HC Deb 22 February 1951 vol 484 cc1506-10

(1) If at any time after the date of expiry—

  1. (a) an assignment by the tenant takes effect (whether in law or in equity), being an assignment affecting the whole or any part of the living accommodation comprised in a tenancy continued by section one of this Act, or
  2. (b) every part of such accommodation is either subject to a sub-tenancy created (whether immediately or derivatively and whether before or after the date of expiry) out of the tenancy or occupied by a person holding over after the coming to an end of such a sub-tenancy,
the landlord may by notice given at or after that time determine the tenancy on such date, not being earlier than the expiration of one month from the giving of the notice, as may be specified therein.

(2) The last foregoing subsection shall apply to tenancies continued by section two of this Act, but with the substitution for references to the date of expiry of references to the commencement of this Act.—[The Solicitor-General.]

Brought up, and read the First Time.

5.45 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second Time."

This Clause is designed specifically to meet an objection voiced earlier to the effect that it was not right that a tenant who was granted an extended tenancy under the terms of Part I of the Bill should be enabled to turn that circumstance to his advantage by assigning or sub-letting. The new Clause has the following effect. If there is an assignment of the whole or part of the living accommodation of the premises in question, or if there is a sub-letting of the whole of the living accommodation, then the landlord can give notice terminating the tenancy.

I think that meets the major argument which was advanced in this respect. Of necessity, the Clause has to be somewhat complicated in its drafting, and the Committee may have noted that the assignment relates to the assignment of the whole or any part of the living accommodation whereas the sub-tenancy relates only to the whole. there are technical reasons for that distinction between the whole or part in the case of an assignment and the whole only in the case of a sub-tenancy. Perhaps the Committee would accept it from me that our object in making that distinction was to prevent a very easy way of evasion and at the same time to make it possible for a tenant to sub-let a part of the premises in question, himself residing in the other part, which, having regard to the present housing shortage, we thought it was right he should be able to do. With that explanation, I hope the Committee will accept the Clause.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

By tabling this New Clause the right hon. and learned Gentleman has obviously made an effort to meet the objections, so strongly and persuasively advanced from this side of the Committee, to the Bill in its original form.

Mr. Janner

Why waste time?

Mr. Manningham-Buller

We are not wasting time by discussing a new Clause which has appeared on the Order Paper for the first time.

Mr. Janner

Why waste more time?

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I was thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the efforts he has made. Apparently the hon. Member thinks that that is a waste of time.

Mr. Janner


Mr. Manningham-Buller

I cannot give way. We want to get on. The hon. Gentleman can follow me afterwards if he wants to comment on the subject. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about the technical difficulties connected with the disparity between paragraph (a) and paragraph (b). I quite see the need for making it an assignment of the whole or of part, and that part of the Clause seems to me to be entirely satisfactory.

I am a little puzzled about paragraph (b). As it now stands it seems to me that it leaves the door open to a good deal of exploitation on the part of the tenant. As I understand it, the tenancy will not be determinable if the tenant retains one bedroom in the living accommodation for himself or for a member of his family, and lets out the rest of the premises into separate accommodation to a number of sub-tenants, to whom he will be able, presumably, to charge what rent he likes. I think I am right in saying—I am not sure—that the first letting, the breaking up as we envisage it in the new Clause, would not be under the Rent Restriction Acts. I do not think it would, but it does seem rather odd that a tenant should be given the right under paragraph (b) of letting off to a number of sub-tenants, at a, perhaps, largely increased rent when, if he sub-lets the whole of the living accommodation, his lease can be determined.

I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to apply his mind to that. I do not think the point is met by saying, "We have done this to facilitate the provision of housing accommodation." We have also to consider the position of the subtenants, and I am not sure whether it would not be better—I am not expressing any view upon this, but I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider it—to provide that where there is a sub-letting within the period this Bill operates of any part of the living accommodation the sub-tenant may become the direct tenant of the landlord, rather than that we should preserve the position as it is now put in this new Clause. I should be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could expand his explanation of paragraph (b) a little further, because, while I welcome the new Clause in principle, it does seem to me, following what he has said, to have a little defect in that part of it.

The Solicitor-General

What we were anxious to provide was that a tenant with a prolonged tenancy should not be liable to lose his tenancy if he sub-let part but lived in the rest himself. We took that view because we thought that present-day circumstances did make it desirable in the public interest that a tenant who had available room to let should be able to let it, so long as he himself retained part of it. Of course, it is perfectly possible that any tenant may exploit his subtenants, just as any landlord may exploit his tenants, but not every landlord does, nor every tenant does; but I am simply saying so far as the tenant of a prolonged tenancy is concerned, that he is in exactly the same position as any other tenant of a tenancy which is not prolonged, and that he is in neither a better nor a worse position to exploit persons who may become sub-tenants of his. That is the answer I give to that particular suggestion.

But we think that the public interest does require that we should not prevent a person who has his tenancy extended for two years from sub-letting part of it if he can accommodate himself in less than the whole amount of the accommodation within the particular dwelling unit. If the question is asked, why, in those circumstances, we provided that assignment of part gives rise to a notice to terminate, I answer that that was to avoid what would be otherwise an easy means of evasion; because a tenant may sub-let part and assign part, and, at the same time, not render himself liable to have a notice served on him by his landlord for so doing; and that would put it in the power of the tenant to do exactly what hon. Members opposite do not want it to be possible for him to do; and it is for that reason that the new Clause appears in its present form.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I do hope that the Solicitor-General will give a little further thought to this point. In this Bill it is proposed artificially to extend the duration of the lease. The original purpose of this was to safeguard the position of the tenant. I think that my hon. and learned Friend has raised a point of some substance when he points out that, as a result of the extension of the tenancy which is given under this Bill, in order to ensure that the tenant shall not be turned out of the house she has been occupying so long, it is quite essential that there should be some safeguard against that concession being used as a ground for profiteering on the part of the tenant.

I would put this further point to the learned Solicitor-General, that it may very well be that under the original lease the tenant would have forfeited his rights if he had sub-let. If I am right in my understanding of the Bill he will be protected against forfeiting his rights during the period of extension even if he does commit a breach of one of the conditions that have applied. When this protection is given—protection against forfeiture of his lease for breaking this condition—it appears to me that the Government really should try to make certain that this new Clause will not lead to what I am sure they as well as hon. Members on this side of the House would regard as an abuse of the purpose for which this Bill was introduced.

I gladly express gratitude to the learned Solicitor-General for having tried to meet the point that was raised before, but I do hope that he will give a little further thought to this to see whether the drafting of this new Clause does not go a good deal wider than what was in his mind.

Mr. Black (Wimbledon)

I wonder if the learned Solicitor-General would help us over one point that arises from the explanation which he gave to the Committee, I think it would be helpful to some hon. Members if he would answer this question. If I followed him aright, he referred to the possibility of an assignment of part of the premises. I am not quite certain whether I heard and understood him correctly on that point, but is it possible for part of the premises to be assigned?

The Solicitor-General

It may be inappropriate but possible.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.