§ Sir J. Mellor
I beg to move, in page 4, line 21, to leave out paragraph (b).
The purpose of the paragraph is to permit those parties to agreements who gave notice before 13th June to terminate agreements to escape from the scope of the Bill. The 13th June was the date upon which the Attorney-General announced in the House that the Government would legislate in consequence of the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Lace and Chandler, which was given last February. I am moving to leave out the paragraph because, although we do not like retrospective legislation and do not want to make it more retrospective than we can help, I do not see why we should go out of our way 990 to help parties who have broken their agreements to escape from the scope of the Bill. They may have been legally entitled to give notice, but, in my submission, they none the less broke agreements made in honour even if the notices which they gave were legally effective. It was not the fault of the victims of the decision in Lace v. Chandler that the Government delayed making any announcement till 13th June. Therefore, I do not think that the parties who received notice before that date to terminate agreements should be penalised in consequence of the Government's delay.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
On a point of Order. Might it not be convenient for the Committee to consider this Amendment with the Amendment standing in my name, in page 4, line 23, at the end, to insert:( ) if before the thirteenth day of July, nineteen hundred and forty-four, in reliance upon the validity of such notice either the landlord has entered into any new legal obligation to let or sell the premises forming the subject matter of such agreement or any part thereof or the tenant has entered into any new legal obligation to rent or purchase other promises in lieu of such premises as aforesaid or if before the thirteenth day of July, nineteen hundred and forty-four, the landlord has obtained possession of the premises.
§ The Chairman
If the Committee agree I have no objection, but I must point out that the hon. Member's Amendment does not appear to me to read correctly, nor does it appear to be in the proper place.
§ Sir J. Mellor
As I read the Amendment of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), it has the opposite effect to my Amendment, because it is inserted after the word "or" and, therefore, would tend to strengthen the paragraph rather than weaken it.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I am rather taken by surprise to hear that my Amendment would be in Order if it were differently phrased. I will not deal with that point at the moment but will state the reason behind my Amendment even if it be incorrectly phrased. The object of the Bill is to give effect to the intentions of the parties when they entered into an agreement which has since been properly held by the Court of Appeal to be invalid. What appears to me to be the 991 case is that since the date of that decision many people may have jumped at the opportunity of getting out of obligations which they willingly entered into. I have had cases brought to my notice of landlords, on the one hand, giving notices which they could not have given prior to that decision, and, on the other hand, of tenants doing the same thing. The difficulty is to draw the line as to where we are to make the effect of this Bill retrospective. The Bill proposes that it should be retrospective to 13th June. As I see it, that has the effect that, if either a landlord or a tenant gave notice before 13th June, a notice which may be taking effect in December this year, it would still be effective and operative in spite of the Bill. It does not seem to me possible to put the parties back in a condition in which they were if, between the date of the Court of Appeal decision and 13th June, the possession of the premises subject to the agreement was given up; but it does seem to me possible for this House to provide that, where such a notice has been given and has not taken effect by 13th June, and where neither party entered into any form of legal obligation consequent upon the giving of that notice, that the notice should be treated as of no effect, the tenancy continuing as if the decision in Lace v. Chandler had not been arrived at.
I have not read the wording of my Amendment since I handed it in, but the intention of it is to provide that if the landlord had agreed to sell or to let the premises forming the subject of the original tenancy, the notice to quit would be effective. Similarly, if the tenant who received the notice to quit or had given it and, in the belief that the notice to quit given in the interval was valid, had entered into an agreement to rent or buy other premises, the notice to quit in those circumstances should be effective. It seems very hard indeed, particularly in the case of some officers. I have had brought to my notice the case of a colonel serving in the Army who has had notice from his landlord in respect of a lease which he thought was good for the duration of the war, and he now has to find other accommodation for his family. It is very hard that we should not be able to make the Bill retrospective, not only to 13th June but also to the extent that it 992 will invalidate all notices to quit which have not taken effect and where the parties to the original tenancy agreement have not entered into any agreement either in regard to the premises demised or for obtaining other premises. Sir J. Mellor: If my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) would agree to alter his Amendment so that, instead of "line 33, at end, insert" he would put "line 33, after 'relationship,' insert"; and if he would also substitute "June" for "July," it would bring his Amendment very closely into line with my own, and it would then have my cordial support.
§ The Attorney-General
The position is difficult. We did our best to consider it before I, on behalf of the Government, gave my answer on 13th June. We have considered it very carefully since. I am bound to say that I feel a difficulty in accepting either of the Amendments and I will explain why. The Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir J. Mellor) goes further than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller). It is rather a strong order to go back and say that although, before the Government announced their intentions, a man gave a perfectly valid notice under the law, he is now to find it treated as an invalid notice and instrument. The difficulties are illustrated by the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. He is willing to cut out the case in which a landlord has entered into a new legal obligation to let or sell premises, or in which the tenant has entered into any new legal obligation to rent or purchase other premises.
Let me take a case which is just worthy of consideration. Suppose a landlord, the Court of Appeal having told him that he can get possession of his premises—being premises to which the Rent Restrictions Acts do not give protection to the tenant—in August, September or December and, on the strength of that, he gives up premises which he himself had had to take when he entered into the agreement with his tenant; if we accept the Amendment, he would be left unable to get possession of his own property, having already given up the property which he had taken to provide for himself or his business while the lease continued. Par- 993 liament would get itself into the greatest difficulty if it passed a provision which had that result.
There are other things which might have been done and expenses which might have been incurred, on the faith of this matter, other than entering into agreements for premises or giving notice to give up premises. A man might have moved his business commitments in anticipation that he would be able to get possession of new premises. I quite agree that the most important ones would be covered in the Amendment, nevertheless we should be launching this legislation in a territory in which we could not say confidently what hardship we should be inflicting upon people and what expenditure and profit we might not be rendering abortive, although at the time they incurred the expense, the parties were entitled to believe that the law would not be altered.
I have dealt very simply with cases which, I have no doubt, both my hon. Friends have had in mind, and I have also made it clear that I have no particular sympathy with anybody who sought to get out of a bargain made for the duration of the war because the Court of Appeal has said he could; but, on the general principle, the House must be vigilant m regard to retrospective legislation. If we sought to go beyond 13th June, we might inflict real hardship to an extent which it would be very difficult to justify. With some regret, therefore, I ask the Committee to support us in the decision which I originally gave on 13th June, which was to the effect that while the legislation would be retrospective to that date we did not think it right to validate notices given before that date.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that he has rejected the Amendment with regret. I must confess that I would be prepared to support him more strongly if he had not mentioned that matter. This House has always been very jealous about retrospective legislation. It would be a very great temptation in times to come, when this country may be governed by Administrations with reforming zeal, if we gave them the precedent of retrospective legislation, particularly on a question of control over economic and industrial activities.
994 It would be a great temptation but I think it would be very wrong to do so. Simply the position is, I would remind the Committee, that the Court of Appeal decides that all leases of this order for the duration are invalid. There is the law of the land, and every citizen is entitled to rely upon the law. It is not the moment to say there has been a matter of intention, definite agreement or whatever it may be. Every citizen is entitled to rely upon the law of the land.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
While a citizen is naturally so entitled, where the law operates unjustly against the citizen surely he has the right to look to the House of Commons for a remedy?
§ Mr. Hughes
I welcome that interruption. I agree that it is to this High Court that citizens look for the adjustment of an injustice, but in the meantime the position is that from the time the Court of Appeal declared that the citizen's rights were thus, the citizen was entitled to act upon that. Now the Attorney-General did not say so in terms, but in fact there is a good deal of retrospective legislation in this very Bill, and that is the extent to which this High Court of Parliament is prepared to go. It goes retrospectively to the point at which the Government hive declared they propose to act. That is quite fair to everyone, but up to the time when the Government, through the mouth of their leading Law Officer, declare that they intend to act, the citizens of this country are entitled to rely upon the law as it is declared in the Courts. We may find hard cases and argue on the basis that what was intended to be a gentleman's agreement shall be carried out, but the only basis on which the rule of law can he founded is to have respect for it, and give people the right to operate it and to support them in operating it. We here in this House can alter the law, but as long as people are operating under the law as it is laid down, there is no reason why we should condemn them for having done so.
§ The Chairman
The hon. and learned Member should address himself rather more particularly to the Amendment before the Committee. He seems to be making a Second Reading speech.
§ Mr. Hughes
I apologise, Major Milner, for having strayed outside the terms of the Amendment. I was dealing rather with the general principle embodied in this Amendment. I think I have said all I need to say and so I rise to support my right hon. and learned Friend in resisting these two Amendments, and I do so upon grounds which are somewhat wider than he himself put forward.
§ Sir J. Mellor
The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) has justified this Measure being retrospective to the date when the Government announced the decision to legislate, but he takes the view that it would be wrong to make it further retrospective than that. Arising out of that, I want to ask the Attorney-General if he will give an explanation as to why there was such a long delay after the decision of the Court of Appeal in February before announcing the decision to legislate in June, because it is arising out of that delay that the injustice, or I would say, hardship, has arisen for those people who received notice before 13th June. I feel that the responsibility is on the Government for that.
§ The Attorney-General
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. He raised it on Second Reading, and I had intended to say a word or two on it on the Amendment. The position is this. As I pointed out in my Second Reading speech, a lease for the duration of the war is something which anybody can make, and has been able to make, in valid form, which is by making an agreement for a certain number of years, subject to the right to give notice at the end of the war. When the decision in Lace v. Chandler was published I remember thinking, "I wonder whether there are many cases, or any appreciable number of cases, in which people have failed, as did the parties here, to adopt a valid form to effect this result?" Because after all, if there have been practically no cases where an invalid form had been effected I do not think the House would have thought it right to legislate. The fact that we got practically no representations from anybody for a substantial period with regard to this decision rather led one to think there were very few cases which needed a Bill of this kind.
However, one had inquiries made into it at a fairly early stage and it turned out 996 that there were in our view quite enough cases—and the experience of Members in all parts of the Committee supports this—to make this a problem with which we had to deal. I am bound to say one or two people whose letters I have had complaining, and who are business people, I think might have helped us by writing rather sooner, and not waiting until after my announcement and have said, "We have a lease of this sort. Will you treat this as a matter of urgency?" We got substantially no representations until we set our own inquiries on foot. That is why prompt action was not taken. I quite agree that my hon. Friend is entitled to say that we should have moved a little more quickly, but everyone has a number of other things to deal with in these days. I think that some of the business companies and others who undoubtedly were affected by this might have assisted by bringing their cases before us so that we should have had evidence and we should not ourselves have to seek it out.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
With the general observations of the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) on the retrospective effect of legislation I am in complete agreement, but the question here is not whether the Bill should be retrospective or not. The question raised by the Amendment is whether the retrospective effect to 13th June shall be really effective or not, and it seems to me we are not doing very much to put the position right if we are to allow a notice given before 13th June, which may operate in December, still to be valid although neither party may have done anything under the notice whatsoever. I think that a case has been made out by the Attorney-General for retrospective legislation in this connection.
Lace v. Chandler made no new law. The law was known right from the start. Perhaps owing to war circumstances these leases and agreements were not properly drawn. I have little sympathy with people who have discovered they have entered into an agreement which should be binding on their conscience even if it is not binding in law and take advantage of that fact. If the Attorney-General could on reconsideration put in words which not only referred to the two categories I thought of but also to the third one he thought of and I did not, it seems to me we should put this matter right to 997 a very great extent. It may be there are other cases we cannot think of and certain other hardships. I for one feel quite satisfied that if that could be provided for these three categories then the retrospective effect of this Bill to the 13th June would be most effective. If that is not so provided it seems to me that as the people who want to get out of obligations had ample opportunity to do so between the decision and 13th June, this Bill may in fact prove of very little effect. I would ask the Attorney-General to reconsider the matter.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The Attorney-General
I beg to move, in page 4, line 43, at the end, to add:(5) Nothing in the said Section one shall be taken, as bringing any agreement within Section twenty-eight of the Finance Act, 1931 (which requires instruments granting or transferring leases for a term of seven years or more to be produced to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue).This is a drafting Amendment, and I think it is self-explanatory.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.