§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill which I am presenting to the House is one of limited scope but of very great importance to a large number of citizens. In my attempts to explain it I shall not follow the order of the Bill itself but shall try to deal with some of the general principles involved and to approach the more technical and more difficult parts of the Bill at the end. Hon. Members who have looked at the Bill will have reached the conclusion that it is very complex and very difficult to understand. In that I sympathise with them. I expect, therefore, that they will co-operate with me in avoiding the more intricate part of the Measure until we come to the Committee stage. At this stage I want to explain the general principles.
The Bill deals with four subjects. First, the extension of security of tenure to tenants of furnished lettings. Secondly, it seeks to extend the umbrella of the Rent Restrictions Acts to tenants and to landlords and tenants who are sharing certain accommodation. Thirdly, it seeks to give to rent tribunals the right to review the rents of houses let for the first time since 1945, that is since VJ-Day. Fourthly, it seeks to deal with the imposition of premiums where those lettings have taken place.
When the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Bill was before the House in 1946 hon. Members, and particularly hon. Members behind me, said that it was necessary to give more than three months' security of tenure; they feared that landlords and landladies—often of course not the owners of the property but the principal tenants—who had been proceeded against at furnished lettings' tribunals, would be vindictive and would turn people out merely on account of the fact that they had been to the tribunal. At that time I recognised that this danger existed. If hon. Members will cast their minds back, they will recall that we were at that time asking people to share their 571 homes, particularly with returning ex-Service men. I was apprehensive that if we tied a landlady or a landlord and a tenant by Act of Parliament to a propinquity which would be repugnant to either of them, or to both, it might have the effect of losing accommodation which might otherwise be available. In other words, I was apprehensive that people would not let rooms if, having let them once, they could never get rid of the tenant. Further, I wanted to give an opportunity to people to try to adjust themselves to each other and not to use legal restrictions until it had become absolutely essential.
As a general rule, I believe the operations of the 1946 Act have been benign. Very large numbers of applications have been made to tribunals. Rents have been reduced and, on the whole, very substantial relief has been given. Furthermore, the experience of tribunals, the conduct of tribunals, the standard of the administration of tribunals, have all been very heartening and have gone to show that institutions of this sort can be entrusted with great responsibility. Enough facts have now been revealed, however, to enable us to come to the conclusion that additional protection is required for the tenants.
The Bill proposes that where in the first instance three months' security of tenure has been given, the tenant can come back again before the period terminating his tenancy and ask for another extension and can have extensions for three months at a time. I might be asked, why not give more than three months? The answer is because domestic circumstances change very rapidly and because it is necessary to give both the landlord and the tenant in these cases an opportunity, if they so wish, of a review. Of course, where in the first instance less than three months' security was given it is unnecessary to give power to go to the tribunal, because the circumstances will have been taken into account by the tribunal in giving less than three months. In that case, therefore, there is no further appeal, but in all other cases, as I say, there is an opportunity for a fresh application to be made for additional security of tenure. I think that is as far as we need go at the moment and I believe it will give the necessary protection in the small minority of cases where people 572 have behaved viciously and have taken action against their tenants merely on account of the fact that the tenant has sought the protection of the law.
Turning to the second main point of the Bill, it was in 1945 that there was a court decision that where a bathroom, a kitchen, a garage, and other accommodation were shared in common between the landlord and a tenant in the same dwelling house, the Rent Restrictions Acts no longer applied. It was the intention of the Rent Restrictions Acts that they should be regarded as separate lettings. That decision of the court took away the umbrella of the Rent Restrictions Acts and a landlord was able to obtain possession of the premises, for the tenants no longer had the protection of the Act either with regard to the rent or with regard to residence. Since then other decisions of the court have extended the same decision where accommodation is actually shared by tenants and they are merely sharing a kitchen together.
What this part of the Bill does is to put the umbrella up again. It enables the tenant to go to a rent tribunal where it is a tenancy shared with the landlord. Where the accommodation is shared between tenants, the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts is entirely restored. This protection is absolutely essential to a large number of people. I have had representations made to me in the course of the last six months or so pointing out that landlords have taken advantage of these decisions of the courts—which, of course, they were perfectly entitled to do—to withdraw the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts from persons whom it was clearly the intention of Parliament to protect. Therefore, the provisions of the Bill have the effect, fundamentally, of restoring the position to what it was, except that where the accommodation is shared between a landlord and a tenant the more flexible instrument of the rent tribunal is invoked, and not the courts. It is obvious why that should be so.
We now come to the third provision of the Bill, which is a little more substantial. Lettings which are made for the first time since 1939 have a standard rent fixed at what is the first rent charged; or, to put it the other way, the standard rent is the first rent, and that becomes the protected rent. This Bill speaks of lettings since 1945, because the circumstances of 573 the war years were so turbulent and difficult we did not think it desirable to include first lettings during the war within the ambit of the Bill. This Bill deals with lettings for the first time since 1945. It gives the tenant the right to have that rent reviewed by the rent tribunals. I think that this case hardly needs arguing, because many—in fact, all—of these lettings were made in circumstances that favoured the landlord enormously as against the tenant. That is still the case, especially in our large cities.
Indeed, this problem is substantially a metropolitan problem. People have been searching for accommodation, especially young married couples, and more particularly ex-Service men and their brides. They have been compelled, often by circumstances over which they have had no control, to find accommodation in the hearts of great cities. There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that their necessities have often been preyed upon by unscrupulous landlords. So we think it is desirable that the tribunals should have a look at those rents, and that, having looked at them, they should fix what a reasonable rent should be, having regard to all the circumstances. It does not seem to me that there can be any objection whatsoever to tribunals, armed with the experience that most of these tribunals have now, having the power to have a look at all the circumstances surrounding a letting and determining what the reasonable rent for the premises should be.
§ Mr. Piratin (Mile End)
Would the right hon. Gentleman go into more detail as to why these provisions cannot be retroactive to 1939 instead of 1945? I really am not clear on that, and I think that other hon. Members are in the same position.
§ Mr. Bevan
The fact is that there were not very many lettings of this kind during the war. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Not lettings for the first' time, and that is what we are speaking about. The circumstances of the war were extremely difficult. However, I am not hidebound about that at all. I think that when we come to examine it in more detail in Committee we shall find out that there is not a very strong case for including the war years within the provisions of this Bill. However, as I said, I am prepared to have a look at it, and if a 574 case can be made out for including other years I shall be prepared to consider it sympathetically.
The fourth main feature of the Bill is that provision which deals with premiums. It must be obvious to anyone looking at this problem that there will be no sense in arming the tribunal with the power to look at the rent if it cannot at the same time look at the premium. Anybody who admits—and I should think that the admission ought to be universal—that these rents should be reviewed can hardly isolate the premiums from the rents. The rent may be low because the premium was inordinately high. Anyhow, the premium and the rent is what the tenant has had to pay in order to get the accommodation. Therefore, it would seem to me to be absolutely reasonable that we should take both together.
I have had brought to me—and I am quite sure hon. Members in all parties and all parts of the House have had brought to them—very many instances of particularly harsh treatment in this respect. Very large sums of money have been extorted; much hardship has been created. We think ourselves that it is utterly unjustifiable that individuals, who have been referred to by newspapers supporting the party opposite as "spivs," should be able to obtain large sums of money merely as a consequence of a scarcity of accommodation, and when there was, it seems to me, on the part of all parties in the State an implied obligation, if not an explicit obligation, to protect the populations of our great cities, and especially the ex-Service men and women from having a scarcity of accommodation exploited against them in this fashion.
So, if the general aim is admitted, the only thing that we have to discuss is what method is to be adopted. However, I see from the Amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the Leader of the Opposition that it is not universally admitted. The Amendment is:That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which will discourage and arrest the provision by private enterprise of houses and flats to let; which breaks existing contracts; and which, so far from remedying the many injustices of the Rent Restrictions Acts, will increase them still further.I shall come to the Amendment in a moment or two. I am not denying that this is an extremely difficult theme, but 575 I think that, on examination, it will be found that we have arrived at an ingenious and a just method of dealing with it.
In the first instance, it is necessary for the tribunal to fix what should be the standard rent. The standard rent, for the moment, disregards any improvements that have been made to the premises. The conception of standard rent is one that prevails throughout the territory of the Acts concerning rent control, and we are anxious to preserve it in connection with this property as well as with the other properties that fall under the rateable values that are the ceilings of the Rent Restrictions Acts. So the first thing the rent tribunal does is to look at the premises, look at the circumstances, and fix what it considers should be the standard rent. Then it looks at what improvements have been made on the premises—general amenities, general improvements—assesses the value of those, and then fixes what should be the reasonable rent. The reasonable rent, of course, may be the same as the standard rent, but the reasonable rent is the rent which has taken into acount the value of the alterations, as well as the standard rent.
Then there is the third element, which is the premium itself. The rent tribunal takes into account what has been paid by way of premium and takes the different rental periods, whether a week, a month or a year, and divides the duration of the lease and the number of rental periods into the premium. Here a refinement has to be introduced, because if the period of the lease is too short, two year's say, having already elapsed, too small a proportion of the premium paid would be taken by the tenant from the landlord; so, in order to take a larger proportion of the premium from the landlord to give more relief to the tenant, a minimum period of seven years is assumed, and the premium is divided by seven, giving rental equivalent of the premium for each rental period, which is then deducted from the reasonable rent, and the rent remaining becomes the recoverable rent. I think that is a perfectly simple proposition.
§ Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)
I do not find it quite so simple. Where a premium was paid in view of a very low nominal rent during a period, 576 are those years when only a nominal rent was paid also taken into consideration?
§ Mr. Bevan
I do not follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point. The fact is that, in the first instance, the landlord has already obtained a certain amount of rent for the portion of the lease that has expired. What actually happens is this: We do not take from the landlord any proportion in respect of the expired portion of the lease. None of the premium is paid back in respect of that; it is only the unexpired portion. If it is a seven-year lease, and there are seven rental periods, two-sevenths of the premiums that have been paid will have already accrued to the landlord, and will not be recoverable. It is the unexpired portion that the landlord is compelled to disgorge. This is done by way of reduction of rental because that is the easiest way of doing it, the least painful way of doing it, and the one which gives relief to the tenant in the way the relief ought to fall. Where, however, the premium paid is so large that to divide it by seven wipes out the rent, as can easily happen, then we assume the number of years necessary to balance both.
I think it would be very difficult to discover a more just and ingenious way. If hon. Members, in the course of our discussions, can suggest a more ingenious way, I am prepared to consider it, because I do not suppose that we have exhausted the resources of legislative ingenuity; but I do know that it was not an easy task to try to deal with this sort of imposition in such a way as would not be unjust to either party. It must always be remembered that there is an assessment by three reasonable people, having regard to all the circumstances, who make what they consider to be a reasonable arrangement having regard to the particular situation that arises.
We had to entrust this task to the tribunal because I suggest that it would be practicably impossible to frame a piece of legislation which would enable the courts to construe it in the normal way. There are, of course, certain refinements, but I think that it would be better if we discussed them when we come to look at them more closely on the Committee stage. We must keep before our minds 577 all the while what are the main features of the Bill and what it is that we intend to do. It will, of course, be quite clear that where a recoverable rent has been fixed by the tribunal, which is composed of all the elements of which I have been speaking—the standard rent, the reasonable rent, and the rental equivalent—that in the event of a tenant leaving his tenancy, the unexpired portion of the lease still in his possession will be to the benefit of the incoming tenant.
§ Mr. Bevan
Certainly. The assumption is that the outgoing tenant will also make a charge because he has also paid a premium to the landlord, and he is not going to let the unexpired portion of the lease go to the incoming tenant without some compensation. The incoming tenant, having paid the compensation, will benefit by the reduced rent to the landlord. Provision will be found in the Bill to cover that point.
§ Mr. Bevan
The Bill does not deal with tenants in general. I want to be perfectly modest about the claims we are making for the Bill. The Bill does not attempt to wipe out all the injustices that may arise in the letting of property in circumstances of scarcity of accommodation which almost invariably favours the owner of the property. The Bill is merely dealing with the grosser abuses, until such time as we have the accommodation which will arm the tenant with the normal and natural protection against the landlord.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
There is one impact which the Bill makes about which I am not clear. Let us take the case in which a tenancy now exists which has been rent-controlled since before the war. Therefore, the rent has not been increased at all. It comes under the original Rent Restrictions Acts. The tenant wants to move elsewhere and advertises that he is willing to surrender 578 a short tenancy to a new tenant at the same rent, provided that a substantial amount is paid in respect of furniture. That is a very common type of case. People are paying hundreds of pounds for a nominal amount of furniture. I do not quite see how the Bill adjusts that.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that where a house is already protected, the protected tenant is not in a position to sell his protected tenancy, because if he hands over the tenancy without the consent of the landlord the protection is gone?
§ Mr. Bevan
The letting of the house reverts usually to the landlord in such a case, and the point does not arise. In any case, the answer to the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) is that this Bill does not deal with those categories of cases; it deals only with the cases that I have described. When we framed the Bill it was not the intention in the first instance to have a major amendment of the Rent Restrictions Acts.
That brings me to the Amendment on the Order Paper. I must confess that I was astonished when I saw this Amendment. I could only conclude that the Opposition had decided they might as well face opposition and a considerable amount of disgruntlement for a cause which they considered to he just and proper, and I commend them for their public spirit. I should not like to have it suggested that they have surrendered to pressure from any quarter whatsoever, because only on the ground of political high-mindedness could we explain how it is that an Opposition could put on the Order Paper an Amendment to so just and reasonable a proposal as that which I have been describing.
The first ground upon which the House is asked to reject the Bill is because they say, itwill discourage and arrest the provision by private enterprise of houses and flats to let.What is there in the proposals before the House that discourages a reasonable person from doing this? If the rent 579 charged is a reasonable one, they will be able to recover what they have spent upon the house. In the first place, the standard rent is fixed, and then they will have the opportunity of arguing before the tribunal the value of the alterations which have been made. Therefore, a reasonable rent would take into account what is necessary to be paid on a reasonable investment. The same thing will apply to the premium. The argument can only be a sound one if, before the tribunals have made their decisions, the Opposition say those decisions will be unjust, because the members of the tribunals are asked by Statute to take into account all those considerations.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
The right hon. Gentleman did not explain previously what he meant by "reasonable." I would ask him to elaborate this point a little further. Are we to understand from what he is now saying that the basis of "reasonable" will be a reasonable return upon the money spent upon the house and any alterations that have been made in it?
§ Mr. Bevan
"Reasonable" would be what appears to be reasonable to a reasonable man. Obviously, if I am asked for an abstract definition of what is reasonable it can only be what any normal person would regard as reasonable in the concrete circumstances of the case. We must have regard to the concrete circumstances of the case, and not to the general ones. It seems to me that this is a matter which ought to be left to the tribunal itself. Indeed, it is precisely because the conditions are so diverse, and it is precisely because justice can be done in these conditions only by a tribunal looking at each particular instance, that we have regarded the tribunals as the right instrument for this purpose.
It seems to me, therefore, that there is no reason to apprehend that there will be a loss of accommodation because we are using this method of fixing the return upon this capital expenditure. If we cannot get flat accommodation to let in these great cities without paying excessive profits, it will have to be done by another method. Although I cannot at the moment tell the House what the proposals are, hon. Members will have noticed that we have already intimated 580 in the Gracious Speech that proposals are to come forward to deal with the reconditioning of property. How far this problem will be assimilated in those proposals I cannot, of course, tell the House at this moment, but we have not ignored this problem. I say to the Opposition, quite frankly, that it is objectionable to us to allow the provision of flat accommodation to let in the centres of our great cities to reside only in the hands of those who will do it if they obtain extortionate returns upon their capital investment.
The only other reason that has been advanced is that this proposal breaks existing contracts. That really is an astonishing reason. It does not lie in the mouths of the party opposite to argue that one. What about 1931? There never was such a holocaust of contracts; contracts were broken; contracts to the unemployed were violated—I suppose it is much more heinous to violate the contract where a landlord is making extortionate sums of money than in the case of an unemployed person—schoolteachers had their contracts broken; Service men had their contracts broken; so did policemen. But apparently the sanctity of contracts—
§ Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Does the Minister think those breaches of contract were unjustifiable, or does he defend them?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
I intervene for the purpose of allowing the right hon. Gentleman to develop his argument—the more it is developed the better for the House as a whole—but certainly not in order to stop him answering what must for him be an extremely awkward question.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am only pointing out at the moment that it does not lie with the 581 party opposite to talk about the sanctity of contracts, because contracts have been violated by the party opposite far more than by any other party in the State. The Act of 1920 itself had a provision by which contracts could be violated where more than the accepted amount of profit was being made. That was the original Act. Then again, why was not this exception taken to the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946? Why not? Because we were dealing with a humbler class of person, I suppose; because, by and large, we were dealing with people letting rooms in small cottages and not letting these expensive flats.
I am really amazed that the party opposite should assume that it is ethical to allow these people to live under these disabilities, on the reasoning that it is unfair to interfere with those who took advantage of a need for accommodation. That is a most astonishing argument, and I am certain that the right hon. and gallant Member is only putting it forward from the highest possible motives. I shall be delighted to hear what they are; indeed, the whole House will be delighted; the nation will be delighted. What are the reasons why the Opposition decided at the last moment to put down a reasoned Amendment to this Bill?
The third reason why the House is asked to reject the Bill is that we are not dealing with the Rent Restrictions Acts as a whole; because, as I understand it, we ought now to deal with the whole of the eight million cottages involved in the Rent Restrictions Acts. I suggest to the House that this is not the moment when it is practicable to undertake a review of that magnitude. If we accepted the recommendations of the Ridley Committee, it would require 200 tribunals with 200 offices in different parts of the country. That is an enormous undertaking.
Why on earth should it be assumed that this Government, which has already cleared up so many of the jungles left by previous administrations in one short period of office, should clear up all the jungles that have been left behind? After all, we have brought forward, in the course of the last 3½ years, a mass of legislation unequalled in the history of Parliament. Indeed, we have been reproached for doing so, and the Opposition have told us that we have brought 582 forward far too many Measures, and that Parliament ought to be given a breathing space. But, the Opposition are now asking us to bring forward another and far more complicated Measure than this one, or that we have brought forward the wrong Measure, in which case they want to have the right to select what is put on the Order Paper.
I am seriously suggesting to the House that the task of revising the whole of the 8 million cottages in Great Britain under the control of the Rent Restrictions Acts is of too great a magnitude for us to undertake at the moment in addition to all the other administrative tasks. Nor do I agree that there is any great amount of hardship upon the owners of small cottages. There is no exceptional hardship. It is claimed that the costs of repairs are very high, but the landlords have been collecting rents for eight years during a period when no repairs were being done. They have accumulated a reserve out of their rents, and even if repairs are twice or three times more than before the war, they have these reserves out of which to do the repairs. It cannot be argued that in 1949 they have begun to suffer very grievously.
Furthermore, people do not regard occupied rent-controlled property as a bad risk. On my information, they are still investing money in property of that kind, although the costs of property are going up 30 per cent., 40 per cent., or 50 per cent. above 1939. There is no evidence on the whole, of hardship to this class of citizen. I suggest that the case is not made out for a general review of the Rent Restrictions Acts as a whole, and I am quite certain that there would be bitter and fierce resentment throughout the country if at this time, when we still have arrears to make up in the housing programme, we exposed 8 million houses to a review of rents.
Therefore, I consider the line taken by the Opposition in this Amendment to be misguided. It arises directly—and I make this charge—out of pressure brought to bear by the organisations of property interests in Great Britain. I do not want to say anything rancorous, because this afternoon I am in a much more amiable mood; in fact, I find the Opposition in so difficult a position that I feel like a bully in going on. I seriously suggest to the House that the four main categories of citizens that are 583 to be protected by this Bill are entitled to ask us for protection. If there is any charge to be made against the Government, it is that we ought to have done more of this before; but I was anxious to see how the actual facts were revealing themselves, and how people were behaving before putting additional legislative restrictions upon individual citizens. I believe that we should not be forgiven by large numbers of people in Great Britain if we did not give legislative protection against these obvious abuses.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
I beg to move to leave out from "That" to end of the Question, and add:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which will discourage and arrest the provision by private enterprise of houses and flats to let; which breaks existing contracts; and which, so far from remedying the many injustices of the Rent Restrictions Acts, will increase them still further.I am not sure whether I prefer the right hon. Gentleman defending a reasonable case in an unreasonable way, or vice versa. He says that he does not wish to be specially rancorous, and, indeed, he would do well not to be in the circumstances in which he finds himself. Because he has brought forward a Measure which, according to his own statement, is so difficult to understand that he has totally failed to give an explanation of some of its most important provisions. His only defence is that it is an ingenious proposal. He has told us that no doubt still more ingenious solutions could be found, but that at any rate it is impossible to expect any court of law in this country to construe the solution he has brought forward. Rancorous, indeed. He cannot be rancorous in submitting proposals of that kind to a legislative assembly.
The proposals he has brought forward do not even carry out the intentions he has explained to the House. They do not give the protection he is seeking, and they certainly do not do the things he has held out to the House this afternoon. It will not be difficult for us to agree upon that, because it became evident from the questions that were asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member 584 for Penrith and Cockermouth (Colonel Dower). The Minister was ultimately forced to admit that the proposals do not deal with one of the main categories of grievance and abuse. As has been pointed out, the main abuse arises from the assignment of leases by tenants. That is not to be dealt with by this Bill, and the Minister told us that he did not intend it to be dealt with by the Measure.
§ Lieut-Colonel Elliot
The assignment of contractual leases is not covered by the present law, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. We have therefore put down an Amendment, which the Minister quite rightly said arises from our high political principles, although at the end of his speech he fell away a little from the standard he set himself. I am not complaining of that, because a speech without any rancour from the Minister of Health would be followed by his explosion. The right hon. Gentleman had to let off steam somewhere, and he said, therefore, that the Amendment was due to political pressure. Similarly, I say that the introduction of this Measure on the eve of a General Election, the Minister having, on his own admission, for so many years neglected the problem, is due to political pressure brought to bear on the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of certain classes of voters from whom he hopes to derive political advantages. Now that we have both interchanged these conversation lozenges across the Floor of the House, may we get on with the discussion of this really important Bill?
The Amendment which I have moved falls into three parts, and two of them, after what the Minister has said, may be regarded as agreed. The third admittedly is going to lead to some controversy. Therefore, following the Minister's example, I will take the agreed parts first. Our contention is that so far from remedying the many injustices of the Rent Restrictions Acts, this Measure will increase them still further. After the Minister's explanation that admittedly will be agreed. I hope we carry him with us on that point. If it were necessary to deal with his further contention that there should be no further attempt to deal with this question, I would call his attention to the Ridley Committee Report and to a letter from the President of the Law 585 Society, which appeared in "The Times" this month. The President said:The Council of the Law Society view with concern the addition of yet another Bill to the hotchpotch of Rent Restriction legislation.…So far from anything being done to simplify the position, the complexity and obscurity of the subject has been increased by the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, and now is still to be further intensified by the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Bill at present before Parliament.…May I express the hope that it is not too late for the Government to think again and to introduce a consolidating Measure?That, of course, it is useless to expect after the Minister's concluding statement, where he said that this would be a very unpopular thing to do, and, of course, the present Government could not be expected to introduce unpopular legislation on the eve of a general election. That is an ad misericordiam plea which we concede at once. It will not be done, because it would be politically inconvenient for the right hon. Gentleman to do that, which is the answer to the President of the Law Society.
Does he not concede that in so doing he may himself be causing hardship on the very persons he sets out to protect? He himself drew attention to one of the difficulties of the present position that he was proposing to remedy in this Bill, the position of the shared lodging. He admitted that it was owing to obscurity in the Statute that the courts had decided that the protection, which it was the intention of Parliament to give to those people, had been withdrawn from them, and he said that in this Measure he hopes to put up again the umbrella which Parliament intended to cover these tenants. He mentioned that that had been the experience of all in this jungle. It is not, however, merely the jungle which is the danger and it is not merely the tangle of vegetation which creates the trouble. It is the inhabitants of the jungle, the dangerous wild beasts, and in this jungle it is the legal ambiguities, which create the bother and which a consolidating Statute would do the utmost to withdraw. However, in introducing such a Measure the Minister sees a certain amount of electoral difficulty for himself, and he does not intend to embark upon it at the present time.
In our Amendment we have gone on to say that this Bill will increase the injustices. As I have said, one of the 586 main injustices of which there has been complaint so far is the case of contractual tenants of controlled property who have assigned their leases or tenancies at a premium. Nothing whatever is done to alter that, though attention has been drawn to the fact that this is one of the main causes of hardship at the present time. What is done is that anyone who has bought a property, divided it up, raised the money to carry out the necessary repairs and has let the property entirely or else kept a portion of it for himself is brought before a tribunal.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It is certainly not desirable to deal with every other class and not with assignments.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman cannot frame a Statute which will deal with assignments as well as with first lettings, he should not attempt to deal with first lettings
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I understood the right hon. and gallant Gentleman replied to an interruption of mine a little while ago that premiums on the assignment of tenancies are not covered by the present law, in the case of contractual tenancies; of course they are covered in the case of statutory tenancies. The only way in which anything can be done about premiums paid on the assignment of contractual tenancies would be to extend the area of control to dwelling houses beyond the present limits. Is the right hon. Gentleman in favour of doing that?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
When the hon. Gentleman interrupts I generally expect a reasonable contribution to debate from him, but I was greatly surprised at the nature of the observation which he has offered to the House. I answered that question in my answer to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, and I will give the answer again—unless the Government can bring in a Statute which deals with the major difficulties, it is a piece of political purse-snatching to try to deal with the minor ones.
§ Mr. Silverman
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must agree that the only way to bring in a comprehensive Bill to deal with the premiums paid on the assignment of contractual tenancies would be a Bill which conceded the principle of extending the limits of the present Bill. My right hon. Friend is entitled to know whether, if he brings in such a Bill, the Opposition will support him on that.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health might well pray to be saved from his friends. The right hon. Gentleman has just disclaimed his intention of bringing in further legislation to deal with this thorny problem—[Interruption]—he did say that in so many words—and because it would be politically inconvenient.
§ Mr. Bevan indicated dissent.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The right hon. Gentleman is on record on the matter, and we shall see tomorrow. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, I am perfectly willing to give my answer again—unless the Government deal with the major difficulty, dealing with the minor difficulty is a piece of political pettifogging vote-catching, which this Government has carried out on more than one occasion.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Gentleman ought to know that if he continually interrupts, everybody will be indifferent to the things he says. It would be better for him if for once in his life he listened to a speech instead of regarding it as the opportunity for carrying on a monologue by himself.
The Minister asked why should anybody be deterred by this process, and then he argued that this Bill will not lead to a diminution of the amount of accommodation available. The provider of accommodation will have an opportunity, according to the Minister, of coming before this tribunal. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that that is an inducement to people to undertake the difficult, onerous and expensive job of providing accommodation to let—for this deals with the provision of accommodation to let, the lack of which has been one of the main charges brought against us by those on the other side of 588 the House? Does the right hon. Gentleman think it an inducement to anyone to provide accommodation if, in addition to providing the accommodation, he will have to go before a tribunal and argue the case one way or the other about the rent he is to charge?
The Minister is bringing forward in this Bill a charter for spivs. He said that the Bill Would be regarded as some attempt on the part of the Government to circumscribe the activities of spivs which it was hoped hon. Members on this side of the House would support. We would certainly support it if it were so, but the Bill is one to attack the person who provides property and to do nothing against the person who charges a stiff premium for handing on something which he himself has done nothing to provide. We say that that is a perfectly definite extending of injustice.
The Minister said that the tribunal would have to consider the price at which the accommodation was provided. I am not sure whether he indicated that the tribunal would consider the price at which the property was purchased. Has he any view upon that very important point? He said that the tribunal will have to consider the amount of improvement. But what about the expenditure incurred in providing the accommodation? The Minister does not answer. I have taken counsel, the only counsel I could, with the learned Lord Advocate. He said that houses 20, 30 or 40 years old can fetch from three to four times the 1939 selling value. Is the tribunal to take those prices into account? What sort of receipts may the unhappy man who has undertaken this provision of letting property expect to find adjudged to him? I do not know. The worst of this class of legislation is that nobody does know. I looked for guidance in the Press.
The Minister was asked a perfectly proper question by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) about what is a reasonable figure. The Minister answered that reasonable was what would appear to be reasonable to a reasonable man. The answer reminds one of the ancient mediaeval definition that a clock told the time by virtue of the principle of horologicity which it contained. I looked in the columns of the Press to see whether I could get any guidance. Oddly enough, both "The 589 News of the World" and "The Times," papers of widely different clientele, are in agreement on this point. That which appears reasonable to both the readers of "The News of the World" and "The Times" may be taken as a reasonable criterion of what the ordinary public would think.
On 23rd January—perhaps the Minister might listen to this; when the two right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench have finished their colloquy I am perfectly willing to go on—"The News of the World" said:It is a fair guess that rents will tend to be levelled down to the sort of rent which people pay for houses let to them before the war."The Times" said:The tribunals are likely to form their views about the rents of particular houses by reference to the general level of controlled rents for similar houses.That is the view of a certain number of reasonable people looking at this matter in a reasonable way. It would mean in many cases that the person who provided the accommodation was to be heavily mulct, while the person who did not provide it may, on assigning his lease, charge what he likes and go free. Tribunals are also going to suffer an injustice. They are handed this task without any real guidance from the Minister.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is making extremely heavy weather of a very small point. I can understand the reason why some of the newspapers have gone a little astray in this matter. If we are leaving to the tribunal the right and the obligation to determine what is the reasonable standard rent in the circumstances, and then to go on to decide what in their judgment, having regard to all the circumstances, including what has been spent upon conversion, is the reasonable rent, and then the recoverable rent, having regard to the rental equivalent of the premiums, we cannot possibly put into the Statute, and it would not be desirable for the Minister to say in moving it, what is regarded as reasonable or unreasonable. It is left to the tribunal to say what is reasonable in the circumstances.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I greatly enjoy these interruptions by the Minister. The longer he goes on, the more clear and obvious it is that the task which the 590 tribunal will have to determine is one beyond the wit of man and a task which will lead to far greater complexities than the complexities from which the Minister is attempting to rescue the tenant. It is a task which may be interpreted in a dozen different ways in a dozen different areas and in 20 different ways in a single street. The Minister proves my own case. I say that taking the rent for comparable houses is, by the Minister's own statement, an impossible basis.
We might have six different houses paying widely different rents according to how each had been affected by the existing Acts. Which of these rents would the Minister suggest the tribunal should take into account? I invite him to give the House further guidance. Which would he take into account if he were one of the three just men sitting as such a tribunal? The highest rent, the lowest rent or the average rent? Or would he disregard them altogether?
§ Mr. Bevan
I say at once that the range of circumstances which the tribunal will have to encounter in dealing with residences let for the first time is no wider and no more complex than they have to deal with now, under the Furnished Lettings Acts. They have to take into account the value of furniture and things of that sort. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is really not putting sufficient reliance upon the sagacity of his fellow-humans.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I am putting more reliance in the Minister, who has explained with the Statute that he expects the work to go up 100 per cent. in the first year in which the tribunals have to operate this Measure. The very statement which the Minister is making shows how very difficult it will be for any set of men to give a coherent interpretation of the enormously varied circumstances which the Minister himself says they will have to consider. They will not be able to have reference, as a tribunal should, to market prices. The only lettings for which there has been a market price are precisely those which they themselves are directed to alter.
The position is entirely different from that of furnished rooms. Now, if the tribunals are to take into account a landlord's outlay, I am sure the Minister will agree that these figures will vary from one case to another. The landlord may 591 have bought since the war or before the war. He may have had a building in his possession for decades. All this matter is to be handed to the tribunals with the Minister's covering note that this is a problem which the highest legal skill, with the assistance of the most expert assessors, could not be expected to interpret justly in accordance with any provisions laid down by Parliament.
These are examples of the injustices which the Bill will create, as I am sure the Minister will agree. At any rate, he will agree on the next point that the Bill will lead to the breaking of contracts and that that is what the Bill is for. It is specifically and intentionally retrospective legislation, retrospective only against somebody who has produced a house or accommodation for letting. A person who has charged a premium merely for handing on a house has nothing done against him. It was pointed out in correspondence in "The Times" that the Bill will certainly produce an unprecedented crop of sales of leases. If the effect of this Bill is to throw the bias towards sale as against letting in every possible case, it will be the exact reverse of what the Minister desires. So far from promoting letting, it will force everyone who can to rely on sale. Do hon. Members think this is the way to encourage the provision of new accommodation?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
We shall come to that. The hon. and learned Member is very ignorant of his facts if he contends that, and in a moment I will give figures about the new property which has been built for that purpose. The Minister says that he will deal with the question of premiums. It has always been legal to charge a premium for a first letting. The premium is part of the contract for a "period" let. The contract is to be broken but one-sidedly; the premium which was part of the consideration is cancelled while the "period" let remains.
The Minister says he wonders why anyone should object to the provisions of the Bill. This is not the first time that this problem has been examined. It was examined by the Ridley Committee, 592 appointed by one Socialist Minister and one Conservative Minister, which said:Houses built after the war and conversions into flats or tenements of houses not at present controlled should not be subject to control.That was the opinion of the Ridley Committee, no doubt for the same reasons which led the Taylor Committee, which was appointed by one Socialist Minister during the term of this Government and which reported to another Socialist Minister, to say:The tenor of the evidence is 'that landlords …"—of shop property—have not in general acted unfairly towards tenants in the matter of increase of rent.The danger of these proposals is that they will injure tenants to come. That is why the Ridley Committee said that they will injure the provision of the accommodation which the Minister desires. The Minister may reply that three members of the Ridley Committee said that post-war houses should be controlled. It is true that three did, but 12 did not. The Minister is backing three but he is not backing them all the way. The three did not stop there. They said that all local authority houses should be controlled also. There is no provision for that in the Bill; not because it is not needed. Local authorities are meeting exactly the same difficulties as other house letters.
The Minister said that landlords are in a splendid position and that there was no need to deal with the difficulties because they had accumulated great reserves. That does not appeal to Tottenham which is raising its rents by 1s. 10d. a week, Wood Green which is raising its rents by 1s. 3d. to 3s. 10d., Finchley from 1s. 10d. to 3s. 6d. a week, Folkestone 6s. a week, Bristol 6s. to 8s. a week, West Ham 10s. 5d. a week, Portsmouth 12s. 6d. a week, or even Holborn where the rents of requisitioned flats are being raised by 5s. a week and 18s. a week, or in Scotland where the Gourock Corporation has just decided that it will have to raise the rents of the houses built since 1930 by amounts ranging from £8 to £24 3s. a year. Is it not odd that the right hon. Gentleman decides not to bring in a comprehensive rent restriction Act or to deal with the problems which were commended to his attention by the three dissentient colleagues who objected to the 593 Ridley Committee because it did not go far enough?
§ Mr. Bevan
If the same landlords had accepted the obligations of building houses to rent in the post-war period as the local authorities have had to do, there might be a case. The local authorities are compelled by Statute at the moment to build houses at very high cost in order to meet the housing need. The private landlord accepts no such obligation. He can build all the houses he likes to rent. That field is open to him. No one can stop anyone in this country from building houses to rent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Oh, no. The fact of the matter is that it is not profitable for the private landlord to build houses to rent in postwar circumstances, so that the public authorities have to do it. Therefore, in order not to charge exorbitant rents for the post-war houses, they consolidate the rents with those of the pre-war houses.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The Minister seems to be suffering from a dose of some truth drug this afternoon. Every time he gets up he makes statements which he would not make if he gave them further consideration. He says that anybody can build a house to rent today. Has he read recent circulars from his own Department? How many people have tried to get permission to build a house to rent and been refused permission?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
A servant is somebody who is working. A servant is everybody who is carrying out industrial operations. "Anyone" the Minister says can build a house if he desires to do so; the Minister made no exception. This is indeed a charter of freedom which we shall remember. This will be brought up on many occasions and we register it here and now. I do not need to move that the Minister's words be taken down because it is very wisely arranged that the OFFICIAL REPORT is doing SO, other-wise it would be necessary to move that these words be taken down.
§ Mr. Bevan
I wish to make myself perfectly clear. The fact is, and it has been said over and over again in the course of the last three and a half years, that industrialists themselves have not been anxious to build houses to rent, because they could not afford to let them 594 at the rents which their tenants would be able to pay. It is well known to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself, because in the last housing Debate he said it was desirable that there should be a proportion between building houses to rent and houses to sell because it was not profitable at existing prices for landlords to build houses to rent.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
No, even the right hon. Gentleman's memory now betrays him. I feel like a bully, Mr. Speaker, in going on, and therefore I will not pursue the right hon. Gentleman further. The last Debate is on record and it is not difficult to look it up. The fact that industrialists have found difficulty in making a profit out of houses does not alter the fact that anyone who tried to build a house over a very small proportion, and, in some years, to build a house at all, would have been put into gaol by the right hon. Gentleman. It is that aspect of the problem which is really at the bottom of those intricate involutions of ingenuity into which the Minister is being led by the present course of his legislation. He is being led into that because, as he says himself, the provision of housing accommodation in this country is inadequate, and as long as it is inadequate, this famine short supply will press the Government further and further into these extraordinary contortions which it tries to dignify by the name of legislation.
The local authorities have had to carry out this process of raising rent. They do not find it profitable to let even their pre-war houses at the present rent, and it is they who are raising the rent of the pre-war houses, not, as I think the Minister inadvertently said, because of the enormous losses they were making on the post-war houses—which throws a lurid light upon the adequacy of the subsidy which he is providing to meet the deficit—but because of the cost of the materials and building. That was brought out clearly in the report of the Girdwood Committee which he appointed, and by the Laidlaw Committee appointed by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The local authorities, it is quite true, have grave difficulties with oppressive tyrants. One recently received a letter from a Government Department saying that the town council must accept the 595 Board of Trade nominations to new houses without question, and said that unless the council honoured the agreement the Department would be compelled to consider reducing future allocations of houses by the number due to be given to Board of Trade nominees. It might interest the hon. Gentleman to know that that was in the constituency of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. All that is to go unchecked. The Departments are to have their way, and the only people who are to be penalised are the private individuals who have tried to do something about housing.
Now I come to a point raised by an hon. Member opposite, on the provision of accommodation. The number of units is not negligible. Up to 30th November, 1948, no fewer than 67,611 additional units of accommodation had been created in Great Britain by the adaptation of existing premises by private enterprise, in addition to 105,693 houses which private enterprise had been allowed to erect. This process is obnoxious to the Minister. We agree to that. That is his view and we do not complain, although we note it and ask the country to note that he brings in a Measure intended to kill it stone dead. What is more, once he has destroyed this, it will be difficult to get it going again. Previous rent restriction legislation carried on so to speak, existing tendencies. Rents were reduced only if, for instance, a landlord was not carrying out his bargain of providing a house in good and tenantable repair. These new provisions are to destroy contracts already made, and to write new ones in their place. But who can foretell the life of the new contracts which are being written, and who will trouble to draw up a new one when it may be honoured for three years, as these have been honoured by a Government during its term of office, and torn up by the same Government when it is hurrying off to the election hustings? The Minister said that if this method of providing accommodation falls through, other measures will be adopted—
§ Mr. Bevan
I did not. The right hon. Gentleman, when he looks at his speech tomorrow, will be rather dismayed at the way in which, over and over again, he has put words into my mouth that I have not uttered. I said no such thing. Over and over again in the course of his speech he has been rather wanton.
§ Lieut-Colonel Elliot
Well, Sir, as I say, we are greatly advantaged by the thoughtful provision of your predecessor in arranging that the words of every speaker should be taken down. However, I took down these, and the Minister said:I have no reason to apprehend that there will be a loss of accommodation, but if there is no provision by private enterprise then other methods will have to be found.He went on to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the possible provision of other methods was outlined in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and now apparently the Minister has forgotten all about that and says that he never said such a thing.
§ Mr. Bevan
But the new Measure that is being brought before the House is not conditional, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested I said, upon how private enterprise provides rented accommodation. It will operate quite independently of that. It is coming forward on its own merits quite independently of this.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
This is directly contrary to what the Minister told the House only a few minutes ago.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Do not let us get excited about it. Fortunately the words have been taken down. I am sure that I did not make a mistake in taking down these words, and I am within the recollection of the House in that; but if so, naturally I will withdraw; but I think the Minister will find that it is he and not I who has made a mistake on this occasion, and both of us will look with the greatest interest at the OFFICIAL REPORT when it appears tomorrow.
I was dealing with the point of the Minister that, if he kills the provision of accommodation by private enterprise, it will be dealt with in other ways—by which I take it that he means local authorities. The local authorities do not always take the same view. Quite recently the large housing authority of the City of Glasgow was offered a number of houses free. Some of these they accepted, but in other instances they considered that the cost of putting an old tenement into a reasonably habitable condition for the accommodation of eight or nine tenants, for a few years would be prohibitive at £3,000 or £4,000; it would be better to spend the money on new 597 houses which would let for 60 or 70 years. That is to say, they would prefer to build houses for two or, at the most, three people as against eight or nine under the reconditioning of the tenement. And that in the city where, according to their own medical officer of health, there are 40,000 homeless families and the tuberculosis rate is rising today by leaps and bounds—30 per cent. above what it was in the so-called bad years before the war—and the notifications have increased by 50 per cent. "And yet," says the Convenor of the Housing Committee, "I would prefer to build a new house for two people than to recondition a house to give decent sanitation and accommodation for eight or nine people."
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that in some of these cases the houses were from 70 to 80 years old, and that the ratepayers of Glasgow would have repudiated the spending of money on an old dilapidated building of the type that was being offered?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The Minister's truth drug has apparently been partaken of by other hon. Members on his own side of the House. The hon. Member is not unaware of the fact that the estimate given was £3,000 to £4,000 to provide accommodation for eight or nine persons. Would he not be glad in his constituency of extra accommodation even for eight or nine persons, as against two or three, that would re-condition some of the squalid dens in which people are living after 15 years of Socialist government by the Town Council of Glasgow?
§ Mr. McGovern
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me a question. I should be delighted to see some of the types of houses that I believe could be put into proper order, but I know some of the houses in question, and it would be monstrous for any authority to take over properties that could never in any circumstances be a proposition of the type he makes out.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Indicating that the hon. Member would turn a critical eye upon any house property that was offered to him for reconditioning? That is exactly my contention, that local authorities will turn a critical eye upon it, and that much of the re-conditioning 598 that the Minister hopes for will not be done, for nobody can suggest that a £3,000 or £4,000 re-conditioning, which would supply accommodation for eight or nine people, would not be much cheaper accommodation than the accommodation under the provisions of the Statutes which the Minister has placed upon the Statute Book.
The Minister has, I think, been led away to some extent by his own propaganda. It is now quite a while since he said that at the next General Election there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the British working class. Here, in this Bill, is the disproof of that statement. This is a Bill bearing on its face all the classical marks of short supply. The only real approach which the Minister made to the Measure was when he said that not until an adequate supply of housing could be provided should we get rid of those difficulties. The Minister's contribution is to stabilise our housing programme at something like 220,000 houses a year.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I am taking in Scotland. If the Minister says that I am giving him too high a figure—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
In the last housing Debate the Minister very discreetly took the position of last speaker, where nobody could comment upon anything he said and, like jesting Pilate, he continually asked questions and did not wait for an answer. We were ready then, and are ready now, to give him the answer. Before the war we were running at the rate of 250,000 houses per annum for over 12 years and we were running at 320,000 houses a year, which is 100,000 houses a year above what the Minister has given as his target, for five years before the war. The Minister's figure of 220,000 houses a year is too low. He should build up forthwith his figure at least to the figure of the Tory 12 years' average and he should move as fast as he can towards our five-year average. When he has reached that figure, he will begin 599 to be able to talk. As for saying that the figure is higher than it was in 1922, does he accept that as an excuse in the case of steel? Does the country accept it as an excuse in the case of food? Not at all. We say that the output of these essential things must be—
§ Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I ask what this has to do with housing?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite in Order because it is by way of illustration.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I admit that it is a painful Subject and, not wishing to act as a bully, I will not pursue hon. and right hon. Members further on that point.
Until the Minister can produce an adequate supply of houses in this country the problem will continue. The only remedy is an adequate supply of houses. This intensification of control will do no more than intensify the shortage. For that reason my right hon. Friends and I have been very glad to put down our Amendment.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)
I should like, in the first place, to say that no Bill of such a small compass in respect of rent restrictions could possibly satisfy me. Having said that, however, I should like to join issue immediately with the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) and say that on this occasion in particular he obviously has not made out a case, nor is it possible on the lines indicated in his Amendment to make out a case. On the contrary, the Bill, small in its provisions and a little difficult to understand as it is, is a step in the right direction. It is a step which must be taken, and taken without delay, if tens, and possibly hundreds, of thousands of people are not to suffer the injustices which at present exist. The rent Acts as they stand are nine in number, are particularly complicated and undoubtedly call for a consolidating Measure. That does not affect the immediate remedies required as far as this Bill is concerned because, if we 600 lose any time in dealing with some existing injustices, we shall find that a large number of people will continue to be very seriously affected and that they will complain, as they have been complaining for very many months and, indeed, years, about those grievances.
What can the Tories say, if they are frank, about the question of lack of accommodation? Is it not perfectly obvious that eight of these nine Acts, passed in the course of their own control of the Government, have indicated that what they said at the commencement of this legislation in 1915, that a time would come within a year or two thereafter when there would be sufficient housing accommodation to dispense with the need of rent control Acts, has been entirely disproved? Have not they themselves been compelled to pass Act after Act to deal with the housing shortage, which they were not able to cope with by providing sufficient accommodation to enable them to dispense with such Acts?
§ Mr. Janner
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not read the Acts even in a general way, or he would remember that in 1923 an attempt was made to decontrol houses but that it was discovered within a short period that that decontrol was causing tremendous hardship. Further Acts had consequently to be introduced to remedy the position and to do away with the grave results of decontrol which was affecting so many people.
Now, what about the present position? The argument about breaches of contract being encouraged is ludicrous. The Measure does, of course, permit breaches of contract; but is is absurd for hon. Members opposite to raise this point when the whole of the Rent Acts are based upon the fact that they permit breaches of contract. I believe the actual words used in the principal Act are these:…notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary.Therefore, the whole of this rent control legislation is something which permits a 601 change in agreements or contracts which have been entered into. At this late stage after nine Acts, suddenly to put forward an argument that because the Bill will alter contracts we must not deal with rent control, is absurd. Anybody who knows anything at all about the Acts will realise that that argument cannot possibly be used in relation to Acts of this nature. Of course, the rent control Acts deal with permitted changes of contract; they are designed to protect the tenant who has entered into contracts, because of dire need, and has been compelled to pay rentals which are unreasonable and premiums which are exorbitant so that they may find some kind of a roof over their heads. It is a kind of undue influence created by force of prevailing circumstances. An hon. Member smiles, but is not that the case? Is it not a fact that where such circumstances prevail, there is an undue influence and a man will pay any premium within his means in order to be able to obtain some accommodation for himself and his family? Consequently, the first point raised is entirely insupportable.
In regard to the question of furnished rentals, I shall deal with the position which has arisen owing to the difficulties that have been experienced because of the lack of proper security given to tenants who approached tribunals. I pointed out those to my right hon. Friend frequently when the Furnished Houses (Rents Control) Act was being introduced. It was obvious to me and to a large number of people that three months security was not enough and that landlords would immediately give notice to tenants who exercised their rights under the Act, either because they wanted to be spiteful to the tenants who had raised the question, or because—as I am afraid has happened in many cases—they wanted to get that tenant out in order to sidestep the Act and charge higher rents in spite of the Act. My right hon. Friend will say that such landlords were committing an offence under the Act, but if he will inquire of rent tribunals he will find that that kind of thing has been happening, in some districts to a larger extent, and in some to a smaller extent.
I have watched what has been happening in my own constituency and have kept in constant contact with the chairman of the tribunal who has been inquiring into cases under the Act. I was 602 interested to find an expression of opinion in an editorial in the "Leicester Mercury," some time ago, in which it was said:
The tribunals were established and empowered to re-assess rents as a form of protection against gross overcharging, but if, as a consequence of successful application, a tenant should find himself and his family in the street, he is not better off. Protection by the law is cold comfort if he finds himself without the protection of a roof. …It is estimated that if tenants were not afraid of losing their accommodation there would be 30 or 40 cases for every one now before the tribunals. This in itself is an indictment of our age and a trump card in the case for an alteration in the law.On 30th September a statement of the position was issued by the Ministry showing an alarming state of affairs. From the commencement of the practical working of the Act in 1946 until September, 1948, there were 29,995 cases referred to the tribunals. Of these 7,843 were withdrawn, 20,387 decided. The rent was reduced in more than 14,000 cases. The average percentage of the reduction was 30 per cent. I have made a calculation and I find that the average reduction was over £220,000 a year for the two years and a third, the period during which tribunals have been established. The total reduction was, therefore, about £518,575 in those cases which actually came before the tribunals.
We know that a very large number of further cases would have been heard if there had been security. The Leicester tribunal in particular have emphasised this time after time. If, as was estimated by the "Leicester Mercury," 30 times the number of cases had been heard there would have been a reduction of more than £15 million in the rents of furnished apartments and furnished houses. That is a very alarming situation. If this Bill is not passed and tenants are not secure in their tenancies in the event of bringing their cases before tribunals, it would mean that £15 million would still be paid by tenants in excess of the amount they are paying after accounting for the £500,000 already reduced. In addition, if our Tory friends have their way, tenants would have no further security because the Tories want to stand in the way of the passing of this Bill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot indicated dissent.603
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
If the right hon. Gentleman wanted to bring in a one-Clause Bill dealing with that anomaly, it would be passed nemine contradicente.
§ Mr. Janner
I am obliged to the right hon. and gallant Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) for that. I now come to the case of Neal versus Del Soto. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman agrees about the £15 million—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
While agreeing with the hon. Gentleman's principle, I must not be taken as assenting to his arithmetic.
§ Mr. Janner
Perhaps I may have an opportunity later of giving the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the figures by which I arrive at that sum. I think he will agree that my estimated calculations are correct.
I now wish to deal with the second point. It was held some years ago that if a tenant of part of a house occupied another part of the house jointly with another tenant or with their landlord, it was a non-protected dwelling. Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say that he justifies the view that that should not be remedied? Surely what applied to the previous argument I put forward, applies equally strongly to the second item of the Bill. Hundreds of thousands of tenants—I am not sure that I would be exaggerating if I said more than a million—are probably affected by the decision in the case of Neal versus Del Soto. Not only does it apply in cases of original lettings under those terms, but nearly every county court in the country in trying to adjust differences between tenants in houses has tried to make arrangement by means of a kind of Judgment of Solomon by which they give the use of part of the house to the tenant and part to the landlord, both sets of people having the joint use of a kitchen, or of other accommodation.
I contend that every one of these tenancies comes within the provisions of the decision in the two cases to which my right hon. Friend referred. Surely the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Scottish Universities will not argue that it is Tory policy or any other policy that those tenants should remain protected. I hope he will say the same 604 about this as he said about the security question to which I referred before.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member cannot have done me the justice of listening to my remarks. I pointed out that this anomaly had arisen in the teeth of the declared intention of Parliament and that it ought to be put right by consolidating and amending legislation. To that, as I have said before, we on this side of the House would not offer the slightest objection.
§ Mr. Janner
There are only four matters dealt with in this Bill. Let us be fair to the Minister. I have done as much attacking of the Minister as anyone else on the question of consolidation. May I say, with great respect, that I would support the right hon. Member if he were to press for a consolidating Measure, because I think that hundreds of thousands of other cases would come before the tribunals if the people in this country only understood what the Acts mean and what are their rights. Millions of pounds have gone into the pockets of some landlords because the tenants have not understood the provision of the Acts, whereby they are entitled to recover two years' overpayments. Some tenants have been overpaying ever since the 1915 Act was passed. I have come across many cases where tenants have been paying exorbitant rentals, which have later been reduced by the courts, and where they have not been able to regain their money.
I wish to come to the third provision of this Bill, the question of premiums. Is the right hon. Member prepared to say that he agrees with exorbitant premiums being paid? Could that fact be justified? The right hon. Member knows very well that premiums have been charged in respect of houses which come within the purview of the Rent Acts, but does he not admit that it is very high time that the rateable values of houses, in respect of which these provisions should apply, ought to be raised? Exorbitant premiums are being charged on houses let, not only on the £100 rateable value in London and £75 in the country, but on houses which have a higher rateable value—
§ Mr. Janner
No, I do not. I am merely pointing out that this is a position to 605 watch, and I hope that the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities will agree with me that at least this small provision in the Bill for dealing with premiums ought to be pushed through very quickly. Whilst we are talking about the problem in respect of the existing rateable values limit I should like to hear him say what he said about the other two provisions, namely, that he agrees with my view.
The fact of the matter is this. This is a Measure which covers a large number of tenancies. It is not easy to understand its terminology, and there are many questions which will come up on Committee stage. For example, I am not at all sure that the Minister has covered the point in respect of security adequately by the terms of this Bill. I do not know exactly what is meant by its wording. Does it mean that if a person is not given notice by the landlord and the original term of security expires, that he is protected, or is he not? Is it only during the currency of the notice that he is protected? Does this Bill, for example, cover cases where one house, or a building let as set of apartments, has been assessed at a positive value much higher than the £75 or £100, and in respect of which there has not been a division of the assessment? I think the Minister will understand what I am driving at, because in many cases there has been no reassessment of the rateable values. The result is that a person may be holding a tenancy of rooms which are part of a larger dwelling and that larger dwelling has been assessed for rateable value with the portions not having been so assessed.
There are a number of questions which will have to be dealt with on the Committee stage, but, taking the Bill by and large, I hope that before this Debate is concluded, the Amendment will be withdrawn. No reasonable person, and I say this without any attempt to be sarcastic or destructively critical, could possibly say that this Bill ought to be negatived. Such a person might say that other Bills and Measures are necessary. He may say that consolidation is necessary. But these Measures can all come on later—I hope as soon as possible. Nevertheless we cannot afford to lose any time with regard to bringing into effect this provision—
§ Colonel Dower
Does the hon. Member think that the charging of exorbitant premiums will be cured by this Bill?
§ Mr. Janner
Yes, I think it will, in respect of the houses that come within the Bill. I hope that in the course—[Interruption]—oh, yes, hon. Members on the other side will not be happy about a suggestion that the rateable value of protected houses should be increased to £200 or £300 a year. That would create rather a difficult situation for many of them.
A question has been raised about the cost of repairs. There is no doubt that the Minister was perfectly right in his contention that many landlords for many years, long before the war, have not effected the repairs for which they were being paid 25 per cent. increase of rent under the 1920 to 1938 Rent Acts. There are houses in my own constituency, built 40 or 50 years ago, where practically nothing has been done in the way of repairs, and the landlords have been charging full rentals allowed by the 1920 to 1938 Acts and even more. Today those houses are in a deplorable state in many cases, and they are still charging rentals which include the allowance for repairs. From time to time the Opposition come along and say, "How can we repair these? We cannot repair any of these houses because the cost of repairs are so heavy." The answer is that for 20 years, and perhaps even for 30 years, some landlords have been taking rentals—since the 1920 Act—collecting a 25 per cent. increase in respect of repairs, which they have never utilised for repairs.
There is no answer to the provisions outlined in this Bill. They must be accepted. The Minister has heard criticisms this afternoon with regard to other points, many of which are just. I hope that he will take an early opportunity to deal with those points. He could introduce a consolidation Measure even without interfering with the law as it stands at present for the purpose of clarifying the position. At the same time, I would ask this House to accept at the present time this important Bill in all its terms, and I hope that it will be accepted with unanimity.
§ Mr. Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)
We must all be grateful to the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) for clearing up a point which has troubled some of us. He gave a definition of the reasonableness of a reasonable man. He would appear to take the short cut that any man who declines to swallow, holus-bolus, any Socialist quack remedy is automatically unreasonable. His definition of reasonableness is complete agreement with the Minister in whatever he says and does.
Having listened rather carefully to the Minister this afternoon I feel that he is very justified in doing what he is now doing—going out for a cup of tea. He has had a strenuous time, and very rough handling from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who opened the matter from this side of the House. I was impressed by the statement of the Minister that these people must be given protection until the time when, by the building of more houses, the tenants may be able to talk on something like equal terms with the landlords. It is an interesting reflection on the counsel of the Minister that he should be talking in this way in 1949, and that we should now be talking about the deplorable housing shortage, because this Bill is really a kind of addition to the Rent Acts and to the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946. In commending that latter Measure to this House on 13th November, 1945, the right hon. Gentleman said:The House will note that, at the end of 1947, the Measure will die. This is my own estimate—perhaps vague—of the period when the worst housing stringency will have ceased to exist."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 1945.]
§ Mr. Janner
Does the hon. Member recollect what was said at the time of the 1915 Act, the 1920 Act, the 1923 Act, the 1938 Act and all the rest? Was not precisely the same thing said by his own Ministers?
§ Mr. Roberts
I am afraid I cannot remember. I was not a Member of the House at the relevant period. I have no doubt that a great many optimistic things were said by various people at various times, but I think that a gentleman who, with all these mistakes on the part of stupid Liberals and Tories before him, comes along in 1945 and says that in two 608 years' time the worst of the housing shortage would have ceased to exist, marks himself as a gentleman whose judgment and predictions we cannot accept without some degree of independent examination on our own part.
I wish to address myself to the main part of the Bill, that dealing with houses or rather for the most part flats which are new dwellings erected in the last few years. A most important social feature of the last 20 years has been the great reassessment and re-grading of incomes, with the result that many rather large houses occupied by the upper middle classes, fairly wealthy people, are becoming steadily surplus to requirements, in two ways. Firstly, the purchasing power of the people who live in them has greatly diminished. Secondly, owing to a variety of causes, but largely owing to the more affluent state of the working classes, domestic help is hard to get. Consequently, the formerly wealthy woman who owns a house and lives there is more or less acting as her own charwoman. So far as I can see there is no likelihood of any reversal of that tendency.
It seems to me that the duty of statesmanship is to accept the fact and to try to see that these rather large houses are employed to the best advantage. Statesmanship should apply itself to that end and not adopt short cuts which may appear popular. Take the case, not at all uncommon, of the elderly man of some means—some kind of pension—living with his wife in a house which—the children having grown up and left—could be cut up into three flats. By spending a few hundreds of pounds he could do it, and on the open market could let two flats at such a figure as to live rent and rates free in the other one. No one can deny that by so doing he is not only concerned with his own advantage but is also performing a valuable public service. He is calling into being two housing units which formerly did not exist.
More important, he is preventing what would otherwise be the ultimate fate of the house. What is the ultimate fate of large houses which are not cut up into flats? They gradually dwindle down by way of boarding-houses, lodgings, and single rooms let off, and ultimately become slums and rookeries. One of the gravest features I have noticed in my own 609 city of Birmingham is that what might formerly have been called the Birmingham type of slum of small back to back houses, which can be dealt with, is being superseded by what is called the London type of slum—the large house which becomes a rookery. Many years ago, in conversation with the medical officer of the Borough of Kensington—I was Chairman of the Health Committee of Birmingham—I felt that my problem was serious but that it would break my heart to have to deal with the London problems.
If individuals will spend money in creating the new units of accommodation to which I have referred, we get away from that evil. If a man who sets out to do that is convinced that there really is profiteering, that there is money in it which will pay him to do it, he will go ahead and do it. If he makes a fairly large return on his money, I say good luck to him. He will encourage other people to do the same, and the time will come when that competition will adjust the market. But suppose instead that such an observant man had the advantage of having heard the speech of the hon. Member for West Leicester and learned not only that this Bill, by then a Statute, deals with him by sending him to a tribunal, but that there are other rods in pickle for him a little later, if he is not careful. If he further learns from the Minister that each case is to be decided on its merits by this tribunal—there are to be no precedents, no accumulated case law, he is to be governed not by law but by whim, by the caprice of any individual tribunal—will such a man embark upon that speculation? I should say not. He would be a very courageous man if he did.
The Minister appears to think that it would be absurd to suppose that any man would mind going before a tribunal. The right hon. Gentleman is in the true line of apostolic succession in the Labour Party. There was a time in this country when a pastime not known to the present generation was pursued—that known as "Shooting the moon." It presupposed a surplus of accommodation to which people could flit at midnight. That ancient British sport was destroyed by legislation. It was destroyed by the Finance Act, 1910, which completely killed private building. Private building went down to zero, and by the beginning 610 of the First World War the housing surplus had ceased to exist. What part, we may ask, did the Labour Party take in this? They voted steadily for the Bill, but furthermore their great economist and leader, the then Mr. Philip Snowden, said he was quite certain that the Measure would promote and encourage house building. A similar delusion appears to afflict the right hon. Gentleman who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill.
Members of the Socialist Party, in attacking social evils, have an incurable propensity to tackle symptoms and not to deal with root causes, and to suppose that Measures which they introduce will not have the usual and ordinary effect upon human beings. It is probably easy, from the point of view of vote catching, to support Measures such as this. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman, in opening this Debate, appeared to suggest that the action of the Opposition in daring to combat it was rather venturesome. But, speaking for myself, if I were to give countenance to quack remedies which contradict all the knowledge and experience which I have gained by observing the housing problem over a very long time, I should feel disgraced.
My final words concern the objection on moral grounds put forward by the Opposition. I have not said much about that for it appeared to me that I could contribute most usefully by speaking on the sides of the housing problem of which I have some knowledge. But I regard it as definitely important. The uneasy conscience of the Minister was shown by his rhetorical setting out of a great many of what were, in his judgment, breaches of faith. He put them forward as justifying this one. When I asked him whether he justified the others, he very prudently declined to answer. If he does not justify them, how dare he cite them in extenuation of what he now proposes? He is merely saying to the other side, "You cannot say that, because you did not object to the other." To say that because other people were guilty of breaches of faith therefore this one may now be commended to this House does not follow. It is strange to reflect that what is morally wrong is seldom in the long run socially advantageous. The old saying that honesty is the best policy really does seem to turn out to be true. If this Measure is carried, the almost inevitable result will be that a valuable 611 source of rehousing will dry up and disappear and, what is far worse, our semi-obsolete better-class houses will be forced on a downward course which will create a very serious problem for future generations.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Piratin (Mile End)
I start my contribution to this Debate by commenting on the Opposition Amendment. I do not disagree with the third part of that Amendment. I think that the Minister himself acknowledged that there is a serious problem there. He tried to explain the reason why he could not face up to it, though I think that he explained it most inadequately. I would say that there is no justification for the rest of the Amendment. The main reason why the Opposition have moved it is not because they are concerned with the many injustices which they feel this Bill will not remedy, but rather because they are concerned with one particular injustice. That is an injustice contained in the Bill and referred to by the Minister—the injustice of the retrospective law which is likely to operate concerning premiums. I think that is the main reason why the Opposition are concerned with defeating this Bill on Second Reading.
For myself, I feel that this Bill goes a very short way indeed towards solving the problems raised with the Minister over the last three and a half years at Question Time and on other occasions. I think that I can speak for a number of hon. Members on this side of the House who have seriously concerned themselves with this problem. We were hopeful when it was mentioned in the King's Speech that such a Bill would be introduced. I think that I can say on behalf of all of us that we are disappointed. I hoped that the various anomalies referred to by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner), extending from 1915 and including the years between the wars, would be eradicated.
There are nine rent Acts on the Statute Book. Many of them are not very understandable to lawyers, let alone to the ordinary public. It is apparent that many landlords in these days are taking advantage of the difficulty of their tenants to understand their rights. If this Bill is 612 passed, we shall have an even more complicated position. First, there will be those houses which were controlled before 1939, of which there are about four million or so. Second, there will be those houses which were controlled in 1939, and of which there are about three million. That gives us nearly two-thirds of all the houses in the country. As a result of this Bill, we shall control houses built since 1945 for letting. We shall also have a category of houses occupied by working class and lower paid middle class folk which will be uncontrolled merely because they came into existence as separate lettings between 1939 and 1945. That is a further anomaly. When I interjected during the Minister's speech, he said that he would look at the matter if it was raised and argued. Of course, it is a Committee point, but I feel that it ought to be acknowledge at this stage that that is one of the effects of the Bill. This Measure will further increase the anomalies which now obtain.
I had hoped that these anomalies would be eradicated. The Minister said that it would require 200 tribunals, 200 officers and so on, in order to carry out this elimination of anomalies. Had he explained why it would require that number, the point might have been appreciated; but he did not. He did not explain what were the ideas in his mind about the way in which all the anomalies of the various Acts since the first world war could be put aside and a simplified rent Act brought into operation. Had he explained that, and had he shown what it would have meant by way of labour, costs and so on, it might have been a fair proposition to have been discussed here, but he did not attempt to explain it. No doubt the reason why he did not make the attempt is because that matter is not contained in the Bill anyway and it was merely something which he introduced in passing.
There are a number of most technical legal points in that part of the Bill which deals with premiums and these will need to be argued out on Committee stage. I know that some of the lawyers on both sides of the House are concerned about this matter. I have listened to some lawyer friends arguing this subject, and I think there will be many a headache in many a court called upon to decide questions as laid down in the law. I consider that this part of the Bill calls for some revision. Therefore, I do not 613 propose to make any points here, though even I as a layman can see some of the anomalies. If I have the opportunity, I propose during the Committee stage to move an Amendment to make Clause 1 (1, a) of the Bill retrospective to 1939 rather than to 1945, as it is in the Bill.
A further point which I draw to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary, and which I hope to raise in Committee, concerns the question of tenants who apply to a rent tribunal where a determination is made to reduce the rents. I hope the Minister will take this opportunity of clearing up what is a very important point for the people concerned. I understand that, in these cases the successful applicant may go to the county court subsequently and apply for an order from the judge to obtain the over-payment of money over the previous two years, as in the case of the rent Acts. Such cases have come before the courts, and there seems to be some misunderstanding among many people affected and also among the chairmen of the rent tribunals in regard to this matter. I would therefore like the Minister to clear it up, and it is a matter that could be cleared up in this Bill. In such cases, would it not be possible for the chairmen of the tribunals to guide successful applicants in regard to their entitlement to go to the county court and receive such payment of excess rent?
There are some other matters, not included in the Bill, which I want to raise, and which, if possible, I shall seek to have amended on the Committee stage. First, there is the question of council houses. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has raised this matter, but, of course, he raised it from the point of view that, since municipalities in the past period have been increasing their rents, there was a case for private landlords to increase their rents. I am not raising the matter from that point of view; on the contrary, I want to ask that council houses should come within the Rent Restrictions Acts, and I would like to see that brought within the scope of this Bill.
I have made some examination of the problem, and other hon. Members will be able to correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that in 1919, when the Rent Restrictions Act was being discussed, this matter was not argued on the merits that 614 municipalities were being absolved from the scope of the Rent Restrictions Acts merely because they happened to be local authorities. In fact, in 1919, the matter did not come up at all. That Act did not apply to those cases, because it was framed in a certain way. Subsequently, in further Acts of Parliament, council houses were exempt merely because by accident they happened to be exempted in 1919. That is my reading of the matter, and, if I am wrong, I can be corrected, but I now ask the Minister to give this matter his attention.
When we have raised this matter on other occasions, the Minister has argued that a local council is a democratically-elected local authority and that it is up to the local people to convince their council of the injustice, if they so desire. That is a specious argument, for we have a responsibility in the matter and I would, therefore, like to see council houses brought within the scope of the Rent Restrictions Acts. There is no argument for exempting them, and, if I might presume to give some guidance to the Government, I would say that they are leaving themselves wide open to the Conservatives and the landlords to say that, since they are allowing local councils to raise their rents 5s., 10s., or even 15s., there is a case for private landlords to be given the opportunity of raising their rents. The Opposition may be able to argue that out, but it is unfair to the tenant who lives in a council house and who finds that local councils are able to raise their rents to the degree to which they have done so, in past months.
The second matter which I should like to see included in the Bill is the right of tenants of the old controlled houses to withhold part of their rent where the house is in a state of disrepair. This particular feature comes about as a result of the 1919 Act, which allowed 25 per cent., and subsequently another 15 per cent., to be withheld when landlords did not carry out repairs. The reason for the additional 15 per cent. was that the cost of repairs had increased after the first World War. The result was that, if the landlord did not carry out the repairs, the tenant could withhold up to 40 per cent. of the net rent. In many cases where landlords did not carry out repairs, the tenants took advantage of this provision, but, in 1939, the new Rent Restrictions Act brought under control three million 615 more houses the tenants of which do not possess that privilege. I ask the Minister to note the fact that he is now bringing under the Rent Restrictions Acts some thousands more houses whose tenants will not have that privilege. If they will, I should like him to say so, because it would also have to apply to those people who were brought in under the Rent Restrictions Act in September, 1939.
I speak from experience of what is probably one of the worst slum-ridden boroughs in the whole of the country—Stepney. The fact is that, roughly speaking, the 40 per cent. of the net rent amounts to about one-fifth of the present full rent. In the case of houses the rent of which is 20s., the tenant may withhold 4s., but the trouble is that landlords in places like Stepney do not care two hoots about that 40 per cent. I have never met any of them who are influenced by the fact that 40 per cent. of the rent can be withheld by the tenant if they do not carry out repairs, and, when they do carry out repairs, they do so only to the minimum extent necessary for the satisfaction of the sanitary inspector. Why is it not possible, therefore, to raise the amount which may be withheld? Let us have an entirely new law on the subject in this Bill, so that, in all cases of control under the 1919 Act, the tenant may withhold 50 per cent. of the full rent where repairs are not carried out.
My last point concerns small shopkeepers and business men. The position of these small traders has been raised on all sides of the House in the past few months, not with the Minister of Health, but with the President of the Board of Trade and with other Ministers who are concerned with legislation. The matter has been brought forward by Scottish hon. Members. I want to ask why it is not possible to bring into this new Rent Restrictions Bill small shopkeepers and tenants of business premises. Everyone knows that these shopkeepers and small tradesmen are on weekly tenancies, and, in fact, go in fear of their lives, because their businesses are their livelihood. They can be turned out on one week's notice, and they come to me, as I am quite certain they go to other hon. Members, and ask what can be done. The only thing which we can tell them is that legally nothing at all can be done for them. They put their case and argue that there 616 are certain things such as goodwill and other questions which mean that they will not recover what they have put into their businesses.
When the Rent Restrictions Acts have been discussed in past years, such a matter was unfortunately omitted from their provisions, which was to be expected, because they were passed by Conservative Governments. Why cannot this Bill contain a Clause helping such small shopkeepers and business people, the amount of rent to be the same as that contained in the Rent Restrictions Acts, that is to say, in London, houses up to £100, and, outside, up to £75? I do not ask for this protection to be given in respect of any shop or business where the rent is more than £100, but I do ask why such businesses cannot be brought within the terms of the Bill. If I have the opportunity, I propose to introduce an Amendment of this kind, because I feel that this is the opportune occasion for it.
The Minister will do a great justice, particularly to the working folk and the lower middle-class people who are finding their lives very difficult because of the cost of living and the problems which face them today, if he will seek to keep rents both fair and controlled, and if he will try to keep all rents in the country controlled at a certain level through the tribunals which, is I think, as good a way as any of doing it. The Minister is to be congratulated. As I have said before, I cannot see the point about the 200 tribunals, but, even if they are necessary, that number does not seem over high if, within a little time, they can straighten out this terrible problem. The Minister will do a great justice if he can see his way to widen the Bill in that manner and include some of the points I have made this afternoon.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
After I had read this Bill and digested its rather obscure provisions, I saw in the Press that the Opposition intended to oppose it on Second Reading. I cannot understand why. The two major objects of this Bill are, (1) to remedy the injustice caused to tenants who were deprived of the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts because they shared a kitchen with other tenants or with the landlord, and (2) to enable people who have taken houses or flats for the first time since August, 1945, to apply 617 to the tribunal in order to have the rent fixed on a reasonable basis.
I find it incomprehensible that a Bill with those objects in view should be opposed by a responsible party in this House. Not only did the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) fail, in my opinion, to justify the reasons for his party opposing this Bill, but in a speech of about 40 minutes he did not say where his party stood on either of those two points. In an interjection during the speech of the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner), we gathered that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was in favour of tenants being able to apply to a tribunal to have their rents fixed on a reasonable basis, but we still do not know where he stands on the question of whether it is right for tenants to be protected when they share a kitchen.
§ Mr. Roberts
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) says the right hon. and gallant Gentleman also agreed with that object of the Bill. If the Opposition do support the two objects of this Bill, then it is really incomprehensible—
§ Mr. Hogg
I think the hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding me. He asked whether my right hon. and gallant Friend had acceded to that part of the Bill which dealt with the sharing of accommodation. I replied, perfectly truthfully, that he had. I was not saying that he had acceded to the other part of the Bill with regard to new lettings; I was simply dealing with the question he had raised.
§ Mr. Roberts
The position now is that the Opposition are not in favour of tenants being able to apply to a tribunal in order that their rents may be fixed on a reasonable basis. We are gradually finding out where they stand in this matter. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) looks at me as if he is not sure whether I am misrepresenting the position of the Opposition.
§ Colonel Dower
Many of us feel that this should have been done a long time 618 ago and that, because of the laziness and lackadaisical attitude of the Minister over this matter, a great deal of hardship and uncertainty is going to be caused in connection with the "mucking about" with contracts.
§ Mr. Bevan
It is very interesting to hear what is now being said. The application of the Bill is not, of course, retrospective at all; it does not recover anything which has been paid. Do I understand, therefore, that the view of the Opposition is that it is all right, but that it ought to have been done earlier?
§ Mr. Roberts
I am trying to find out where the Opposition stand, and doing so in a spirit of honest inquiry and as one who wants to cast his vote in the proper way. I do not want my speech to be interrupted by a dialogue between hon. Members and the Minister of Health. Although the Bill is belated, and although it is an obscure Bill in its actual draftsmanship—I am not blaming the draftsmen; the subject matter of the Bill may be the cause—my hon. Friends and I must support it tonight.
There are certain criticisms which may be made. It is a pity that Bill is overdue, but the fact that a reform is long overdue is no reason for voting against it when it is proposed. My main criticism of the Bill is that it does not go far enough. I am not sure that, at the moment, there is not a good case for extending the ambit of rent protection to a greater range of houses instead of merely confining it to houses in London with a rateable value of £100 and to houses elsewhere of a rateable value of £75. The opportunity might well have been taken to cast the ambit of the protection given by the rent Acts over a wider range of houses.
I do not like the way in which the Bill deals with the question of charging a premium. I believe that the Ridley Committee unanimously recommended that it should be made illegal in all cases for a premium to be charged. I should have liked to see that done, and I do not see what there is to prevent it being done. It should be clearly understood that, up to the moment, it is not, in the great majority of cases, illegal to charge a premium. I would say that the number of cases since 1945 in which a 619 premium has been charged by the landlord for a new letting represents only about one-tenth of the total number of cases where a premium is charged.
By far the greater number of cases where a premium has been charged to a new occupant are those where this has been done by an outgoing tenant. In such cases, the outgoing tenant has abused the protection given him by the Rent Restrictions Acts. Such a tenant occupies a property the rent of which was controlled. He can then either sell his tenancy at a premium fixed at an extortionate figure, having regard to the scarcity of dwelling houses, or, in more despicable instances, could say to the poor incoming tenant in search of a house or a flat, "Look here, I have a flat which I am renting at £150 a year. You can have my tenancy, but you will have to buy this carpet which I value at the nominal figure of £700." I have come across that kind of case. Here again the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities, leading the Opposition, refused to commit himself as to whether he would support the insertion in the Bill of a provision to the effect that the charging of a premium by an outgoing tenant to an incoming tenant should be made illegal in the case of rent controlled property.
I think the provision for the return of premium will work injustice to landlords in one case; if a landlord, who has charged a premium, sells a house to a new owner and the tenant then applies to a tribunal to have the rent reduced to a reasonable figure and to have the premium repaid to him in the form of instalments to be deducted out of the rent payable for the remainder of the lease, it is the new landlord who suffers that deduction. Yet it was the old landlord who received the premium. Let us say it was £1,000. The new landlord did not receive that money. He paid a purchase price for the property on the basis of the rent that was to accrue from it, and he may now find that the tenant can recover from him the premium which the tenant paid to another landlord, and if that premium was substantial and the rent was low, then the rent may be cut down to nothing in order that the new landlord shall repay a premium which he, in fact, has never received.
§ Mr. Roberts
The man who gets away with it in the end is the landlord who originally charged the premium. That can operate not merely as between people who invest in property; it may operate against a class of persons whom we are seeking to protect. For example, it sometimes happens that the only way in which a man can get accommodation for himself and his family is by buying a house in which there are two tenants living. He enters into, let us say the ground floor part of the house and collects rent from the persons occupying the first floor, who are in fact his tenants. He has had to buy that house in order to get any accommodation at all. It may be that those tenants of the upper part of the house have paid a premium to the landlord from whom the incoming occupier of the lower part of the house has bought the house. This new owner-occupier may then have an application by the other tenant against him, as the landlord, for repayment of the premium. We can even find still more intricate cases.
This is really an obscure Bill. I do not think the facility in speech of the Minister, which we all admire and for which we envy him, need deceive us into thinking that this is anything but a very difficult Bill. Judge after judge, in one case after another, has said that the Rent Restrictions Acts are the most difficult and complex spheres of all the Statute law.
§ Mr. Roberts
The hon. Gentleman interrupts and says that it is the judges who have made them so. I am sure that he will agree that any practitioner finds great difficulty in understanding these Acts from day to day, even in cases where there has not been a decision of the courts.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I took note of the last part of his remarks and I should like to ask him whether he agrees with me that the difficulties which practitioners find in interpreting the Acts are largely occasioned by the long variety of highly complicated and often conflicting decisions in the courts.
§ Mr. Roberts
I think some part of the difficulty arises from decisions of the 621 courts, but nevertheless let it be remembered that there are nine Rent Restrictions Acts on the Statute Book, and even granting the hon. Member's point, there is really all the more force in a plea for consolidation. If judicial decisions on nine Acts make this part of the law difficult, there is all the more ground for a consolidating Statute now. A consolidating Statute need not await a full evaluation of fair rents all over the country. A Statute could be introduced to consolidate the law as it will have been amended by the present Bill. I hope that after this Bill has been passed into law, the Minister of Health will consider the introduction into this House of one comprehensive code of law covering the question of rent restrictions. This is not a matter to be evaded by a specious speech. It is not a matter for lawyers, because no sphere of the law touches ordinary men or women more intimately than the Rent Restrictions Acts, and it is the duty of this House to give to ordinary men and women of this country a code of law which they will be able to understand.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
I very much agree with almost everything which the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) said. I feel that the problem of the new landlord is important. It is certainly not very rare. In a great number of cases people have bought houses because they could get no other accommodation, and they have only been able to buy those houses by taking a premium for parts which they have let off; also there has often been an agreement between friends before the actual purchase of the house. This is a problem with which we shall have to deal in Committee.
I want to raise one point, not in the Bill itself but outside, in the hope that it can be brought up in Committee, because I feel that this is something which requires attention. It is certainly a problem in Northampton, and perhaps elsewhere as well. It is this: where houses become vacant nowadays, generally speaking and certainly in the case of the better class of house, they are sold rather than re-let. By selling vacant possession one gets a price far larger than anything which one would get in return for re-letting the house. When the municipality come to 622 re-house tenants the difficulty is that by re-housing them they are presenting a considerable premium to the existing landlord.
I do not know what other corporations do, but what the Northampton Corporation do is this: we make it a rule that we will not re-house people unless the landlord will agree to accept another tenant nominated by the housing committee. By and large, landlords in Northampton have been very good and have co-operated because they want to see the re-housing carried on so that overcrowding may be brought to an end and large families in small houses may be moved into larger corporation houses. That arrangement, of course, enables the Corporation to house two families instead of one—the large family which is moved into one of the corporation houses, and the small family which is moved into the landlord's house. Some landlords, however, will not agree to this. That means that people who ought to be re-housed are left in accommodation which is much too small for them. They are suffering an injustice and their children are suffering an injury to their health.
I want to know if, before the Committee stage, the Minister will consider a new Clause authorising a corporation or any housing authority to nominate a new tenant for any premises which they vacate by re-housing the sitting tenant. The Minister may say this can be done by requisition. In Northampton we do not think we can do it by requisition, but if he can point out to us a requisitioning system which will enable us to deal with the few landlords who will not co-operate with us we shall be very grateful, and that will be all that will be necessary. I hope he will consider the point before we reach the Committee stage.
That is the only point I wish to make. I agree that this is a complicated Bill; it is the sort of Bill which, by leaving wide discretions, leaves a tremendous, happy hunting ground for lawyers to point to contradictions and that sort of thing. It was exactly the same with the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, but we have seen the rent tribunals work the Act by applying their common sense. The tribunals have done extraordinarily well in overcoming all those difficulties 623 which were anticipated when the matter was debated in the House. They have not been right all the time—no human is—but by and large, they have done very well and I have no doubt they will continue to do very well. This is a useful Measure and I hope it will be extended to the extent I have indicated.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)
I want to say a word about the suggestion which has just been made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), that of nominating new tenants for houses. I put forward this humble suggestion to the Minister, which he might consider when he answers tonight: the most satisfactory method would be for the corporation to send a list of tenants whom they wanted to re-house, leaving the selection to the owner of the house. The corporation would thus avoid the responsibility which might arise if they nominated someone who, the next day, went off with the lead from the roof and they would also give the owner of the house the feeling that to a certain extent he could still manage his property.
§ Colonel Dower
Any reasonable landlord should accept that, because it is a right and proper procedure while there is a shortage of accommodation in the country.
It seems to me that the objects of this Bill are quite genuinely desired from all parts of the House. Some good fighting points have been made from this side of the House, but when we come to the real objects of the Bill it seems to me that not a great deal separates us. Where we appear to differ is in considering whether this Bill will bring about the objects we desire. The right hon. Gentleman says he would like to see houses built by private enterprise to let. I assume that when he says that he is speaking honestly, and I accept that. In the same way, I hope he will accept that we on this side of the House are absolutely opposed to exorbitant premiums and war rents. So far as I am concerned, if he could only produce a workable 624 Measure which would not prevent the building of houses, not by private enterprise profiteers but by decent private enterprise people who will be content with a small and a reasonable return on their money—which, after all is what the right hon. Gentleman himself said he wanted to see—then I believe we should have a Measure which would command a great deal of support from all sides of the House.
I am sure that every one will agree that the answer to all this will be found when there is an abundant number of houses, because it will not then be possible to obtain premiums. People who want to charge premiums will not be able to do so. Rents will come tumbling down. This is a period of difficulty when I suppose the gentlemen responsible for framing the Measures which the Minister wants do not find it easy to bring forward a Measure which will give him complete satisfaction in achieving what he wishes to bring about.
I should like the Minister's attention for a moment because I want his answer to this point, if I can get it. He will surely agree that the upsetting of con-tracts is not a good thing. It may be necessary. He has given certain instances, and after he gave them, I crossed out a bit of my speech because he has shown that these things have occurred at other times and in a number of circumstances which were not war circumstances. No one can look upon the wiping out of contracts as desirable in itself, because people will not really know where they are. Somebody says, "Will you agree with this?" and the answer is, "Yes"; yet the very next day the law may alter the agreement. It is not of itself a desirable thing to interfere with the law of contract.
The Minister may establish a case and may even influence me on this particular point, but I ask him to realise that it is not a desirable thing to create doubt among people whom we would all like to see working together happily, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said in his opening speech. We do not want to give them a feeling of complete doubt and uncertainty. Let us therefore avoid any kind of abuses in putting forward a constructive programme which, if steps were taken at the start, would make it unnecessary to interfere later and create the confusion 625 and uncertainty which will arise if people reach an agreement and then, a very short time afterwards, their contract is voidable by law from one side.
Turning to the question of premiums, I presume that the right hon. Gentleman's advisers have not been able to show him how he could prevent the tenant-in-chief from charging a premium. It must be such an involved matter that it is impossible for him to bring forward such a Measure, but it seems to me that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), who opened for the Opposition, established an unanswerable argument when he said that if anyone is to charge a premium—which none of us wants to see—surely it should be the person who built the house, who did the work, and who took the risks. If we are merely to prevent him from obtaining a premium but are leaving it perfectly possible for a person who has done nothing in the creation of that house to obtain a premium, then we have not before us a very good Measure—and that is putting it mildly. I did not think even the Minister himself dealt with that particular point with any enthusiasm.
I am not the owner, thank goodness, of any rent-restricted property at all, but I am the owner of a building that I let, and I can tell the House the kind of thing that can happen. This happened some time ago. The tenant came to me and said that he had been a tenant of my family for some time, and so would I grant him a 14 to 21 years' lease. I said, "I will, and I shall charge what is the fair rent." I rang up the agents to find out what the far rent was. I deducted a little—10 per cent. I am not saying that this is always the case, but, believe me, within a month of the tenant's getting that long lease there was a board put up saying, "Lease for Sale," and he got £1,500 for it. If we are to deal with the grasping landlord we should also deal with abuses by other people. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should find out how we can stop other abuses. If we can get a workable Measure to that end, which allows reasonable and properly conducted private enterprise, I think he will get a good deal of support from all sides of the House.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mrs. Wills (Birmingham, Duddeston)
I want to compliment the Minister on 626 this Bill, because it will give some protection to large numbers of our people who have often found it extremely difficult even to sleep at nights, owing to the anxiety caused them by the fact that their landlords have applied for possession of their houses because they were sharing them with other families. It is not always the old landlord, mentioned by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Colonel Dower), who is to blame. There are property speculators who are buying up houses that are being shared. They gain possession of the houses and sell them at exorbitant prices. This happened to such an extent in Birmingham that at one time every house built by the local authority was let to a family that had been ejected from one of the shared houses, and the ordinary applicants on the register, who were living in overcrowded conditions with their parents or other relatives, were unable to get any consideration whatsoever because of the extent to which this game had been going on.
We know it is not an easy matter to catch up with the housing shortage. We have to realise that, whereas in 1938 we had in this country some 13 million families, in 1948 that number had risen to nearly 15 million, and each one of those families was wanting a house to itself. So the shortage of houses grows, as it were, and becomes an ever-increasing problem with which we have to cope. So the more we can protect families in shared houses the better. It does simplify things in one way to keep to the old rateable values, but we have to remember that it is largely the houses that are just above the old rateable values which had been divided and are being divided to provide shared accommodation. I should like the Minister to look at that matter to see whether it would not be better to take a higher rateable value in the circumstances, because it is in the larger houses that accommodation is shared.
I also ask the Minister to see whether something can be done for the small shopkeepers. They are constantly harassed by the speculators who buy estates when they come into the market, and who often canvass landlords, who sometimes fall into pecuniary difficulties, 627 to get hold of property in that way, to raise the rents of those small properties. There are rents that are raised continually year after year. I have known of properties the rent of which has doubled in 10 years. Rents have gone on increasing until the small trader has had to get out in self-defence, for he would have needed another job to pay the extortionate rent being charged.
I hope we shall all support this measure of justice to our people. I know some of the difficulties of the Rent Restrictions Acts. I know that it will be a help to a great many people to know that they can go to a rent tribunal, because they know, before they go, that it is sympathetic, whereas they feel that the courts are not. The fact that they know they can go to a tribunal will help them. I hope that the provisions of the Bill will be made watertight before the Bill passes, because the law that has had more diversity of opinions given upon it than any other, I fancy, is the law of rent restriction and the law relating to landlords and tenants. I hope the Minister will be encouraged by the House to go forward with this Bill, and to strengthen it at every point to give our people the greatest protection possible.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Hare (Woodbridge)
The hon. Lady the Member for Duddeston (Mrs. Wills) will be disappointed at the "watertightness" of this Bill when it is examined in Committee. I am afraid there are so many gaping gaps in it that the water will come pouring through. Those who are in any way responsible for trying to make some sense out of this Bill will have a great deal of hard work to do. I think it is a great disappointment. Here we have a Minister with plenty of energy and go and drive who, instead of making a really serious attempt to tackle the anomalies which hon. Members on all sides of the House admit exist so far as the rent restriction legislation is concerned, produces instead, this misgrable little Bill which fails to carry out the very objectives he has in mind.
I am afraid that there is a good deal in what my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) had to say. I 628 fear that the Minister has been afraid. He knows that all is not well with the complicated procedure with which the unfortunate people of this country have to put up so far as rent restriction is concerned, and he also knows that any Measure to try to co-ordinate that chaotic legislation will be unpopular because it will affect people in different ways, and because it will not be easily understood by the British public. He may have been wise politically but I do not think he has been brave. Accordingly, being wise rather than brave, he has shirked the issue, and perhaps done something to gain a few votes for his party at the next General Election.
I say that this is a bad Bill for a number of reasons. We have heard from Members on all sides of the House that it does not catch the person whom the Minister wants to catch. It also creates hardship to many people who have deserved no ill from the State or from the society in which they live. Let us take the man who bought a house at an inflated price immediately after the war. It may be that the only way in which he could live in that house was by converting a portion of it into accommodation for another family or for two families. By renting off the extra accommodation, possibly at a high rent, possibly at a premium, he may barely have recouped the excessive expenditure which he had to undergo in order to live in the house.
Another case, which has been quoted by almost every speaker, is that of a tenant who contracts to rent a flat or a house from a landlord. He pays the landlord the normal rent. He then decides that he has a customer who is willing to give him a handsome profit by way of premium for possession of the flat or house. The point is, as has already been said, that the original landlord does not get the premium. The person who is exploited is the second tenant of the house. Under this Bill, he will still suffer in the same old way, and the Minister has done nothing to cater for this large-scale exploitation of the public which is going on.
There are a number of other instances. Why, for instance, should a house be let on a 14-year contract and a premium be charged? Why is that not dealt with in the Bill, if it is wrong? I am certain 629 that the more this Bill is studied, seriously and without bias, by the Members of this House, the less satisfied they will become. These points have been touched on by other speakers, but there is one particular point on which I want to dwell for a moment. Two hon. Members representing Birmingham have spoken. The hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) said that in his opinion, the effects of this Bill would damage any prospect of a large-scale increase in accommodation for the people of Birmingham by more and more conversion schemes being put into practice, and therefore more and more units of accommodation being provided by that particular method.
I think that applies perhaps even more to London. Here in this great city we have literally thousands of houses which were built in more spacious days and which are not fully occupied by families, now living in much reduced circumstances, who, at the moment, because of this sort of legislation, feel that they do not know where they are. They have tried to convert the premises, but they are not approached by speculators or builders with a view to obtaining the property in order to deal with it by means of conversion because of the heavy hand of this legislation, which has been hanging over the building industry for some time. That must be wrong.
In a city like London, the housing situation, instead of getting better in the last few years, has steadily got worse. In 1945, we had only some 46,000 people—I say "only"—on the waiting lists of the L.C.C. Today, we have 150,000, despite all the efforts of local authorities, the Minister of Works, and all that has been done in the repair of bomb damage. Despite all the extra units of accommodation which have been made available since 1945, we have 150,000 families on the waiting list as opposed to 46,000. It seems quite clear to me that however great the efforts of the local authorities may be, we have to impress all other agencies which can contribute to solving this great housing problem. In London, conversion at a minimum of cost and efficiency in the use of materials could obtain quick results and provide these extra units of accommodation. That that should be threatened by a Bill of this sort is, to my mind, quite monstrous.
630 I am sure that the Minister was genuine in what he said today. He said that conversion would be dealt with in later legislation, and this Bill will not affect the schemes, which he hopes will be put in hand, with a view to making use of the extra labour and materials now available for building. I do not think that this Bill will have the required effect. There has been no encouragement by the Minister of Health to allow conversion to go ahead at any speed. There are indications now that, with greater availability of building materials, the Minister may, after all, change his mind, and we hope that this new legislation will make something of that sort possible. We are, however, killing these schemes stone dead if we expect contractors or builders to come forward, after having gone through all the tremendous complications of the Town and Country Planning Act, only to be told, "We are very sorry; we cannot give you any definite ideas as to what your reward is to be under this scheme. That may be fixed now by you, but it can be altered by the tribunal at some time after you have completed your conversion."A business man cannot function under those conditions, and I feel that it is too much to ask him to do so.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he is now saying that the person who converts the house is, therefore, entitled to get whatever he can?
§ Mr. Hare
I am not saying anything of the sort. I am merely saying that those who wish to convert houses are the people who can best decide whether they are having a fair return. Why should gentlemen sitting at a tribunal decide that for them? That seems to me quite illogical. I think that I have made that point clear, and that I have been right to stress the very grave danger to the provision of new homes which this Bill will be. The Minister stressed the ingeniousness of this Bill, but how little did he mention the word "justice." However ingenious the Bill may be, the effect will be disastrous on the provision of new homes by the conversion of existing premises which I believe could provide more new homes than are being provided at present. The Bill will create a number of injustices and fail to carry out the 631 object which the Minister originally had in mind.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
There is no denying that this Bill has unsatisfactory features. That is not to say that underlining it there is not a principle which I support very strongly. For instance, the two main points which appear to be set out in the Bill, namely, the achievement of fair rents and the elimination of premiums are both points which I very strongly support. That, however, is not the test here at all. The question is whether this Bill carries out those particular objects in the way that it should. The Bill, as I understand it—and I am bound to say, speaking as a lawyer, that it is not easy to understand—seeks to secure, first that the rents for properties under a certain rateable value as from 14th August, 1945, shall be based upon what is described as a "fair rent," and, secondly, that charging premiums in relation to those properties shall be defeated and prevented in the future. The question as I say is whether those two objects are fully secured by the provisions of this Bill. In my submission they are not. It is perfectly true that this Bill gets rid of some injustices; but it is equally true that other injustices are either continued or created, and I will endeavour to show how in a moment.
The first object, that of fair rents, presents, as the Bill is drawn, what appears to be an anomaly and an insupportable contradiction. Why should 14th August, 1945, be selected arbitrarily as a line of demarcation for determining which properties are to be brought within the net of this statute? I should have thought, on moral grounds alone, that if there were, prior to 1945, any properties which came within the terms of what it is sought by the Bill to do with tenancies after that date, it would be logical, proper and reasonable to bring those tenancies, too, within the net of this legislation. What justification—and I ask the Minister to reconsider this seriously—is put forward for this discrimination?—for that there is this discrimination is undeniable. The point made by the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) about the retrospective character of this provision was not, if he will forgive me saying so, a 632 good one, although I arrived at the same conclusion as himself about its demerit by a different route.
I do not disagree with that provision because it goes back and invalidates contracts which have been made since 1945. I disagree with it because it discriminates in point of date only between one set of property and another identical set of property; that is to say, it discriminates between tenancy agreements which preceded 1945 and similar agreements which come after, although the offences committed by and the objection to both are identical. I cannot see how that can be justified. Therefore, I say that, although it may be proper to bring within legislation houses of the post-1945 period, it is not right to discriminate in the way I have indicated, and exclude houses which come within the pre-1945 period.
The hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) suggested that the assessment of rents in these cases was a matter which could be best worked out by and on the personal calculation and individual judgment of the landlord himself. Of course, no one could possibly accept that proposition for a moment, because it amounts to making a man the judge in his own cause, and it is impossible for anyone to exercise the impartiality and independence of mind necessary in arriving at such a decision, involving two parties with conflicting interests. In such a case it is necessary to have some independent tribunal or body to decide the matter in issue. In that respect it is right to say that the tribunals have carried out their work very well indeed; I do not think there is any ground for complaint about the exercise of their functions on coming to decisions on such problems as have come before them. Those decisions are sustainable in almost every case.
§ Mr. Hare
I should like to ask the hon. and learned Member to help me here. Even if my submission is wrong, does he not agree that the contractor who intends to build a new house for letting, or to convert an existing house into flats, should at any rate have some machinery by which he would know what sort of rent he would be allowed to charge; and secondly, would the hon. and learned Member apply the procedure he has just spoken of to fixing the fees of, say, King's Counsel?
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Under the present arrangements there is ample data and machinery for this purpose; and even this Bill, with all its defects, prescribes certain tests for deciding in that connection what is the fair rent. Unfortunately, one of the means by which this Bill does that perpetrates an injustice against the landlord because where somebody else has received a pecuniary profit, although he himself derived no advantage, the landlord has to bear that burden and suffer a reduction of rent. That, of course, is quite unsustainable. How anyone could seek to include such a result in any Bill, or having got that in the Bill how anyone could seek to justify it, is beyond my comprehension. I will if there is time deal with that again a little later.
The question of premiums has been discussed, and it is important to clear up one aspect of that problem. It has been queried whether there was a right in a statutory tenant to assign, and the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities and my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) had a slight controversy about it. Putting it in popular language, I should say that the position is this. A statutory tenant has no estate at all as a tenant; he has merely a personal right to retain possession of the property; he cannot assign his interest. That is perfectly clear. What he can do—and this is important, and is I think what the right hon. and gallant Member was getting at—is to sub-let. That means he can sub-let only part, although it may be the major part, and that can lead to the abuse which I think the right hon. and gallant Member had in mind.
Notwithstanding that, it is a statutory offence for such a tenant to take a premium or any consideration whatever in so dealing with the property, nevertheless, we all know that it is done, and is widely abused. There may well arise the case where a man who has done that is subject to the penal law, and where the landlord may notwithstanding have imposed upon him a burden because that man has taken a consideration or premium to which he is not entitled. Yet the landlord, who is quite innocent, may have his rent reduced because of it. Such a state of things is absolutely wrong and unsupportable.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
If my hon. Friend does not agree with my interpretation of the Bill he can say so later if he speaks.
There is another point in connection with premiums which seems to me completely illogical and most unfair in relation to the provisions of the Bill. Why should a person be punished for taking a premium for letting or assigning a house where it is less than for 14 years and the person who lets the property for a period of 14 years or more is allowed to get away with it scot free? It does not make sense, and is certainly not just. Whether a man lets a house for five years or 15 years cannot in reason make any difference because if a man is permitted to let a house for 14 years and get away with a premium it is perfectly right for anyone else letting his house for less than 14 years to get away with it. My view, however, is that neither of them should be allowed to get away with it. In my opinion this Bill should deal with that obvious problem, and make all such cases illegal.
§ Colonel Dower
Has the hon. and learned Gentleman considered the value of the ground in granting leases over 14 years? That is why a premium is charged in lieu of rent.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
It is quite a different matter where there is a long-term lease, say, for 99 years. I am not dealing with that sort of thing. Then there is the case of key money which was raised by several hon. Members opposite. That is an abuse which is widespread and is being done by tenants all over the country who are moving out of their houses. Why is that not dealt with in this Bill? I ask the Minister to try and make this Bill a little more realistic and effective and include those cases within its provisions. There is also the case where there is an assignment by a tenant who receives a premium although the tenant can get away with that the landlord is made responsible under this Bill and his rent is reduced as a result of that premium being paid not to him but to someone else. That is something else which ought clearly not to be allowed.
635 There is also another point. Quite a lot of property is now being sold instead of being let. Vendors of these houses are cashing in and making quite a lot of money out of the transaction. It is this that is to a large extent putting up the value of houses and thereby increasing the scale of rents. That is another thing which is not covered by the Minister in this legislation but is most decidedly and urgently a matter that is worthy of his consideration. Another point is that there is no definition of what is a fair rent. Something has been said about the complexity and confusion of the decisions in the courts on the interpretation of the rent Acts, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) thought that the fault lay with the judges' view of the law and the effect of the Acts. Anyone who, like myself, has had to deal with the interpretation of these Acts knows that the fault does not lie in the construction which the Courts have given to the Acts but in the complicated and sometimes obscure language in which their provisions are couched. That, of course, enforces the need for an early measure to simplify and provide for the whole question of rent restriction and control. That was why the Ridley Committee recommended that there should be a consolidation of all matters relating to rent control in a single comprehensive Act, because you could not deal with it piecemeal without creating further injustice. It was a case of Aut Caesar, aut nullus.
Then there is the position regarding furnished houses. The Bill in that respect seeks to give the tenant greater security of tenure, but it leaves a serious defect that exists in the Act of 1946. What the Minister said about this may be rather misleading. He told the House that this Bill would give greater security of tenure to the tenant. He however overlooked the important point that if the landlord gives notice to the tenant to quit before the contract is referred to the tribunal the tenant has in fact and in law no security of tenure at all. It is true that the tribunal may deal with the matter and may say what the reasonable rent ought to be, but that does not give that tenant any security at all and at the end of the notice to quit the 636 tenant has to go out. Under the Bill the tribunal would have no power at all to help such a tenant as regards any question of security of tenure.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
If the hon. Member refers to the principal Act he will find that he is completely wrong.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
If my hon. Friend would refer to Section 5 of the Act of 1946 he would see that I am completely right.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Let me finish especially as my hon. Friend does not appear to be too conversant with the matter. It was actually a point I made when the 1946 Act was being dealt with. I pointed it out to the Minister, and, of course, the matter was not put right at the time and it is still not right. The only way the tenant gets the three months' protection under that Section is where notice has been given after the contract has been referred to the tribunal under the Act of 1946; but where it is given before, that does not apply, and that is a very serious defect. On all of these grounds I have felt it necessary to criticise the Bill. Nevertheless the principle as I said in the first place, is a good one though it has been badly dealt with. I hope very much that this Bill will be improved in Committee, because it is sadly in need of it.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I agree with a very great deal of what the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) said, and I dare say he will agree with me when I say that this Bill will be welcomed by the members of our profession, not because we understand it but because we do not understand it.
Speaking as a representative of a large rural constituency, may I say that, judging by my postbag for the past three and a half years, I do not think this Bill is going to affect my constituents very much. I say that because I have had only one letter, out of a constant stream of letters on countless subjects during that time, complaining that a landlord has tried to extort a rent which was in any way excessive. I speak, of 637 course, of tenants whose premises were beyond the control of the Rent Restrictions Acts. The fact that there has been that forbearance may be indicative of the fact that all classes of the community in my constituency are more reasonable and less grasping than might be found elsewhere.
Speaking as one who was married less than eighteen months ago and who had to find somewhere in London to live, I am disappointed and surprised that a Measure containing the main intentions of this Bill was not introduced three years ago. May I express some views as to why such a Measure should have been introduced three years ago? In the first place, if the Government had introduced such a Measure then, they would have prevented those abuses which this Bill is now intended to prevent; but it is too late now. All that the Bill can do is to mitigate and correct to a minor extent. Indeed, one might say that this Bill is a very glaring example of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted or been stolen. I have yet to be assured that the Bill is wholly retrospective. I understood just now from the Minister of Health that the Bill was only partially retrospective, and that was in so far as premiums were concerned. I have no doubt that if I am wrong, some hon. and learned Member or the Minister will say where I am wrong, but that is how I read the Bill at the moment.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does it not amount to no more than this, that the hon. Gentleman can have his contract of tenancy reviewed in every particular by one of these tribunals with the sole limitation that he will not be able to get back three-sevenths of the premium?
§ Mr. Renton
But the Minister himself has already disposed of the hon. Gentleman's argument by putting it in specific words that anything already paid cannot be recovered. All that can happen is that outstanding amounts of premiums can be allocated as against future rents if the tribunal comes to an unbelievably complicated determination.
§ Mr. Renton
This is the first speech I have attempted to make this afternoon.
638 It is rather paradoxical that whereas the greater part of the wage-earners of this country already have their rents and tenancies protected by Tory and Liberal legislation, now we find that this Bill will affect not the mass of the wage-earning classes but mainly the middle classes. Perhaps that is an explanation for the fact that this Bill is three years late in being introduced. I hope it is not and that it is only an accident, but it springs to mind.
Although I consider this Bill to be too late and although I consider it has great defects, nevertheless its main intention is one which it is worth trying to fulfil even now. That does not mean that I am going to vote in favour of the Bill, because for a number of reasons, which I am now going to explain, I consider that it has some serious defects. At the same time, its main intention is one which even now is better late than never and should be fulfilled. If my hon. Friends above the Gangway disagree with that view, the political alliance with which I have been proud to associate myself for the past three and a half years will to that extent be temporarily suspended this evening. But I am not sure that my hon. friends and I do disagree.
I cannot support the Bill in its present form, in the first place because I disagree with the power which is given to rent tribunals. The rent tribunals have, to put it mildly, and in spite of the eulogistic things said about them this afternoon, not put up an evenly good performance. I forget the exact word which the Minister used in describing the work of the tribunals—I have no doubt it was a very picturesque one—but he seemed to be satisfied with them. Some of them I am told—I have never appeared before one so I cannot speak with personal experience—have done well and others not quite so well. It so happens that this Bill, unlike the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, has become one with the law relating to rent restrictions. The Rent Restrictions Acts are already administered by the very able county court judges, whose work one very rarely hears criticised. It may be that one judge is better than another, but their calibre does not vary as much as the calibre of the chairmen of the furnished lettings tribunals. I feel that public confidence in the success of this Bill would be very 639 much greater if the county court judges had to administer it.
The Minister, if he were in the House at this moment, would say that from his point of view the questions of fact and reasonableness which have to be decided are so complicated that they could not be entrusted to a tribunal judge to decide. May I remind the Minister that under the present Rent Restrictions Acts every other case the judge is specifically charged with deciding is a case of reasonableness, and very complicated those questions sometimes are. Three years ago one might have heard the argument used that the county courts were already so flooded with work and with arrears that it would be a serious matter to entrust the judges with a further mass of litigation, but that is no longer the fact. The county courts have got through their work, and their lists are not as overburdened as they were, so that there seems no reason why they should not take on this work.
On the question of sharing, I do not agree with my hon. Friends, nor with the terms in the Bill about sharing. Generally in the past it has been what one might call experimental kindness on the part of the existing occupants. If the sharing works successfully, well and good, there is no trouble about it, but if it does not work, I cannot see why the tenants should be burdened with subtenants or sharers with whom they simply cannot get on. It merely means misery for two families, and it is a most remarkable thing that, in the many cases decided by the courts where possession has been obtained, not very often does one hear of these people having actually to go into the street. People manage to find somewhere else to go in spite of the appalling difficulties of finding anything. I feel that this sharing is not fair and will not be conducive to good family life.
It happened only a fortnight ago that I prosecuted two criminals, both of whom had gone to a working-class household. They said to the occupants, "Look here, we are in a difficulty. We have nowhere to go. Please let us share." Both these criminals returned the kindness which was shown to them by taking advantage of an early opportunity to have a good pilfer round the house after which they walked out into the blue. The police 640 eventually found them several weeks later. Factors of that sort have to be borne in mind, and the Government will have to look very carefully into this question of sharing. It would be far better to give a discretion to the judge as to whether or not an order for possession should be made in sharing cases.
I am tempted to say a word about the administration of the present Acts, but I will refrain from doing so. May I, in conclusion, say that it should not be forgotten that the Government are here interfering, as we all have to do from time to time, with the ordinary laws of supply and demand. Generally speaking, these laws make a satisfactory foundation for the life of society, and when we interfere with them we need to have a very good reason for doing so. I have said that I think there is a very good reason with regard to the main purpose of the Bill. My only regret is that the Government have tried to achieve that main purpose in a manner with which I cannot agree.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
The Bill is a stop-gap Measure. It claims to be no more. It places large patches on what are now the greatest gaps in the system of rent control. Some of the patches will be reasonably effective and some not so effective, but those are matters which can be dealt with during the Committee stage.
I am particularly interested in Clauses 6, 7 and 8, which deal with shared accommodation. There is the largest gap at the present time. The Minister has been very dilatory in dealing with it. It should have been dealt with some time ago, as I think my right hon. Friend admitted, because it is certainly a crying necessity. In the City of Birmingham it has created many serious problems, of which my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Duddeston (Mrs. Wills) has already spoken. It has to a large extent dislocated the housing programme of the Birmingham Corporation, so much so that at certain stages almost a quarter of the accommodation available has had to be provided for evicted cases.
A large number of cases which have been the subject of court eviction orders come under the principle of Neal v. Del Soto and are cases of shared accommodation. 641 It is true that the people who are evicted in those circumstances rarely find their way on to the streets, but that is because of the responsibility of local authorities for finding accommodation for such people. The result is that other people are displaced on the housing lists and in the housing queues, people who are badly in need of accommodation, and who but for the application of the principle I have mentioned, might have found accommodation before.
That is a serious matter, especially in Birmingham, where it has become so serious that the City Council have at last decided that they will not of necessity find accommodation for people who are evicted. That is a serious position which may result, and does result, in great hardship. It is not dealt with in a completely satisfactory way by the Bill. A distinction is made between the tenant who shares accommodation with a landlord and two tenants who share accommodation together. Where accommodation is shared with a landlord, the provisions of the Furnished Lettings Act, 1946, are to apply. The case of two tenants sharing accommodation is to come under the Rent Restrictions Acts, which provide much better protection and prevent eviction except in certain circumstances.
Originally, this gap in the law came about by a decision of the court. It was never contemplated by this House. Parliament is now being asked to fill up a gap which the courts have made in our own legislation. That is one of the objects of the Bill. The Bill will not fill the gap completely because it does not place the tenant who shares accommodation with the landlord, in the same position as he would have been in if that decision had never been made. It places him in an inferior position. I can appreciate the object of the Minister, in new lettings of this nature, that a person should be willing to sub-let rooms in his house and that we ought to encourage as many lettings as possible to relieve the housing situation. That is a good point and I appreciate that object. In that case I cannot understand why, in other cases where there is already sharing between landlord and tenant, the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Act should not apply rather than those of the Furnished Lettings Act. I hope it will be possible during the Committee stage for 642 the Minister to reconsider that point and to see whether it is possible to extend control to those people.
Otherwise, the Clauses in question provide for matters which are urgently and badly needed at the present time. Hon. Members opposite have suggested that we should have a consolidating or a revising Measure. It is not clear what hon. Members mean by a consolidating Measure. It might mean an Act in which various Statutes are brought together in one new Measure which does not alter the law, but I take it that that is not what they mean. Such a Measure would confer no fresh advantage upon tenants. It would confer great advantage upon lawyers, who would then find their law in one Statute, and very much easier to refer to. I take it that hon. Members mean a revising Measure introducing new principles into the administration of the law, may be the principles of the Ridley Report, or other Measures revising and simplifying the whole principle of the law. They have not said, and they have been very careful not to say, what new principles they would like it to embody.
It has been suggested that such new principles would be unpopular. I wonder what Measures hon. Gentlemen are thinking about which would be unpopular. Are they Measures which would yield to the clamour of the landlords at the present time for a general increase of controlled rents? There is no doubt that that would be very unpopular. Whatever may be their meaning, hon. Members would agree that a simplification or a consolidation would be bound to take a long time. On the other hand, the matters with which the Bill deals are urgent and ought to be dealt with right away. I hope the House will support the Bill and will rely on the Committee stage to remove imperfections which undoubtedly exist. This Measure will afford considerable relief to very large numbers of tenants throughout the country.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
The chief objection to the Bill is that a patching-up Bill should be introduced at all, some three and a half years after the end of the war and after the Government have taken office. It has been 643 clear for a long time that the prime need is to consolidate, clarify and simplify. I think the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. J. Silverman) will agree that consolidation and clarification are necessary preliminaries to any review and revision of the rent restrictions law. There is an impressive body of opinion in favour of consolidation and clarification. It was recommended in the Ridley Report and it is at any rate implicit in a great number of judgments given in the courts. I think it was Lord Justice McKinnon who referred to the Rent Restrictions Acts as being a welter of chaotic verbiage.
We all know that the Minister of Health is a man of strange and infinite paradox; but he seems to have surpassed himself in this case. The problem is to simplify and consolidate nine Rent Restrictions Acts and one Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, and he has found a solution in adding yet a further Measure which is in effect a hybrid of them both. This Bill—it is one of its considerable defects—is grafted on to both the existing Rent Restrictions law and the 1946 Furnished Houses Act. whereas it was a recognised principle in 1946 that the operation of the Furnished Houses Act should so far as possible be kept apart and distinct from the general body of Rent Restrictions law That principle has not worked in practice, as the Minister can see by the growing volume of case law on the overlapping territory between the two sets of law.
In regard to the 1946 Act, I should have thought that a clear duty lay upon the Government and the House to tidy up the Act before grafting any further Bill upon it. In this context I will quote what was said by the chairman of one of those rent tribunals of which we have heard so much today, when informed that he would be taken to the divisional court on a certain point. He said:The Act is not very clear in some ways. It does not help us very much. … At present it is most difficult for tribunals to know where they do stand.With that, the chairman expressed gratification that the matter was to be taken to the divisional court, an unusual and rather compelling illustration of the inadequacy 644 and obscurity of the present Act.
As to the substance of the Bill, I broadly agree that the consequences of the decision in Neal versus Del Soto should be varied by legislative action so that partly shared accommodation should not be excluded from all protection on the ground that there is no letting of a separate dwelling house. The consequences of that decision would obviously have been one of the matters to be dealt with in the consolidating Act, if we may so call it, which should have been introduced before now by the Government. While we are conscious of the points made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), most of us would say that Clauses 7 and 8 are right in principle though perhaps less effective than they would have been if they were not grafted on to the existing state of the law.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sorry to interrupt, but in view of what has been said so frequently, it is necessary to make one point quite clear. We cannot by one comma or one dot alter the law by a consolidation Act. Therefore, the gap made in the Rent Restrictions law by the decision of the court could not in any way be affected by a consolidation Act. We must take the law as it stands and write it into one volume. In no way whatsoever could we alter the nature of the law itself.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
What is required is an Act to remedy the contradictions and anomalies of the present Rent Restrictions law.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but there is no need for him—he is not a lawyer—to make the sort of quibble which he would be the first to specify as a legal quibble. It is perfectly clear what is intended and it is perfectly clear what is needed. What is needed is a Measure—it would require a lot of work on the part of the right hon. Gentleman and his Department, and perhaps that is why it has not already been done—to get rid of the anomalies and patent contradictions of the present Rent Restrictions law.
645 I pass to one or two matters within the Bill itself. In so far as Clauses 1 and 2 are designed to stop the exploitation of shortage of accommodation, they deserve sympathetic consideration because of the soundness of the object which inspires them. I agree, however, that there are various anomalies and difficulties in the way in which this is sought to be done by the Bill. Clause 1 adds to the well-known phenomena of "standard rents" and "recoverable rents" the concept of "reasonable rent" which is new in rent restrictions law as distinct from the 1946 Act. It has already been pointed out that there is no assistance in the Bill as to the principle on which reasonable rent will be computed. There should be some guidance if the Minister and the legislature are not to be open to the reproach made by the chairman of the rent tribunal whose remarks about the 1946 Act I have quoted.
It may be—I gathered from the Minister's speech that it is his intention—that reasonable rents shall be fixed in relation to standard rents for comparable properties in the vicinity. If that test is to be taken, the House must make up its mind that there will certainly be no uniformity of rents as a result of applying that principle because it is well known that standard rents for indistinguishable premises vary enormously owing to the arbitrary methods by which the standard rent is applied. It may be that it is right to achieve a reasonable rent by taking into account the fall in the value of the £ and the rise in the cost of repairs, but if that principle were taken into account, there would be a wide discrepancy between the reasonable rent and the standard rent of comparable premises because these are not elements which can influence a standard rent.
It is arguable that a reasonable rent should be fixed, having regard to the price paid for the particular house by the landlord and the cost of alterations in which he has been involved. In computing a reasonable rent, that would involve considerations of initial cost and landlord's outgoings and presumably an element for landlord's profit. If this is taken as a correct basis, as it might well be argued to be, for fixing a reasonable rent, it also clearly cannot achieve any uniformity in rents for comparable premises, because of the very different circumstances in which 646 different landlords acquired or converted their premises and the different expenses in which they have been involved in so doing. The House therefore has to ask: Is it possible to achieve both a fair rent and a uniform rent? If not, will any tenant ever believe that if rents are not uniform they are reasonable and fair? That is a brief indication of the sort of difficulty and complexity into which this Clause, when it becomes a Section of the Act, will lead in its application.
There is nothing wrong with premiums as such. They are a well known part of ordinary property transactions. They are only wrong when used to evade Rent Restrictions law and, for that reason, Section 8 of the 1920 Act forbids them. That was a re-enactment of the original 1915 Act. But cases of more than 14 years were deliberately excluded by the legislature from those provisions because it was found in practice that schemes designed to benefit the tenants by giving them reduced rents in consideration of a premium on long leases were shut out by the position under the 1915 Act.
As has been pointed out, there are disadvantages in this Clause as it does not deal with the position of the contractual tenant who assigns his lease at a premium. He is still entitled to do so, and therefore appears to have the best of both worlds under the Act. The House should also have regard to the position of the person who has purchased the landlord's interest and paid a comparatively high price because the premium has meant a low rent and, therefore, greater security. In such a case the purchaser of a landlord's interest, who has not himself received any premium, is still liable to the provisions of Clause 2.
Without entering into criticisms of the way in which they have done their work, this House should hesitate to extend the jurisdiction of rent tribunals before giving full consideration to whether or not there should be an appeal from their decisions. Why it should be thought that whereas trained judges are fallible, rent tribunals are infallible and beyond the corrective of appeal, has never been clear, at any rate to me.
This Bill does nothing to face up to the position of whether at any time it is our intention to return to an economic 647 rent or whether we have said goodbye to it for good. If it is the intention ever to return to the principle of an economic rent, this Bill makes it increasingly difficult so to do. If, on the other hand, we have said goodbye to that principle for good, it would appear that accommodation has become, like food, a commodity which it is recognised should be generally subsidised. If that is the position, there is something to be said for the principle that the subsidy should be broadly based, as is the case in the subsidy on food.
There are small landlords as well as big landlords, good and bad landlords as well as good and bad tenants. Many small landlords find themselves in conditions of great economic difficulty by reason of the fact that really they are being asked to bear the cost of the subsidy of cheap accommodation. From time to time I get pathetic letters from constituents, many of them elderly folk, who thriftily invested years ago and find themselves in difficulties because of the present position.
I think the Government's dilemma arises through their own fault, because of their failure to provide sufficient housing accommodation sufficiently cheaply. With rising building costs and rising municipal rents, the Government may find it convenient to house the poorer members of the working class in rent-controlled privately-owned houses because they cannot afford the rising rents of the municipal houses, to which they are statutorily entitled under the 1936 Housing Act. Here is another instance of the shirking of responsibilities by this Government and unless the Minister can do better in the provision of new housing at low cost, he will undoubtedly go down in history as the first Minister of Health to create more slums than he has cleared.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I do not propose to follow the observations made by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) towards the end of his speech when he opened a very interesting discussion as to the possibility of our ever getting back to an economic rent, or 648 whether or not accommodation should be permanently regarded as a commodity in short supply, and should be the subject of subsidy on a national scale. To pursue that would be travelling far outside the scope of this Bill.
I welcome the Bill on its merits; and regard it as an essential measure to deal with three or four admitted defects in the present law of landlord and tenant. I do not regard it as any legitimate criticism of this Bill that it is not a large codifiying or consolidating Measure dealing with all the anomalies and inconsistencies in our existing code of rent restriction legislation. Everyone admits that it is in a chaotic and muddled state and I hope that at a not distant date it will be taken in hand by the Ministry of Health and reduced to a more intelligible, more consistent and more rational whole. But that is not the object of this Bill and I do not think it would have been defensible on the part of the Minister of Health to have delayed the introduction of this Bill until that other major operation could be brought before the House. Nor do I think it fair to plead, as hon. Members opposite have done, the recommendations of the Ridley Committee in support of their arguments. The Ridley Committee undoubtedly suggested that at some time there should be an overhaul of rent restriction legislation and suggested certain reforms which may or may not be introduced. There was a difference of opinion on the Ridley Report, but this is an interim Measure necessitated by special circumstances and designed to meet special injustices which have come to light.
The Opposition have led themselves into one inconsistency after another in the speeches we have heard from their benches in support of the Amendment. They complain, on the one hand, that the Bill breaks contracts. In the same breath they urge the Minister to go further. They complain that it deals with premiums which have been exacted by landlords who have been able to exploit tenants. They complain that the Bill does not go further and deal with premiums exacted by tenants who have assigned their leases. Had the Bill done that, it would have broken further contracts.
649 It is no criticism of the Bill that it breaks or corrects certain contracts. There is a limit to the 19th century doctrine of the sanctity of contracts. It is the object of all legislation of this kind introduced in this House to correct contracts. There is no sanctity of contract unless there is equality of bargaining power between those who make the contracts. There has been no such equality of bargaining power between the landlord, on the one hand, who has been able to exploit the scarcity of housing accommodation and the thousands of people, on the other hand, who have been searching for homes in which to live. The Bill is in line with legislation which has been passed for generations to redress injustice and to introduce equality where contracts have been made between two parties, not freely and on an equal basis, but between one who has been able to exploit a privileged position and the other who has been in need of some necessary commodity, whether food, travel, accommodation or anything else.
Having said that, I express the hope that the Minister may also find time to introduce, either by regulation or, perhaps by a few other short Bills, measures of reform to redress some of the more glaring of the injustices still obtaining under our housing legislation. Reference was made by, I think, the hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) to the position in London and, as the Minister has said, the Bill seeks to deal with a problem which is primarily metropolitan. The hon. Member said that the housing problem in London was in some respects becoming worse rather than better. But that is not through any fault of the local authorities who have been building houses in the metropolis; they have been building them at a very satisfactory rate. The housing problem in London is becoming worse in the respect that the demand for accommodation is increasing at a rate which tends to be greater than the supply of new accommodation. The reasons for this are that London continues to act as a magnet, that there has been a large increase in its population and also, that a large number of houses in London are falling into disrepair because of the failure of landlords to repair them.
I want to underline something which was said by the hon. Member for West 650 Leicester (Mr. Janner), which is true in my constituency in Islington and in many other parts of London. It is that there are thousands of houses built up to 70 or 80 years ago, in respect of which landlords for years have been drawing rent on the assumption that they have been doing repairs because part of the permitted rent is in respect of the landlords' liability to do repairs. Those repairs, however, have not been and are not being done. There may have been an excuse during the war years, but the problem is now becoming accentuated because a great many of these houses are now beyond repair. Thousands of people are living in houses which were condemned before the war. Other houses are falling into a state in which they ought to be condemned or are almost beyond repair because of the failure of landlords to effect repairs.
There is another aspect of this evil. I do not think the country and tenants are aware of their rights in this matter. Under the law as it stands, under some of the Rent Restrictions Acts tenants who live in houses which are not in a fit sanitary condition for human habitation are entitled to obtain a certificate from their local authority to that effect and to withhold payment of that part of the rent which is paid on the assumption that repairs are being done. Very few tenants know of their rights in this respect and it is for this reason that in the past they have not been able to use this one sanction which might have driven landlords to carry out repairs and prevent their houses from falling into disrepair. This is a continuous process. It is of national importance that tenants should be aware of their statutory rights of obtaining a certificate from their local authority in all cases where the dwellinghouses in which they live are not fit for human habitation. There are thousands upon thousands of cases in London where tenants should withhold part of their rent, not only as a matter of ordinary social justice but, also, as a means—and the only means—of bringing pressure to insist upon the necessary repairs being done.
Unfortunately, however, in this respect the law is not as perfect as it should be. This right obtains only under the earlier Rent Restrictions Acts and not in respect of those houses brought under control in the more recent Acts.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that the reason that that position does not apply under the 1939 control of houses is that there is no permitted increase of rent in respect of repairs to 1939 houses as distinct from 1914 controlled houses?
§ Mr. Fletcher
That is perfectly true and underlines the point I am trying to make. One of the defects in the 1939 system of control is that it does not contain any provision enabling tenants to withhold rent from landlords who fail to carry out their obligations to do repairs. I believe we want a simple, but very drastic and necessary reform to entitle tenants to withhold the whole of their rent when living in premises which are not fit for human habitation. The existing remedies do not go far enough and it is necessary to have something far more drastic. It is desirable, I think, that tenants should not be compellable by law to pay rent to landlords who fail to implement their implied obligations to carry out necessary repairs to keep premises in a sanitary condition.
Another quite simple but necessary reform which I would hope might be introduced, even without waiting for a consolidation Measure, would be a Measure to place upon all local authorities the obligation to keep a register of the standard rent of all controlled premises in their area. The principle of this suggestion is embodied in the Bill and will apply to those cases which come within its scope. It should not be difficult to extend its application to all controlled premises.
It is desirable that that should be done, because it is now becoming increasingly difficult—particularly in the case of those flats and houses which were first controlled in 1915, and some of which have since been decontrolled and then recontrolled—for tenants to know what is their standard rent. It is only by a system of compulsory registration of standard rents of controlled houses at the local town hall that many tenants will be able to know what are their rights in this respect and avoid, as happens today, either having to go to the county court or being virtually compelled to pay rents which legally could not be exacted from them.
652 There is one other incidental point with which I hope the Minister will deal. As the House knows, it is a statutory obligation on all landlords at present to give certain particulars in their rent books, but that obligation is generally disregarded. There is provision made for prosecution, but one rarely hears of any prosecution having been made. That is a power which could be more widely used. No doubt there are many other points of a similar nature which will be raised either in the Committee stage of this Bill or in another way. I hope that all those matters will be dealt with by the Minister before he embarks upon that general codification and consolidation of this branch of the law which the whole House so keenly desires.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
The Debate on this Bill started on attractive and conventional party lines but, despite the strident terms of the Minister and the no less strident terms of the Amendment, it has become apparent during the course of the evening that this subject is much too difficult and important to discuss on purely party lines, and although at the end of the Debate we may divide upon the Second Reading of the Bill, there is a great deal to be said before we do so.
I regard this Bill as a bad Bill designed to secure worthy objects. I hope to tell the Minister why it is that I take that view. I do not think there has been any controversy about two of the objects which the Minister has in mind, and there has only been controversy in detail as to the method which he has selected to achieve those objects. There has been no serious controversy about the proposed additional security to be given to tenants covered by the Act of 1946, and there has been only limited controversy about the proposal to reverse, as it were, the decision in Neal versus Del Soto about the sharing of restricted accommodation.
Therefore I say nothing more about that since I do not think there is any difference between the two sides of the House upon those two points. The point at which controversy begins, and around which it centres, is whether the Minister has been wise to insist upon adding yet another rickety story to the already 653 trembling structure of the Rent Restrictions Acts. The Minister himself, and hon. Members opposite including the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher), have argued that there is so much to do before one can produce a workmanlike structure for all the Acts that it is impossible to do it in time to deal with the particular evils which are hit at in this Measure.
Up to a point I agree with that argument. There are certain aspects of the Acts with which I dare say it would be difficult to deal towards the conclusion of a Parliament. However, my criticism of this Bill is that the failure of the Minister to deal with some of the more important evils of the Rent Restrictions Acts has vitiated the remedies which he has proposed to introduce by this Bill, and that if he had been a little more courageous in dealing with abuses under the principal Acts, he could have produced a cleaner and better Bill which was not open to some of the criticisms that have been levelled at it from these benches. If his mind is still open, I hope he will even yet consider the introduction of a Bill on the lines which I shall try to suggest in preference to that which he has now put forward.
The first question which naturally we ask ourselves in dealing with the main part of the Bill is whether it is right in principle to control the prices charged for new lettings. For myself I have no difficulty in agreeing with the Minister that the answer to that question should be in the affirmative, but I add the qualification that it is important to consider the economic consequences of so doing, and to make provision for the economic dangers which will be incurred. I suggest for the consideration of the Minister this view, that the economic consequences of doing what he proposes—that is, to control the prices charged for new lettings—are different according as to whether the new lettings are in respect of old houses newly let, or whether they are in respect of new houses newly let.
At least in respect of the latter, I suggest for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the view that it is necessary for those who are building houses for the purpose of letting to have some degree of certainty in advance as to what 654 type of return they can expect on their investment. It is that point to which my hon. Friends desire to draw attention in the first reasoned point in their Amendment. If it is part of the policy of the Government—and it is—to encourage private enterprise to build, houses for letting, then if they want to achieve that policy—and they must want to achieve it—there must be some degree of certainty in the minds of those who are building houses for letting as to what is considered a likely return upon their money.
It would have been easy to introduce into this Bill—at least in respect of new lettings of new houses—some instruction to the tribunal that in assessing what the tribunal regards as a reasonable rent, or as the standard rent, there should be taken into account the element of a return on capital in respect of either new lettings of newly built houses or new lettings of converted houses. There is nothing in the present Bill which gives the tribunal any such guidance, and although I gather from the answer of the Minister to an intervention during the Debate that it was at any rate his own personal view that such a return would be reasonable, I cannot believe that all tribunals all over the country would necessarily have the same opinion.
That brings me to a second criticism on the same point. It is not really sense for the Minister to say of a tribunal which is absolutely unfettered that it will decide what a reasonable man would decide. The test of reasonableness is a good test, peculiar in the main to English law, and I respect it, but if one is to apply the test of reasonableness to any set of circumstances, there must be a certain framework of policy and legal principle within which reasonableness must be defined. I should like to have seen the Minister guide the tribunal as to the sort of structure on which to build. I submit to the Minister for his consideration that it is not really satisfactory that tribunals in different parts of the country should come to different conclusions upon similar facts. In point of fact, the Rent Tribunals do not come to uniform conclusions because there is no unified body of law which they are seeking to administer. I submit that the Minister has not given enough guidance to tribunals in this Bill.
655 That leads me to consider a fresh series of anomalies to some of which attention has already been drawn. I will give as examples cases under the existing Acts which have come to my knowledge, either politically or professionally in the last three months and which I have selected because they have a direct bearing upon the provisions of this Bill. I shall deal first with the question of key money. I have selected as an example a case which came to my notice professionally about six weeks ago—a long lease of controlled premises gradually drawing towards its end. The landlord was a person of mature years, as they so often are, and dependent on that lease for her living. The tenant, with 18 months of the contractual tenancy to run, proceeded to assign it at a very high premium indeed because the rent, having been fixed many years ago, was far below what ought to have been charged and because at the conclusion of the contractual tenancy the sitting tenant would continue in occupation as a statutory tenant. Had the landlord done the same thing, it would have been a criminal offence. Why was it not a criminal offence in the case of the tenant?
The Minister, when dealing with that portion of my right hon. and gallant Friend's speech which raised this subject, asked him whether it was part of the policy of those on these benches to deal with assignments. I know not whether I speak for anybody other than myself, but I should have found no difficulty in replying that, so far as tenancies within the purview of the Rent Restrictions Acts are concerned, of course it is. There is no prospect or desirability whatever of restoring a system of free premiums. If, therefore, free premiums are to be illegal, they must be illegal for the tenant to impose on another prospective tenant as they are for a landlord to impose on an original tenant.
I mention this case in relation to the existing Bill for the very good reason that if we now bring within the scope of the Acts, as it is proposed to do, a large number of new lettings, it will be open for contractual tenants under those new lettings not to use the provisions of the Bill for the purpose for which they are intended, that is to say, the protection of 656 the tenant, but simply as a means of exploitation, as a commercial thing to sell in the market in order to enable them to exploit, as it is alleged some landlords now do, prospective purchasers of the same premises. As long as that remains possible under the Bill, it is useless to pretend that we are either attacking key money or doing anything but create another anomaly. We are not reducing the quantity of injustice that will take place.
I shall give a second and rather similar example. A constituent of mine came to me in the following circumstances. He was the landlord of a small house with a restricted contractual tenant in occupation. The tenant came to him and said, "I want to buy the house." The landlord said, "You shall do so provided you pay a reasonable price for it." A reasonable price was quite a low one—it was £1,200—because, of course, the landlord could not sell that house in the open market as he could not give vacant possession owing to the operation of the Acts. The tenant bought the house for £1,200, and the next day sold it to a speculator for £2,100 with vacant possession which he, the tenant, was able to give. Nobody can justify that; it is a mere exploitation of the need of housing by the tenant just as much as by the landlord.
But what is it that we propose to do in this Bill? We propose to bring within the scope of the Bill a whole lot of new lettings in respect of which the tenants are to be licensed by the Bill to do exactly what that tenant did. If the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I am in favour of extending the scope of the Bill so as to deal with exploitation by tenants in the same way as exploitation by landlords, my answer is "Yes." But as long as the Bill does not contain such provision I am certainly not going to support it.
The third example I propose to give the House, and which equally came within my knowledge during the last three months, concerns a constituent of mine, an old lady who owned a restricted house. She had let the house continuously since 1914 to a lifelong friend at a rent of 7s. 6d. which was, of course, many times below the rent of that house in 1948. 657 She had continued to charge that rent because her friend was very poor, and had done so as an act of charity to an old friend. In 1947, the tenant died and my constituent proceeded to spend money on the house and let it at the earnest request of a clever young civil servant who was earning £500 or £600 a year and who had a small family which he proposed to install in the house. As I say, at his earnest request she let the house to him at a rent of 30s. which is about what it was worth even by comparable council house standards. The tenant had been in the house just six weeks when he wrote to my constituent and said, "I am advised that I am entitled to the full protection of the rent Acts. The standard rent of this house is 7s. 6d. a week, and that, Madam, is what you are going to get. Thank you very much."Does anybody suggest that that sort of thing is anything better than exploitation by a landlord?
What this Bill proposes to do is to bring within the scope of the Acts a whole lot of new rentals in respect of which people will be able to do that sort of thing with regard to contracts. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) that contracts, in this respect. are not things which are necessarily sacred. It is of the essence of this kind of legislation that we interfere with contracts, but, at the same time, the fact that parties have contracted, as in the case I have mentioned, on a free basis, is one of the factors which ought to be taken into account when assessing what is a reasonable rent. I should like to see a provision in this Bill to the effect that in respect of old lettings a landlord could go to the tribunal, as my old constituent should have been entitled to do, and point out that special circumstances had kept the standard rent of the premises down and say, "I come to you and ask that the standard rate should now be fixed at a reasonable figure." I cannot see why that provision is not in the Bill or what objection hon. Members opposite would have to such a provision.
I recommend, therefore, that, first, in respect of new houses, the builder should be in a position to ascertain in advance what return he is likely to get. I suggest that for this purpose he should go to the local authority rather than to 658 the tribunal to ascertain what he would be permitted to charge by way of rent on a house which he proposed to put up, and, in such event, I should propose that that charge should be the standard rent, and that a contract based upon a standard rent so ascertained would have to be honoured by the tribunal.
Secondly, I would propose that in the event of new lettings of old houses, the landlord as well as the tenant should be entitled to apply to the tribunal in order to ascertain what the rent should be if necessary in advance. I would have gone even further and have extended provisions of this kind to all houses to which the Rent Restrictions Acts apply and should then have proceeded to put into force the suggestion made by an hon. Member opposite that all rents so ascertained should be kept on a register in order that everybody should know what they were. If that were what the Minister had done, I should find it not only impossible to oppose, but impossible not to support this Measure.
What I find it difficult to support is a Measure which not merely does not deal with a great part of the law—that I can understand—but actually consecrates and extends the whole range of anomalies which I find most irksome in practice. I find this attitude of the Minister the more difficult to understand because I believe that a bolder attitude would have given him a clearer and simpler Bill which would have given universal satisfaction, instead of one as to which one is in doubt whether to oppose its provisions in Committee or to oppose them all en bloc in the hope that the Minister may be induced to withdraw the Bill and substitute another which is more satisfactory.
§ Mr. Cecil Manning (Camberwell, North)
Is the hon. Member aware that when a private owner wishes to build a house for letting today, he has to go to the local authority who, in effect, fix the standard rent of the house?
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken as to the effect of this Bill. It will be perfectly possible for this to happen under this Bill. The builder can, in fact, do that very thing, and then the tenant can go to the tribunal which may 659 not necessarily agree with the local authority. It was because I saw the inconvenience of that arrangement that I made the proposal which I did.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Weitzman (Stoke Newington)
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) with some interest. He adduced his arguments as if they went to show that there was something wrong with the Bill. Everyone will agree that there are a great many injustices and anomalies which must be corrected, but that does not mean that the injustices which this Bill seeks to correct should not be dealt with. I also listened with very great interest to the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) who moved what is called a reasoned Amendment to reject this Bill. Having listened to his speech and not having understood a word of it, I looked at the reasons in the Amendment for rejecting this Bill. I should like to invite the attention of the House to the terms of this Amendment because presumably we shall have to record a vote on it. Three reasons are put forward for refusing to give a Second Reading to the Bill. The first reason is that the Billwill discourage and arrest the provision by private enterprise of houses and flats to let.I have heard no evidence supporting that proposition. It is perfectly clear that private enterprise can build houses to let at a fair rental, and presumably if private enterprise desires to do that it can do so. If, on the other hand, private enterprise desires to build houses in order to profiteer, then of course it ought not to be encouraged in any way.
The second reason in the Amendment is that the Bill "breaks existing contracts." The House may have noticed how quite a number of hon. Members opposite have almost fallen over themselves to show that they do not really mean that existing contracts cannot be broken. The truth of the matter is that the whole point of this legislation is to break existing contracts because those contracts do something which is wrong. They make a bad bargain. They do something wrong to the people who have not got houses, and therefore it is proper for this House 660 to pass legislation dealing with these existing contracts and destroying them, in accordance with action already taken in this House in the Acts of 1915 and 1920 and other rent Acts which followed.
The third reason in the Amendment is that the Billso far from remedying the many injustices of the Rent Restrictions Acts, will increase them still further.I do not know of a single instance in this Bill where an injustice will be created. I heartily agree that there are many things which ought to have been in this Bill and which I would like to have included in it, but to suggest that the Bill creates injustice is wrong. I suggest that an analysis of the three reasons for rejecting the Second Reading of this Bill shows that the case for the Amendment is not made out in any way.
I welcome this Bill if only for two reasons. The first reason is because of the decision in the case of Neal versus Del Soto. Some provision to deal with such an injustice has been long overdue. It was most extraordinary that under the provision of the Rent Restrictions Acts something like nearly 30 years of administration should have passed before the Court of Appeal decided that sharing accommodation meant that a house was not protected by the Rent Restrictions Acts. Every practising barrister with any experience of cases under the Rent Restrictions Acts will know that in many cases in which actions for possession were brought before a county court judge, the judge said, "This is a difficult position; I shall try to make some equitable arrangement." Very often the tenant would have a sub-tenant and what the county court judge would do would be to divide the house, giving them the right to share the kitchen or some other part of the accommodation, and in that way, through no fault of the tenant, himself, the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts was lost. Obviously it is only right that it should be restored in such a case.
The one complaint I would make about the Bill is that the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts is not restored in such a case. Separate accommodation is given the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts but the shared portion is not, the only protection given to it being possibly a reasonable rental and security of tenure 661 for a period of three months. Why in the cases of shared accommodation should not the full protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts be given to the tenant? I welcome the Bill because it deals with that point, although not adequately. I also welcome the Bill because it gives security of tenure in cases of furnished premises.
I wish to deal with a number of points of criticism. I should be glad to see not an Act consolidating the position but an Act which went into the whole of the anomalies contained in the large number of Rent Restrictions Acts passed from time to time, which cured those anomalies and set up some court of law which dealt with them in detail. It is a pity that that has not been done. I suppose it would have taken a considerable amount of time. I am thankful for small mercies in having this Bill which deals with a number of grievances.
I share the view expressed by one hon. Member in that I should have preferred a county court judge and not a tribunal to deal with this matter. I believe it is a dangerous experiment to depart from our long-tried legal system and to send matters of this sort to a domestic tribunal. The Rent Restrictions Acts are dealt with by county court judges; they are very competent judges and they deal with these cases adequately and fairly. They deal with the administration of the Rent Restrictions Acts involving questions of apportionment, possession and matters of that kind; these other matters to which I have referred are to be dealt with by a domestic tribunal. I rather deprecate the fact that we shall now find the provisions of the rent Acts dealt with by two tribunals. I would prefer to have a county court judge dealing with all questions arising out of these Acts.
I want to say a few words about the question of reasonable rentals. I appreciate the Minister's difficulty in dealing with the question whether some provisions should be inserted in regard to what is a reasonable rental. On the other hand, however, I see a great deal of force in the argument that where we have many tribunals all over the country we may get different criteria, different standards, and there may be a great deal of confusion. I respectfully suggest to 662 the Minister that it might be a very good thing if some set of rules, some regulation, some guide, were given to every tribunal setting out certain important points which must be taken into account in assessing the way in which the amount of a reasonable rental should be arrived at. I deprecate the fact that no right of appeal is given here, because I see no sanctity in the decision of domestic tribunals like the rent tribunals. If an appeal is permitted in an appropriate case in a county court, I see no reason why a right of appeal should not be given from a decision of this domestic tribunal.
There are one or two more important points to which I want to refer. Under the Rent Restrictions Acts where more than the appropriate rent—that is the standard rent with the permitted increases—has been charged, the tenant, of course, can bring an action to recover the amount overpaid. I note that there is no provision in this Bill for the recovery of amounts overpaid after the amount of a reasonable rental has been ascertained. Is there an intention, when a reasonable rental is fixed, to give the tenant the right to recover the excess? I put the point because I suggest it is at any rate worthy of some inquiry.
In the Bill there is a reference to permissible increases—that is, the increases for rates or improvements which have to be deducted in arriving at the reasonable rental. Under Clause 2 (5) of the Bill, the landlord has a right to add them back again. I want to point out something here which might affect the position both of the landlord and of the tenant. Although, as I have mentioned, the landlord has a right to obtain these permitted increases, in the case of a contractual tenancy he cannot recover these increases unless he serves notice to quit at the termination of the agreement. If it is a lease for a number of years he cannot do that until the end of the lease, which in effect means that he cannot do it at all. If it is a yearly tenancy he cannot do it unless he gives six months' notice terminating at the end of the year. That is obviously a hardship in the case of a landlord who, by the Act, is permitted to take the increases but at the same time is not permitted, if his tenancy is a contractual one, to give the necessary notice in order to obtain them.
663 I would say one word about premiums. I felt very great confusion in reading the provisions of the Bill in regard to what is meant by the word "premiums"—whether they are legal premiums, whether they are illegal premiums, whether they include premiums for a 14-year lease or what they mean. It is, of course, important to remember that under the Rent Restrictions Acts premiums are already unlawful. There is a right under the Rent Restrictions Acts for the tenant to bring an action and recover from the landlord the whole of the amount of the premium. What is this new right which is being created in regard to premiums? Is it a right in substitution or in addition? So far as I can see, it is a right in addition. If it is a right in addition it means this: the tenant already has the right to bring an action against the landlord to recover the whole amount of the premium in one sum. Now we give him a right, instead of doing that, to receive it by instalments, whether the premium is paid by the applicant or by a previous tenant. What about the recovery of the part of the premiums which date from the commencement of the letting and the determination of the rental?
This further point has to be remembered. Suppose a tenant has paid the landlord a premium and leaves the tenancy. The next tenant can take the amount of the premium by instalments by means of payment of the rental equivalent. What is to happen to the right of the first tenant to recover the whole of the premium? Is this right not ousted by the other tenant? I respectfully suggest that these are matters that need to be looked into, because it seems to me from the wording of the subsections dealing with this vexed question of premium that what happens is, that we interfere with the right of the tenant given by the Rent Restrictions Acts to recover the whole of the premium and give a right to recover by instalments, with the result that if he leaves the premises he loses entirely his right to recover the part of the premium he might have obtained; in other words, once the tenant has gone his right has gone.
Suppose that the machinery of the Bill has been used and that a reasonable rental has been fixed, and suppose the 664 tenant has gone out, and after he has gone out the landlord charges a premium for a subsequent letting. As I read the Bill there is then no power of deduction, because the only time when one can make a determination of the rental equivalent—that is, the repayment of the premium—is when the first application is made, and, therefore, at the subsequent letting the tenant has no such right in regard to the matter. Some hon. Members have already referred to the right of the tenant to assign his lease and obtain a premium for it. Quite obviously, it would be a very simple matter to insert some provision in the Bill dealing with what is clearly a grievance, and a grievance which prevails in many forms.
I have dealt with a number of points. I hope that they may be looked into, and that, if possible, in Committee something may be done in regard to them. Since the Bill deals, at any rate, with a number of obvious injustices, I welcome and will support it.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
The hon. Member for Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) has made a number of valuable points which I hope will be looked into in Committee. He will excuse me if I do not follow him in discussing those matters, but turn rather to seeking to justify, if that has not been adequately done already, the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill which the Opposition have put down because of what we believe will be the harmful economic effects of establishing this kind of control and revision over leases for properties let for the first time since 1945. There are three main categories affected, and we believe that in each one of those cases it is undesirable that they should be subject to revision by the tribunals. There are the new dwellings built by private enterprise since 1945. There are not a great many of them, and the fault for that rests with the Minister of Health. I do not know why he said that anyone who wished to build houses for letting had been free to do so. It is not correct. There was for a time the four-to-one ratio, but when he found that the houses being built by private enterprise were being completed more rapidly than those by local authorities, he put a complete 665 stopper upon the erection of houses by private enterprise.
Only a small number of those that have been built are likely to be let. They were costly to build. All houses now are costly to build. A local authority in my constituency has just completed some Airey prefabricated houses at a total cost, including service roads, of £1,850 each. The costliness, again by the frank admission of the Government, which reduced the number of houses recently started, in order to bring the building programme into phase—because it had previously been out of phase—is largely because of the mistaken policy of the Minister of Health. I should have thought that those private individuals who have built without subsidy and are now willing to let their houses, deserved well of the country, and that it was a desirable thing that they should obtain a good return upon their houses.
I come now to the second category—those cases where houses had been adapted or converted by ingenious and enterprising people who, by these conversions and adaptations, have turned large old-fashioned houses into several dwellings with modern conveniences and amenities. Many people who otherwise would have been homeless have been provided with homes by this useful and economic process. It was recommended by the Central Housing Committee, presided over by the present Minister of Town and Country Planning. I wonder whether the Minister of Health has read the Silkin Report or whether, as in the case of the Ridley Report, he read it and then ignored it. Actually, 62,000 additional units of habitation have been made available by conversions and adaptations.
If the rents that are being charged, and legally charged, are now suddenly to be brought under survey and revision by these tribunals, the courage and the imagination of the people who carried out these works will be discouraged. I do not believe that anyone new will do it. It is costly and a risky thing to take over an old house and seek to convert it into a number of additional dwellings, and there should be a good and adequate return.
§ Mr. Molson
No, I cannot give way because I have not, very long in which 666 to speak. The Minister, if he were wise, should seek to encourage capital and labour to devote themselves to this particularly useful and economic form of providing additional houses, particularly at the time when the real bottleneck, as the Minister has told us, is in the provision of sufficient timber for new houses.
This argument applies not only to those builders who have bought houses for the purpose of converting them, but also to those who have converted part of their own houses. Where before the war they occupied the whole of a house, they have now turned it into three flats, and they themselves occupy a single flat and let the other two flats. Of course, this legislation is not going to prevent labour and capital from continuing to be used on luxury flats. Luxury flats in Eaton Square are outside the "mischief"—and I use the word in two senses, the technical and the popular—of this Bill. As so often in the case of legislation introduced by this Government, this confiscatory legislation will in fact not help but harm the class which it is intended to pamper.
I come to the third category: those houses that were not made before 1945. Does not the Minister wish to encourage the letting of these houses? He is constantly proclaiming, and indeed declaiming, his solicitude for those who want dwellings to let and his indifference to those who can afford to own the houses that they live in, who come into the category of that class for whom the Government do not care a "tinker's cuss." There are too many under-occupied houses; some of them are occupied by widowers, or by aged couples whose families have left them, and whom surely we should wish to encourage by financial inducements to let their houses, if they are too large for them, thus making them available for other people who require houses of that size. It is for these reasons that I say that all three categories of houses should have their rents left free; and I am fortified in that by the fact that the Ridley Committee, after careful consideration, arrived at the same conclusion. The Ridley Committee recommended that there should be a free contract for the letting of houses built after the war.
My second main objection to this Bill is that it suggests that it is the intention 667 of the Minister that the Rent Restrictions Acts should be left indefinitely in their present form. I have never heard him commit himself to any such unwise proposal. Then Rent Restrictions Acts are based upon different datum years, and, as successive Ministers in this Government have admitted, as the datum year gets further and further away so it ceases to be a satisfactory basis for present administration. Both the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food have gradually moved away from that. So it is that the Rent Restrictions Acts are becoming more harsh and arbitrary as time goes on, and are becoming more and more of an obstacle to housing progress. Indeed, as the Ridley Committee pointed out, the nine Acts which, to a greater or less extent, are still in operation or partial operation are conflicting and overlapping, and they are obscure; the rents are not related to the quality and quantity of the accommodation provided; some standard rents are too low, and some standard rents are too high.
That is why the Ridley Committee recommended that the rents should be fixed in relation to the quantity and quality of the accommodation provided. Is not that the best way in which to hold out an inducement for a general improvement of our housing in this country? One fact emerges, and that is the need for replacement of the old system by a new system, and not by the addition, as in this Bill, of one more Bill directed to certain problems while leaving all the old existing anomalies in full force.
My third main objection to the Bill is closely related to the last. This Bill destroys our last link with a free market in house values; it destroys the last link with economic reality. When the right hon. Gentleman said that the tribunals had no difficulty in arriving at what was a reasonable rent for furnished houses, he was referring to the position where the vast majority of furnished houses are let in the free market. Here he is asking the tribunals to say what is reasonable when, in fact, there is no free market by which they can judge. I asked him in the course of his speech upon what basis he expected a reasonable rent to be calculated. Neither he nor I hope that Parliament will legislate to call upon tribunals to decide what is reasonable without 668 giving any guidance as to the criteria by which reasonableness is to be judge.
From the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave me I derived some consolation. Several of the newspapers and several of my hon. Friends think that the basis for a reasonable rent would be judged by the existing rents of houses which are subject to the Rent Restrictions Acts. I was glad that the Minister made it plain that that was not his conception of what was reasonable. I hope that on the Committee stage an Amendment, which will define more closely what is meant by reasonable rent, will be passed. What the tribunals will find is that the working of this Bill will result in two exactly similar houses alongside each other having entirely different reasonable rents fixed for them, if it is to be upon the basis of a fair return upon the capital expended.
Suppose a family has owned two adjoining houses and at the end of the war sold one to a builder and contractor who has converted it into three flats. The price paid would very likely have been an extremely high price, because it was bought at the time of the greatest stringency and the greatest demand, which was at the end of the war. Now at the present time, when the owner of the remaining houses finds how successful has been the conversion next door, he decides to employ the same contractor to carry out precisely the same conversion. He will occupy one flat and let the other two. In that case the reasonable rent chargeable by the contractor would be the basis of the price which he had to pay for the house, and in the case of the man who had obtained the house which had been in his family since 1898, the fair return would only be the cost of carrying out the conversion.
I believe for these reasons this Bill will discourage the provision of additional accommodation to let for those who are in greatest need. This will do great injustice to certain landlords and it will impose an impossible task upon the tribunals. As has so often happened—when an injustice is done to landowners it will be found that, in fact, it will not redound to the advantage of anyone else.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
While I oppose this Bill, and 669 while I oppose and dislike control—and who does not except the controllers?—I want to make it clear that I realise that, in principle, there must be controls of rent for a certain time as an enormous proportion of houses were destroyed by the war, and other houses cannot be built. It is quite clear that without control prices would soar because of the artificial demand and come down again when houses were built. Controls, therefore, are necessary to avoid this terrific up-and-down movement.
The Parliamentary Secretary will agree that maintaining the principle of control does not make it inconsistent to oppose this particular Bill. The Bill is, first of all, unjust to the landlord. Whatever hon. Members may think about the property-owning classes, they should try to be fair between different sections of property owners. I cannot see why a man who has invested £1,000 in a consolidated Government stock yielding 4 per cent. can get £40 a year while a man who invested his money in house property can get only half that income because of the enormous increase in the cost of repairs.
There are many property-owners who are not at all rich and who have only £100 or so a year invested in a small property. It is they who are particularly hard hit at the present time. The Bill is very unjust to other sections of the community—for instance, those who are a long way down the list for getting a house. Those people will be penalised. Therefore, the arrangement would seem to be generally inequitable and inexpedient for the community as a whole, for four reasons.
The first is because of mobility. If a man wants to go somewhere else to a more important job where he is urgently required, what can he do? He has a house at a controlled rent and he has to go somewhere else and either buy a new house at an enormous price or go to the bottom of the list and wait a long time for a house. At this time, flexibility in the distribution of labour is of vital importance, and therefore the method of tying tenants down to a particular house is very harmful to the national productivity.
Many tenants are suffering because repairs are not being done. The richer 670 landlord no doubt does them, because he pays for them out of capital and hopes to get it back in the long run, but the poorer landlord usually cannot afford them. Every time I go to my constituency people with a small amount of money tell me that they are quite unable to repair their houses. I contend that that must be bad for everyone.
I could not see the Minister's point of view that the Bill does not in any way adversely affect the conversion of houses and other properties into flats. Surely the right hon. Gentleman is familiar enough with the businessman's outlook, to know that the businessman who has to take all sorts of risks connected with markets, the movement of prices, and costs going up, is deterred by uncertainty about Government action and whether he is likely to be affected by the law. The businessman knows that if he loses money on some of his conversions he will make up the loss on others, but if there is uncertainty about how much he is going to be allowed to make by law he will be deterred from going into the business at all.
My fourth point is about the effect of very low rents upon demand. If we look at the last National Income and Expenditure Paper we shall see in Appendix No. 3 that the amount spent on rent now is just about the same as in 1938, whereas the amount spent on some things is 100 per cent or more and on many other things is 50 per cent. more. That situation inevitably leads to an expanding demand for houses. People therefore stay in houses when otherwise they would go to smaller houses. People go to separate houses when otherwise they might share. It is an awful thing if people have to share houses when they do not want to do so, but it is a good thing to encourage people to do so if more room can thus be made available. I urge that for those reasons—the unjustness to different people in the same category, the unjustness to those who have not got houses and want them, the immobility of movement, the difficulty of repairs, hesitation about conversions and the extra demand for houses—this is an ill-conceived and unfortunate Bill.
We know that, generally speaking, we have to choose between quality and quantity. In the number of Bills they have produced, the Government can 671 certainly claim that they have not failed in quantity, but there is a growing feeling throughout the country that they are failing in quality and that the mass production of Bills has not been an effective help to the economy of the country. After hearing three lawyers on the other side of the House, of whom two said that they did not understand the Bill and the third, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said that it would make a very happy hunting ground for his profession, the Government can hardly feel that this is a Bill of high quality.
§ Mr. Spearman
I must withdraw if I misunderstood the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I certainly got the impression that he thought it would make a good deal of business for his profession. The other two hon. Members said that they did not understand the Bill. One of them, the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) is not only a lawyer but a King's Counsel.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
My remarks related to a certain portion of the Bill with which I was dealing at the time.
§ Mr. Spearman
The hon. and learned Member is a King's Counsel and if he cannot understand the Bill or any portion of it, either it must be a bad Bill or he is not a very good lawyer, and I am sure nobody would suggest that. I therefore say that the Bill is unjust in what it aims to do and clumsy in what it proposes to carry out, and is generally ill-conceived and inequitable.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I rise to support the Amendment to reject the Bill. I find myself in a position of some embarrassment because in the last few minutes speaker after speaker has risen from this side of the House and advanced arguments which demolish the case put forward by the Government and 672 nobody has dared to answer them. In such circumstances it is almost painting the lily to make any further speech.
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
The hon. Member says, "Get on with the Bill," and I shall do so. It is a thoroughly bad Bill, and the Government have had a thoroughly bad day. They have been attacked from both sides of the House and hardly anyone has found any grounds at all for supporting the Bill. I will say at once to make the matter plain, that I shall not deal with the question of the additional security given to the tenants under the 1946 Act, which is generally supported on all sides of the House, nor with the point about extending the security of tenure to the case of shared accommodation. Both points have been dealt with and nobody raised very much on them except one hon. Member. As far as I am concerned, the hon. Gentleman who will reply can leave out those points.
I believe that this is a very important Measure. Nothing affects the well-being and happiness of the people of this country so much as housing. I believe that any hon. Member who goes to his own constituency and hears the problems of his constituents will agree that probably four problems out of six are concerned with housing in one form or another. I believe that the policy which the Minister of Health has pursued has done a great deal to accentuate the misery and the discomfort arising from that cause, and I believe that this Bill will further accentuate that problem.
I shall not for the moment talk about the hardships of tenants or the hardships of landlords, except to say that I used to do quite a lot of work at one time in Birmingham on the big slum clearance schemes that went on in that city before the war, and a magnificent achievement it was. I learned what I think some hon. Members opposite have not learned yet, that there can be terribly great hardships on the part of small landlords in cases of this kind. People often forget about those hardships, but they should be borne in mind when we put legislation of this kind on the Statute Book.
The first objection which we on this side of the House have to this Bill is that 673 it means that fewer houses and fewer units of accommodation will be provided at the very moment when what is wanted is more houses. I am astonished at the world in which the right hon. Gentleman appears to move. He seems to think that the passing of this Bill should not make any difference to the attitude of mind of those people who are concerned with providing new accommodation. I refer particularly, as I think did my hon. Friend the Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare), to the conversion of existing houses in order to provide new units of accommodation. Everybody agrees that is intensely desirable. I ask the hon. Gentleman who is to reply, does he really think that one can put this Bill upon the Statute Book without pretty well bringing that type of building and conversion to a standstill? I wonder what hon. Members opposite think that people have in mind when they enter on a conversion scheme or when they lend money and invest it in such a scheme. What they do it for is profit—make no bones about that—they do it to get a return on their money.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Hon. Members can call it exploitation but, in the meantime, hundreds of thousands of young men and women in this country are homeless while that sort of doctrinaire point is being taken.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
What happens now is that a builder or contractor or investor or speculator, call him what you will, has some hope of knowing what return he will have upon his money. The right hon. Gentleman attempted to explain what would happen here. You take the standard rent, then you add to it something which I could not understand and which nobody else could understand and eventually you obtain the reasonable rent. You then take the premium and divide the premium by the rental periods. If you do not like the number of rental periods you take the number seven—there seemed to be some great mystery about that number—and divide it by that. Even then, if you are dissatisfied with the answer, you take a different number so as to balance both sides of the account. That may be all right for the right hon. 674 Gentleman, but the poor man who is trying to start out on a conversion scheme cannot take a different figure and balance both sides of his account. He would soon find himself bankrupt if he carried on his business on those terms.
What will happen, what must inevitably happen, is that people will not embark upon conversion schemes of that kind. They will leave them severely alone and, as a result, a lot of people who would otherwise have homes to live in will not have homes to live in. It is perfectly true that under this extraordinary system, apparently, one can embark upon a conversion scheme in Eaton Square, as my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) pointed out. Flats for millionaires are perfectly all right for anyone who can pay a rent of £500 or £1,000 a year and can afford to do everything he likes; but the poor people, the people who want and ought to be getting the type of accommodation we are talking about here, are not going to have this accommodation. [Laughter.] Well, as the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech, we have to decide what are the main features of the Bill and what we are intending to do. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to answer that question. Is he trying to get more houses or fewer houses? Which is his real intention? We on this side believe that this kind of point should be decisive in considering our attitude to the Bill.
I propose to deal with one or two of the main provisions in this Bill to which other hon. Members have referred. Before doing so, however, if the House will bear with me, I should like to try to examine the Bill against the background of what I understand to be the Government's general housing policy. I think, after all, that this is only one step in a long chain of steps which has been taken by the right hon. Gentleman and his administration. It seems that the distinguishing feature of that long line of steps is a complete disregard for all the laws of economics. What the Government do in one thing they do in all other aspects of industry. What happens is that they insult the industry, then threaten to nationalise it, next express astonishment because people will not invest money in it, and then say, "Well, we had better take it over." It is exactly the same in housing. The present deliberate pursuit by the Government, has had the effect of driving up rents, and as 675 they have risen, the right hon. Gentleman has had to find some scapegoat, so he turns upon the landlords. [Laughter.] Perhaps hon. Members will bear with me while I demonstrate my meaning.
I am always astonished at the way in which the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends are prepared to demolish the economic system which has served us fairly well in the past and then to express shocked surprise at all the evils arising from their own actions. The housing problem, after all, is capable of fairly simple analysis. There are a lot of people who want empty houses, and there are a lot of empty houses, rows and rows of them. It does not seem beyond the wit of man to bring the two together. I remember the right hon. Gentleman saying before he held his present office that this country was built on coal and that it would take an organising genius to produce a shortage of coal. Well, the Government has succeeded through the existence of the present Secretary of State for War.
But the achievements of the right hon. Gentleman in housing, rival those of the Secretary of State for War. Never have so many people demanded houses. One can walk along roads and see rows and rows of empty houses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] I am prepared to take any hon. Member for a walk in the city in which he lives or here, in the city of London, and show him any number of empty houses. Believe me, it would take an organising genius to stand between the people who want the houses and the provision or conversion of those houses into the accommodation which is wanted. So far, the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in keeping the two apart.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the Bill is concerned mainly with keeping down the amount of rents. I believe the best way of keeping down rents is to supply more houses. In the last resort it will be the numbers of houses and units of accommodation and competition between builders, and not a great monopoly of building that will eventually drive down the rents. Above all, what is needed is a Chancellor of the Exchequer who pursues a reasonably deflationary policy and relies upon it for this purpose. It is no good having a large Budget 676 surplus, with everybody having less and less money in their pockets, unless at the same time we take advantage of it and abolish some of the controls; otherwise we shall get the worst of both worlds.
But the Government ignore all that. They think these rules of economics are made for the Tories. Nothing of the kind. What has happened here is that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have done two things. First, they have artificially restricted the number of houses built by private enterprise, and, secondly, particularly under the last Chancellor, they have pursued a financial policy of inflation in which they really gloried, and said so.
A lot of these contracts which are going to be upset were brought about during the time that the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster held the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. A combination of an inflationary policy and a restricted building output inevitably meant a rise in prices. Presumably, the right hon. Gentleman knew what policy was going to be pursued. That being so, and knowing that few houses were going to be produced, and that at the end of five years of office the housing shortage was going to be the evil affecting more people than any other evil at the present time, why did he not take the necessary action then, instead of waiting four years and bringing in a control Bill now?
I am sometimes inclined to believe that the right hon. Gentleman has committed the folly of believing his own election promises. He was saying, not only during the election, but for quite a long time afterwards, "I confidently expect that before the next election every family in Great Britain will have a separate house." Of course, if that were the case, there would be no need for a Bill of this kind." When the next election occurs, there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the British working class."
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The right hon. Gentleman said "I am quite sure that in a few years' time we shall have broken the back of the housing problem." That was in 1946. Those forecasts were as far from reality as the statements of the present Chancellor of the Duchy.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The right hon. Gentleman deliberately pursued the policy of restricting the output of building. He watched while the financial policy of the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was pursued and hoped that nothing particular would happen. What happened was that rents and premiums, and all the rest of it, went up.
The point I wish to commend to the House, and which I think has emerged clearly during this Debate, is that this is only a step in the direction of what the right hon. Gentleman intends to do. He starts off—this is the sequence of events—by imposing rigid restrictions upon private building and, as a result of that and other things, the rents rise. The rise in rents is immediately used to justify rent control. It is said that we must extend the whole area of rent control in order to deal with that. The extension of rent control is a still further discouragement to private enterprise, and, therefore, the accommodation is not provided. At that stage—and we are just approaching it—the right hon. Gentleman rubs his hands and says, "Private enterprise cannot do it; we must step in." That is used as a justification for the State taking over the conversion schemes, or what you will. The right hon. Gentleman tried to deny to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) that he had this in mind, but why was he talking about the Government Bill for dealing with conversion, if he did not mean that the Government were prepared to step in and do these things as soon as the field was rendered quite impossible for private enterprise to operate in it?
Another hon. Member has been equally frank as to how far he is prepared to go. The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) was quite clear about it. He did not see why it was necessary for the Minister to take all these ingenious steps. He thought it was much better to go the whole hog right away and do away with private enterprise instead of gradually squeezing it to death. What interested me was that there did not seem to be any difference in the ends which the hon. Member for Mile End and the Minister of Health were seeking to achieve. They 678 both wanted to get there. The Minister wanted to break down the private enterprise system before he got there, and the hon. Member for Mile End wanted to get there right away. I do not wish to discuss the honesty of opinions in this matter, but at least the Communist approach was more understandable. One did at least know what one was dealing with, in the case of the hon. Member for Mile End, but one does not know what one is dealing with when the Minister of Health imposes one obstacle after another in the field of private enterprise, brings about conditions in which rents rise, and then puts all the blame on the landlord.
I always admire the way in which the right hon. Gentleman presents his case. The only justification for control at all would be if the number of houses were so inadequate, the shortage so terrible that the rents were being forced up all the time. This Bill, which is a confession of abysmal failure, was presented to the House as a great stand for the rights of the tenant. The Tories were asked rather shrilly whether they wanted more houses or fewer houses. I think the right hon. Gentleman got a very fair answer on that point from my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities. We were asked whether we supported the landlords in exploiting the situation for their own personal gain, and all those things. Indeed, we should be very sorry if we did not hear those things. We expect them from the right hon. Gentleman; they enliven our Debates, but they bear no relation whatever to the true facts of the situation.
The Government have been as responsible as anybody for putting up rents, It is not the private landlords who are concerned with whether large or small rents are charged, or with extorting large rents form innocent tenants. The local authorities find themselves in exactly the same predicament. Take one local authority after another, in area after area; the rents have been going steadily up and up, and that is in the subsidised field. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know why rents are going up he might read another of these reports. I do not know that he reads all the reports. In "The cost of House Building" it plainly emerges that it takes three men to do the job which two men did before.
679 Inevitably, in those circumstances, house rents will tend to rise. In a situation in which a house which previously cost £380 is now costing £1,242 it would be very unusual if some alteration in the rents did not take place. Of course, there are examples of exploitation within that field; I concede that right away to the right hon. Gentleman. There are always rogues in every system, and no doubt they operate in the jungle about which the right hon. Gentleman was talking. There is no sense in the Minister yelping round the jungle trying to catch a few landlords who have charged extortionate rents. The thing to do is to start cutting the jungle down and driving a few rides through it. He has made no attempt at that at all.
I, therefore, think the House is entitled to an answer to one or two of the questions asked in this Debate. The first question I would put to the hon. Gentleman who is to reply is this: Do the Government want to supply more houses from private enterprise or fewer? What is it they are trying to do? Do they really think the conversion of some of these empty houses can make a contribution to the housing shortage at the present time? If it is the Government's view that it does not make any contribution at all, it would be much better if they got up and said so. But if it is to make a contribution, will the hon. Gentleman, in his reply, say whether he considers any conversions are likely to take place when this Bill is on the Statute Book?
The next thing I would ask is this—it has been asked on both sides of the House: If this Bill is necessary, which I very much doubt, why was it not introduced five years ago? [Interruption.] Why did not the right hon. Gentleman and the Government introduce this before all the contracts were signed? What principles are to be applied by these tribunals? It is all very well for the Minister to say it can be left to the judgment of the tribunal to say what is a reasonable rent and upon what basis it is to be decided. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government are "passing the buck" to these tribunals in a big way. They should have the courage to say whether the cost of the conversion or the building is to be taken into account; or is an entirely different principle to be applied and is the test to be 680 the rents of the controlled premises, in which case intolerable hardships will probably take place? Some guidance must be given to the tribunals in this matter.
The hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) said he did not think this question of the sanctity of contract was really important. I am bound to say that I think these contracts are important, as is the keeping of them. I do not think they can be treated quite as lightly as all that. I shall not repeat the cases of hardship which have been outlined to the Government. The hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) gave some admirable examples to which no answer has so far been adduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) gave case after case in which there will be acute hardship, and the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) put a similar case, where a landlord would get off scot free, where a lessee would get off scot free. No answer has been produced as to how these matters will be dealt with in the future.
Why come along with legislation as sloppy as this? Why not have taken the opportunity of doing what the Ridley Committee emphasised must be done as a precedent to any sensible action of rent reform of any kind—that the Acts should be brought together as one comprehensive Rent Restrictions Act. Why was not that done? Might I ask the hon. Gentleman this question also? Would he agree with the hon. Member for Oxford that, if we are to retain contracts, it is right that the landlord should be given an opportunity of coming before a tribunal? We are entitled to answers on these questions.
We oppose this Bill for the reasons which we have set out in our Amendment. We believe that it will mean that fewer houses will be put up. The hon. Gentleman, I know, takes a different view. I want him to explain upon what grounds he thinks anybody is going to make conversions of houses in view of the provisions of this Bill. How does he expect people to know what sort of return they will have upon their money? Not only for our purpose in this House before voting tonight but, what is more important in many ways, so that the thing can be known and understood outside in 681 the country, I want him to explain to us how a man who at this moment may be contemplating such a scheme will hazard his money or anybody else's money upon a guess of what may be the decision of a tribunal.
We oppose the Bill on that ground. We also oppose it because it breaks existing contracts and will cause hardship to many people, and because it forsakes a great opportunity which might have been taken to improve and consolidate legislation now admittedly in considerable chaos. There are nine Rent Restriction Acts. This Bill will add a tenth to increase the area of confusion and hardship. We regard a Measure of this kind as bad in the matter which it contains; we regard the manner in which it was put before the House as bad; and we regard it as a disgrace to the reputation of the Minister and the Administration who have brought it forward.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) took us to task because we were doing this thing at all, but he found it not inconsistent with that view to suggest that we should have done it a long time ago. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) said very much the same thing—that we ought to have done this earlier. I want to begin on what may be a relatively small point, namely why this has not been done earlier. It will be within the recollection of most hon. Members that we have already powers for dealing with the rents of new houses that have been built under licence; we have already powers under the Act governing buildings and materials. It was not until we had a considerable number of these conversion schemes under way that this legislation became a matter of real urgency.
It may be that we could be blamed for not having moved a little earlier on it, but I ask the House to remember that there are here two separate problems, which the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) appreciates. There is the problem of what to do with the new houses built since the war, and there is the problem of what to do with old houses which may have been converted into flats. Those are quite separate problems and do need separate attention.
682 One of the main arguments that has been advanced tonight is that we are not taking advantage of this opportunity to bring forward a Bill for the general consolidation and amendment of the Rent Restrictions Acts. I listened with the greatest care to what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) had to say and to what the hon. Member for Monmouth had to say, but I was not clear, even at the end, whether they were asking that we should here and now make provision for a review of the rents of eight million houses. Neither of them was precise on the point. Both of them avoided the point. I should be very happy indeed to give way if either of them would tell me if that is, in fact, what they want done. This is the kind of question I am entitled to ask. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Do his Majesty's Opposition stand at this moment of time for a review of the rents of eight million houses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] This is the kind of situation into which we frequently get.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
We have not suggested that for one single minute in any speech that I have heard today. What we have said, quite clearly and categorically, is that there are nine Acts on the Statute Book at the moment that this Bill is adding a tenth, and that on the recommendation of the Ridley Committee—a unanimous recommendation—a new, comprehensive Bill should be introduced covering all those nine Acts. That is precisely what we have said, and nothing else.
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman knows that that was not the only thing that the Ridley Committee recommended. I put a perfectly fair question. We have answered it. We have said that we do not think that it is right at this moment to embark on this comprehensive review, and we are entitled to say to the Opposition, "What would you do?"
I pass from that point to the next. One of the other things about which 683 we have heard a good deal was the payment of premiums on the assignment of leases. I admit that those who raised this matter are on to a point. It is not an easy point; it is an extremely difficult one. If a person takes on a lease and effects improvements, it may very well be that if that lease is assigned, it is reasonable to get something in return. We invite the co-operation of the Opposition on this point, and if the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities will stand up to the implication of what he said, I hope that we shall find on the Order Paper, in due course, when we come to the Committee stage, proposals from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for stopping payment of premiums in certain instances—not universally, of course—when leases are assigned.
It would, I think, be a mistake to suppose that this problem is anything like the size of the problem with which the Bill deals. We are here concerned to come to the help of those large numbers of couples who were obliged to pay premiums in order to get accommodation, and the great majority of those people did not do this in order to get accommodation which they could then pass on to somebody else; they did it because they wanted the accommodation in which to live themselves. While I do not deny that we get cases of the kind quoted, I am certain that there is no reason why we should not do what we here propose for the majority, merely because we are not giving the same treatment to some other small group. If we can find ways in which to do this—and I do not think it is easy—then we, as my right hon. Friend has already indicated, are perfectly willing to consider anything that is put up; but the vast majority of cases where there has been exploitation, will, I believe, be met by the Bill.
Thirdly, it was suggested that the Bill failed because it did not cover council houses. I do not propose to argue this matter at length, except to say that I think that it is important to distinguish beween statutory bodies, with all kinds of limitations on how they do their work, non-profit-making bodies and private owners of property. I also believe that local authority rents are at the present time well below the level of rents of 684 comparable houses, and, even allowing for the increase of rent that has taken place on council estates, that fact is still true.
Now perhaps I can come to grips with what I think is one of the most substantial points that has been raised, that is to say, the criticism of what is to be understood by the words in Clause 1 (4):The rent which is reasonable for a dwelling-house shall…be the rent which is in all the circumstances reasonable on a letting of that dwelling-house.…If we had meant that rents should be comparable with other rents we would have said so; but we wanted to leave the tribunal to consider all the circumstances. Clearly, the cost to which the landlord, the owner, has been put is one of those circumstances, and no tribunal could ever begin to consider what was to be reasonable in all the circumstances without taking that into account. Here again, if it can be clarified in any way, perhaps we can look at it in Committee.
Whatever some newspaper may have said, we are not here concerned with some notion of fixing reasonable rents in connection with comparable rents. Not at all. We are here concerned to get a treatment based on the whole of the circumstances. Now, there is nothing very new about this. In Section 2 (2) of the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, we have very much the same form of words. The tribunal is toapprove the rent payable under the contract or reduce it to such sum as they may, in all the circumstances, think reasonable.That is very much the same thing.
As the right hon. and gallant Member quoted the Ridley Committee's Report to us on a number of occasions, I would remind him that the Ridley Committee proposed the setting up of tribunals for the fixing of "fair rents." He can take his choice between "fair rents" and "reasonable rents." It was of the essence of the Ridley Committee's proposals that there should be tribunals which looked at all the circumstances and then said what the rent ought to be. The Opposition have made no attempt to deal with that recommendation of the Ridley Committee; nor have they said how one could in any other way do what obviously ought to be done here. We have had some experience of these tribunals, and although there may be difficulties here 685 and there, by and large they have done an extremely good job of work, and have done it in a highly satisfactory way.
I should like again to put to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman a point which my right hon. Friend put earlier. How comes it that when we brought forward the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, which is on exactly the same principles and applies exactly the same procedure, Mr. Willink, then leading for the Opposition, welcomed the Measure, on which we had only one slight difference of opinion taken to a Division in the whole business? Why is this? There is no essential difference between what we are here proposing and what was then proposed, and this change of front on the part of the Opposition is one of the things that I think the nation will want to inquire into a little further.
§ Mr. Molson
There is one very fundamental distinction between the two cases. In the case of the 1946 Act the landlord was able to get rid of the tenant; in this Bill the landlord cannot.
§ Mr. Edwards
That is entirely beside the point. That fact is that we have two Measures, both of which are concerned to fix reasonable rents, and both of which are concerned to let that be done by a tribunal; and those are, matters of principle which I say are no different.
§ Mr. Edwards
I must get on. I have very little time to deal with a great variety of points.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in opening, and the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) both referred to the Ridley Committee's proposal that houses built since the war should not be subject to control. Let me say, in passing, that that is not what we are after primarily. As I have already indicated, we have power to deal with that in another way. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman with, if I may say so, a little less than his usual intellectual integrity, failed to go on to read the next part following in the Ridley Report. He did not tell the House that the Ridley Committee took the view that, as regards houses converted into flats or tenements,we recommend that houses which were controlled before conversion should remain 686 controlled and that the rent of each flat or tenement on conversion should be the appropriate proportion of the rent of the whole house increased by eight per cent. annually of the cost of the conversion.Here is a proposal from the Ridley Committee which covers the multitude of the cases we are dealing with in our Bill. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the paragraph immediately in front of it and ignored this, which is more relevant to the Measure we are considering than the earlier part. Let me further say that the Ridley Committee proposed the complete abolition of premiums, but that is by the way.
Now let me come to the arguments which have been advanced in favour of the Amendment, because whatever right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite may have said in this Debate we shall go into the Lobbies on the basis of what is on the Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), as I understood it, threw the Amendment overboard and proceeded to make three admirable points, one of which, as I have already indicated, is a matter to which we have got to give attention. But he was not speaking to the Amendment. Let me speak to it for a moment or two. The Amendment says:That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which will discourage and arrest the provision by private enterprise of houses and flats to let.It is no part of our intention to restrict or hamper or get at the good citizen who converts a house and who takes a reasonable return on his outlay. We recognise the contribution that has been made to the provision of new housing accommodation by many people who have done this kind of thing. I myself live in such accommodation. The good landlord has nothing whatever to fear from this Bill. When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) intervened, and asked the right hon. and gallant Gentleman about houses to let the right hon. and gallant Gentleman indicated, in reply, that he would give the figures later in his speech. What, in fact, he did was to give the figures of the total number of units of accommodation that had been provided by conversion and then the total number of new houses built under the private licence system. He did not say what proportion of these houses had, in 687 fact, been built to let. Shall I tell him? The answer is about 13 per cent.
§ Mr. Edwards
I divided the number into two as did the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, one concerning conversion and then 105,000, which he claimed to be new houses which had been built. I am pointing out to him that of the new houses built—I am not talking about conversion—13 per cent. only have been let.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Gentleman agrees that practically the whole of the 68,000 conversions have been let and 13 per cent. of the newly-built houses. I consider that that is a perfectly fair answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget).
§ Mr. Edwards
But the right hon. Gentleman must remember that these licences have been granted. Let us ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman this—is he saying that in order to have this kind of provision and enterprise we have got to have exploitation? [Laughter.] I am seriously asking the Opposition—are they saying that in order that we may have this kind of provision we must place no limits on what the people can charge for accommodation?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I shall be quite happy to pass my position to my hon. and gallant Friend below the Gangway.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am dealing with the official Opposition Amendment, and because I am dealing with that, I cannot give way to everyone from all parts of the House, nor do I think it is necessary.
§ Mr. Edwards
From the proposition that we cannot get provision of that kind unless we let people do what they like we on this side of the House dissent. We 688 believe it to be an unnecessary indictment of the decent owner and the decent landlord who are providing accommodation at reasonable rents and who, I believe, will be prepared to go on doing it.
I have no feeling myself about the breaking of contracts, since a contract is a social obligation. Everyone knows that, quite apart from the minimum standard of the law, we have higher standards of social custom or, if you like, of morality, and that from time to time the State interferes with contracts and brings the legal standard nearer to what is regarded as the social standard. This is such a case. If it is said, as it has been said in the Amendment, that we are increasing the injustices, I would like to say that to justify the statement that injustices are being increased, it is not enough to show that some anomalies remain. The basic question raised by the Bill, apart from what may or may not be in it when it emerges from Committee, is: Are we to put a stop to the racket of charging premiums and unreasonable rents? That is the big question. In the terms of the Amendment that has been put down, the Opposition are saying: "We are prepared for it to go on."
I had occasion a little while ago to debate the subject of the Tory property-owning democracy, and I therefore took advantage of the opportunity to read what had been written on the subject by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles). He disagrees with the view of John Locke that property is a sacred right, and he says:All honour then to those Conservative thinkers who, during this period of triumphant wealth, denied that anyone has a natural right to do anything he likes with anything he can get hold of. They went on saying that property has its moral duties as well as its legal rights and it followed that if an owner neglected his duties he forfeited his rights.As a matter of historical veracity I am not at the moment supporting that statement, but the sentiment in it is the sentiment behind the Bill, which my right hon. Friend has introduced. We have the spectacle of a Tory Opposition, which I thought in theory held such views about property, behaving as though they are prepared to defend the present abuses of property of one kind or another.
I would ask the House to consider whether people should vote against this Bill on the grounds that have been advanced. 689 Everyone, except apparently the official Opposition, knows that a scandalous racket is going on in rents of first lettings. [An HON. MEMBER: "And will go on."] Even the "Evening News," not friendly to the Government as a general rule, said on 8th November, before the Bill was introduced:There is one item bearing on the London section of them—[the young people]—which has become a scandal, the cost of flat rents and in particular the premium system. How many young men have several hundreds to put down, in addition to the payment of a rent that eats heavily into their salary? And on what basis of commercial morality are they asked to do it?Cases are given of a flat at £185 a year with a premium of £1,000.
My right hon. Friend tried to get the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to face up to this. Whatever he may or may not have said, the Amendment says we must turn this down because it does certain things, but among those things is dealing with this kind of abuse. I listened to see whether I could get from anybody on the other side of the House a statement of how the return that people get from letting flats should be restricted. I confess that I did not know where the right hon. and gallant Gentleman stood. The hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) said without any equivocation that the landlord was entitled to get whatever he could. The hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) hedged somewhat when I asked him, and said that he thought what was reasonable could safely be left to the conscience of the individual landlord.
The hon. Member for Monmouth came down behind his hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth because his speech did not make any sense at all unless it meant that the individual landlord was entitled to get what he could. It is against that view that this Bill has been introduced, and I deplore the spectacle of an Opposition which will urge its supporters to go into the Lobby against the Bill and by so doing condone that kind of offence. I think it was Montesquieu who talked about a race of people called troglodytes who systematically violated their contracts, and because they did so, perished utterly. The same fate will overtake those who defend the sanctity of contracts in the face of exploitation. Justice is not the interests of the stronger, and as long as 690 there is a Socialist Administration in this country it will not be. I am sure that we on this side of the House are confident that although the Bill may be capable of improvement it deals with a social abuse on which we would have expected the wholehearted support of the House.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Major Guy Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
I have not spoken and in the minute which remains I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman a question which I hope he will have time to answer. The question is whether or not he is aware that the property-owners in Glasgow will get no kind of satisfaction out of the Bill is so far as at the moment they are quite unable to maintain their property. Does the hon. Gentleman think that there is one line in the Bill to assist these property-owners in Glasgow who are being grossly exploited by the Rent Restrictions Acts and the Scottish rating system? I ask the hon. Member not to look at the clock but to look at me and be good enough to pay attention to my question and tell me in what way the Scottish property-owners get any satisfaction from the Bill. Scotland has not been heard very much in this Debate. Surely I am entitled to ask that question on behalf of the Scottish property owners?
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House proceeded to a Division.
§ Mr. Renton (seated and covered)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, as I did not follow you correctly may I ask whether we are now voting against the Bill or in favour of the Amendment or both?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Vote is being taken against the Amendment. The Question is, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question." Therefore it is against the Amendment.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 286: Noes, 118.693
|Division No. 41.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Fernyhough, E||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Field, Capt, W. J.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A|
|Albu, A. H.||Fletcher, E. G .M. (Islington, E.)||Mathers, Rt- Hon. George|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A.||Foot, M. M.||Mellish, R. J.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Middleton, Mrs, L.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Freeman, J, (Watford)||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E R|
|Alpass, J. H.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N||Mitchison, G. R|
|Anderson, F (Whitehaven)||Ganley, Mrs. C. S||Monslow, W.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Gibson, C. W||Moody, A. S.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R||Gilzean, A.||Morgan, Dr. H B|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Morley, R.|
|Awbery, S S.||Gordon-Walker, P. C||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)|
|Ayles, W H.||Granville, E. (Eye)||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Greenwood, A W J (Heywood)||Moyle, A.|
|Bacon, Miss A||Grenfell, D. R.||Murray, J. D|
|Baird, J.||Grey, C. F.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon A. J||Grierson, E||Neal, H. (Claycross)|
|Barstow, P. G.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Battley, J. R||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J (Llanelly)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Bechervaise, A. E||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)|
|Benson, G.||Gunter, R. J.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)|
|Berry, H.||Guy, W H.||O'Brien, T.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Haire, John E (Wycombe)||Oldfield, W. H|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Hale, Leslie||Oliver, G. H|
|Binns, J.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Orbach, M.|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Paget, R. T.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hardy. E. A.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Bottomley A. G.||Harrison, J.||Palmer, A. M. F|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Bowen, R.||Haworth, J.||Parker, J.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Paton Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)|
|Brook, D. (Hallfax)||Herbison, Miss M.||Paton J .(Norwich)|
|Brooks, T. J(Rothwell)||Hewitson, Capt M||Pearson, A|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hobson, C. R.||Peart T .F|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Holman, P.||Piratin P.|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Popplewell, E.|
|Burden, T. W.||Horabin, T. L.||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Hubson, J. H. (Ealing, W)||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Byers, Frank||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Price, M. Philips|
|Callaghan, James||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Castle, Mrs B. A.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Pursey, Comdr. H|
|Chamberlain, R. A||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Randall, H. E.|
|Chetwynd, G. R||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Ranger, J.|
|Cluse, W. S||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Rees-Williams, D. R.|
|Cobb, F. A||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham. N.)||Reeves, J.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Isaacs, Rt Hon. G. A.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Coldrick, W.||Janner, B.||Richards, R.|
|Collick, P.||Jeger, G (Winchester)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M|
|Collindridge, F.||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)||Robens, A.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Jenkins, R. H.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Johnston, Douglas||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones D T (Hartlepool)||Royle, C|
|Crawley, A||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Sargood, R.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Scott-Elliott, W|
|Daines, P.||Keenan, W.||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Kendall, W. D||Sharp, Granville|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Kenyon, C.||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Key Rt. Hon. C. W.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||King, E. M.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr E||Shurmer, P.|
|Deer, G.||Kinley, J.||Silkin Rt. Hon. L|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Kirby, B. V||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Delargy, H. J||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Diamond, J.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Dobbie, W.||Leslie, J. R.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Dodds, N. N||Lindgren, G. S||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Donovan, T.||Lipson. D. L.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Ede, Rt Hon. J. C.||Longden, F.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W)|
|Edelman, M.||Lyne, A. W.||Solley, L. J.|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||McAdam, W.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||McEntee, V. La T||Steele, T|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||McGhee, H. G.||Slewart, Michael (Futham, E.)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||McGovern, J.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||McLeavy, F||Sylvester, G. O|
|Evans, S. N (Wednesbury)||MacPherson, M. (Stirling)||Symonds, A L|
|Ewart, R.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Fairhurst, F||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Taylor, R. J.(Morpeth)|
|Farthing, W. J||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Taylor, Dr S. (Barnet)|
|Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||Warbey, W. N||Williams, R. W (Wigan)|
|Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Watkins, T. E.||William, Rt-Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Thomas, I. O (Wrekin)||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)||Wills, E.|
|Thomas, John R (Dover)||Weitzman, D.||Willis, Mrs. E. A|
|Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Wells, P. L (Faversham)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A|
|Thurtle Ernest||Wells, W. T.(Walsall)||Woods, G. S|
|Tiffany, S||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh. E.)||Yates, V. F|
|Tolley, L.||White, C F. (Derbyshire, W.)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G||White, H (Derbyshire, N.E.)||Zilliacus, K|
|Turner-Samuels, M||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W|
|Ungoed-Thomas, L||Wigg, George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Vernon, Maj W. F.||Wilkins, W. A.||Mr. Snow and|
|Viant, S. P.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)||Mr. George Wallace.|
|Wallace, H. W (Walthamtstow. E)||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Glyn, Sir R.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E|
|Astar, Hon. M.||Gomme-Duncan, Col A||Neven-Spence, Sir B|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Gridley, Sir A.||Nield, B. (Chester)|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Grimston, R V.||Odey, G. W.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Orr-Ewing, I. L|
|Birch, Nigel||Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.||Osborne, C.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Haughton, S. G.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Bower, N.||Hollis, M. C.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Howard, Hon. A.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J||Raikes, H. V.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Hurd, A.||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hutchison, Col. J. R.(Glasgow, C.)||Robinson, Roland|
|Bullock, Capt. M||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Challen, C.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Channon, H.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Clifton-Brown, Li.-Col. G||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Conant, Maj R. J. E.||Law, Rt Hon. R. K.||Stanley, Rt. Hon, O|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Teeling, William|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O E||Linstead, H. N.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Lloyd, Maj Guy (Renfrew. E.)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Cuthbort, W. N.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Thornton-Kemsley, O. N.|
|Darling, Sir W. Y.||Low, A. R. W.||Touche, G. C.|
|Digby, S. W.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Turton, R. H.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S||Wakefield, Sir W. W|
|Drayson, G B.||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Drowe, C||McFarlane, C. S.||Ward, Hon. G. R|
|Eccles, D. M.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt Hon Walter||Maclean, F H R. (Lancaster)||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Williams, C, (Torquay)|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Fletcher, W (Bury)||Manningham-Buller, R. E||York, C.|
|Fox, Sir G.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Maude, J, C.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gage, C.||Mellor, Sir J.||Mr. Studholme and|
|Galbraith, Comdr. T .D (pollok)||Molson A. H. E.||Colonel Wheatley.|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Morrison, Rt. Hn W. S.(Cirencester)|
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Popplewell.]