HC Deb 27 October 1943 vol 393 cc254-8

Amendment made: In line 3, leave out "attendance," and insert "services."—[Mr. Johnston.]

Bill reported, with Amendment [Title amended]; as amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

I have only one regret to express in regard to this Bill. I will make it very briefly. It is that this Bill applies to Scotland only. I think it is unfortunate, when you have an evil which exists in Scotland and also in this country, that the proposed reform should be limited to Scotland only. I want to congratulate Scotland on taking effective measures dealing with this profiteering so far as furnished houses are concerned. If there are any means by which heads of other Departments can have their attention drawn to what other Ministers are doing, I hope that the Minister of Health will have his attention drawn to the fact that effective action is being taken in respect of Scotland to deal with an evil which is common to Scotland and England alike. I congratulate Scotland on the passing of the Bill, not without envy that similar measures are not being taken to deal with the matter in England.

Mr. Gallacher

I wish to congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland and his very able assistants on the fact that they have brought in such a Bill. I have offered a certain amount of criticism of the Bill, but that does not alter the fact that it is a very satisfactory attempt to deal with a great evil, and I hope that the results will be what the Secretary of State and his assistants and all the rest of us hope.

Mr. McNeil

I should also like to associate myself with what has been said, because I have offered criticisms, with the congratulations that have been offered to the Front Bench on this occasion. I hope that all my criticisms and my fears about the comparative ineffectiveness of the Bill are completely without foundation. I only wish to make three points before we part with the Bill. I hope that the Lord Advocate will not take at all lightly my fears about entry and that we shall have an assurance from him when we get the Measure back from another place. My other two points (Interruption). I am sorry some of my friends are a little impatient, but I would like to assure them that we have been speedy with this business. My only other two points are that the Secretary of State, I know with the very best intentions, has assured us that the reinforcements he offers to the limitations of the Bill are that he may billet or requisition. He argued with force that the effectiveness of these emergency measures lies in the speed with which they can be operated. I know that this is a matter of considerable doubt. Therefore I am doing no more than asking my right hon. Friend to look again at the position and perhaps let us know his considered reflections upon it.

He referred us to Defence Regulation 51, under which he would have power to requisition. I know that I am very nearly out of Order, and I hate to see the troubled look on your face, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I hope that, since my right hon. Friend has made this almost an integral part of the Bill, you will allow me to tread daintily around the subject. As to power to requisition, the grounds on which he might do so are certainly wide enough, but I doubt how fast he can do that. As he will see under Subsection (6) (1a), there must be issued a certified copy of any direction to give up possession and so forth, the fact that a certified copy has to be made available to the proprietor or occupant does suggest some delay. Then the right hon. Gentleman said he believed he might billet almost at a moment's notice. I quite agree that our experience in emergency conditions has been that that could and did take place, but if my right hon. Friend will look at Section 9 of Defence Regulation 22, he will see: .. any person who is aggrieved by the service upon him of a billeting notice … I suggest that if there is a billeting notice, that notice must precede the billettee, and if there are provisions for the aggrieved person making an appeal, as we have known such appeals outside emergency conditions, it is very doubtful if my right hon. Friend or, by reason of his delegation, the local authorities, can act with such speed. I hope I shall not be thought ungenerous. I am most anxious that this Measure shall be most effective, and I hope my right hon. Friend can find ways to surmount these two difficulties.

Mr. Johnston

My competent assistants at the Scottish Office feel somewhat in the embarrassing position of having to beware when all men apparently speak well of them. That is somewhat of a pleasant change from many experiences we have had. I have no reason whatever to question either the motives or the methods of hon. Members who have sought to improve this Bill, and indeed we welcome their attempts to improve the Bill. It is admittedly a matter a great complexity bound up with legal and other decisions. We had to walk very warily lest we did more harm than good, lest we limited the amount of accommodation that was to be available for sub-tenants. I think that on the whole we have managed. At all events, what we have done is to establish the principle of a rent court. That has been established with the general concurrence of all parties in this House—and that is most valuable—as it will, I hope, be operated in Scotland with the general concurrence and good will of all the local authorities in Scotland. If we can march forward on the lines of remedying injustice by these methods, I think we go very much further than if we seek to go along controversial and party lines.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) raised two points. He queries first of all our interpretation of Defence Regulation 51. He sought to draw attention, I think, to page 168, where we were compelled to serve a certified copy of any direction to give up possession and so on. He said that that involves delay, but he will observe that that is in the case where we are serving a warrant for ejection. This is not the case that we envisage at all. We are not wanting to serve a notice of ejection; we want to serve a notice for the preservation of a tenancy.

Mr. McNeil

I am sorry if I am confused, but my right hon. Friend will remember that when we debated this subject I agreed that where we had an empty house he could so act, but my right hon. Friend told us, as I understand it, that he would invoke his power to prevent the ejection of a sub-tenant. My difficulty is how is he going to act in—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I hope the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member will not continue this Debate at any length, as it does not appear to me to be in Order, as what is being discussed is outside the Bill, and on the Third Reading we can deal only with what is in the Bill.

Mr. Johnston

If my hon. Friend will see me outside, I will give him the most satisfactory assurances. [Interruption.] I am forbidden to give them here. You cannot have it both ways, that I am ruled out of Order and that there is to be surprise when I offer to meet the point in another way.

Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

On a point of Order. Is it not the case that if the powers actually exist in the Bill there is nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent my right hon. Friend explaining what the powers in the Bill are?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The answer is that there are two alternative aims which bring about the same effect.

Mr. Johnston

No, the powers are not in the Bill; they are in the Defence Regulations. That is one of my difficulties in seeking to expound them here. I would say that I have the highest legal assurances for the view I have offered. On the question of Defence Regulation 22, regarding billeting, I am assured that this billeting notice takes effect at once whatever other right of appeal may be reserved to the person upon whom the billeting notice is served. On these two scores we are quite satisfied that we can take steps to prevent the intentions of the Bill from being rendered vague and useless by notices to quit being served upon persons who have the temerity to go to a tribunal. We have done our best, with the materials available to us, to meet a very pressing evil, and if there are still, unfortunately, loopholes which become apparent in the course of time, we shall not hesitate to come back to Parliament for further powers.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.