HC Deb 27 October 1943 vol 393 cc238-47
Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 7, at the end, to add: (3) When any contract to which the Act applies is referred or was referred to a tribunal it shall be an offence for the lessor to give notice of the termination of the tenancy without the consent of the tribunal and any lessor guilty of such offence shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds. The Bill shows that there is an evil which needs to be rectified. We are inviting people who feel that they are harshly treated by being charged exhorbitant rents to come before the tribunal to lodge their complaint in the manner prescribed. The tribunal having dealt with the offences, whether or not they find the complaint justified, the sub-tenant is liable to be thrown on to the street by the person against whom he complained. That is a serious matter, and something should be devised to deal with it. You are setting up machinery and inviting people to complain about injustice, and it looks as if they will then be the victims of the spleen of the persons against whom they have complained. That is not a fairy tale. We all know that people are liable to do such things. I see numerous difficulties about establishing protection, but some measure of protection should be given to people who lodge justifiable complaints about extortionate rents. We do not see any measure of protection given under the Bill, but if there is some protection that we have not been able to notice, we shall be glad to hear what it is. The Bill fails in that it only partially protects the people who suffer an injustice and leaves them to the mercy of these undesirable individuals. I will leave it for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make any explanation that he may wish to give.

Mr. Stephen

I support the Amendment. One of the points made by the Lord Advocate on the Second Reading when this topic was mentioned was that he should not do anything to destroy the ordinary normal lettings. I do not think that if the Amendment is accepted it will do anything that will make those lettings difficult at all. The tribunal will give their consent practically automatically for the termination of such tenancies. The Secretary of State for Scotland could cover the position under Clause 6 by means of regulations in regard to normal cases where there is no extortion or question of rent difficulty arising. Without the Amendment or some form of protection which is not given in the Bill, the Measure would appear to be nothing more than either a dead letter or a trap for simple, innocent people. I can imagine persons coming before the tribunal and making out a good case that they have been grossly overcharged and afterwards finding themselves put out of their rooms by the occupier. They will come to us and say, "We went to the tribunal in good faith and obtained a decision in our favour and now we find ourselves without any place in which to live and with no roof over our heads." The Lord Advocate says that there is a protection in the background and that if that happens and they come back the local authority or the Government can requisition the premises. Is that not a tremendously cumbersome process?

When you requisition premises you again open up many questions of law. If you are to have good faith with the people who are supposed to benefit by this Bill, it is absolutely imperative that they should have some form of protection. If the determination of the tenancy is a power to be entrusted to, and dependent upon, the tribunal, you are in a different position altogether. It has been stated from the Government Front Bench that the class of case with which this Measure is to deal is where big houses have been divided into apartments, furnished and let to very poor people, who are being exploited in the most shameful way. The Amendment would make it impossible for the exploiters to get away with their extortion by threatening to evict their sub-tenants. In thousands of other cases where the tenancy was a really definite, ordinary, kindly transaction or the normal thing there would be no difficulties resulting from the Amendment at all. I am confident that no difficulties would arise as a result of ordinary decent people letting their rooms. Those cases will not go to the tribunals. The rents they will be charging will be the ordinary rents and be considered legitimate, and the contracts will not come before the tribunal, and the tenancies can be terminated without any of these difficulties arising. But in the hellish cases of the commercial exploitation of homeless people, such people are entitled to protection.

There was one other point which was made to me by the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) when he was speaking to me about the Amendment. Take a commercial exploitation case, say, where there is a big house occupied by five people and one of the tenants goes to the tribunal and tries to make out his case that the people in the house are being overcharged. He finds that the other four tenants come as witnesses for the landlord. They have been told, "I shall expect you to come and help me at the tribunal. I have given you this tenancy although there are scores of people who want to get in here, and I expect you to come as a witness for me. Some people may think the rent is high, but think of the difficulties I have had in putting in furniture, and it must be remembered that there is a war on." These people then say, "We will come, Mr. A." They appear before the tribunal, and they say, "We believe we are being fairly treated here. The rent may seem a bit high but it is difficult to get a place." Thus it is made incredibly difficult for an applicant who wants to get the extortion stopped. Then he is put out. The Bill as it stands puts all these people at the mercy of the lessor or landlord, or tenant who is subletting part of a house, and I hope the Government will see their way to accept the Amendment. They can make a regulation under Clause 6 to deal with the working of the new Sub-section that we propose, and I hope that something will be done to give a real protection to the tenants.

Mr. McNeil

I shall be a little less than generous if I do not acknowledge to my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) and admit that the point I made to him has been embellished with a great amount of detail to which I could not possibly aspire. I want substantially to support the principle which is behind the Amendment. I would not want to support the Amendment as it stands for two reasons. It would be exceedingly dangerous to extend the power of the tribunal to the extent that they became not only a rent assessing tribunal but actually were given the powers of a Scottish court. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) does not seem to think that it would do that, but I imagine that it would. If you say the tribunal shall have the power to determine whether a let shall be terminated or continued, you are giving it the power which is within the province of the sheriff court.

As the hon. Member for Camlachie indicated, there are some difficulties in the sub-letting of a genuine dwelling house, but if the substance of the Amendment is to be applied only to the commercially-let houses, that is, the large house which is bought for the one purpose of sub-division and for sub-letting as furnished apartments, I cannot see either that there will be any great hardship inflicted upon the tenant-in-chief or that there will be any great amount of difficulty. On the Second Reading I interrupted the Lord Advocate to put that point to him and I do not think he addressed himself to that point. Having re-read and reconsidered the position, and having had discussions outside this House, I am almost driven to conclude that there is some political reason behind the Government's unwillingness to accept some Amendment of this nature. All that Members on this side of the Committee have been asking is that the security of the Rent Act which was extended to an unfurnished sub-letting should be similarly extended to a furnished sub-letting where that sub-let is a part of a commercially acquired, divided and sub-let house. The reasons upon which a court normally allots re-possession to the tenant-in-chief of an unfurnished sub-let are plain—non-payment of rent, illegal misuse of the sub-let, the creation of a nuisance, termination of the let by the sub-tenant, the sub-letting of the sub-tenancy without permission by the sub-tenant, and the reasonable need by the tenant-in-chief for his own or his family's use. I argue that no undue hardship is being placed on the tenant-in-chief. As it is, very great hardship is forced upon the abject sub-tenant, who is the most insecure and the most miserable person in all our population.

The need for protecting the sub-tenant is, of course, acknowledged by the Bill itself. Although it does not give him any direct protection it gives him a little. No one doubts the earnestness of the Secretary of State in seeking to give the subtenant some kind of status in law, but our fear is that the protection which it was found so necessary to extend to the unfurnished sub-tenant, will be equally necessary for the furnished sub-tenant, that any rent-fixing machinery will not be complete without the security in law which has been extended to the unfurnished sub-tenant. I am sure no one on the other side of the Committee will suspect me of wanting to make trouble, but if the Lord Advocate would explain what are the difficulties in law or in administration in making applicable a substantially similar Amendment to the commercial sub-let, then I, for one, would listen carefully. Perhaps I have been stupid or have not read or listened carefully enough, but I still have a suspicion at the back of my mind that the Government see some political and not legal or administrative reason for refusing this or a similar Amendment.

The Lord Advocate

May I answer the question which has been put to me by the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil)? I remember that during the Second Reading Debate he and another Member asked a question, and I agree that I did not fully answer my hon. Friends on that occasion. The difficulty as I see it is to find a clear definition of the class of let which, my hon. Friends would agree, ought not to have security of tenure imposed upon it. It is essential if you are not to frighten the domestic landlady that any security of tenure should be so tightly limited by definition that no landlady could possibly imagine that if she took in a lodger there was a chance of a tribunal imposing that lodger upon her against her will for the duration of the war. Frankly, we have not been able to find a sufficiently clear distinction between the commercial type of let and the domestic type of let. Everything that has suggested itself to us has raised difficulties, and on the face of that I feel it would not be judicious at this stage, to say the least, to put in some provision which may lead domestic landladies to think they would perhaps have to keep their lodgers against their will.

Mr. Sloan

I would like to support this Amendment. In spite of the argument of the Lord Advocate, I think there is ground for reasonable protection if the Amendment were adopted. One can visualise quite easily that if an appeal to a tribunal is to be followed by eviction, tenants will be chary of making application to a tribunal. The Lord Advocate stated that the corrective was this, that if the tenant was ejected, the person letting would not get another tenant at a higher rent. The Lord Advocate seemed to think that that was some protection, but I do not think it is. Fear of eviction will be the greatest factor in preventing tenants from making applications to a tribunal. It would be very unfortunate if we were to remove one disease and only inflict another by the cure we are seeking to provide. The Amendment would meet to a large extent the objections which have been made, and I hope it will be accepted.

Mr. Johnston

With the spirit and intention of this Amendment we have no quarrel whatever. The sole question to which we have to address our minds is: What sort of protection can be given to any sub-tenant who may be evicted from his sub-tenancy because he dared to go to a tribunal to seek redress from extortion? This Amendment does vest in the tribunal powers which the Rent Restrictions Act have forbidden to the law courts, and that will raise further complications which we are anxious if we can to avoid. That, however, does not in any way absolve us from the duty of meeting the sort of case which hon. Members in all parts of the Committee have put forward. I have discussed this matter personally with the town clerks of Glasgow, Edinburgh and other cities. We have sought to find by what means we could protect the sub-tenant who was threatened with eviction because he dared to go to a tribunal and at the same time not do something that would cause a limitation in the number of domestic lets which are unfortunately in these days the necessity of many thousands of peaple. That is the dilemma we are all in.

How do I suggest that we can protect these tenants against unfair treatment? First of all, may I direct attention to Defence Regulation 22, where there is power to billet a person in premises from which he is sought to be evicted? So far as I am concerned, I will take every possible step in my power to see that the intentions of Parliament are not rendered vain and that these billeting powers are exercised in appropriate cases. Further, if the billeting powers are insufficient, we can, by means of Defence Regulation 51, still fall back upon requisitioning. I can assure hon. Members that there need be no delay whatever in the exercise of billeting powers. I am told that a billeting officer can put in a billetee without infringing any of these powers or Orders. I do not say that that is desirable, and I do not want to put my case too high, but we have the responsibility of seeing that this thing works. We have powers to billet in any case where a tenant is sought to be unjustly evicted. How we contemplate operating is that if it is brought to the notice of the Secretary of State or to the local authorities—and I would prefer the latter—that a sub-tenant was sought to be evicted because of his appearance before a tribunal, we should get in touch with the chairman of the tribunal at once. If the evidence was sustained, we could exercise our billeting powers. That is a fairly substantial safeguard. It may not be complete—there is no complete safeguard to-day—but it is at any rate some safeguard against eviction because of an appearance before a tribunal. It also brings the tribunal into consultation on the matter, and while it does not vest in them legal powers of decision to prevent eviction, which are not given to the law courts, it brings them into consultation with the local authorities. In the exercise of these powers of billeting and requisitioning we think that to a very considerable extent we can meet the apprehensions that hon. Members and all of us feel. For these reasons I would express the hope, that the Amendment will not be pressed.

Mr. McGovern

We feel that the recommendations are not sufficient to prevent eviction. We have been blamed time and again for accepting from that Box pledges made regarding hardship committees, conscientious objectors' tribunals

Division No. 25. AYES.
Brown, W. J. (Rugby) Kirkwood, D.
Buchanan, G. Maxton, J. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Gallacher, W. Reakes, G. L. (Wallasey) Mr. McGovern and Mr. Stephen.
Harvey, T. E. Sloan, A.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Emrys-Evans, P. V. Leach, W.
Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford) Entwistle, Sir C. F. Lees-Jones, J.
Adamson, W. M. (Cannock) Errington, Squadron-Leader E. Levy, T.
Albery, Sir Irving Erskine-Hill, A. G. Liddall, W. S.
Ammon, C. G. Etherton, Ralph Lindsay, K. M.
Anderson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ.) Evans, Colonel A. (Cardiff, S.) Lipson, D. L.
Apsley, Lady Everard, Sir W. Lindsay Lloyd, Major E. G. R. (Renfrew, E.)
Aske, Sir R. W. Fermoy, Lord Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. W. (Ladywood)
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Fildes, Sir H. Loftus, P. C.
Balfour, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. H. Fleming, Squadron-Loader E. L. Lyle, Sir C. E. Leonard
Barr, J. Fox, Flight-Lieut. Sir G. W. G. Mabane, W.
Beattie, F. (Cathcart) Galbraith, Comdr. T. D. McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.
Beaumont, Hubert (Batley) Gammans, Capt. L. D. McKie, J. H.
Beechman, N. A. Garro Jones, G. M. Magnay, T.
Beit, Sir A. L. George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G. Lloyd (P'b'ke) Makins, Brig.-Gen. Sir E.
Bennett, Sir P. F. B. (Edgbaston) Gibbins, J. Manningham-Buller, Major R. E.
Benson, G. Gibson, Sir C. G. Marlowe, Lt.-Col. A.
Berry, Hon. G. L. (Buckingham) Gower, Sir R. V. Marshall, F.
Blair, Sir R. Green, W. H. (Daptford) Mathers, G.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. Greenwell, Colonel T. G. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.
Bower, Norman (Harrow) Gretton, J. F. Mellor, Sir J. S. P.
Boyce, H. Leslie Gridley, Sir A. B. Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)
Broadbridge, Sir G. T. Grimston, R. V. (Westbury) Mills, Colonel J. D. (New Forest)
Brocklebank Sir C. E. R. Groves, T. E. Mitchell, Colonel H. P.
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Gunston, Major Sir D. W. Molson, A. H. E.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Hammersley, S. S. Montague, F.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Hannah, I. C. Morgan, R. H. (Stourbridge)
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Morris-Jones, Sir Henry.
Bull, B. B. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Universities)
Burden, T. W. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)
Burke, W. A. Hepworth, J. Morrison, Major J. G. (Salisbury)
Campbell, Sir E. T. (Bromley) Hewlett, T. H. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cireneester)
Campbell, Dermot (Antrim) Higgs, W. F. Mort, D. L.
Cape, T. Hinchinbrooke, Viscount Murray, J. D. (Spennymoor)
Cary, R. A. Hogg, Hon. Q. McG. Naylor, T. E.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Hollins, A. (Hanley) Nicholson, Captain G. (Farnham)
Charleton, H. C. Horsbrugh, Florence Oldfield, W. H.
Cobb, Captain E. C. Howitt, Dr. A. B. Palmer, G. E. H.
Cocks, F. S. Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Peake, Rt. Hon. O.
Colman, N. C. D. Hume, Sir G. H. Perkins, W. R. D.
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Hutchison, Lt.-Com. G. I. C. (E'burgh) Peters, Dr. S. J.
Culverwell, C. T. Jarvis, Sir J. J. Petherick, Major M.
Davidson, Viscountess (H'm'l H'mst'd) Jeffreys, Gen, Sir G. D. Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil) Jennings, R. Peto, Major B. A. J.
De Chair, Capt. S. S. Jewson, P. W. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Denman, Hon. R. D. John, W. Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton
Denville, Alfred Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. (Stl'g & C'km'n) Pym, L. R.
Dobbie, W. Jones, L. (Swansea, W.) Radford, E. A.
Donner, Squadron-Leader P. W. Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A. Raikes, Flight-Lieut. H. V. A. M.
Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) Joynson-Hicks, Lt. Comdr. Hn. L. W. Ramsden, Sir E.
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Keeling, E. H. Rankin, Sir R.
Dugdale, John (W. Bromwich) Keir, Mrs. Cazalet Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Dugdale, Major T. L. (Richmond) Kerr, Sir John Graham (Scottish U's) Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)
Eccles, D. M. Kirby, B. V. Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty) Lamb, Sir J. Q. Rickards, G. W.
Emmott, C. E. G. C. Lawson, J. J. Ritson, J.

and the like and have found that those pledges and assurances have not been carried out. If there was the will, means could be devised of giving the protection we want. Because we feel that the guarantees are not sufficient at present we propose to carry the matter to a Division.

Question put, "That those words be there added."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 8; Noes, 229.

Roberts, W. Stuart, Lord C. Chrichton- (Northwich) Watkins, F. C.
Robertson, D. (Streatham) Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn) Watson, W. McL.
Ross Taylor, W. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F. Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. H. (Richmond)
Rowlands, G. Sutcliffe, H. Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R. Sykes, Maj.-Gen. Rt. Hon. Sir F. H. Westwood, Rt. Han. J.
Russell, Sir A. (Tynemouth) Taskar, Sir R. I. White, H. (Derby, N. E.)
Salt, E. W. Tate, Mavis C. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blayden)
Sanderson, Sir F. B. Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield) Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Savory, Professor D. L. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Wilkinson, Ellen
Scott, Donald (Wansbeck) Thomas, I. (Keighley) Willink, H. U.
Selley, H. R. Thomas, Dr. W. S. Russell (S'th'm'tn) Windsor, W.
Shakespeare, Sir G. H. Thorneycroft, Major G. E. P. (Stafford) Woodburn, A.
Shephard, S. Thorneycroft, H. (Clayton) Woolley, Major W. E.
Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W. D. Tinker, J. J. Wootton-Davies, J. H.
Snadden, W. McN. Touche, G. C. Wright, Group Capt. J. (Erdingten)
Somerset, T. Tufnell, Lieut.-Comdr. R. L. York, Major C.
Southby, Comd. Sir A. R. J. Turton, R. H. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Spearman, A. C. M. Viant, S. P.
Stourton, Major Hon. J. J. Wakefield, W. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Strauss, H. G. (Norwich) Ward, Cot. Sir A. L. (Hull) Mr. Boulton and Mr. Drewe.
Strickland, Capt. W. F. Waterhouse, Capt. C.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.