HC Deb 31 October 1947 vol 443 cc1251-69

11.13 a.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 32, at the end, to insert: Rent of Furnished 6 & 7 The whole 9 & 10 Houses Control Geo. 6, Act Geo. 6, (Scotland) Act. c 44 c. 26" 1943

The Amendment puts right a drafting mistake, for which I wish straight away to offer apologies to the Committee. The Act referred to is shown in Part III of the Schedule as though it were due to expire on 30th June, 1948. It actually expires on 30th December, this year, and therefore should have been in Part I of the Schedule and not in Part III.

Amendment agreed to.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 33 to 37.

The Chairman

In regard to this Amendment I suggest, for the convenience of the Committee, that discussion should take place also upon the subsequent Amendment, to which it is related, in line 34, column 3, after "Act," insert: except Section seven. A decision can later be taken upon the second Amendment, if desired, but without further discussion.

Sir J. Mellor

I thank you, Major Milner for that proposal, as I think it will assist the discussion. Perhaps I should make it clear that the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) and I desire to emphasise is raised more specifically by the second Amendment. This is a matter in which I have some private interest, which I should disclose to the Committee. My hon. Friends and I, although we are moving to omit the whole Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act from the Bill, really desire to omit from continuance only Section 7 of that Act. I will give our reasons. We wish to try to remove, in part if not in whole, an existing anomaly and injustice concerning a special type of property, such as flats and divided houses, which are rated at £100 or less in London, or £75 or less elsewhere, where the landlord provides services such as hot water, central heating, cleaning, lifts, porters, refrigerators and so on. That type of property appears to come within the ambit of two Acts at the present time, the Furnished Houses Act and the Rent Restrictions Act. I should not have said two Acts, as there may be many more Acts. There certainly are several Rent Restrictions Acts in force, as this Committee knows only too well.

It is a matter of general agreement that there has been a great increase in the cost of providing these services. One would have thought that there could be some adjustment in the payments made by tenants to compensate landlords, where there has been a substantial increase, but trouble arises in this fashion, The Furnished Houses Act covers not only furnished houses but premises let in consideration of a rent which covers payment for services. "Services" are defined in Section 12 of that Act as including attendance, provision of heating or lighting, the supply of hot water and any other privilege or facility connected with the occupancy of a house or part of a house. So far so good, but Section 7–the Section from which the difficulty arises—provides that except for furnished houses, … nothing in this Act shall affect any provisions of the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Acts, 1920 to 1939. Therefore we get to the position that, in the case of the premises of which I am speaking where the landlord has to provide services by contract and is liable to be sued by the tenant if he does not provide them, the rent remains frozen by the Rent Acts and it is quite impossible for such premises to be brought before the consideration of the Tribunals which have been set up under the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act with a view to an adjustment in the rent to compensate for the increased cost of services.

I know that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House are extremely anxious for the existing legislation, including both the Rent Acts and the Furnished Houses Act, to be revised and consolidated in a more comprehensive and intelligible form than the legislation which exists at present. They have the support of the Ridley Committee which said in paragraph 29: For many years those whose interests are affected by the Acts or who are for other reasons concerned with interpreting them have complained of the complexity of the Acts both in form and substance and of the obscurity of some of their provisions. These criticisms have come not only from laymen but from lawyers, including the judiciary. Many of us on both sides of the House would have liked a Bill in this Session in order to carry out that recommendation, but being denied that is no reason why we should not go as far as we can to cure injustices and anomalies. I feel we could by means of the proposal which I have made in the next Amendment at least Cure the injustice which is inflicted now upon landlords who have to provide services by contract and are prevented from obtaining any increase in the rent having regard to that fact. The point was particularly stressed by the Ridley Committee on page 25 of their Report, in which they said: Many flats comprised in blocks are let at rents which include a charge not only for the accommodation but for services provided and maintained by the landlord, such as porterage, cleaning, hot water, central heating, lifts and refrigerators. The cost of these services has, it is stated, risen substantially since the war by reason of increases in wages, fuel and other materials, but on the other hand, there have been enforced economies due to the calls on man-power and the effect of rationing, which have resulted in the lowering of the standard of services. Then follows a passage in italics: We agree that, if the provision of these services is in accordance with the standard agreed between the landlord and the tenant involves the landlord in a greater expenditure than he had to incur before the war, he should be entitled to an increase in rent. The report continues: The amount of the increase must obviously depend on the services provided in each individual case. This is a question eminently suitable, in our view, for decision by the Rent Tribunals, who will be able to decide on the appropriate increase on the evidence produced to them. Since the expenses of providing services may have been continuing for some time at a higher level, Tribunals should arrange to give applications of this kind a high priority. The Report of the Ridley Committee was signed by a number of very distinguished persons, including the present Minister of Works and the present Minister of Pensions, and although those two right hon. Gentlemen made certain reservations in the Report, they made no reservation whatsoever on this point. I therefore feel that the Government should not be unsympathetic to the proposals which I am now making because, provided those two Ministers are of the same mind now as they were in 1945, it is clear that in their view this is a case of real injustice and one which should be set right as a matter of high priority. I hope very much, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us a helpful answer.

What we want to do is to enable these oases to be reviewed. I am very reluctant indeed to propose anything which would transfer jurisdiction from superior and fully judicial tribunals like county courts to relatively inferior and less judicial tribunals like those set up under the Furnished Houses Act. I feel it would be in many ways a retrograde step but for the fact that under the law as it stands, under the Rents Acts as they are continued in force, the county courts have in fact no discretion in this matter. Therefore, although I say I am very reluctant to make this proposal on the ground that it is in a sense diminishing the jurisdiction of the higher tribunal and increasing that of the lower tribunal, as the higher tribunal has no discretion in law, I would prefer what advantage there is in the exercise of discretion by the lower one in the form of the tribunal set up under the Furnished Houses Act.

11.30 a.m.

The Amendment would transfer to the tribunals only questions of rents. It would still leave security of tenure entirely in the hands of the county courts. An attempt was made in the courts to exclude premises of this type from the scope of the Rent Restrictions Acts on the grounds that the services which I have described were covered by the word "attendance", because the Rents Acts did not apply to premises let at a rent which includes payments in respect of attendance or furniture. However, the courts held that attendance did not include, for instance, the supply of hot water, and that led to the curious result which was so well described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey in the Debate on the Address as follows: If one is living in a block of flats and the landlord brings up one's shaving water in a tinmug, that constitutes service for which he can charge; but if the hot water is supplied through a tap, that does not constitute service within the meaning of the law."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 187.] Surely that is an unfortunate position. Obviously one could not, and would not, wish to criticise the propriety of a decision of the courts. But it is a matter for this House to consider whether we should not be right in providing that the supply of such services by a landlord under contract should take the matter of the rent out of the Rent Acts, where it is frozen at present, and thaw the question to the extent of giving to the tribunals under the Furnished Houses Act a discretion to increase it or, for that matter, reduce it. The Parliamentary Secretary may say that the Government cannot deal piecemeal with the question of rent legislation. It would be an unfortunate attitude to adopt. It would be denying that half a loaf is better than no bread, which would be a strange attitude to adopt in these times of austerity. If one can see a way of improving the present position by relieving some injustice, then I submit that we should take that course.

Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)

I support the Amendment proposed by the hon. Baronet the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor), and the first question I would ask the Government is, who will reply to this? Where is the Minister of Health? We do not often have the pleasure nowadays of his company here, and I should think that this was a case where he might have turned up in person, because the Amendment concerns his Ministry and no other Ministry, and he should have been here on this occasion to give us the benefit of his views. However, he has been good enough to write to me about it and I suppose I must be content with that. I gather his views are that there is a case for amendment of the Rent Restrictions Acts, both generally and specifically. I do not see how he could take any other attitude because, so far as I know, the recommendations of the Ridley Committee are supported in all parts of this House, not only because the two right hon. Gentlemen who now adorn the Front Bench opposite were members of that Committee, not only because there were other stalwarts of the Labour Party on that Committee, but also because, since this Government have come into power, on more than one occasion the Government have been asked by their own supporters what they are going to do about the Ridley Committee.

I understand the answer we are about to get, if there is any collaboration between Government Departments, is that they do not deny the case at all but they just cannot find time. That is an excuse and not a reason, and it is an excuse that we on this side of the Committee at any rate find it difficult to accept. After all, it is two years ago since the Ridley Committee reported. They then pointed out that there were serious anomalies which were causing hardship to many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people all over this country. Two years and more have gone by and the situation in that time has become worse: One has only to go round London today to see how much property is deteriorating under our very eyes. As I said the other day, the danger is that more old property will fall down than the Minister of Health can build new property to replace it.

In other words, the case for something being done is not denied by right hon. Gentlemen opposite; they simply fall back on the plea that they cannot do anything because they have no time. With regard to this question of time, if legislation implementing the Ridley Report is generally agreed, as I understand it is, it should be a Bill that could go through the House without much discussion, and quickly put right these admitted anomalies. There is, however, one expression which the right hon. Gentleman used on which I will comment. He said that he has found time, as he did find time last year, for the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, and the reason why he found time for that, to quote his own words, was that: exploitation was taking place which needed attention. Exploitation can work both ways. It is all very well to talk about exploitation of the tenants by the property-owner, but you can get exploitation of the property owner by the tenants, and that is what is happening in many thousands of cases all over this country. People are living in houses and paying rents which bear no relationship whatever to the cost of keeping that property under repair. If you have exploitation who benefits? The tenant may appear to have an immediate benefit, but if the result of it is that large areas of this country become virtually slums, then the community generally will not benefit. As I said the other day, the last thing I am asking for is any removal of rent restriction; the last thing I am asking for is any favouritism or consideration for either one party or the other. That is why I like the recommendation in the Ridley Report, that there should be rent courts where the claims of both sides can be adjudicated in a fair manner, and some equitable arrangement arrived at.

To sum up, I am not in the first place, satisfied that the Government cannot find time to place before this House what is largely an agreed Measure; secondly, even if we accept that contention, I do not see why they cannot agree to this Amendment to deal with a particular class of property. I would remind the Committee of what the hon. Baronet has said, that the Ridley Committee not only agreed that the increased expenditure arising out of the law was much higher and would justify an increase in rents, but they also said that these cases should be given high priority. The fact is that if the Government wanted to do it, they could easily remove one of the anomalies which many of their supporters agree exist, but I suppose, to be quite frank about it, the property-owner is one of that section of the population which figures so largely in Socialist demonology, and therefore he is not to be considered. If, however, the Government want to do what is right and decent and honourable, they will accept this Amendment. I sincerely hope that whoever replies to this will be a little more forthcoming as to what is likely to happen than the Minister of Health has indicated to me.

Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)

The reason I have put my name to this Amendment is not quite the same as that of the two hon. Members who have spoken from the other side of the Committee, though in some measure it is the same. It arises from the fact that the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill is of such a nature that unless one moves an Amendment of this kind it is impossible to deal with any anomaly that may exist in the various Acts to which it relates, and unless an hon. Member moves an Amendment to repeal or exclude the whole of or part of one of the Acts referred to in the Schedule, he is left with no alternative but to accept the Bill as a whole. This means that an opportunity is not given to the House of Commons to consider the provisions of a Measure by way of Amendment, and that we cannot alter any of the terms at all; all we can do is to move an Amendment that an Act or Section of an Act, or part of or section of an Act shall be excluded. The inclusion of this Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill is a very serious thing in regard to the question of rent control, because it means that what the Minister of Health said when he first introduced this Measure on the Second Reading is not being carried into effect. He then said that the Bill was intended to remedy evils in a similar manner to that used in the Scottish Act and that it was to be an experiment. We accepted it as such. It is no use having an experiment, unless one is going to benefit by the results of one's experimenting and research.

There have been some interesting features exposed in consequence of the working of this Act, and they require attention. In my view, a separate Bill should have been introduced in relation to the control of the rents of furnished houses which would have enabled us to deal with these specific points one by one. I feel that in the circumstances we have no alternative in order to bring the difficulties to the notice of my hon. Friend and the Minister, but to move that the whole Act be excluded from this Bill. I wish to make that clear, because I feel, as do many other hon. Members, that the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act is an essential Statute on our Statute Book. There is no question that it has rendered a very valuable service to tenants throughout the country.

Up to last March, more than 10,000 applications were made to the various rent tribunals throughout the country and rents were reduced in some cases by 42 per cent., or 43 per cent.—I am quoting from memory—to something like 20 per cent. in other cases with an average of about 30 per cent. That is a very important piece of work. It also shows that what the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) said is not quite as apparent as he would like it to be. No one would deny that hardships are sometimes entailed by landlords, but they are not so hard done by as all that. I can hardly shed the volume of tears that the hon. Member is apparently prepared to shed so profusely on every occasion when he mentions the hardships of the landlords.

Mr. Gammans

I am not shedding tears for anybody. Does the hon. Member deny the findings of the Ridley Committee, an expert Committee, which said categorically that there was not only a case but an urgent case?

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Janner

Far be it from me to put myself up as of equal authority to those who sat on the Ridley Committee; but I did have the temerity to suggest in giving evidence before them that some of the findings they subsequently arrived at were not in fact substantiated. I am sure the hon. Member for Hornsey will admit that from time to time he has many objections to find about their conclusions, and I would like to put some of them to him privately at a later stage, when I am sure he will confirm that he does not agree with some of the proposals which the Ridley Committee made. The fact is that 10,050 people had, up to last March found, it necessary to apply to the rent tribunals for a reduction in their rents and many of the cases—I do not know the exact percentage, but it was a very large percentage—were held to have been properly brought, because the rents were reduced. I do not know what the figures are today; probably they are nearly twice as many. That means that the Act was highly necessary.

I will quote soon from the experience of the tribunal which deals with cases for the constituency I have the honour to represent, but first I would like to deal with one or two of the points which have been made clear in the course of tribunal sessions generally. This system has created something quite new in this country. It is true that rent tribunals had been instituted already in Scotland, but in England and Wales they were new. The tribunals are a kind of informal court, and the forms one has to fill in to bring a case before the tribunal, are very simple. There is nothing intricate about them, and the hearing is quite a homely affair, where everyone has an opportunity of putting his or her case. What is most important is that the tribunals send representatives of their body to see the houses in order to investigate conditions, with the result that the quality as well as the extent of the accommodation in the district becomes known to the tribunal itself, provided that sufficient people in the district take advantage of the provisions of the Act.

Some very interesting conclusions have resulted from the experience of members of these tribunals. Certain anomalies have been discovered. Take, for example, the points of a case which is not yet fully decided, the question of what is a standard rent. It has been held by one court that if a house was let furnished for the first time after the outbreak of the last war, the rent then charged for the house as a furnished dwellinghouse was the standard rent. The result has been that after a tribunal had held that the rent chargeable should be substantially reduced, another court held that it cannot be reduced because the standard rent of premises cannot be reduced. It is a matter which is going elsewhere, not so far as I am concerned, because my unfortunate clients were not in a position to take it further, they being only the poor tenants. It is going elsewhere because the tribunal itself is taking up the matter. One can see that that is the kind of anomaly that exists and which has to be cleared up before we can go much further.

There is something equally important—namely that security does not exist for the tenant who applies to the tribunal. That is extremely serious, because as the Committee will hear in a few moments, the chairman of the tribunal in my district, for example, says that they have had a hundred cases before them but that that figure is not a tithe of the cases that would have come before the tribunal if the tenant had not feared he would be deprived of his tenancy once he had taken proceedings. If that is the case, it means that from the commencement of this Act, until March, there would have been, on the basis of the chairman's figure, not 10,000 but 100,000 cases in that period.

It is not only a question of people not having the desire to go to the tribunal in consequence of the fear of insecurity, but also that the average person does not understand the first thing about the Rent Acts. Local authorities are supposed to give information, but a large number of them do not give it or do not trouble much about it. The result is that there are thousands upon thousands, possibly millions, of tenants who know nothing about the provisions of the Acts, and who because they are so uninformed, do not take the necessary steps to improve really serious situations. I am not speaking without the book. I have taken the the trouble to follow these tribunals fairly closely during the time they have been in existence, and I have myself been concerned with cases before them in a professional capacity. Also, I have kept in contact with the chairman of the tribunal for Leicester and district.

I wish to give the Committee some quotations, which speak much more clearly than any language which I can use, and which explain the points I have raised. The Chairman of that tribunal said, in June, We have already dealt with over 100 cases— that is in one tribunal alone— which, from information I can gather, is but a tithe of the number which ought to have come before us. Having made what inquiries I could and from what I have been told by one of the members of my tribunal, who is in close touch with the City Public Assistance Committee, I am convinced that the reason for this is the shortness of the period of security. What I understand the reasoning to be is that it is better to pay an extortionate rent and be certain of having a roof over one's head than go before a tribunal, have the rent reduced and then have to clear out of the rooms at the end of the three months. That they do have to clear out at the end of the three months is being made abundantly clear to us from the complaints we are receiving from the tenants themselves. In the majority of cases it is not because the tenant has been guilty of any breach of the tenancy agreement but simply spite on the part of the landlord because the matter was taken to the tribunal.

Sir J. Mellor

I explained to the Committee that if my second Amendment was carried, it would in no way detract from the authority of county courts on the question of tenure. It would only refer the question of rent to the tribunals.

Mr. Janner

It is not quite so simple as that. Nothing in these Acts is so simple. Do not let the hon. Gentleman imagine for one moment that the point he has now put is quite so easily achieved as he says. In his second Amendment he is saying that Sections 9 and 10 should apply, but he is at the same time excluding the provisions of the Rent Acts, which is very serious, because if they are excluded those provisions relating to possession and all those things to which the Rent Acts apply are also excluded.

Sir J. Mellor

It would only exclude the provisions of the Rent Acts in so far as the provisions of Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act would override the Rent Acts by virtue of its other provisions.

Mr. Janner

It would take much too long for me to deal with that point, but if the hon. Member sat in the courts and listened to the learned judges on these points, he would realise that it is far from possible for myself, a humble member of the humbler branch of the legal profession, to tell him much about it in a short time. I do assure him, however, that what he intends to achieve by his second Amendment would have other effects which he does not intend to bring into force. It would mean excluding the provisions of the Rent Acts, which would be serious, because that would exclude those provisions relating to the possession of houses which are already protected in other respects. If he examines his Amendment, he will see that that is so.

May I proceed with my quotation, because this is an important matter, and we should know what is happening? … many of the landlords are themselves tenants of the property and, in numerous cases, at controlled rents, the result being that often the rent of one room let off pays the rent of the whole house, the remainder being clear profit to the landlord. We have come across many cases where a person has become the tenant of several houses in the same district letting off the whole accommodation in apartments (so called) and making a very good income from them. In one instance the condition of the premises was so shocking that we referred the matter to the City Medical Officer of Health who very promptly dealt with it and forbade the landlady to let off any part of the house until his requirements had been complied with. That was in June. I got in touch with the Minister, as a Member of the constituency should do in the discharge of his duties, but apparently that did not quite convince the Minister, and the matter has been getting more aggravated. I have received later communications. Let me quote another one or two so that the Committee may be aware of what is involved: In many of these cases which have come before us the rent charged from the letting of one room very poorly furnished has more than paid the rent of the whole house, so that all the other lettings have been sheer profit. For instance we dealt with three applications yesterday where single rooms, sparsely furnished, were let at 35s. per week each. There were six rooms in the house the rent of which was 12S. per week plus rates, so you can see what profit the lessor was making … Some of the cases are almost heartrending and very often I come away from an inspection of premises feeling fearfully depressed to think that people, and more often than not young children, have to live in such appalling circumstances. and this is significant: How little some people know or worry about the conditions in which some of their fellows live or rather exist. 12 noon.

I kept the matter up, and later on, in September, the position was confirmed in further letters on which I will not detain the Committee by quoting in full, but there is one passage that I would like to refer to: I received information from three local authorities that there were numerous cases in their districts which would have to be referred to the tribunal but, so far, there have been two cases each from two of them, and none from the other. I have made certain in quiries about the dearth of cases referred to us from those areas and have ascertained that it is the matter of the three months' security which has been the deterrent. The tenants will pay the exorbitant rents demanded and retain a roof over their heads. The lessors invariably turn the tenants out at the end of the three months as a reprisal for having brought them before the tribunal. It is only in the bad cases that the Press mentions names and addresses, and then only at my request, but the lessor has had his rent demand restricted and so gets his own back on the tenant by clearing him out at the end of three months security. Does that not rather knock the bottom out of the argument that an extension of the period of security would operate as a hardship on the lessor? We had three cases on Friday last in two of which we gave the usual security period, but it was made clear to us … this is interesting— … as well as to the tenant that as soon as that period expired, the tenant would have to look out for other accommodation. … Apparently, it was actually made clear at the tribunal session … and in one of the cases the tenant's wife was expecting to become a mother in the course of a few weeks. That is the position. I believe, as the chairman of the Leicester tribunal believes, that that must be remedied. He suggests—and it is not a bad idea—that the tribunals which now have this knowledge and experience, should be given the right to assess the amount of rent that should be charged. There I come to agreement with my hon. Friend opposite because it would mean that the tribunals have more knowledge of the situation, if I may say so with respect, than the learned county court judges. After all, the county court judge cannot afford on every occasion to adjourn his court to inspect houses. Sometimes, to give them their due, if they have any doubt in their minds, they visit the house, but obviously they cannot deal with the tens of thousands of cases that are bound to arise.

Why cannot we have this new Rent Act. I understand that there is big pressure on Parliamentary time but, in the main, the Act could be based on the Ridley Report together with suggestions of such people as myself and my hon. Friends, and I think we could get it through. At least, let us get on with the consolidation of the present Acts so as to be prepared for the next one. The Acts at present on the Statute Book which are as complicated as—

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

I have allowed the hon. Gentleman considerable latitude, but he is now going too far.

Mr. Janner

I beg your pardon, Mr. Beaumont. I ask that the Minister should take a wider view and press upon his colleagues that something should be done to bring the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act into a consolidated Act. I hope that I have not transgressed too far, but it is important that we should consider this matter fully. I should be the last person in the world to want the Act removed from the Statute Book, but I felt that this was an occasion which should be taken to try to get the Amendment necessary to put the situation right.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)

I listened very carefully to the interesting speeches that have been made. We ought to remind ourselves that we are not in a position this morning to do anything about the Rent Restrictions Acts. We are not in a position to amend the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act. We are considering a much simpler matter which is whether or not this Act ought to be continued and whether it ought to be continued in whole or in part. I listened to the speeches in support of an Amendment the effect of which, if carried, would be that we should not continue the Act.

Sir J. Mellor

The Parliamentary Secretary must appreciate that my remarks, and those of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans), were directed to the question which the Chairman considered should be discussed, of whether or not Section 7 of the Act should be retained. My remarks were entirely devoted to that question.

Mr. Edwards

That is so, but it also remains true that the Amendment, if it were made, would have the effect of meaning that we should not be able to continue the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act.

Mr. Janner

I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary wants intentionally to mislead the Committee. There was another method of dealing with this. A new Bill might have been introduced without including this particular Act within the provisions of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.

Mr. Edwards

I do not want to go on with this argument, but when the hon. Baronet ended his speech and said that half a loaf was better than none, my impression was that the Amendment, according to his analogy, would have the effect of blowing up the bakehouse. To a certain extent, we must treat this matter in formal terms. I do not believe that anyone has advanced any serious argument why the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act should not continue. There has been argument about one section in it, but the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken seem to imply that the Act in general should go on.

I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I said just a little about the reasons why we particularly want to have the Act continued. The operation of the Act was fixed to expire at the end of 1947, that being a very provisional estimate of the period when the most acute phase of the housing stringency might have passed. But while considerable progress has been made, there is no kind of doubt at all that there is still an acute shortage of living accommodation. That is why we want the Act to continue. It has been pointed out that the Ridley Committee on Rent Control recommended the establishment of rent tribunals to deal with furnished lettings, but the Committee said this should be undertaken as part of a general revision of rent control legislation. They foresaw that control in some form might have to go on, I think for 10 years. It was because of the urgency of this problem of furnished accommodation that this Act was passed in 1946, but its relation to rent control generally will have to be reconsidered when Parliamentary time is available for general review of the Rent Restrictions Acts. I am afraid that it is not much use asking me questions about when Parliamentary time will be available. Such questions should be put in another quarter. We are agreed that this in common with other problems, must be reconsidered at some point. The view of the Government is that we have not the time at present to bring proposals before the House. In the absence of such an immediate opportunity, the period of the continuance of this Act as a whole, should we feel be extended.

Up to the end of August, orders had been made applying the Act to the districts of 879 local authorities, and 77 tribunals had been set up. Over 10,000 cases had been deal with, the rents were reduced in 72 per cent. of the cases, and the average reduction was 31 per cent. In August, almost 1,000 fresh cases were referred to the tribunals, and it is expected that a substantial number will continue to be brought before the tribunals in 1948. I think this is all the more likely, because local authorities are continuing to ask that the Act should be applied. During the summer of 1947, something like 15 additional districts each month have been brought within the jurisdiction of one or other of the tribunals.

Mr. Cecil Poole (Lichfield)

Could my hon. Friend tell us in what percentage of the 10,000 cases which have come before the tribunal have the tenants lost their tenancies on the expiry of the three months?

Mr. Edwards

I am sorry, but I cannot give that information.

There is another point of which we should take account. We have received reports from very many areas that landlords with furnished accommodation have spontaneously reduced their rents as a result merely of the existence of a tribunal in their districts, and it is, I think, reasonable to suppose that the tribunals have had a deterrent effect in this way. I am certain that these tribunals are having an effect which we should lose were the Act to be allowed to expire. On those grounds, we want this Act continued, and I hope that the first Amendment will not be pressed.

Let me now turn to the second Amendment, in which we are dealing with a more detailed and much smaller point. It will be generally understood that the powers of the tribunals under the Act are almost wholly the powers of reducing the rents, but they have powers to approve an increase in the rent in one set of circumstances only, namely, under Section 2 (4), where premises are let with services, and the cost of providing those services has gone up since 1939. I should, perhaps, in passing, note that this provision was put into the Bill in another place, and it may be possible that the restriction of Section 7 in relation to it was overlooked. However that may be, there is no doubt that Section 2 (4) is very limited in scope, because Section 7 provides that the Rent Restrictions Acts shall continue to apply in the case of controlled houses.

Whether or not the second Amendment would do what the mover would wish, or what is consequences would be, it is no part of my business to answer. Presumably, the supporters of the Amendment know what they want, but it is part of my business to say that, although I am aware of the Ridley Committee's recommendations on the point, I cannot believe that it would be right to grant the power to increase the rents of controlled houses solely in those cases which happen to be service flats. In other words, I do not believe it would be right to take a special and relatively small section of property and treat it differently from the broad generality of property under the Rent Restrictions Acts. I would therefore ask that the special pleading for this particular group should be resisted. We really cannot handle this difficult and complicated problem by taking one small section and dealing with it independently at this time when we are asking for the Act to be continued.

Mr. Gammans

I wish to challenge the words used by the hon. Gentleman in suggesting that we on this side of the Committee are asking for rents to be increased. We are not asking anything of the sort. We are asking that where a case can be made out, it should go before the tribunal, which is exactly what is provided under the Act.

Mr. Edwards

I realise that, but I am not prepared this morning to agree that the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts should be taken away from this particular small class of property, and so I hope that the Committee will not approve the Amendment. There was a long discussion about this Measure when it was before the House, and full time was given to it. I ask the Committee to agree that the Act should be continued for another 12 months.

Sir J. Mellor

I am certainly not going to re-argue the matter with the hon. Gentleman, but I wish to express great disappointment, at least, on the point that the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated that his Ministry is quite unwilling to consider any improvement in the existing legislation until the whole thing can be dealt with at some future date when the Government are prepared to give the necessary Parliamentary time. It is, I think, regrettable that they are not prepared to attempt to cure conspicuous injustices and anomalies such as those to which the Ridley Committee has called attention, by a short interim Measure. It is no use arguing with a blank wall, and that is about the only sort of wall the Ministry of Health can succeed in raising at the present time. I regret very much the attitude which the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated, and I wish to record my vehement protest.

Amendment negatived.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 49 to 52.

The Committee will remember that, earlier in our discussions, it was good enough to accept an Amendment which I moved placing these words in Part I of the Schedule, and, as we put them into Part I, we should now take them out of Part III.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Schedule, as amended, be the Schedule to the Bill."

Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)

I want to ask a simple question about the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1904. This seems to come up year after year on this occasion, and some hon. Members are unaware why it should come up year after year, and never become a permanent Act. Could the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary give some explanation?

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Hobson)

The position is that the Government are considering making this a permanent Act. The reason why it has not been done before is that special consideration has had to be given to the added difficulties of electrical interference with wireless receiving, and the Government are considering the bringing in of a Bill as soon as time is available.

Question put, and agreed to.

Forward to