
As the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) has said, all that the Secretary of State has been arguing about deals with the situation that will arise after the decision has been made to set up a tribunal. All this talk about local authorities having to lend their officials is based on the fact that a decision will already have been taken to set up a tribunal in a certain part of the area and to bring other areas within its jurisdiction. The right hon. Gentleman has not put forward a solitary argument to justify the retention of the words to which we are objecting. If they were omitted there would be nothing to prevent the Secretary of State doing everything which he has suggested—meeting local authorities and, if they are reluctant, trying to persuade them, in cases where it is a question of a tribunal covering several areas.
I should like to say to the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Watson) before he goes away that I hope we shall get such support for democracy on other Amendments. I am afraid that if the Secretary of State opposes his Amendment the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs will change the character of his democratic sentiments; but about that we shall see. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) has had an apprenticeship in a local authority, and according to his presentation of the case that seems to give him rights over and above those of other hon. Members. After an apprenticeship in local authority work the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire and the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs seem to think they are supporting democracy when they say there must be consultation with the local authorities, whether that be necessary or not. That is not supporting democracy; that is making a laughing stock of democracy. Nobody can say there is any justification for a discussion with the local authorities if such a discussion is not necessary, because it would be a waste of time. If we omit the words in the Amendment there will be nothing to prevent the Secretary of State discussing with any local authority any of the questions which he raised here. We do not want to divide the Committee on this 225 question. We have made our protest against the character of this legislation and against the undesirability of inserting words which are not necessary and will only delay the operation of the Measure. Accordingly we will withdraw the Amendment.—
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, after "force," to insert:and also for Scotland as a whole.This Amendment, which stands in the name of myself and other hon. Members, refers to an additional tribunal, a central tribunal, and there are certain consequential Amendments.—In Clause 1, page 1, line 14, after "Tribunal," to insert:for each such area, and also a Central Appeal Tribunal for Scotland as a whole.and in Clause 1, page 1, line 18, after "Tribunal," to insert:other than the Central Appeal Tribunal.which I take it I should be in Order in referring to.
I understand that the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to discuss those consequential Amendments, which cover practically the same point, at the same time, and if it is the wish of the Committee that that should be done, I shall allow it.
§ Major Lloyd
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and those Members of the Committee who did me the honour of listening to my remarks upon the Second Reading of the Bill will not be surprised that I have put down these Amendments and that they are supported by my hon. Friends. The issue which I tried to emphasise in that speech is, in my opinion, an extremly far-reaching one. There is no one in the Committee who does not approve of the major objects of the Bill and does not wish to do away with the terrible racketeering which exists in certain parts of Scotland, and notably in Glasgow, but with these tribunals very substantial injustices may be committed, and I am convinced that the Bill will be a very deficient one unless we introduce some form of appeal. Nobody will deny that the tribunals will consist of worthy and sincere people, but they will be amateurs, and with the best will in the world they will 226 be liable to errors of judgment and they may from time to time give decisions which will show a very substantial lack of uniformity. As rents in various areas do vary substantially that might not be very serious, but they may also be guilty of lack of uniformity from the point of view of fairness. If the Bill were intended solely to catch those who have been profitteering grossly at the expense of the needs of the people, those who, as the Secretary of State has told us, have been letting as furnished rooms what is only the most pitiable subterfuge for a furnished room and charging abominably high rents, I should not be in the least concerned, because they would deserve all they got, but I suggest that as the Bill is framed it will also bring into the net those who cannot in any way be accused of trying to profiteer.
It is because I believe that inevitably the Bill may raise the whole question of settled contracts in connection with furnished houses and that there is no appeal against what may be unfair decisions that I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to give me some satisfaction on the question of an appeal. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that a Service man went out to the Middle East in 1940, leaving a little house rented at £24 or £30 a year. He and his wife had settled themselves there and got the house nicely furnished, putting all their savings into it and all their wedding presents, making it a comfortable home with, perhaps, brand new furniture. He being away at the war and his wife, perhaps, called up or taking some war work at another place, they decide to let the house furnished. It may be they let it in 1940 and the tenant has been occupying it ever since. Nobody can say that it is not a house which is furnished satisfactorily, but the tenant, after this lapse of three years, may suddenly decide—and why should he not?—to try to get the rent reduced under this Bill. It seems unfair that this Bill should open a way to the upsetting of all the contracts which serving men and serving women may have made two or three years ago for the letting of their little furnished houses, of which they are so proud, with their own precious furniture in them. The tribunal may reduce the rent quite substantially without the serving man having any real opportunity of meeting the issue, because both he and his wife may both be away and unable to put their case 227 adequately before the tribunal. And there is to be no appeal. The tribunal gives the final word, the record is on the books, and there is to be no alteration.
I suggest that it was never intended that the Bill should cover this type of case. I feel that my right hon. Friend failed to realise, while trying to catch those who are criminally exploiting the people, that he would also bring within the Measure cases such as I have outlined, of which there must be many. It may be possible to argue that it is not necessary to have an appeal tribunal, because if any individual is not satisfied with the verdict of the tribunal—which I still suggest will not necessarily be an expert tribunal, but composed of quite ordinary persons, who may definitely lack a sense of fairness—he can ask his Member of Parliament to raise the matter either by a question in the House or by a letter to the Secretary of State.
What can the Secretary of State do about it? He cannot sack the tribunal on the spot just because one or two Members of Parliament complain, and in any case the complaints will be some time after the decision has been made. The decision will have been written into the archives of the local authority. There is no appeal to the Secretary of State under the Bill or to anyone. The decision of the tribunal is final, although it may cause great dissatisfaction among perfectly decent people. There is no redress. If we ask questions of the Secretary of State, he may reply, "I am sorry, but under the Bill which you passed, I have no powers in the matter. It does sound from what you say as though the tribunal has been a bit unfair, but I can do nothing about it."
I warn the Committee that they are allowing a Bill to go through which covers a field that we never intended to cover. The Bill is admirable in principle, and we all fully sympathise with and welcome the principle, but it is essential that some appeal tribunal should be included in the Bill to safeguard against cases of injustice, it is essential that something should be done. I am sure that the principle is sound, and I am convinced also that no hon. Member who has listened to me would not realise that there is a strong point in what I have said. None of us has the slightest sympathy for the racketeer. Let him take what is coming to 228 him; but the kind of person of whom I am thinking is not protected under the Bill as it stands at present.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
I wish to support very briefly the Amendment so ably proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend. I am sure hon. Members will agree that it is only reasonable, on the broadest legal grounds, that there should be some overriding or appeal tribunal for persons who are dissatisfied with decisions of local tribunals. It would be a very reasonable and valuable safeguard, especially in view of the fact that these tribunals are an entirely new and untried factor in our national life. Secondly, it may well be that by having a central appeal tribunal the decisions of the latter will be of great assistance to the local tribunals in introducing some uniformity into their decisions, although there must always be divergencies in different parts of the country. Their decisions would also be of benefit in giving guidance available to the local tribunals in dealing with border-line cases. For those two reasons I would urge the Secretary of State to consider the acceptance of the Amendment, which I am convinced would strengthen the Bill.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am sure that everyone will agree with the Mover of the Amendment that the greatest possible care must be taken in the operation of the Bill so that injustices do not occur. We do not want to obliterate one group of injustices by creating others. The sole point we have in mind at this moment is whether injustices can substantially be prevented by the creation of a central or appeal tribunal against the decisions of the local tribunals. I assure my hon. and gallant Friend that this problem worried us for months before the Bill was introduced. We have come to the conclusion that the disadvantages of an appeal tribunal outweigh its advantages, as I will try to explain in a moment, and that there is some kind of protection now against gross or continued unfairness on the part of the local tribunals.
Let us take the question of the appeal tribunal. There would be delay. First of all, the Amendment allows 21 days for the appeal. After that, the tribunal might very well take a fortnight, as a minimum, to reach its decision. During that period, what rent is to be payable? Is it to be the rent fixed by the local authority, or 229 is the rent to be held in suspense until the appeal tribunal comes to its decision? Then the central tribunal will be called upon to decide questions of fact with less local knowledge than is possessed by the local tribunal. It would either have to send an official to inspect premises or it would itself have to travel. In either case, it would not have the same local knowledge as the local tribunal. If it sent an official to inspect the premises, it would then appear as if one official might overturn the decision of the local tribunal, and that would cause resentment. If, on the other hand, the central tribunal had to visit all the cases where an original decision had been taken and was now subject to appeal, there would be extensive delay, to say nothing of the costs and hardship to the appellant.
Another point that the hon. and gallant Member may have overlooked is, Who art the people to be affected by the Bill? There are, broadly speaking, two categories. The hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the domestic tenant, but what about the commercial tenant, the man or syndicate who buys up houses, and lets them out? Those are the people who for the most part are exacting unconscionable rents. What is to be done with those people? They have money. They can afford to clutter up the appeal tribunal. The poor sub-tenant, literally the poorest of the poor, and the most helpless of the helpless, is unable to find the necessary wherewithal, legal skill or travelling expenses to go to the appeal tribunal. Therefore there is a mass of difficulty in the way of accepting the idea of a central tribunal, or more than one central tribunal. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend does not shut his eyes to the practical difficulties.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am coming to that point in a moment. I am merely saying that my hon. and gallant Friend has his share of responsibility like the rest of us, and I am sure that he is not shutting his eyes to what is likely to happen in the event of central tribunals being set up. There would be delay and cost. They would be taken advantage of by the more unscrupulous exploiters of the people, and there would be great hardship as a 230 result. What are the possible safeguards? One of them is that if a tribunal gives an unsatisfactory decision, I mean a foolish decision, the Secretary of State, who is responsible for the operation of that tribunal, can be challenged in this House. He will take the greatest possible care, of course, to select the personnel of the tribunals so that an unsatisfactory decision, or series of decisions, will not be given. Inasmuch as the whole intention of the Bill is to remedy injustice, I am sure that the greatest care will be taken in the selection of the tribunals.
Under Clause 6 (b), the Secretary of State may make a regulation with regard to the proceedings before the tribunals. The Lord Advocate and myself will be delighted to receive ideas and assistance as to the sort of direction we can give to the chairmen of these tribunals to ensure that injustices are not created. Of course, we are entering upon uncharted seas here, and nobody knows better than I do that we might quite well make blunders. If the Bill does not work, and the injustices are so clamant and the wrongs to be righted are so enormous, we shall have no hesitation in coming back to this House for renewed and amended powers—apart, of course, from the legislation which this House must enact regarding the Rent Restrictions Acts. I do not want to enter into the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend as to why the law differs as between Scotland and England. I have a very valid answer on that point. I would put this to him, that there have been no High Court decisions in England, as there has been in Scotland. [Interruption.] I am only speaking in respect of what the High Court in Scotland has decreed. I put it to the Committee that it is not desirable that by a side wind in a Measure of this kind we should seek to enter into the great ramifications of the very complex legislation which is called the Rent Restrictions Acts. We have been trying to keep this matter simple. Here is the idea of a rent court to fix a fair and just rent for a sub-tenant of furnished apartments. We hope it will work. For the reasons I have just given we will take every possible precaution to see that it will work, but if there should be any loopholes on the one side or the other, we shall have no hesitation whatever in coming back to Parliament to get an Amendment.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
What is the difficulty in the way of the right hon. Gentleman instructing his Law Officers to introduce a word other than "extortionate," which was the word which the High Court in Scotland turned down? Surely, if he says he has the powers, he could do that, which would largely solve the problem with which we are concerned.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. J. S. C. Reid)
I can assure the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) that that has been carefully considered. That is not the only difficulty about the enforcement of Section 10 of the Rent Restrictions Act. We came across very serious practical difficulties which arise out of our system of prosecution in Scotland and which are peculiar to Scotland, I can assure him that no alteration of the one word "extortionate" would solve the problem.
§ Major Lloyd
Like the rest of the Committee, I have a great admiration for my right hon. Friend's forensic abilities, but I have never heard him on a weaker wicket than that he was on a minute or two ago. With the greatest respect, it was intensely obvious to me that he was a very unhappy man. He confessed at the beginning that those who framed this Bill have been unhappy about the very issue I have raised. I think my right hon. Friend will continue to be unhappy, because he knows that in this particular respect this Bill is most defective, and no amount of talk or argument can obliterate that fact. We are about to do something in Scotland in order to crush and mitigate an undoubted evil which, whether the right hon Gentleman likes it or not, will create further evils and injustices to honest people. I would like to take up one or two points he made. They were perfectly fair arguments, but I think they could be countered at least to some extent.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that by having an appeal tribunal there would be undue delay. In one of my consequential Amendments I suggest that the appeal should be made to the tribunal within 21 days. He suggested that a decision might take another fortnight. I do not dispute that. That is five or six weeks, but I do not see why, because it might take five or six weeks to get justice there if the local tribunal has made an unfair decision, that there is any reason 232 whatever for ruling out an appeal tribunal. There are appeals to justice in every other sphere of life, most of which take a good deal longer than six weeks, but they are absolutely essential in order that justice should be done. I appreciate the point which the right hon. Gentleman went on to make that this appeal might be difficult with regard to the question of high rent which would go on while the appeal was being heard. As my hon. Friend knows, I am not interested in the case of the profiteer in this matter, but even then the decision of the tribunal could surely be made retrospective without much difficulty to the date of the local tribunal's decision? I see no reason why that interval should be used as an excuse for the sub-tenant to be charged extra rent. Why could not the appeal tribunal make its decision retrospective to the date that the local tribunal made a decision? Surely that is not an insuperable difficulty. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate could surely think out words which would easily meet that particular point.
Another point my right hon. Friend made was the question that the appeal tribunal might have to make visits all over Scotland to visit furnished rooms or furnished houses and that that would be very difficult and inconvenient and a most elaborate process. I suggest that he made the very most of that argument, because I cannot believe that except on the very rarest occasion it would be necessary for the appeal tribunal to make a visit at all. Surely all the facts will have been written down. There will be no necessity to go and inspect the houses in such circumstances, just as in nearly every appellate court case the judges do not have to go and inspect the situation except very rarely. The whole thing is on paper and can be examined by the appeal tribunal sitting where it is. While I appreciate the possibility in some special case that a visit might be necessary of the appeal tribunal's officer to report to them, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has laboured the point and that very rarely would it happen, and very often the tribunal would decide on the facts presented to it. I and those who are interested would ask for this assurance. I feel sure there are very many more in this Committee interested than have put their names to my Amendment, and 233 it is a very vital principle I am speaking for. I would ask the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate to get their heads together between now and the Report stage and give some kind of assurance that this matter will be looked into to see whether something can be done about it. It seems impossible to me that this Committee could pass a Bill of this character without giving any right of appeal whatever to an aggrieved party.
§ The Lord Advocate
The hon. and gallant Member has raised one other point about which I think it is right I should say a word. He says: "Why cannot the cases taken to the appeal tribunal be dealt with on the papers?" That opens up a most alarming prospect to me. I had contemplated procedure under this Bill as being entirely informal and that there would be no record of any sort, at least no sufficient record of what takes place before the regional tribunal to enable the case to be presented as an appeal to a central tribunal. It would have to be a complete re-hearing, because there would be no material to reproduce in papers and to put before the court, and accordingly one or other of two things would necessarily happen. Either you would have to complicate and expand the procedure before the local tribunal so as to get in every case sufficient material for an appeal on written papers, and that would so cumber the procedure, make it so expensive, that I doubt whether it would work; or you would have to have a complete re-hearing. In these matters it is felt that the evidence could best be heard after a visit to the premises the rent of which is in dispute, and I do assure the hon. and gallant Member that unless we are to make the proceedings in the local tribunal far too formal, it would in the majority of cases at least be essential for the central tribunal to inspect the premises and go into the whole matter for itself. That is one of the reasons why in our view a central tribunal is likely to be so cumbersome that we should not adopt it at this stage unless experience shows that it is absolutely indispensible in order that justice should be done.
§ Major Lloyd
I feel very unhappy and dissatisfied, but in the circumstances I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.234
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
May I just be allowed a word upon this? The Committee were very good to permit me to speak slightly out of Order previously, and I do not wish to take up unnecessary time. But I feel in honour bound to put to the Committee in a word or two the fears I have about the provisions of this Clause. It is the operative Clause of the Bill, and it is right that the Committee should consider what it is doing. Since the Second Reading of the Bill I have made one or two journeys to Scotland. I have met a number of people, some of them among the most enlightened public men in the country. They have expressed to me very serious concern as to the possible effects of this Measure, attractive as it may seem on this Floor. We are all anxious to prevent exploitation, but what affects these men is the possibility that in dealing with this narrow point we shall work wholesale havoc upon tenants in many other parts of the country.
It is not the habit in this Committee to give the names of persons in such circumstances, but I have been in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fife, and I have met people there who I think the Committee will agree with me are men of considerable public experience.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I do not wish to be unfair, but it might help my judgment if. I knew who they were. I too know Glasgow, and I am wondering who were the enlightened men the hon. Member could meet whom I did not meet.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
Is it not the custom of the Committee that if a Member is challenged on a statement he gives the names?
If the hon. Member asks for authority for the fear I am proceeding to express, it is here in a whole series of Government Committees' Reports. It is here, for example, in the Report of the Marley Inter-departmental Committee on the Rent Restrictions Act. Lord Marley presided, and its members included one or two other Socialists who with one exception signed the Majority Report, which said: 235Control of rent without protection from eviction would in our view be ineffective (and the reasons why protection from eviction cannot be given have already been indicated).That is the trouble. That is not only the view of Lord Marley and his friends. My friends in the L.C.C. tell me that it is Lord Latham's most considered view that any Measure of this kind controlling rents without also controlling the powers of eviction, which I contend cannot be controlled in any such Measure, is not practicable. I beg the Committee, before passing blithely forward with this Bill, to take into account the long series of warnings given to this Committee by most capable people against doing what this Bill seeks to do.
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
The hon. Gentleman is arguing the Bill as a whole, and that, of course, is not in Order. We are only dealing with Clause 1, which deals merely with the question of the application of the Act to certain areas.
I give this warning; if in a year's time it is found that, far from helping those you seek to help, you have dispossessed hundreds of tenants, do not blame me.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
I hope and believe that the Committee will retain this Clause. I am glad that the obvious intention of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) to hamstring the Bill completely and make it unworkable, has failed. He pleaded that, owing to his illiteracy, he had not got the Amendment put down at the proper place; but, while we accept that confession we recognise the very great astuteness he has shown in using the opportunity of what purported to be a limited Amendment to put forward proposals which, in my judgment, would have completely prevented this Bill from being of any use at all.
§ Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.