§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Major MILNER in the Chair]
§ Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 25 to 27.
It may be within the recollection of some hon. Members of the Committee that the effect of the Local Authorities Loans Act, 1945, was to prohibit borrowing by local authorities, otherwise than from the Public Works Loans Commissioners. The Act was intended to be temporary in character. It will lapse in the ordinary way next month unless it is decided to extend it. We have put down this Amendment, not to deprive local authorities of the advantages of that Act, but to afford an opportunity for discussion, and to ascertain the views of the Government as to the conditions under which this Act ought to be continued.
I hope the Financial Secretary will be able to tell us whether it is intended that the restrictions the Act places upon the borrowing powers of the local authorities are to be made permanent. Is it intended to make them a permanent part of the law relating to local authorities, or is it the intention that the matter should be reviewed again at the end of 12 months; or will the restrictions be continued thereafter in some altered or modified form? I hope the Financial Secretary will he able to tell us whether the local authorities are to be permanently restricted in this way, or whether they are to be given some greater latitude to borrow, otherwise than from the Commissioners.
There are one or two further matters that I desire to put to the Financial Secretary. Many hon. Members may be aware that it is common practice in certain parts of the country, more particularly in the north of England, for local authorities to borrow small sums of money from their ratepayers on mortgage of the rates. Mortgages of that type are a very suitable form of investment for small savings, and they have the advantage that they generate a certain amount of patriotism in the 997 districts concerned. Local authorities which have been accustomed to borrow on these terms attach some importance to their being able to continue to do so.
The regulations which have been made under the Local Authorities Loans Act. 1945, permit local authorities with outstanding debts of this nature to continue to borrow, but restrict their powers to do so in certain directions. They are precluded from borrowing in excess of the maximum sum outstanding on this type of mortgage between the end of the financial year 1938–39 and the time when the Local Authorities Loans Act came into operation in August, 1945. This restriction is really a purely artificial and unnecessary one. In view of the fact that this Act was passed in the last few months of the war, it may have been thought necessary that local authorities should not be encouraged to borrow in excess of the amounts which they then had outstanding on this type of security. I remember the Bill passing through the House, but I cannot now recollect the reasons for this restriction.
There is really no longer any reason why local authorities should be restricted to the sums outstanding at the end of the war. Nor is there any reason why this form of borrowing should necessarily be more expensive than borrowing from the Public Works Loans Commissioners. The money offered will, no doubt, be at no higher rate of interest than the rates charged by the Public Works Loans Commissioners. It has this further advantage from the standpoint of the Treasury that it may relieve the Commissioners of the obligation to make sums available at a rate of interest which is certainly at present not remunerative.
There is a further point I wish to put to the Financial Secretary. The Public Works Loans Act, under which the Commissioners operate, was passed 75 years ago. At that time it was not contemplated that it would be used for the general purposes of local authority borrowing. The result is that the Act in some respects restricts unduly the conditions under which the Commissioners are able to make advances to the local authorities. Some of the provisions of the Act seem now no longer to be appropriate. In particular, the Commissioners are required under their existing powers 998 to adopt a very narrow view of their obligation to take security. They take the view, no doubt rightly, that the Act of 1875 requires them to relate each loan to the specific purpose for which it is authorised.
In making advances in the circumstances which were contemplated in 1875, no doubt it was thought a good thing that the Commissioners should look rather narrowly at the security. But today the system works badly. Take the case of a large city which comes for a loan for a number of different purposes. The Commissioners require the local authority to allocate each part of the loan to each individual purpose for which it is raised, and, indeed, to each individual loan sanction which has been obtained for that purpose. When the local authorities used to go into the market for a general loan upon the security of the rates, it was not necessary to relate each part of the loan to the specific purpose for which the loan was intended to be used.
Why is it necessary for the position in relation to a loan from the Commissioners to be any different from that? It is really a very inconvenient arrangement that the local authorities should be expected to relate each part of the loan which is raised to the individual purpose and individual loan sanction which has been obtained for that particular purpose. It is a system which local authorities find extravagant, both in manpower and in the expenses of the loan.
No useful purpose is served by this arrangement. If the provisions of the Act of 1945 are to be continued in any permanent form, the Act of 1875 should be modified so as to relieve the Commissioners from the rather narrow restrictions under which they have been placed in regard to their obligation to take security for the sums which are borrowed. My hon. Friends and I have no wish to deprive the local authorities of any advantages which they will get from the extension of the Act; but I hope that the Financial Secretary, when he replies to the Debate, will be able to give us some information about the matters which I have raised with him, and in particular some indication whether this Act is to be made permanent, and, if so, whether in its present or in some modified form.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Douglas Jay)
The Government is asking the Committee to continue Section 1 of the Local Authorities Loans Act, 1945, and I gather that the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) is not seriously quarrelling with our main intention. That Act, as has been said, compelled local authorities to borrow through the Public Works Loans. Board except where they had special permission from the Treasury to borrow otherwise. The purpose of that arrangement was, of course, to introduce a more orderly system for the raising of capital for local authorities at a period when we realised there would be something of a scramble for capital of all kinds. Indeed, Sir John Anderson, in introducing the Bill at that time, said its purpose was to arrange these matters in an orderly fashion and avoid a competitive scramble for capital.
There was, therefore, in effect, an agreement between the Government and the local authorities that, in return for the Government's undertaking to make finance available readily and cheaply through the Public Works Loans Board for approved projects, the local authorities would agree to refrain from going to other sources of capital, where, of course, they might have to compete with one another, with industrial demands, or with whatever it might be, thereby causing a scramble and forcing up rates of interest against themselves. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that that system has worked very smoothly in the last five years. The Government have been providing the local authorities with nearly £300 million of finance annually largely for housing at a rate of interest which is lower than not merely that which operated after the 1914–18 war, but lower than that in the period immediately before 1939.
The main purpose was to avoid a scramble, which might have put rates of interest up contrary to the convenience of local authorities themselves and the tenants of the houses which they might be going to build. That argument applied not merely to any capital in the public issue market, but in a lesser degree to other forms of borrowing, of which the local mortgage arrangements were most important. It is possible if a loan were likely that there might also be competi- 1000 tion for that sort of finance. Because of that possibility it was laid down in the original Act that there should be a limit on the amount which local authorities could borrow. There again, with the consent of the Treasury, they were permitted to go beyond that limit. In very few cases have the authorities borrowed by that method anywhere near up to the limit. Total borrowings, as a matter of fact, are only a very small part of the total which was permitted by the Act. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that if there were any particular cases where arguments could be advanced for departing from the general principle we would be perfectly prepared to consider them, as indeed we have been doing in the last five years.
The hon. and learned Member asked me specifically what the Government's intentions were about the limits set on this form of borrowing. In general, the situation in the capital market is not very different in principle from what it was at the end of the war. As everybody knows, a tremendous number of capital development projects, both municipal and otherwise, are coming forward, and a good deal of money is going out to finance them. Our policy is to continue as in the last few years, in relation to mortgage borrowing and other forms of finance, but we are open to consider any financial proposition which the local authorities may bring forward.
The hon. and learned Gentleman also asked whether the Government intended to make these restrictions permanent or whether we were going to bring forward another annual Act in a year's time. I must point out that when the Government propose legislation of a permanent character the Opposition are inclined to wish it to be annual, and when we propose annual Bills, they want them to be permanent. In this case I can relieve the anxiety of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and say that we have not finally made up our minds on the point. Our present intention is to continue the measure for one year, because we are satisfied that present conditions require it, but we have not finally decided what we should wish to do in a year's time.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that I did not argue whether these powers should be either temporary or permanent, but that I in- 1001 vited him to tell us what the Government intended to do.
§ Mr. Jay
I was not accusing the hon. and learned Gentleman in particular of the sentiment to which I referred. I hope that I have now been able to answer his question.
Another question was whether we proposed to alter the provisions of the Act of 1875 which require the separate amounts of money raised by the Public Works Loans Board to be allocated to specific projects which local authorities were promoting. We received that suggestion from the local authority organisations only in the last month or two, and we are examining it. We are not yet satisfied that there is any case for making the change. It can be argued that it increases the power of the Government to control the timing and so forth of our capital investments if that condition is still retained by the central authority, but we have not reached a final decision about that. We shall certainly take into account what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I have done my best to answer his questions, and I hope that after these explanations the Committee will be ready to agree to the schedule.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
Before the hon. Gentleman finishes his speech, the Committee as a whole would, I am sure, be disposed to agree with the account that he has given of the good value that this Measure has given to local authorities and to the country. I wish he had said one word about the position which arose in the autumn of 1949 when, owing to the change in interest rates, local authorities were, for a time at any rate, able to procure money from the Public Works Loans Board at a lower rate than the Government themselves would have had to pay if they had gone into the market to raise money. As a result of that position—if my memory serves me aright—there was somewhat of a disorderly scramble by the local authorities to obtain long-term loans for projects which were at that time not ripe for development.
The whole purpose of the original Measure was to avoid a disorderly scramble of that character. I ask the hon. Gentlemen to tell the Committee, since this is the only occasion we have during 1002 the year to review the working of these operations, whether the Government's plans for preventing a disorderly scramble by local authorities to obtain money at a rate cheaper than the Government could obtain at that time have met with success. The hon. Gentleman might perhaps say one word upon that important aspect of the matter.
§ Mr. Jay
I did not refer to interest-rate policy because I was inclined to think that it might not be in order on the present Amendment, but if I have your approval, Major Milner, I will say just this much in answer to the question of the right hon. Gentleman. It is true that a year ago there appeared to be a tendency for local authorities to attempt to borrow from the Public Works Loans Board, in advance of their needs, the finance for capital development projects which had been approved. The Government were exceedingly anxious not to raise interest rates at that time, as indeed we are now, because we have always felt that the paramount consideration should be to keep housing costs down and therefore to keep rents and housing subsidies down. We decided to take action by another method, by direct consultation with the local authorities, to see that the rate of borrowing at the admittedly low rates of interest did not exceed the finance required for current needs for actual physical development. Those methods have been successful, and I think we can say that at any rate for the time that problem has been satisfactorily solved.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Hove)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 48 to 50.
The effect of my Amendment would be to remove from the Bill the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946. I would like to make it plain that I do not attack the whole principle of that Measure, which in many ways has served a useful purpose. I do not want it to be thought in any quarter of the Committee that I or anybody on this side of the Committee is in any way condemning the main purpose of the 1945 Act, but the Act now requires considerable overhaul if it is to continue to serve the useful purpose for which it was originally intended.
I am fortified in that view by the words of the Minister of Health when he was 1003 moving the Second Reading of the Bill, in November, 1945. He then said:The House will note that at the end of 1947 the Measure will die.Then come words which I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has had cause since to regret: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.]Unfortunately, owing to the policy which the right hon. Gentleman has pursued in the years since that date, the worst housing stringency has not ceased to exist, and owing to the failure of the right hon. Gentleman to solve this housing problem, the necessity for some kind of protection of the kind provided in that Act is, alas, still necessary. It is very important that the House should now determine exactly what kind of legislation is necessary three years after the date at which the right hon. Gentleman estimated the Act would become redundant. It is somewhat satirical that three years after that time we should now be moving to include the Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
The particular criticism which I have to make of the Bill is that it sets up tribunals which are not competent to discharge the functions committed to them. I raised this point on the Second Reading of the Bill, and since then events have confirmed how right I was in complaining of the constitution of the tribunals. Many of the difficulties which have arisen in these tribunals would have been avoided if the advice which I then gave had been heeded, and that was that these tribunals should have at least one legal member. Unfortunately, that was not done, and there have been numerous cases where injustice has arisen as a result of the decisions of these tribunals, which could have been avoided if there had been legal members on those tribunals. I believe that these tribunals, which, I repeat, have served a useful function, and which I have no desire to see abolished, would have been considerably improved had that course been taken.
Had that been done it would have been all the less necessary to have an appeal. My principal criticism of the Act as it 1004 stands at the moment is that it provides no kind of appeal whatever. That is another point which was urged from this side when the Bill was originally before the House. It is a very distressing fact that these lay tribunals have been set up and invested with very considerable powers, and powers which have been considerably increased since the original Act was passed. The tribunals are conducted by laymen; they have no rules of evidence on procedure of any kind whatsoever. They can find completely irrationally, and they have no basis on which they are directed to find. Yet, in spite of those unusual powers, there is no kind of appeal at all from them.
I regard that as a dangerous process for us to embark upon. We were all agreed when the tribunals were set up that they were necessary to meet the problem which faced the country at that time, one which we all hoped would be solved in a reasonably short time and one which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health promised would be solved; but as he has failed to fulfil that pledge we have to consider the position now, and decide whether it is right that this kind of non-legal tribunal should continue to exercise the powers which it has. I should like to remind the Committee of the powers which have been added to the tribunals. There has been added the administration of the Rent Control Act, 1949, a most complicated Measure which many lawyers have the greatest difficulty in interpreting. Although the interpretation of that Act has been added to their functions, the tribunals are still composed of laymen and there is still no right of appeal from them.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman say in how many cases there are no lawyers on these tribunals? Perhaps he could tell us so that we may know what the position is.
§ Mr. Marlowe
The hon. Gentleman should address himself to what I am talking about, namely, that the 1946 Act does not require that any member of the tribunal should be a lawyer. I agree that in practice some legally qualified persons have been appointed, and that reinforces my point. There is no provision under the Act as it stands requiring the appointment of a legally qualified member, and 1005 I believe that it should be amended accordingly. I do not think that the law should be administered in the way that the hon. Gentleman believes, namely, that something should be done regardless of what is said in the Statute. The principle in this country is that the law must be laid down in the Statute. I hold more firmly to that view by reason of the fact that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) disagrees with me. The principle in this country is that the law is made in Parliament, and in this respect there is a danger to which the Committee ought to address itself because so many people, including the hon. Gentleman, believe that something in the nature of a droit d'administratif is satisfactory.
§ Mr. Marlowe
They believe that these things may be done by administrative action. I do not accept that. The constitution of courts which will have to decide between various members of the public should be determined by Act of Parliament and not by administration. Therefore, I propose to address myself to the Act of Parliament, and my point is that the Act does not require that any members of these tribunals shall be legally qualified.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)
Nor is it required that magistrates shall be legally qualified.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I agree, but I am not dealing with that because I should be out of order if I went outside the scope of the Bill. I am very much confirmed in my view by a high authority, Lord Justice Denning, whom few would dispute. In a series of extremely interesting lectures, he dealt with the point of the proper function of tribunals in our present legal system. We have all to accept the view that all the disputes between parties in this country nowadays cannot be dealt with by the courts because there are so many that it would be impossible to bring them all before the courts. I am prepared to accept the view that there must be tribunals to deal with certain kinds of dispute. They are part of the fabric of our law today. In his lectures referring to the question of tribunals, Lord Justice Denning said:The uneasiness which has been felt about tribunals is undoubtedly due to the fact that 1006 their development is closely linked with the enforcement of policy and on that account their independence is suspect.Few would disagree with that. He goes on to say:The independence of the tribunals is reduced to vanishing point in cases where, as sometimes happens, the appeal from the tribunal is only to the Minister and not to the courts.The Lord Justice was, therefore, expressing a hostile criticism of tribunals in which there was an appeal only to the Minister, but in this case we do not even have that, for there is no appeal to anybody. The point is important because when dealing with that situation Lord Justice Denning went on to give his view. He said:How then is this independence"—that is, the independence which we all agree should attach to these tribunals—to he achieved? The answer is by giving a right of appeal on a point of law to a superior court which is itself known to be independent.[Interruption.] I hear the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health saying that it is so. He does not understand his own Act. The position at the moment is that there is only an appeal on a question of jurisdiction and not on a question of law. There is an appeal, as there is bound to be, only if the tribunal exceeds its jurisdiction, and it has been possible to take a case to the high court on the ground that the jurisdiction has been exceeded——
§ The Attorney-General
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that the tribunals are not independent or are too independent?
§ Mr. Marlowe
I was adopting the view of Lord Justice Denning that if there is no right of appeal, the tribunals become suspect as being not independent. That is his view, and it was that that I was quoting.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
Is that quite right? I remember reading that important and interesting lecture at the time. Was not his point this, that in the case of tribunals under the control of the Minister, and in relation to which there was an appeal to the Minister, the question of independence might be suspect? I have never heard anybody suggest, and I do not know if the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting——
§ The Attorney-General
But I want to see whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting that any of these tribunals are not completely independent.
§ Mr. Marlowe
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will not trap me into saying anything more than I have said. I know he wants to do so. What I have said, and what I adhere to, is that I dislike a tribunal which may be suspect.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I can tell the hon. Gentleman. It is usually suspect by the unsuccessful litigant. It is not desirable that that should be so. Whichever party it is, people should feel, when they go to any of our courts for a decision, that they come away fully satisfied that at least there was no suspicion of partiality or of non-independence.
§ The Attorney-General
I am loth to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman again, but surely he knows the famous couplet relating to the criminal courts:No victim felt the halter drawWith good opinion of the law.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I have had a good deal to say in regard to these tribunals, but I did not know that they had acquired the power of capital punishment! I am dealing with the tribunals exercising these particular functions. My objection to them is that, manned as they are without a legally qualified member, exercising considerable powers without any guidance from the statute as to how those powers are to be exercised, it would be less objectionable if there were some criteria provided by which they were to act.
For instance, some quite well known formulae might be adopted whereby, before arriving at a decision as to a rental value, they should have regard to the rateable value, or to the character of the neighbourhood, or to the price paid for the dwelling, or to some facts of that kind. But this Act gives no criteria of any kind, and it is a fact that if one of them chose to behave quite irrationally—to give an absurd example, if somebody paying a rent of £3 a week went to the tribunal and it said, "We shall reduce the rent to 2s. 6d. a week," something utterly out of proportion to the rental 1008 value and which neither party had suggested—there would still be no remedy; there would be no appeal on that. It is most unsatisfactory that we should give to courts in this country power to behave in that way. The right of appeal would become of less importance if there were a legally qualified member, but when there is not one it becomes all the more necessary.
In support of what I have said about that, I want to refer to what has been said in one of these cases which reached the High Court on the question of jurisdiction which, as I have said, is the only method known of doing so. In giving this decision the Lord Chief Justice said:The real complaint is that the tribunal disregarded the principles of natural justice.I think it was accepted by all parties that this is what has happened in that case.
The Lord Chief Justice went on to point out that although principles which ordinarily we would consider to be those of natural justice had been disregarded, the High Court could do nothing about it. He said later:These proceedings have not been conducted in a way which would be tolerated in an ordinary court, but the ordinary courts do not have statutes which permit them to act on their own knowledge or without any evidence.He was saying, in effect, that these tribunals have a statute which permits them to behave like that. It is deplorable that we should allow to continue in existence an Act which the Lord Chief Justice says permits people to behave in a way which would not be tolerated in an ordinary court.
I know the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health does not take kindly to judicial comment, but in order that he shall not think the Lord Chief Justice was in any way exceeding the bounds of propriety in that case, I will let him know that the Lord Chief Justice ended by saying:While it would be improper for us in any way to question the policy of the Act, I feel that possibly it might be a more satisfactory state of affairs if there were some method of appeal to a central tribunal.That is a method which I would happily accept. The advantage of a central tribunal of some kind is that one gets coordination of principle instead of, as is possible under the present system, a dozen different decisions all having no counter-relation to one another.
1009 I believe that justice in this country is best served when people have resort to properly qualified courts to administer the law, and a person aggrieved by a decision of a tribunal of this kind has the right to go to a superior court to have that decision examined. I know that the Minister of Health does not accept that view. He takes an entirely different view.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan) indicated assent.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman nods assent to that. He has himself on a previous occasion referred to such things as offering the possibility of what he calls "judicial sabotage." The right hon. Gentleman appears to be surprised?
§ Mr. Marlowe
Nevertheless, I will remind other hon. Gentlemen. In the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debate on the National Health Service Bill on 23rd July, 1946, at column 1983, the right hon. Gentleman was referring to the question of an appeal to the courts in respect of doctors dealt with by disciplinary tribunals. Anyone who reads the Debate will see that the right hon. Gentleman referred there to this process of "judicial sabotage," which he now says he endorses. May I say that I have a higher regard for the judges of this country than to believe that they wish to sabotage anything. The right hon. Gentleman does not accept that view. When he says "judicial sabotage," he means that anybody who disagrees with him has to be ploughed out of his way. What the right hon. Gentleman is really saying is, "I will not have a court of appeal in these matters. I will not allow any of these matters to go to the court, because I am afraid they will disagree with my view and that I shall not be able to get my way."
That is a grave danger. The independence of this country has been built up largely on the independence of its courts, and one of the greatest safeguards of our freedom is to allow all citizens to have resort to the courts when they are aggrieved. It is for that purpose that I thoroughly disapprove of this Act continuing in force in this form any longer, and that I seek to see it removed from 1010 this Bill so that we may put in its place a proper Measure which will safeguard the rights of the people.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)
It is highly important that the country as well as the House should know what is really intended by those who are proposing the repeal of an Act which has played a very considerable part in helping to ease the housing position. Let us not misunderstand what this Act has done. There were 57,804 cases referred to these tribunals under this small Act. This number is apart entirely from those under the 1949 Act and the other rent control Acts which have been brought on to the Statute Book and which the Labour Government have endeavoured to keep on as high a level as possible so that people shall have protection for their homes.
Of those 57,804 appeals, 39,178 were decided and rents were reduced in no fewer than 26,907 cases. I quite understand why the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) wants to impose penalties on tenants by repealing this Act and by suggesting appeals or other delays so that the matters which are today being attended to—and very well attended to—by the rent tribunals shall not reach these successful results for the tenants.
What is even more important is that on an average the reduction of rent was 30 per cent., which means that in those 26,907 cases where there had been a reduction the tenants were being overcharged on an average at the rate of 30 per cent. Hon. Members opposite talk about the high cost of living and the non-retention of controls, and they ask the country to believe that as far as rents are concerned—and rents are, of course, one of the most important features of the household budget—the Acts which control those rents should be either amended or repealed.
§ Mr. Marlowe
No. I hope that the hon. Member is not intending to misinterpret me. If he will do me the honour of reading my speech on the Second Reading of the Bill, he will find that I have supported this principle from first to last——
§ Mr. Marlowe
—and I have today said that I do not wish the tribunals to be abolished; I wish to help them to do their work better.
§ Mr. Janner
The hon. and learned Member must understand that his proposal can only be a question of the repeal of the Act. What he overlooks is that if there were such a repeal he would have no opportunity for some time anyhow of having any legislation at all on the Statute Book controlling rents of furnished lettings. What is also important to note is that by that repeal he might even introduce very great hardships under the 1949 Act, which to some extent drags the 1946 Act with it.
The question of appeal in this matter is not one that should be dealt with in the manner suggested by the hon. and learned Member. In most of the tribunals there is already a lawyer either as chairman or as one of the members. Where that is not so, we have what is almost as good, if not quite as good: one of the officials of the tribunal is a lawyer—the secretary, for instance, who sit with the tribunal. I know that there may be some tribunals which make mistakes, but they are very few. For my part, I have not yet come across a tribunal which does not have a lawyer attached to it. In the main there are these lawyers available, as any practising lawyer who has attended these tribunals knows.
The important point to be decided by these tribunals, however, is not, as a rule, a question of law. What legal questions are there? What are the tribunals set up for? They are established for the purpose of deciding whether the rent is a reasonable rent, and who can best judge whether the rent is reasonable than those local persons. They know the district and are capable of understanding all the prevailing circumstances. I know very well that there are cases when one has to argue a legal point, but in the main it is only a question similar to that referred to in the case mentioned by the hon. and learned Member—the question of jurisdiction. Apart from that, everything else is pretty plain sailing, except the assessment of what the rent should be. In my contention, that assessment has been properly and adequately dealt with by the existing tribunals. That is shown by the fact that such a large number of rentals have been reduced.
If, instead of dwelling on Amendments which they say are necessary to the Act, 1012 hon. Members opposite would say that the matter which is important is that the public should be made aware of the purpose of these Acts and should utilise them to the fullest and best extent, we should have not merely these 26,000 reductions of rent, but, in the opinion of the chairman of the tribunal in my constituency and of many other people on the tribunals, hundreds of thousands of cases in which the exorbitant rentals—[An HON. MEMBER: "Oh."] Yes—hundreds of thousands of cases in which exorbitant rentals are being charged in respect of which this and the 1949 Act applies, would come before the tribunals. That would help to no inconsiderable extent in regard to the household budget, to which Members on the benches opposite are so accustomed to refer.
I know the position from the viewpoint of my own constituency and what happens in tribunals. I should like to refer to a few figures relating to the tribunal in my constituency, the chairman of which is a lawyer, but every member of which has a proper and full share in reaching decisions. There have been as many as 450 active applications, in connection with which the tribunal have made inspections of the properties concerned, have heard the parties, and have come to decisions. Their duties have extended even far beyond that, because—and this is not generally known—in Leicester, as elsewhere, they deal with numerous applications for advice and interview hundreds of people who attend at the office for information and advice. Their work is of immense advantage, not only to applicants whose cases are ultimately heard, but in preventing the extraction of unreasonable rents in the many cases where people come to them seeking advice.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
Under which Section of the Act do the tribunal derive their powers to give that advice, and what happens where advice and information are given to applicants who subsequently come for a judicial hearing before the tribunal? How do its members then expel from their minds matter which they should not have heard behind the back of the other party?
§ Mr. Janner
I am obliged for that intervention which indicates what we want to find out. There is nothing in the Act which says that they must give advice.
§ Mr. Janner
There is nothing in the Act to prevent them from giving advice, nothing at all. Advice is given in order to try to avoid waste of time, and save trouble and expense. In the main, both parties willingly accept the advice given, with the result that, instead of rents being charged which otherwise would be unreasonable, those rents are properly adjusted.
§ Mr. Janner
No, that intervention indicates how important it is that laymen should decide these matters. If we are to have appeals, that is the kind of question which would be raised time after time and innocent people giving good advice would be dragged into courts. Neither the owners nor the tenants would be in a position to meet the expense of the appeals. Instead of the tenant benefiting, many tenants would be prevented from getting their due rights because of their inability to meet the costs.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
This is rather important, as I am sure the Attorney-General will agree. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) well knows that one of the reasons for the decision in the Park West case was that certain things went on behind the backs of the parties and that was one of the reasons for the decision.
§ Mr. Janner indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
The hon. Member tries to shrug off questions which are really vital. Will he say whether the chairman of his tribunal, when a case comes before him on which he has previously given advice or received information, openly explains to all parties that this has happened, and what is the effect of what has taken place in private behind the backs of the other party? Does he, or does he not?
§ Mr. Janner
I have not said that this takes place behind the back of anyone. It is really naive to suggest that the landlord would not know what the tenant was advised. He would come to the landlord, as a rule, in order to arrange terms. Of course, he would. The whole circumstances would be known, except in 1014 exceptional circumstances. I have no doubt that the learned gentleman who presides over the court in Leicester knows he is doing his duties in a judicial manner and will be able in a proper manner to look after the interests of those who come before him.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Is it not the case that many people who have not let rooms before, and who are in doubt about what they should charge, come to these tribunals and ask what would be a proper rent?
§ Mr. Janner
That, undoubtedly, is the position and the hon. and learned Member for Hove knows it very well. The position in regard to these Acts is that we should do our utmost to encourage the tribunals to deal with as many cases as they can. Today is not the time, if there is ever a time, when we should produce legalistic quibbles in order to interfere with the working of these Acts. I hope that those who have raised this question will study the figures throughout the country and in their own constituencies. Let them go to their constituents and tell them how the tribunals have reduced the rents in their own constituencies. The hon. and learned Member for Hove might have a look at the figures for the Brighton district and he will see whether the constituency itself is prepared to adopt the views he holds.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I would remind the hon. Member that the case I quoted from the lower court, where it was said that it had not been conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice, came from Brighton.
§ Mr. Janner
Perhaps that was because of the influence of the hon. and learned Member there. I do not know, but if he will look at the figures he will see how many reductions there were in Brighton.
§ Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)
I will try to be brief. There is not the slightest doubt that had I been in the House in 1946, I should certainly have tried to oppose this measure, or at any rate to obtain substantial Amendments. It was a temporary Act and is being extended for another year. I hope it will be one of the Acts which will come under very careful scrutiny for amendment, with other Acts relating to the control of rents.
1015 I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Act is capable of being abused and is being abused. I wish to draw two specific points to the Committee's attention as to the way in which the Act is being abused. First, there is no obligation on a tenant to continue to pay the rent after he has lodged an application with the tribunal. There have been brought to my notice in my constituency cases where a tenant has come to agreement with the landlord, paid one week's rent in advance, and then lodged his application with the tribunal and paid no rent whatever during the weeks——
§ Mr. Janner rose——
§ Sir P. Spens
I am not going to give way, for I promised to be brief—during the weeks before the matter comes before the tribunal. With the tribunal in my area, it takes several weeks and when the case comes before the tribunal, if the tribunal makes an order—[Interruption]—I know there are powers, but, believe me, the landlord finds himself with a bad debt, which is extremely hard on some landlords.
The other matter which, to my mind, is much more serious, is that it is breeding a type of regular swindling tenant. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, it is, I put it as strongly as that. Let me explain. Five people are competing for a flat and one of them offers to pay so much more than the others. The landlord takes that person and four honest would-be tenants are excluded. The dishonest tenant pays his one week's rent in advance and promptly goes to the tribunal. He has signed his name to an agreement and done it deliberately but his word that he is prepared to pay that rent has meant absolutely nothing. He succeeds in outdoing four people more honest than himself, who were quite willing to pay the sum the landlord was asking, because he offers something more and then goes straight to the tribunal.
In those two ways this Act is being abused and I say quite frankly that it is demoralising a certain type of person. One realises how deep is the temptation under present housing conditions to get a lodging for one's family at any cost. I want the Minister to realise that this Act, if it is to be continued at all, needs grave 1016 reconsideration and amending at least in those two ways—power for the landlord to ask the tribunal to order interim payment of rent and, above all, that the tribunal should ask as the first question, "What circumstances have changed since you entered the contract?" If today I sign a contract to pay £5, what right have I to go to a tribunal tomorrow to say that I should pay £4? It is absolutely demoralising.
This country has been built up on the word of our citizens being good in this country and everywhere, but this is an encouragement to a man to sign something today and immediately to break his word. It is as bad as some of our marriage laws, and I hope the matter will be considered.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
If it is correct, as the hon. and learned Member says, that landlords are prepared to let their places to the highest bidder, would not the difficulty he is claiming on behalf of the landlord be ruled out, if a landlord asked a reasonable rent and gave the accommodation to the first applicant?
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir P. Spens
The landlord does ask a reasonable rent, and in order to get the flat the dishonest fellow offers something more in order to get it.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I know that a number of hon. Members wish to speak, but I have risen at this stage in the hope—I know it is not a very strong one—that the lawyers will shut up and let the lay fellows have a chance. Really, whenever the lawyers get on to a subject of this sort we get a lot of heat before the end of the day but not a lot of light.
The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), was a perfect illustration of the way in which it is possible to argue legal principle to the complete extinction of justice. He began with four abstract applicants for a house or lodgings going to an abstract landlord in an abstract situation. He then said that after they have discussed the matter one of the abstract applicants makes a contract with the abstract landlord, and immediately 1017 after the contract has been signed he tears it up and puts a case to the tribunal.
§ Sir P. Spens
The Minister talks about my being abstract. If he wishes to have particulars about the real case I will send them to him. Neither the case of the non-payment of rent nor the case of a man bribing the landlord to let him have his flat is abstract. Both are actual cases which have happened in the last six months.
§ Mr. Bevan
I was proposing myself to concretise the case. The concrete situation is that here are four people badly in need of accommodation, and one individual has the accommodation to let. The concrete circumstances are that the individual who has the accommodation to let has an enormous advantage over the other four, and is able to abstract from the person to whom he lets the accommodation an entirely unreasonable rent, because if it is not unreasonable the landlord will have nothing at all to fear when the other party to the contract goes to the tribunal. The only reason the landlord has a grievance is because he has charged more than he ought to have done. The grievance can only arise in that way.
I have the utmost respect for lawyers, and also an affection for some, but I have noted over and over again that they always spend a great deal of time, quite properly, in defending legal forms, which I fully agree are exceedingly important. If legal forms are too frivolously violated I admit at once that justice itself is often mutilated. I agree about that. I am not in any way trying to say that the judiciary ought to be shorn of any of its powers, because in the judiciary resides the instrument which by and large protects just relationships between members of the community.
But it must always be remembered that in certain circumstances one can use legal machinery which is so complicated, so expensive, that at the end of the whole process injustice is done. If there was the right of appeal from these rent tribunals to a superior court it is fairly obvious at once that people in humble circumstances would be deterred from going to the tribunal in the first place, and in any case individuals with the longest purse and able to command this complicated machinery would get the better end of the bargain.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
The right hon. Gentleman has completely forgotten the procedure of the Legal Aid and Advice Act, which was mentioned by his right hon. and learned Friend in an earlier debate today.
§ Mr. Bevan
But it applies to the High Court, and I hope that if Mrs. Evans applies to the rent tribunal that she ought not to pay 10s. per week or 35s. per week as the case may be, and the difference involved is 2s. 6d. or 5s., we shall not invoke the machinery of the High Court for the purpose of settling a matter of that kind. Each one of 40,000 cases might be made a subject of appeal. I never want to impute motives, but I am never sure whether in a case like this the lawyers are acting as a good strong trade union in the matter, or whether they are really concerned about protecting the interest of the people who are involved.
§ Mr. Bevan
Yes, but in this case the lawyers are protecting the lawyers, not the tenants. I was interested earlier in the proceedings, when my right hon. and learned Friend was in charge of the Bill which came from another place, to hear the encomiums which were poured on the Law Society. I was very moved. It is obviously a society of great distinction. As I was listening to this speech I was at the same time looking at a letter which has been circulated to all the solicitor Members of the House of Commons by the Law Society on this very matter. I also recollected that most of those who had been supporting the Amendment thought it was desirable that these people should all have a lawyer and that if a lawyer was there then there would be more legal light. That does not follow at all.
Here is the Law Society, in this letter, committing two cardinal errors of law. It says:It is noted that an Amendment"——I gather that this is a confidential document.
§ Sir W. Darling
The right hon. Gentleman said it was sent to all solicitors who were Members of the House.
§ Mr. S. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I would like to make it perfectly clear that my right hon. Friend is quite correct. For my part, I regard this Amendment as a bad one.
§ Mr. Bevan
I do not object. The Law Society is perfectly entitled to send circulars, and I understand that it is in quite frequent communication with the solicitors' group. I take no exception to that. What I take exception to is the Law Society misreading the law. The letter says:It is noted that an Amendment in the name of Mr. John Hay, M.P., has been set down at the Committee stage of the above Bill.The letter goes on to detail the Amendment, with which I need not weary the Committee.In those circumstances you may be interested to know what types of complaint have been made by members of the profession to the Law Society. Roughly speaking, these may be said to fall into the following three heads. Absence of a right of appeal even on a point of law.That is not correct. There have been 16 appeals. I agree they are limited to jurisdiction, but there is the right of appeal, and so that is wrong to start with. Then it says:Appeal against an award of a tribunal"——
§ Mr. Hay
I do not wish to take up what the right hon. Gentleman would regard as a niggling lawyer's point, but the whole point we have here is that there is no right of appeal, as such, on a point of law. All there is is what is inherent in the power of the King's court to step in and correct what they think, or what is represented to them to be, an injustice, by some lay body.
§ Mr. Bevan
There is more than that. It is not only an appeal court against the decisions of a tribunal on the ground that principles of justice have been violated, I must correct what I said earlier; there have been far more than 16 appeals. I meant 16 successful appeals. Only 16 successful appeals have been made to the courts. So that it is wrong there.
Then it goes on to make a most extraordinary statement about the method of election of members of the tribunals. It says:As the local authorities are responsible for the election …Really, the Law Society ought to get itself right. These tribunals are not elected by the local authorities. As a matter of fact, the charge made by the hon. and learned Member who moved this Amendment was that these are creatures of the Minister. They are appointed by the Minister. They are not appointed by the local authorities; and how the Law Society could have made this mistake I cannot understand at all. So, therefore, if the Law Society goes wrong in these serious matters on a thing which it obviously has studied, what guarantee have we that we would have legal light if we had a lawyer on every tribunal?
Of course, it does not necessarily follow that if we put a lawyer on a tribunal we get less light. That is the reason why there are lawyers on most of them; not always because they are lawyers, but because they are intelligent, influential, responsible and knowledgeable members of the community.
§ Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman know the difference between a temporary power cut and having no electricity laid on at all?
§ Mr. Bevan
What the tribunals are asked to consider, as my hon. Friend for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has already been pointing out, is not some legal matter on which lawyers can guide the tribunals—and, indeed, if a lawyer tried to do so he would have nothing to go upon. What the tribunals are trying to decide is what is a reasonable rent, having regard to all the circumstances that they know about; not merely the district but all the circumstances of the household and so on. Quite often these tribunals visit the premises—[HON. MEMBERS: 1021 "Always."] No, not always. It is not always necessary. But they frequently visit the premises to find out the circumstances, and therefore what they are really deciding is a matter of fact and not a matter of law.
It is not wrong that there should be no appeal against a decision on fact. There is no appeal against a county court decision, on a matter of fact, and so we are not violating the high traditions of British justice, or of the courts at all. All we have done is to evolve the kind of tribunal which is of easy and cheap access and to which the citizen in distress can appeal in order to get his distress remedied. That is all.
There would be some justification for this Debate if we had not discussed this before, if we had discovered some defect in the Act which had eluded our scrutiny when the Bill was going through its various stages. But it was argued hour after hour at the time. It is no new thing, and what experience of the administration of the Act has shown is that our judgment was correct and the judgment of the hon. Member was wrong. In point of fact, it is not only that these tribunals have arbitrated with a singular degree of satisfaction in dealing with cases, but the easy access to these tribunals has kept down rents. It is known what rents are being fixed by the tribunal; the landlord uses that as a guide, and therefore the number of cases is lessened enormously. So I would ask that hon. Members should not try to make too heavy weather of this.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has been good enough—because I do not always despise legal assistance—to furnish me with a very useful quotation. Reference was made to a case where it was alleged—and this is where I think the Lord Chief Justice got upset—that the principles of justice had been offended, that natural justice had been offended, but he did not find the charge substantiated. That is the decision he made. But when I ask myself what are the principles of natural justice I find it very difficult indeed to define them. It belongs to a 17th century conception of philosophy and not to a modern one at all:The words 'natural justice' occur in arguments and sometimes in judicial pronouncements in such cases.1022 Then, says this legal luminary:In so far as the term 'natural justice' means that a result or process should be just, it is a harmless though it may be a high-sounding expression; in so far as it attempts to reflect the old jus naturale it is a confused and unwarranted transfer into the ethical sphere of a term employed for other distinctions; and, in so far as it is resorted to for other purposes, it is vacuous.That is Lord Shaw. I am very much obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving me such formidable support for a conclusion which I had already reached in my own mind. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will not press the Amendments they have moved.
As I say, there is no other important point which has been raised in this Debate. I think I may carry the House with me if I add this: These tribunals are accumulating a vast amount of very valuable experience which we may be able to use later on. As hon. Members may perhaps recall, the Ridley Committee recommended that in the fixing of rents generally, tribunals of this sort should be composed. I attach the utmost importance to a study of the way in which they are behaving. I am not suggesting that they are all right. There is a great variation among them. But if I read my newspapers correctly, there is quite a considerable variation among judges. I would not say that most of the courts of Great Britain reach the same high stage of distinction. Some of them seem to me to fall rather badly now and again. But I do not say that the courts ought to be abolished, because one, now and again, passes a bad sentence. Neither is it proper that we should say that because some of these rent tribunals have given decisions that other people regard as questionable the whole machinery falls into disrepute.
What I do suggest is that they form a very valuable reservoir of experience upon which we may be able to call when we come to frame very much more far-reaching legislation concerning rents generally. These tribunals work exceedingly hard. Very often they do a thankless job. It is not an easy job which they do. I am extremely grateful for the work that they have done, and I call attention to the fact that I doubt very much whether there are many countries in the world which could cover a country like Great Britain so quickly, easily and smoothly with so many competent people as those who sit on these tribunals.
1023 Now that hon. Members opposite have ventilated their case, I hope that they will not press the Amendment. Before I finish, I must have my little dig at the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe). He opened what he hoped, I am sure, would be a non-controversial case with his usual dig at me. He said that I had said in 1945 or 1946—and he is right—that I hoped that by the end of 1947 these tribunals would be rendered unnecessary because of the provision of adequate housing accommodation. I certainly said that, and I have given the explanation on more than one occasion.
It is unfortunate for me that I had been in office for so short a time that I was still credulously accepting the statements made by the Opposition. In 1945, when I assumed office as Minister of Health, there was put in my hand a White Paper which my predecessor had placed before the House of Commons. The then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is here, and she can confirm it. I read this document with very great interest, and I learned from it that His Majesty's Government had advised the House of Commons and the nation that if they provided 750,000 houses of all kinds every family in Great Britain would have a separate dwelling.
Hon. Members have had this before; they are going to get it again. I get the same arguments over and over again, and It is just as well that the House should be reminded of this. This should be recorded. Let the Conservative Central Office send this out in one of their circulars. The figure of 750,000 was made up of temporary houses, new permanent houses and of re-occupied war damaged houses. Those were the three categories. The White Paper said that if we provided 750,000 houses, every family in Great Britain would have a separate dwelling. Here was I, a young and credulous Minister——
§ Mr. Marlowe
I have listened with interest to what the right hon. Gentleman has said on this point. May I take it that he is telling this House that, whatever his view of the courts is, he does not spurn the respectable matter of an alibi which Qo often occurs?
§ Mr. Bevan
It is no alibi. Here was the firm estimate made by the competent authorities of what was 1024 required. I said, "This is easy. We can do this." And we did that, as a matter of fact, by September, 1948. That is, and always has been, the explanation; but it is not the explanation which the Central Office of the Conservative Party give. No, that is not good enough. What happened was that, as a consequence of raising the standard of living of the community and putting all our people in work, we disclosed a housing need which had always been there. Therefore, it is still necessary to protect tenants against lack of accommodation so that landlords cannot extract from them extortionate rents. That is the reason for this provision.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
I am certain that this debate has been useful and interesting to all of us, if for nothing else than to hear the right hon. Gentleman describe himself as credulous. That is an admission which I should like to keep carefully recorded for future reference. I hope that the Committee will come back now, after the interesting disclosures which the right hon. Gentleman has made as to his past history when he first went to the Ministry, to the subject of the rent control of furnished houses.
I should like to make the point that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) and myself put this Amendment down, not to have the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act abolished, but simply to secure by normal Parliamentary procedure the opportunity of discussing the working of the Act. It has been pointed out by my hon. and learned Friend that this was an Act originally passed to meet what the Minister himself said was a temporary shortage. There is no doubt that immediately after the war there was a very great lack of housing accommodation of all kinds, and particularly of furnished accommodation. When he introduced the Bill which subsequently became the Act which is now under discussion, the Minister described it as… a kind of first aid treatment for the patient, who later, perhaps, will require a very much more radical cure… it will provide us with a great deal of valuable experience in the operation of rent tribunals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 1940.]That was the situation then, and it is obvious now, four and a half years after the Act was passed, that it is no longer 1025 to be considered as a purely emergency measure. The Government are now asking, by the passage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, that this Act shall be continued until March, 1951, by which time the Act will have been in operation not for the original two years which the right hon. Gentleman visualised, but for six.
Therefore, my hon. and learned Friend and myself—and I think I can speak for all on these benches—thought that this would be a good chance to discuss with the Minister and with the Committee, in as non-controversial a manner as we could, the working of this Act. Although none of us would deny that the Act has worked extremely well in the majority of cases, although none of us would deny that thousands of people have received great benefits and a great many rapacious money-grabbing people whom none of us would wish to countenance have been suppressed, none the less it is only right that the House of Commons should have the opportunity of considering whether or not a Statute which it has passed, and which it is now asked to make more or less permanent, is working well or not.
The remarks I want to make are directed to pointing out some ways in which I think this Act might be improved if it is to be a permanency, and it looks pretty much like it. Obviously I did not expect the Minister to say "Yes" or "No" to that. Whatever the housing shortage will be in a few years' time, we do not know; but if this Act is to be a permanency it is only right that Parliament should consider it from time to time. If any grave defects have appeared, we should remedy them by amending legislation.
I would say to the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), that the whole point was to suggest Amendments which we personally thought might be of use. It is from that point of view that I wish to address the Committee. The first question I wish to ask the Government is for how long they visualise that this Act will be in force? I appreciate that it may be difficult to say, but, as we are asked to continue it for a futher 18 months, we should have some idea of what they have in mind.
Now is the time to review the working of the Act and, to a certain extent, to amend it: and that is our object. We 1026 should, therefore, consider the working of the rent tribunals and of the Act itself. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the tribunals have dealt with a great number of cases. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, gave some figures which I am afraid I must dispute. My information is that there were 51,720 cases during the period from the commencement of the Act until March of this year. That is under the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act and ignoring the cases under the new Act passed last year.
§ Mr. Janner
The figures I gave were from a list which included details up to 30th September of this year. They were only the figures relating to first applications. There were more when one takes into account second applications.
§ Mr. Hay
The hon. Gentleman has the advantage of me. I have not got up-to-date figures. I have the ones up to April of this year. Whatever the position may be, the latest trend is that the number of applications to the tribunals is beginning to lessen. I think it is the case that, over the first three months of the year, the number worked out at 3,315, which, taken over the 80 rent tribunals, would give three per week per tribunal. That is the average.
I now want to address another question to the Minister on the subject of cost. I am not suggesting that we should be cheeseparing in this important work, but I ask the Minister this question. If the administration of this Act is going to cost us in the current year about £140,000, and in 1951–52 about £135,000, on the figures I have given, it would seem that the cost of this work to the community as a whole is about £10 per case.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Has the hon. Gentleman made any estimate of the effect on these costs that would be produced by establishing a central board of appeal?
§ Mr. Hay
I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow me to come to that point in due course and I will use it to clear up some of the misconceptions which hon. Members opposite may have. I have no estimate: I will say that at once.
I want to deal with the main point about the cost, which is whether something can be done to reduce unnecessary 1027 expenditure, because, if the number of cases is going to rise—and the evidence points that way—it is possible that some consolidation of areas might take place. In other words, where there are tribunals not getting very much work, it is possible——
§ Mr. Hay
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I have raised the point, and no doubt he will remember it.
What has been the result of the decisions of these tribunals? My figures cover the period only up to March, but as the hon. Member for Leicester. North-West, has said, the reduction of rent ordered by the Tribunal in 22,000 cases was about 30 per cent. These are the figures given by the Minister of Health earlier this year. That example shows that the policy of setting up rent tribunals to prevent extortionate rents to tenants has been broadly justified. It has done a great deal to stamp out rapacious and profiteering landlords, because there are a number of them, although I would remind the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite that not all landlords are of this type.
I was very sorry to hear the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, indicate his view that we on this side were concerned only with landlords, whereas he and his hon. Friends were more concerned with tenants. I may be misrepresenting him, but that was my impression of what he said. We ought not to take sides on that sort of matter I have asked the Government to remember that the vast majority of lessors are not of the rapacious and money-grabbing type. There have been reductions of rents in cases which I have personally known in which the reductions ordered by the tribunal made people actually run their business at a loss.
We all know that, since 1946, when the Act was placed upon the Statute Book, the prices of so many things have gone up, including the cost of furnishings, which has increased very seriously. Coal, gas and electricity have all gone up, as has the cost of cleaning. All these things have gone up, and the effect is that the new rents fixed by the tribunals in many cases leave nothing for the landlords themselves.
§ Mr. Hay
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman will deal with that point. My own point is that, whereas prices have gone up, rents are still pegged at the 1946 or 1947 level, and sooner or later that is going to create a problem which the Government do not seem to have foreseen.
In that direction some kind of amending legislation should be considered. There is a major defect in this Act, and amending legislation ought to give power to the tribunals, in proper cases where they are satisfied that injustice is being done, to raise the rent. I am not going to take that point to too great length, but I would say that if a rent tribunal has the power of increasing rents, where it is satisfied that grievous hardship had been caused, it would be a two-way system of justice and not one-way as it is now. Just as there are unfortunate and helpless tenants, so there are unfortunate and helpless landlords, who are tied by the tribunals to letting their furnished accommodation at rents which show no remuneration at all.
There are powers for tribunals to raise rents in certain cases where there has been a change of circumstances and they have power to make an addition to the rent, but it has been my personal experience that rent tribunals interpret a change of circumstances as meaning something in the nature of structural alterations to the building, repainting or something of that kind, and do not take account of changes in the cost of providing furnishings, and so on. Where that happens, there is undoubtedly hardship upon the landlord, and the consequence is that all over the country there is growing up a continual tendency on the part of potential landlords—people who would be prepared to offer furnished accommodation at reasonable charges, not extortionate rents—to be deterred from following that course because they are afraid of what may happen under the wording of the Act, for they know that they may put a person into the position in which he may go to a rent tribunal and get an almost permanent period of security.
On the general point, I think that something ought to be done to amend this Act 1029 by providing power for tribunals in proper cases to raise rents.
§ Mr. I. O. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman speaks about the right of the landlord to appeal to the rent tribunal and have a rent adjusted from his point of view. Provision is already made for that. I take it, and if that is so, his whole case falls to the ground.
§ Mr. Hay
The hon. Gentleman has not followed what I said. I said that there was provision whereby, where there was a change of circumstances, the tribunal had the power to raise the rent, but that it has been my personal experience that in these cases the rent tribunal very often will not bear those words in mind. I know that they are in the Statute and that the tribunal is expected to do so, but frequently when one attends a tribunal one finds that it pays little regard to changes of circumstances such as the decline in the value of money and the increased cost of furnishings, and it is very often the case that the tribunal will say "We are sorry, but that is not, in our opinion, a change of circumstances." There is no right of appeal on a point of law, and that means that the landlord cannot go to any other body and say that the tribunal was obviously wrong because it had neglected to carry out the very words of the Statute. I think that is a very strong point, and I will make further reference to it later.
That is the view which I have formed of the attitude which some tribunals have taken, and very often the general impression has got about that they exist for one purpose only—to reduce rents. The consequence of that is that many people are inclined to say, if they find that they cannot afford to pay a rent which they have been happy to pay until then, "I will go to the rent tribunal, and they will reduce it." I am sorry that is the situation, because it was not what Parliament intended and not what the Minister intended. When the Bill was going through the Standing Committee, the Minister said:This is rent-reducing legislation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 6th December, 1945; c. 1066.]The impression has got about generally that the tribunals exist for one purpose only, to reduce rents, whereas under the Statute they have the duty, either of 1030 maintaining the rent as originally agreed between the parties, or of reducing it, or of dismissing the reference altogether if they are satisfied that the rent is a fair one or is below what is considered to be fair.
There is a certain type of tenant, with whom we are all familiar, who is prepared to threaten the landlord with the power that he has of going to the tribunal, in order to demand all sorts of concessions. I speak from personal experience. I have halt a number of cases where lessors of premises have been put under discomfort and unhappiness because a particular tenant has been threatening them by saying, "Unless you do this, that or the other thing for me, and provide me with additional services which you never contracted to give, I will take you to the tribunal and have the rent reduced." That situation does not make for amicable relations inside a house, and it also grievously deters other potential lessors from letting.
I support my hon. and learned Friend's suggestion that there should be a right of appeal. I appreciate the Minister's point of view when he says, quite rightly, that these are informal proceedings, we do not want to run the risk of saddling people who come to the tribunals with the possibility of their being landed with a large bill of costs if the matter is taken to appeal. The right hon. Gentleman asked just now what other matters, apart from rent and the question of jurisdiction, can be discussed at an appeal. I would say that I am quite certain that there should not be an appeal against the rent itself, except where it was obviously a breach of all the canons of natural justice, to use the very words which the right hon. Gentleman quoted from an eminent Scotsman here—and this Act, of course does not apply to Scotland. If we had that, then I am certain that it would be a very bad thing.
But we must remember that there is the point of jurisdiction. Tribunals often exceed their jurisdiction. They may completely misinterpret the words of the Statute itself, and the result may involve great hardship to the various people who have the decision given against them because there is not the slightest ground of appeal except the power to go, under very strict and narrow limits, to the Divisional Court of the King's Bench and ask for 1031 one of the prerogative writs. If the tribunal exceeds its jurisdiction—and it is said that this has been done in 80 cases since the tribunals were set up—then the party against whom the decision has been given can go to the High Court and get a prerogative writ and bring up the proceedings for consideration.
May I remind the Committee of some of these cases'? There was the case which came from Hull, and I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will remember it because I think his Department had to pay the costs of it. In that case, the tenant had not asked for a reduction of his rent. All he had done was to say that he wanted a period of security. He was not interested in rent, but only in security. The tribunal, without allowing the landlord to call any evidence at all or to put up any case, said, "We will reduce this rent." When they were taken to the High Court they were told that they had exceeded their jurisdiction. [Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, who is a member of my own profession, appreciates the point I have in mind. We are saying that there should be a right given to people to go, not necessarily to the court, but to a central tribunal.
Then there was the case mentioned, I think, by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith)—the Park West case—where the local authority referred no fewer than 550 tenancies of a block of flats to the tribunal. These references were made to the tribunal completely regardless of the wishes of the tenants, the great majority of whom did not want their rents reduced, and in this case also the High Court said that the tribunal had exceeded its jurisdiction.
Again, there was the Walton Hotel case in which the Paddington rent tribunal went so far as to reduce the weekly charge for a hotel room with bed and breakfast. They ought never to have done that, and in this case also the High Court had to tell them so. Then there was the case in July this year where the Wanstead and Woodford rent tribunal was found by the High Court to have gone unlawfully on to a landlord's premises without any authority at all and ordered him to produce certain receipts at the tribunal hearing later that day. The court 1032 was very annoyed with the tribunal and subsequently an apology was issued.
Another case which I will mention shows that in many instances tribunals have strained to give themselves jurisdiction over properties where they were never intended to have jurisdiction. There was the case from Blackpool where the Lord Chief Justice, in reprimanding the members of the tribunal for what they had done, said:We venture to think it is not part of a tribunal's duty to endeavour to find, by giving a strained construction to ordinary language, a means of exercising their control over unfurnished lettings.That is one of the problems with which we have to deal, and that is why I should like to see amending legislation with, possibly, a right of appeal on strictly legal grounds on a point of law. If desired, there could be a central rent tribunal for the whole country, or, if preferred, one for a number of areas, or something of that sort, as is done in the case of tax and pension appeals. Then, I believe, we should run very little risk of tribunals exceeding their jurisdiction on points of law, and it would give security to the landlord or the tenant so placed. If the tribunal gave a wrong decision, the people concerned would know that they had some right of redress. At the moment, except by the very cumbersome proceedings of the Divisional Court, there is no way by which these decisions can be reviewed.
The present system has created considerable hardship and a great deal of dissatisfaction over the operation of the Act. The courts have been very careful not to lay down any rules for rent tribunals; they have said quite deliberately that that is the function of the right hon. Gentleman. He has, I believe, given certain directions, and he made great play a little while ago with a circular which the Law Society, I think quite properly, sent out to all Members of this House who are solicitors. That circular referred to the fact that certain secret circulars had gone out from the Ministry of Health to different rent tribunals telling them how they should carry on their work, and the sort of rules they should follow. That is the information I am given. I see the Parliamentary Secretary in his place, and if I am wrong he will no doubt correct me. If I am right, I hope he will say that no more secret circulars will be sent out.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)
The circular to which, the hon. Gentleman refers was sent out at the start of the operation of the Act. An apology was given at the time, together with an undertaking that there would be no repetition, nor has there been.
§ Mr. Hay
I am grateful, as I am sure the Committee will be, to hear that from the hon. Gentleman.
I want also to support what my hon. and learned Friend said about there being a legally qualified member of the tribunal. I know this always causes trouble, but I think there is less risk of mistakes being made if in the Statute it is clearly stated that one of the members of the tribunal should have legal qualifications. I should be very glad to know if the Minister has any exact figures and if he could assure us, for example, that one member of each tribunal was qualified.
§ Mr. Hay
I quite appreciate that. It is the point I was coming to immediately. If one had a legally qualified member of a tribunal there would be far less risk, to put it no higher, that one will not get the sort of behaviour that has taken place at some rent tribunals before which I have been, where no evidence is called, where there is no right of cross-examination, where every party is at liberty to make all sorts of statements, without the slightest justification or verification. There was a case, for example, where I appeared before a rent tribunal where my client, who was a tenant, not a landlord, gave evidence. The landlord was then allowed to comment on what the tenant had said in evidence—not to crossexamine—but make all sorts of unfounded allegations, which were not proved.
I believe a tribunal should act and operate in a judicial manner. I do not care how that is achieved, whether by having a legally qualified member or by right of appeal to a central tribunal. I think justice, in the classic words, should 1034 not only be done but be seen to be done, and that, unfortunately, is not what is happening in many of these tribunals.
Among other important points that I might add, I must say that I am concerned at the way some tribunals refuse to allow references to be withdrawn when made. That often happens. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies, I hope he will say that the Government will consider amending legislation to say that where both landlord and tenant sign their forms and put them into the tribunal, no withdrawal should be allowed except on terms which the tribunal is prepared to agree are just to both parties. Frequently, when the tenant puts in a form to the tribunal, and, subsequently, the landlord and tenant come to agreement as to the future rent to be charged, the tribunal refuse to allow it to be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Janner
It is to protect the tenant and, in certain cases the landlord, because increases are permitted as well.
§ Mr. Hay
That is the point which the right hon. Gentleman himself dealt with in earlier debates when the Bill was going through. My point is that if two parties, having come to some arrangement in law, then say they want to change it and, in the meantime one has applied to the rent tribunal, they should be entitled to go to the tribunal and say, "Please tear up that form because we have agreed on the rent." The right hon. Gentleman himself said that the Bill was to prevent people from going to the tribunal, because he said that by example we must try and make certain that rents are fair and reasonable and that the Government would be delighted if people did not have to go to the tribunals. That is not what is happening now. Tribunals are frequently straining, after jurisdiction, to give themselves a chance to try cases which neither party wishes to be tried at all.
§ Mr. I. O. Thomas
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that tribunals are actually canvassing for cases of discontent?
§ Mr. Hay
I think the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. I. O. Thomas) is rather misrepresenting what I said. I thought I had made it clear by the illustrations given. There is a sort of tendency 1035 for tribunals, once reference has been made to them, to exercise jurisdiction at once, and there is nothing the parties can do about it. If the hon. Member reads HANSARD tomorrow he will find from the examples I gave that that will be clearly understood.
Then there is a question of the informality of tribunals. This was a great point when the Bill went through the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman said, I think quite properly, that it is most important that we should have informality in these tribunals and should not make the rules too strict. I entirely agree. What has been the result? Their informality has often defeated its own ends. We have had all sorts of queer things done by these tribunals. I wonder whether the Committee has heard from time to time of the remarks of one chairman of a tribunal in London. The right hon. Gentleman has a wide and vast vocabulary, but I am sure this gentleman could easily beat him. Let me quote an example of what this gentleman said:I am unable to appreciate why hard-working people should be compelled … to serve as an instrument for the masochistic vulpine cupidity of nauseous gain.andThese zeugmatic owners in their zoot suits do not impress the tribunal.Here is another case—and the Attorney-General will appreciate the legal reference here. May I ask what a tenant would make of these expressions if they were put to him, as in fact they were put to one tenant when he said he had left some clothes behind in his lodgings:Good gracious! Then you were in manciplum… Your clothes are still hypothecated?That is the sort of language which was used. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] At Willesden. This is the sort of thing that sometimes happens, and something ought to be done to tighten up the tribunals themselves.
§ Mr. Hay
I am glad the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not agree with the ideas of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health as to the necessity of not having legally qualified members of the tribunal.
I come now to the question of the security of tenure. I approve entirely—and experience has shown it is necessary—the idea of giving tenants three months' security of tenure in addition to the reduction of the rent or its maintenance at the same level. Under the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949, that period of three months can be made entirely indefinite. The Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, allows an extension of three months, but, when that conies to an end, the tenant can now apply for further security of three months, and so on indefinitely. I am certain that Parliament as a whole never wanted that to happen, because the Minister of Health, on the Report stage of the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act said:It must be remembered that it is not desirable to give the tenant an indefinite security of tenure, because we must not try to tie together, in the same premises, two people who are fundamentally in disagreement with each other. Therefore, an indefinite security of tenure, or too long a security of tenure, would have a disastrous effect upon the provision of furnished lodgings. I think three months is reasonable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 40.]But as a result of last year's Act, it has become an indefinite period.
In "The People" of 17th July last year, the chairman of one London tribunal drew the attention of the public to the fact that there was this power to give almost permanent security. The article was headed, "This is your chance to catch the shark landlord—at last." He said:In brief, the new law means that you can NEVER be evicted from furnished rooms if you behave yourself.and the word "Never" was put in large capitals. He added:That protection in the past belonged only to the tenant of unfurnished rooms and houses, but now it covers almost every tenant.I would say about security that what is needed is that if the tenant wishes to get an additional period of security of more than three months, he should be able to secure it, but that the landlord also, in proper cases where the tribunal is satisfied, should have the power to go to 1037 the tribunal, or perhaps to the county court, to say, "It is time this period of security came to an end." I should like to hear that the Government are looking at that point.
I do not propose to detain the Committee any longer, and I apologise for having taken such a very long time, but I have been waiting to raise this subject ever since I came into the House. It is something of which I have a certain amount of personal experience. I urge upon the Government that this Act, admirable though it is, fine work though it has done, certainly needs some amendment, and I hope the Government will introduce it.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I hasten to assure the Committee that I shall not seek to emulate the length of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), for the very good and sufficient reason that I am quite confident that I could not succeed in emulating its quality, which, as the Committee will agree, was of a very high order indeed. He has covered the range of the problems associated with this Act and has given a most careful and detailed analysis which I hope will be studied with the attention that it deserves by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health and the right hon. and learned Attorney-General.
I did not intend to say anything this evening, but a debate in which both the Minister of Health and the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), participate is a debate in which it is difficult to resist the temptation to join. It so happens that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, are here, but both of them anticipated that I might succumb to this temptation and, with their characteristic courtesy, informed me that they had temporarily to withdraw, for the purposes of refreshment or other reasons, from the proceedings of the Committee—the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, by speech and the right hon. Gentleman by mime. I listened with interest when the right hon. Gentleman said that he regarded lawyers with respect, and some of them with affection. While, after 20 years or more, I still cherish the hope that I might occupy a place, however small, in his affection. I have never been able to persuade myself for a single 1038 moment that he has any respect for the calling of which I am a humble practitioner.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Henley I have some—not a great deal—professional experience of this Act. I hasten to say that in my view the experience which comes to a man in his profession of the law is experience which he must treat with some discrimination when he is studying the general effect of legislation such as this, because, in the nature of things, the matters which come one's way tend to be the exceptional matters. There is always the danger for the lawyer of assuming that what is really exceptional is, in fact, normal. I always try to guard against that tendency.
Might I also say this, as a lawyer: I believe it to be a fact that most of these rent tribunals have legally qualified chairmen and, with great respect, I do not know that that of itself is as important as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) suggested. I rather agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said, that it is the following of the right procedure in these matters rather than the legal qualification of the chairman which is a guarantee of the interests of justice being served. A good many of these cases to which my hon. Friend referred, where tribunals have exceeded their jurisdiction, were, of course, cases where there were legally qualified chairmen, and I am bound to say that the legally qualified chairmen seem to vary a good deal as to their merit. Perhaps when the procedure is being overhauled some regard could be paid to that point.
In my view, it is almost more important, at any rate for what might be called the larger cases, to make some provision, not necessarily statutory, for a member to have some sort of experience of surveying or valuing, because that is the want which is felt very keenly in the larger cases which come before the rent tribunals. When this Act originally passed through the House it was visualised that it would cater mainly for the small case of furnished lodgings, as we generally understand the term, and I should like to say that, in my view, it is clear that some such legislation as this is necessary as part of the general machinery of rent control so long as the housing shortage continues. There is no doubt about that on any side of the House.
1039 It is right, however, that the longer it continues the more we should try to get the procedure right. To do this it is necessary, first of all, to overhaul the composition and procedure of the tribunals in order to get justice done; and secondly, it is essential to get some machinery for appeal. It is quite true that this machinery of appeal would not be required and would not be used in the great majority of cases, but there is no doubt at all that many matters are tried under the jurisdiction of these rent tribunals in which there certainly should be an appeal in order that the judgment of the rent tribunal may be called in review, just as is the judgment of High Court judges in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong when he refers to motions of certiorari as appeals. They are not appeals in the ordinary sense of the word. They apply only in the case of excess of jurisdiction or where the award is bad on the face of it. As to the award being bad on the face of it, since it is the practice of most tribunals not to make what in law is called a "speaking order," that is to say not to give any reasons for decisions, a motion to quash their judgment will not lie on that ground. It is true to say, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove said in opening the Debate, that it lies only where there is an excess of jurisdiction on the part of the rent tribunal, and nobody with any knowledge of these matters or with a fair-minded approach to them could possibly construe that very limited right as a right of appeal. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General would not seek to do so.
The Committee has to ask itself in this connection this question: if this procedure is to continue, as appears to be likely, a good deal longer than was thought in 1946, then a time must come when the Committee will reach a decision as to whether it is right that there should be a right of going to the High Court on the question of jurisdiction only. In my view, there are many cases in which the right of appeal ought to lie, and, if it had existed, would have been exercised to the advantage of the parties and the doing of justice.
It is quite wrong to suppose that all the cases which come before rent tribunals 1040 are small cases. Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley to the Park West case where there was a purported mass reference, which was bad in law, by a borough council of the whole of the flats in a particular block, numbering over 500, although the tenants themselves were perfectly satisfied with their rents. That was a remarkable case, made not the less remarkable by the fact that the tribunal in that case took into account, in coming to their decision, matters which had not been put before them by either side at the hearing. With very great respect to the right hon. and learned Attorney-General, the court on that occasion took into account the violation of natural justice.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I appreciate that the right hon. and learned Gentleman left that case to his right hon. and learned Friend, which was perhaps a prudent act, but——
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. and learned Member for Hove—I apologise to Brighton—raised the question of the Brighton case and said that in that case there had been want of natural justice. I merely pointed out that the court had come to the opposite conclusion.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I appreciate that his observation was directed to the Brighton case; I think it is the Marine Rock case, or something like that. I quite appreciate that the Attorney-General's observations were directed to that case, but he also supplied his right hon. Friend with, what he will forgive me calling, his "favourite" quotation in regard to natural justice, which he has used with great effect in the House and in Standing Committee before. I merely wanted to say that in the other case to which reference has been made, the consideration that the tribunal had taken into account matters which had not been before it at its hearing, and with which the parties had consequently had no chance to deal, was held to be a violation of natural justice in accordance with the 1041 principle in the House of Lords case, the Board of Education v. Rice. It is not quite right to say that the doctrine of natural justice is as flyblown as the Attorney-General would sometimes like to give the House to understand.
In my view, it is right that there should be an overhaul of the procedure of these tribunals, and that there should be a right of appeal. These two things, so far from detracting from the object of the Act, will do much to reinforce it. The object of the Act is not to reduce rents, but to get rents fairly assessed. I quite appreciate that in many cases the assessing of a fair rent has involved a reduction in the existing rent, and it would be remarkable if that were not so at a time of housing shortage, human nature being what it is. The object is to get a reasonable rent assessed as between the parties. In order that this should be done, it is necessary to have the best procedure that we can devise, and to try to leave the impression with both parties, and with the public generally, that these matters though dealt with as informally as possible, in the sense that the parties are not weighed down by difficulties of procedure and the like, nevertheless follow a reasonable pattern in accordance with judicial practice.
The emphasis tonight has been on the word "legal." I would prefer to put the emphasis on "judicial," which, after all, only means fair, open-minded and reasonable. These are the methods by which the procedure can be improved, and as it looks as if we shall have this Act for some years, I hope that consideration can be given to them to make the machinery of rent control better in this respect.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this be the Schedule to the Bill."
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
I desire to ask a few questions in regard to Scotland. I approach this matter with considerable timidity, because I am not learned in the law. However, this is a matter which greatly affects households in Scotland. I am referring to the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, 1946. The minor question I wish to ask, in connection with the renewal of this Act for a further year, is this: Since when has this law been valid, and for how long was the last renewal? I have tried to find 1042 out the answer to this question and I have had the kind assistance of a learned gentleman. He thought the answer would cause no bother at all, but he found it extremely difficult to find. The amending Acts of 1946 and 1949 contained 382 and 18 Sections, respectively. It is thus a little difficult to unravel the problem.
The original Act was to expire at six months from the date when the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, ceased to be in force. That Act was amended by the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, 1946, which was due to come to an end at 31st December. 1947. It is difficult to link that up with a date 31st March, 1951, when this Act will expire unless renewed, and if the Joint Under-Secretary of State can help us in the matter, it will be of great assistance.
The main point I want to deal with is the question of how far this Act covers Scotland. The Act differs from the English Act in that it is permissive. The Secretary of State "may" set up a tribunalon representation by or after consultation with the council of any county or burgh.I gather from the fact that the estimated expenditure involved is only £1,600 a year, compared with £135,000 in the case of England and Wales, that the rent tribunals are operating on a very small scale in Scotland, in spite of the fact that conditions are very similar in Scotland, where we have tenants in occupation of houses rent restricted or subsidised who, in turn, are letting part of their houses furnished at very high rents.
There is undoubtedly a case for setting up some machinery for review, and I wish to ask the Joint Under-Secretary what representations, if any, she has had recently for the necessity of such tribunals, and in what areas they are to be found. Also, is it intended to introduce something which will be permanent in character, and, if so, would it be universal, or shall we simply go on from year to year until the need for this Act has gone?
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Miss Herbison)
Section 10 of the original Act of 1943 made provision for the continuance in force of the Act until six month,' from the date when the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, ceased to be in force. Section 2 of the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, 1946, continued that until 31st 1043 December, 1947. Since 1947, the Act has been continued by the same method that we are now seeking to adopt.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
Can the hon. Lady explain why it is to be continued for 15 months, instead of 12 months as in the other cases?
§ Miss Herbison
I want to make perfectly sure of that point. Some of these Acts are being continued from December to December, and others from March to March. It all depends on when the original Act came into operation, and this Act is dated from December to December.
The hon. Member suggested that because the amount of money being spent in Scotland on these tribunals is so small, in comparison with the amount being spent in England and Wales, we are not having sufficient tribunals in Scotland. I would point out that there are other reasons for the money for Scotland being smaller in proportion to the amount for England. We have had this provision since 1943, whereas the provision in the case of England and Wales dates only from 1946. Because of that, we find there are not so many cases coming forward in Scotland as there were when this came into force in 1943. That is one important reason why the amount of money that is being spent is now in proportion much smaller than in England and Wales.
Wherever it has been proved that there has been need for a tribunal to deal with these rents in Scotland, that tribunal has been set up. I have no information at all to suggest that anywhere in Scotland any individual is prevented from placing his case before a tribunal and having it considered. If the hon. Member has any information which he can give me on that, then I am certain my right hon. Friend will be only too willing to see that steps are taken to give the benefits of this Act to everyone in Scotland who needs it.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.