HC Deb 31 January 1951 vol 483 cc905-36

Amendment moved [30th January], in page 1, line 18, at end, to add: (2) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to any premises to which Part II of this Act applies.—[Mr. Manninghain-Buller.]

3.36 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)

Just before the Committee rose yesterday I moved this Amendment which is designed to clarify the operation of the Bill. I think it will be agreed that the first part of the Bill is meant to apply solely to dwelling-houses, although the expression "dwelling-house" appears nowhere either in Clause 1 or Clause 2. Part II of the Bill is primarily designed to apply to shops, but under Clause 8 where a shop is let with living accommodation, whether the living accommodation be above the shop or quite separate from the shop, Part II would appear to apply.

It therefore seems to follow that a dwelling-house could come under either Part I or Part II, and there is no provision in the Bill as yet to provide that where a dwelling-house is let with separate lock-up shop Part II shall apply in preference to Part I, or Part I in preference to Part II. If the Bill is left in its present form it will mean that where a dwelling-house is let with a separate lockup shop there is considerable doubt whether Part I does or does not apply to that dwelling-house. Under Part I there is an automatic extension for two years. Under Part II there is an extension for a year at a time.

I think it is desirable that, so far as possible, in this very bad Bill we should eliminate grounds for litigation and eliminate uncertainty, and make everything as clear and as simple as possible. I think it is the intention of the Government to provide that Part II shall apply to the exclusion of Part I in cases where a dwelling-house is let with a shop. I think that is the intention of Clause 8. If that is the intention of Clause 8 and of Part II of the Bill, it is very desirable to make it clear that to that kind of tenancy Clause 1 does not apply.

The object of this Amendment, therefore, which is tabled for clarification, is solely to remove doubt, although it might be described by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale), if he were in his place, as a wrecking Amendment. It seeks to ensure that it is clear to those who have to rely upon this Bill that where a shop is let with a dwelling-house, whether the living accommodation be on top of the shop or be separate from a lock-up shop, then Part II of the Bill applies and not Part I.

The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)

I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) for the way in which he has elucidated the purpose and meaning of his Amendment. I do not want to give an answer straightaway to all the criticisms he made, for I should like an opportunity of considering the matter before the Report stage. If, in view of the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman, we think that any Amendment is called for, we shall put one down. If we do not put one down I shall write to the hon. and learned Gentleman before the Report stage is reached and then, if he is still of the same opinion, he will have an opportunity of putting an Amendment on the Paper.

We do not think that the difficulties to which he has alluded today—I think others were mentioned yesterday—will arise in practice. The extreme case which was put yesterday was that of a man who bought the fag end of a lease of the Albert Hall and put a camp bed in the Hall. The question was whether that would be a case of living in a dwelling. I do not think the court would have very great difficulty in that case, but it was one of the extreme examples which was given in order to reduce the proposition to an absurdity.

The points put by the hon. and learned Gentleman today are more significant but, as far as I can understand the matter, from listening to what he said, it seems to me that the case where there was a dwelling-house and a shop involved in the same premises—

Mr. Manningham-Buller

And the same tenancy.

The Attorney-General

Where there was a dwelling-house and a shop held under the same tenancy, that case would come within the operation of Part I of the Bill, by which the tenancy would be automatically continued.

Mr. Manningham-Buller


The Attorney-General

Where the dwelling-house is occupied by the same tenant as the shop, the tenancy is automatically continued; the tenancy is a single one and we could not have an application for a renewal of part of it and an automatic renewal of the remainder. If it is a tenancy of premises in which a person is living, then the whole of the tenancy is continued under Part I. It is not a new tenancy created, but the existing tenancy is continued for a further two years. It is, however, perhaps profitless to discuss the matter at length now, for I have undertaken that I shall look into the position to see whether it is necessary to clarify it still further.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for saying that he will at least consider this Amendment. This is a little progress on the announcement which he made at the beginning of our Committee stage yesterday, and I therefore welcome it; but I must say that I was more than surprised by the observations which he made in reply to my comments, as I think he will be when he comes to give the matter further consideration. In view of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, I do not want to prolong this debate, but I want to draw his attention to the fact that what he has said has made it clear beyond doubt that there is a complete overlap between Part I and Part II. If we look at Part II, Clause 8 (2) we see: This section applies to a tenancy the subject of which—

  1. (a) consists of a shop, or
  2. (b) consists of a shop and of living accommodation occupied wholly or mainly by the tenant or by a person who is employed by the tenant …, or
  3. (c) includes a separate part which consists of a shop."
I think the Government have tabled an Amendment in relation to that.

Where we have a dwelling-house let under a tenancy which includes a separate part, which consists of a shop, then obviously Part II will apply to that dwelling-house and shop and then, under the remainder of Part II, there can be an extension of that tenancy covering both classes of property. It is clear that under the Bill as it stands Part II will apply to that case.

Yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, in answer to me, that it is equally clear that Part I will apply to the dwelling-house where the dwelling-house is let with a shop. That is just the difficulty we are seeking to avoid because we say, and I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree, that if it is left in doubt as to whether it comes under Part I or Part II or indeed if the dwelling-house let with a shop comes under both parts of the Bill, then that will give rise to a considerable amount of friction, controversy, dispute and possibly employment of lawyers.

Mr. Gibson (Clapham)

They will not mind.

The Attorney-General

I do not want to prolong this matter, but it is really much simpler than the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to think. Under Part I. if the occupier of premises, which are in part a dwelling-house and in part a shop, is a ground lessee, then this tenancy does not terminate but is continued automatically for the period of two years, and in that case the tenant comes under Part I. If, on the other hand, he is not a ground lessee, he will qualify to come under Part II, if and only if his tenancy expires. He will come under either one or the other; he cannot come under both. If he is a ground lessee he has the more satisfactory result of coming under Part I without any necessity of application to the court, having his tenancy extended for a further two years. If he is not a ground lessee, his tenancy will not automatically be extended but will come to an end; and when it comes to an end, and because it comes to an end, he will have it renewed by application to the court. I think it is really quite all right.

Mr. Higgs (Bromsgrove)

I am not quite sure that it is so simple as the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have us believe. When he refers to a ground lessee under Part I he means of course, a tenant who has had a lease of 21 years or more. The dividing line would seem to be, therefore, that if one has just finished a 21-year lease one is bound to come under Part I, and, of course, Part I is automatic. If one has had a lease of less than 21 years one is under Part II and, therefore, would have to go to the courts. The only point which occurs to me at once is that somebody who is just finishing a 25-year lease may feel that his remedy under Part II would be very much more advantageous to him. He may get very much better conditions out of the county court than the two years which the Bill would give him.

The Attorney-General

Perhaps I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He is under a misapprehension. The man cannot get more than one year's extension at the first application and he cannot make more than two applications, so that the maximum he can possibly get is an extension of two years—and perhaps at an increased rent. The position under Part II is very much less favourable than that under Part I. I do not think it is very profitable to discuss the matter further, however, in view of the undertaking I have given that I shall write to the hon. and learned Gentleman in order that the matter may be cleared up. I hope he will reconsider the matter in the light of what I have said.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

In view of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, it would be a good thing if no further discussion took place on the Amendment now. I shall await his letter with interest and I hope that, if necessary, the required clarification will be made. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, Withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I want to raise two points with regard to this Clause that I hope the learned Attorney-General will consider between now and the Report stage. The first is, I think, a very important point which ought to be put right. The term which is used in the Clause, … a tenancy … for a term of years certain, being a term exceeding twenty-one years. … is a little difficult, and will create hardships in the event of a person's having had a longer lease which expires, and who, not having left the premises, has been granted a lease for a shorter period less than 21 years. He will be deprived of the remedy which I am quite certain it is intended to give him.

Let me give the illustration of a case which has been brought to my notice. I think it illustrates the position very clearly. I have a letter which says: It is a question whether this Clause protects landlords who have already, on the expiry of their long lease of 21 or more years, been forced by the ground landlord to accept a short lease or a shorter lease of seven years on the exorbitant terms and conditions laid down by the said landlords, or most of them. I may give you one instance only of many I have knowledge of in London and in Wales. In this case the landlord is a widow. This may interest our friends on the other side of the Committee.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

Why exactly?

Mr. Janner

Because they concentrate on the injustice to be done to the poor widow. The letter goes on: … a widow who still resides in the house for which she paid £1,500 for the 23 years unexpired that was unexpired of the 99 years' lease at a ground rent of £9 a year. She also spent over £1,000 to make the house habitable early this year. To avoid eviction solely she accepted an enforced short lease of seven years to date from the expiry of the 99 years' lease on 25th December, 1949. She has also to pay £125 rent a year plus all rates on top of other exorbitant terms and conditions. At this moment she is spending over £800 in repairs and redecorations inside and outside the house. Similarly"— and this is what happens if there is no protection— she is committed under this short lease to spend another £300 or so in three years' time and a further £300 or so in six years of the seven years' lease. Thus in the seven years she will have incurred a total expenditure of £2,275 under duress of the ground landlord or he turned out without any place to go to. That is more or less the fate of countless thousands, as you know better than I. It is highly important that we should know whether, in a case of that description, where a landlord has power over his tenant on the termination of a lease, be is going to be prevented from exercising that power in the manner that has been indicated in this particular case. I hope that we shall have either an explanation of that term used in the clause, or that we shall have an Amendment.

The other point I want to make is this. It is very interesting to hear today the confirmation of the point that we are not dealing with ground leases. Of course, we are not dealing with ground leases. We are dealing with long leases, and I should like to ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether he would be good enough to tell us whether there is a definition of the term "long lease" anywhere, other than what we are going to decide upon today or in the next few days, and whether he will consider whether a lease of 21 years and a day is a long lease while a lease of 21 years is a short one. Because it is rather material in this Bill to know that, in consequence of the fact that there are a large number of people who hold leases for 21 years and ought to be protected.

I cannot for the life of me see that a lease of 21 years and a day should be a long lease while a lease of 21 years and, say, a minute should immediately become a short lease. It is a little bit far fetched, and I hope that we shall be told that the term "long lease" really means what it says, and that it is something in the neighbourhood of 21 years and over.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), in the point he has just been making, except to say that it seems to me that if the lady to whom he was referring paid £1,500 for an unexpired term of 23 years she knew exactly what she was at if she was properly advised, and knew what she was contracting to buy. If she has now to pay a rental of £125 a year, that does not compare unfavourably with the rental which she was previously paying. That was a bargain which she entered into willingly. In those circumstances, personally I do not see that there is any reason why a law should be brought in of general application. It may well he that the reversioner in that case is worse off than the lady who has been the tenant. I submit that that is a totally different case from that of a person who has been a ground lessee at a ground rent for many years and has not purchased the unexpired residue of a lease.

I agree that we do look at these things from a different point of view. I think it is quite clear from what happened yesterday that the point of view of hon. Members on the other side of the Committee is that of looking at the matter purely as a question of votes—and I quite agree that they will be in great need of all the votes that they can get before very long. But the important matter is to do justice between the parties and to preserve a balance.

In view of the misrepresentation of our attitude, which has already taken place in the Committee, I do just want to consider for a moment Clause 1 as it has now emerged. It is put forward as an essential part of a standstill arrangement. The hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) gave his opinion of the description of it as part of a standstill arrangement. He said, after dealing with the complications of the Clause: It is a misuse of the English language to say that this is a standstill Measure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January. 1951; Vol. 483, c. 755.] So we start off with what is described as a standstill arrangement by the Government being described in those terms by one of their own supporters.

Then, as it is supposed to regulate for two years the relations between landlords and tenants, one would have thought it should have been comprehensible. What did the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale) say about Clause 1? The actual words he used, I noticed, were not fully reported in HANSARD. He described it as a "curiously un-understandable concatenation of words." The words "curiously un-understandable" do not appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Are the Government actually suggesting that it is a good thing to bring in a curiously un-understandable concatenation of words to regulate these very numerous relationships between landlords and tenants?

4.0 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) has put forward the point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to today about the possibility of misunderstanding arising from the use of the word "living" not "residing," and how it would be possible for a person with a long business lease to bring himself within the provisions of this very curious, un-understandable concatenation of words.

Our case, without repeating any of the arguments used yesterday, is that this Clause will protect the speculators in the tail ends of leases. It will protect a man of straw who has been put in to avoid liability under a repairing covenant and to reap a rich reward of rack rents from sub-tenants. It will also benefit the individual tenant who is obstructing development and is able to exact a large price before permitting a scheme of development to go forward. It will protect a person who will seek to do what my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove referred to yesterday. Its obscurity will certainly be an advantage to the legal profession.

Apart from those arguments, the main argument against Clause 1 is that it will do nothing to help landlords and tenants to come to terms with one another. By our alternative proposal, not only did we give protection to those people who we have admitted need protection under the special circumstances of today, but by giving to the tenant this right to a rent restricted tenancy we also supplied a very substantial inducement to the parties to come to terms.

What I should have thought everybody on both sides wanted was that these long leases should be renewed upon reasonable terms. If a landlord knows his tenant has the right to a rent-restricted tenancy, that is very much greater incentive to him to come to reasonable terms. It is common ground that in most cases landlords come to reasonable terms. It is to deal with the exceptional bad case that action is necessary. It is because this Bill and this Clause do nothing to help the parties to come together that I think it is very bad in principle quite apart from it being very obscure in its wording.

Mr. Gibson

Before we part with this Clause there is one point I should like to call to the attention of the Government. Incidentally, I support this Clause, not because I think it will necessarily bring me more votes but because I think it will induce a greater sense of justice in the minds of a large number of people. To my mind, it is not sufficient to take the Shylock attitude that because a contract has been entered into it ought to be carried out to the last drop of blood. If necessary to natural and human justice it ought to be altered, and because of that I think this Clause is good and I shall support it.

Yesterday we heard a great deal about the fag ends of leases, and I want to call the attention of the Government to the speculating that is going on nowadays in connection with the fag end of leases. There are also many local authorities who, in their public duty, have obtained compulsory purchase orders for land on which they are building, but although they have served notice to treat they have not, for various reasons, yet been able to complete the whole of the purchase and will not therefore be owners of the actual tenancy, although they may sometimes be owners of the land. In such a case the sitting tenant has the right, as I understand it, to stay on for two years, or—and this is what I am most afraid of—the existing circumstances enable blackmailing compensation to be claimed from the local authorities who have obtained the compulsory order. I ask the Government to look at that between now and later stages of the Bill in order to try to cover that point.

My own local authority is very concerned about this, because owing to it being a Socialist local authority it has been extremely busy since the end of the war in getting through a large number of compulsory purchase orders in and around London. It would be unfair that the rate-payers of London should be mulcted of heavy compensation because something happens under this Bill as a result of the exploitation of these fag ends of lease by completely unscrupulous people. I ask the Government to give an undertaking to look into that between now and the later stages of the Bill.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the same principle should also apply in the case of a well managed private estate?

Mr. Gibson

Yes, if they were involved in the same circumstances to which I have referred.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)

The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) has just undermined a large part of the case for this Bill which has been made on the other side of the Committee. He has put forward a perfectly genuine point on behalf of local authorities. He and his colleagues have apparently never until this moment grasped that exactly the same point can be put forward on behalf of every ground landlord who has a sense of responsibility. So much of the case to which we have been listening has been based on the twin assumptions that all ground landlords are rapacious and all occupying lessees are deserving. I do not think for one moment that hon. Members opposite really believe that, but that is the political case with which they have backed this temporary Bill.

For that reason—and I can say this with absolute truth—this was one of the questions which, before the hon. Gentleman spoke, I myself was anxious to put to the Attorney-General: Precisely what effect does the Bill have upon these local authorities which have purchased property with the certain knowledge, before this Bill came along at any rate, that the leases would expire at the time when they wished to redevelop the land? I am one of the small band of Members taking part in the discussion of this Bill who are not lawyers, and it is extremely difficult for us to understand, so I apologise for putting these questions.

Secondly, would the Attorney-General explain to us exactly what happens under this Clause in the case of a man, whether a speculator or otherwise, who some years ago bought a lease of a large house, with the intention of living in a small part of it himself and letting off the remaining rooms, making a good profit out of the arrangement? He will have carefully calculated these things, for as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) said yesterday, there are people who are up to all the tricks in these matters; he will have carefully calculated that by this procedure he would be able to get back all and more of the original premium he paid for the lease.

So far as I can understand the effect of this Bill, it will put still more money into that man's pocket; he will have the advantage of control of that house for an additional uncovenanted period of two years; he will be paying perhaps quite a small ground rent and drawing his rack rents, and making a thoroughly good thing out of it. Is that the Government's intention? If not will they re-examine the Clause to see whether they can introduce any safeguard? Although the point was raised repeatedly yesterday, no kind of assurance was given us that that unfairness would be met.

Thirdly, what about the non-occupying lessee who, seeing this Bill coming along, is at this moment before the coming into operation of the Bill in a position to assign the remainder of the lease to an occupier at a price higher than he could get for it from anybody else? Is it the intention of the Government that this Clause should put additional profit into the pocket of a man in that position who so far as I can judge has no compassionate or other title to be given financial advantage?

Lastly, will the spokesman for the Government explain precisely what is going to be the position under this Clause where the occupier at the date of the commencement of the Act, taking advantage of the Clause, proceeds to move out and hand over the right to occupy this accommodation for a further two years to someone else who hitherto has had no interest in the property? He will thus be able to draw very much more money than he could possibly have expected, but for this Bill. In all these cases, as the Clause is drafted, it seems to give assistance to people who have no claim whatever to that type of assistance, and, if I am right in these contentions, it strikes me that this Clause remains a bad Clause.

Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

Sitting on this side of the Committee, I regret very much that I have to agree that a good deal of the criticism which has just been made by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) and other Members who have spoken on this matter is more than justified. It is because I am sitting on this side that I desire to say, quite frankly, why I do not accept Clause 1 of this Bill as it is the sort of inadequate Clause which ought not to have been put forward. In my view, the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) rather got the wrong end of the stick about this matter; rather than attract any votes I should have thought that this Clause might be calculated to do the very opposite.

I agree with him, as I said before, that this is not a standstill Measure at all. It seeks for some unknown reason to safeguard only long tenancies. Why these in particular should have been selected is absolutely incomprehensible to me; because what it means is that preferential treatment is given to these long tenancy cases, which it might be justifiably said ought to be included, but, at the same time, nothing like the emphasis of urgency is put upon those cases, which ought to be placed upon them, which are outside the protection of the Rent Restriction Acts, and which are undoubtedly causing accumulated hardship.

Why the Clause to that extent was not made comprehensive I do not know. Certainly all the data is there and all the inquiry has been made, and it seems to me that the various committees who have examined the matter have laid out in the clearest possible way the immediate material for building up a much better Clause than this one. As a matter of fact, one of the criticisms of the Clause is that it has proved itself entirely insusceptible to Amendment. When I looked at the Amendments on the Order Paper to this particular Clause, I took the view that it was impossible to amend this Clause because it is far too limited and narrow and nothing that we can do by way of Amendment, except by wholesale reconstruction, can possibly put it right; and because no sooner do we introduce one particular item, than we are putting emphasis on something else which is left out. Therefore, the Clause is quite insusceptible to Amendment.

I cannot understand the Government's hesitation in this matter. They have had all the material before them. Why they have shirked—I want to be quite frank about this—the plain duty which undoubtedly fell upon them at this time, having regard to the fact that it was in 1945 when the Ridley Committee made their report, I do not know. Why this hesitation, I cannot understand. When I look at the Clause, I can only say that it is a flaccid and immature offspring of vacillating conception. It is the more surprising when one thinks of all the criticism that we on this side have made, and rightly made, and still make about the position of premiums. It is an absolute scandal that premiums are still allowed to be taken for leases over 14 years. There is not the slightest attempt in this Clause to make any provision for that practice going on at the present moment. Why, I cannot understand.

4.15 p.m.

Take another indefensible position. Rents, of course, are frozen. The rents of houses are protected but not the selling prices. Why the Government has taken no step to deal with this situation concerning selling prices of houses is another matter that I cannot understand. Again, in the Ridley Report, the Labour Members at that time made it clear that, in their view, local authority houses ought to be brought within the Rent Restriction Acts. I cannot understand why this is not being done. This Clause is a very plausible Clause so far as it goes, but unfortunately it does not go anywhere much. Therefore, because of these many reasons—one could go on criticising this Clause interminably and with the fullest justification, having regard to the history of the attitude of the Labour Party itself—I very much regret that the Government have put forward a Clause of this description.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I have listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) and I congratulate myself that yesterday I had the wisdom to praise him as a lawyer of rather higher standing than the Attorney-General, because it has been obvious to me, as a layman and not a lawyer, that every word which he said about this Clause—that it may be plausible etc., but that it is not a practical Clause dealing with the affairs of today—is true. I congratulate him on having come round to the position which many of us on this side of the Committee, and most people in the country, have come to for some time now—that the Government, in this Clause, as, indeed, in the whole of the Bill, are just doing a little patch-work legislation, because they have neither the courage nor the ability to go forward and handle the big problems which confront them.

I wish only to raise two points which were mentioned earlier by an hon. Member on this side of the Committee. I appreciate the fact that local authorities in their schemes for building new houses have many needless difficulties to overcome, and I deeply regret that the Government have under this Clause added one more needless difficulty to the local authorities. The other point which I wish to emphasise is that where we have development on right and sound lines, and lines of which probably hon. Gentlemen on the other side, as well as hon. Members on this side. would approve, we have now this Clause, making that development in the interest of production and housing needlessly hard.

I think it is lamentable that in a debate on what, I think, is probably the principal Clause of the Bill, we should have had an attack on the Government and all sorts of nasty things said about the Government on this Clause—things which I in my kindness would not like to put quite as strongly as they have been put, because I am not a person given to extreme language, and also, not being a lawyer, I am more kind-hearted and more inclined to realise that the frailties of the Government are not really their own fault, but are almost entirely due to the fact that the Government have not the slightest idea where they are going. They are using merely catch phrases, but catch phrases will not solve any of the great human problems we had hoped to see solved by this Bill.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) on his return to our discussions. We have missed him quite a lot lately.

Mr. Williams

I would point out that I was present yesterday. If the hon. Member means that I ought to have been more active, I would remind him that we now have a very strong Opposition.

Mr. Keenan

I do not know whether the qualities of the hon. Member will improve as time goes on, which is a matter we must leave for his colleagues to decide.

I am very reluctant to take part in a debate which seems to have been the monopoly of lawyers, but I wish to point out that the Bill we are discussing is not, as some Members seem to think, a Bill to introduce leasehold reforms. I would also point out that we have taken all yesterday and one hour today to discuss the first 12 lines of the Bill, and that Clause 1 has not even yet been passed. I can understand the anxiety of those interested in property, which naturally applies to most legal men. The fact is that this Bill is a standstill order for two years, until such time as legislation can be introduced to remedy the evils about which we have been hearing so much.

I am quite aware that the Clause does not go far enough. Like other Members. I have had many difficult cases brought to my attention. Some 20 years ago the ground landlord, Lord Derby, sold his property in Bootle for about £1¾ million to the Covent Garden Estate Company and they sold the leases to anyone who wanted to buy them. Some very extraordinary people acquired these leases, some of whom are not very public spirited. I remember an agent coming to me to complain about what was going on and to ask when the House of Commons were going to do something about the matter.

The case I wish to mention concerns a man and his wife of about 75 years of age. They depended for their livelihood on some 12 small houses that had been taken over from the Covent Garden Estates Company. This old couple were faced about two years ago with having to pay some £400 or £500 to put the property into repair before it was handed over, or to pay the owner of the lease over £3,000. They did not have the money to buy the property or to carry out the repairs.

I am surprised that Members can defend this sort of thing. I want to see it stopped, and I believe that the Bill will remedy the position. I hope that we shall see legislation introduced in due course to tackle this problem. In this instance, the ground landlord had received £1¾ million for doing nothing. Industry and builders had developed the area, and all the ground landlord did was merely to acquire the land before development took place. It is to protect people from this sort of vicious system that this standstill order has been introduced, and I do not see that anyone has any grounds for complaint or criticism in regard to the Bill.

Mr. Hay

I hope that the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) will forgive me if I do not deal with all the ramifications of his observations. I can only say that I think it a pity that he did not vote with us yesterday when we sought to insert the words "ground lease," as most of his complaints seem to be connected with ground leases.

Mr. Keenan

I was particularly anxious that the Government should not give way on that, because I wanted the Bill to be all-embracing.

Mr. Hay

I leave that subject to the judgment of the hon. Member's constituents. I was particularly struck by his remarks on the length of the discussion and the lack of progress with this Clause. Can it be denied that we are perfectly entitled to point to the many discrepancies, mistakes and blunders that have been made in the drafting of the 16 lines of the Clause? Every Amendment we have put down, and every one has been refused by the Government, has been intended, as I said yesterday, to tidy up the Clause.

It seems something of a habit for me to find myself in agreement with the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). I am wondering whether this is due to him or to me. I consider that some of the criticisms he brought to bear on the Government were fully justified, and I hope that he will join us in the Lobby if this Clause is pressed to a Division. There is no excuse for the hon. and learned Member not understanding the reasons that lie behind the Clause. We have heard a lot about a standstill order, but what the Government are trying to do is to get votes, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) has already said. The Government cannot make up their mind to grasp this nettle of leasehold enfranchisement. What they are trying to do is to buy a little time at the expense of the landlord. In other words, this Bill has been introduced to give them time to make up their minds. That. I think, is really what it is all about.

4.30 p.m.

The same remarks apply to Part I. They do not care if they buy time at the expense of the landlord. On the Second Reading the Attorney-General said that this Bill frankly would cause hardship to the landlords, but he did not seem to mind. Nobody on the other side of the House has shed any tears about the matter. They seem to think that right is on one side only, upon the side of the tenant. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) put the position very concisely by saying that on the other side of the House they consider that all landlords are rapacious and all tenants deserving. It is all wrong, and hon. Members know it is all wrong.

In Clause 1, I see the fine Italian hand of the Lord President of the Council, whose name is affixed to most of the Government's Amendments on the Paper. I always wondered whether the right hon. Gentleman was going to turn into a legal reformer. I notice that he has not appeared at any of our discussions either today or yesterday. If he wants to win another election he wants to get as many votes as he can, and by bringing in these people who are dissatisfied in South Wales and in other parts of the country, whether they have ground for their complaints or not, he thinks that his chances will be improved. That is what is behind Clause 1, and that is why amongst other technical reasons this Committee ought to reject it.

Mr. Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I was amazed at the contribution made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). I only intervene in this debate for the purpose of saying that I do not think that any lawyer on this side supports the view put forward by my hon. and learned Friend. What that view amounted to—and I want to take up the time of the Committee on it for a moment or two—was that my hon. and learned Friend felt that a great many things ought to have been done in this Clause. Everyone knows that although my right hon. and learned Friend may take the view that the law of landlord and tenant has been crystallised, in the debate yesterday—

Mr. Turner-Samuels

My hon. and learned Friend is misquoting me, and there is no possible excuse for doing it. It is perfectly clear in HANSARD what I said. I did not say what my hon. and learned Friend said I said. What I did say was that the questions raised by the Ridley Committee and the Leasehold Committee had been thoroughly and well explored, that all those matters had been crystallised, and there was, therefore, no impediment to the Government including them in the Clause.

Mr. Weitzman

I withdraw what I said and substitute exactly what has just been said by my hon. and learned Friend, which was to the effect that these views have been crystallised, and it has been made perfectly clear where we stand with regard to the law of landlord and tenant according to the Ridley and other Reports. My view is—and I think it will be the view of all thinking lawyers—that before the Government can bring in any measure dealing with the necessary reforms in the law of landlord and tenant a great deal will have to be done.

What is it that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester desires? He desires that we should wait until that should be done—that we should wait for some months or a year or two before a Bill is brought forward for discussion in this House. I suggest that what we are effecting by this Clause is a perfectly proper thing. The Government have said that they are not ready with the necessary reforms and, therefore—

Mr. Turner-Samuels

Does my hon. Friend realise that it was six years ago that the Ridley Report was issued?

Mr. Weitzman

The Government, I have said, have made what is, in my view, a reasonable suggestion and endeavoured to effect a very proper step. It is impossible today to put before the House a Bill which deals with all the necessary reforms with regard to the law of landlord and tenant. A great deal has got to be considered. Surely in those circumstances the proper step to take is to put the Clause in the Bill as drafted and to pass it as an Act of Parliament so that the status quo is preserved and hardship in existing cases is alleviated.

Why, therefore, should there be any complaint on the part of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester? I do not know. The Clause may not go far enough. I should like to see it go very much further in many directions, but in the meantime the Government can study this matter and then we can have a Bill dealing in detail with the whole problem. For the present we should see that the interests of tenants are protected on the lines set out in this Clause.

Mr. Higgs

The hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), complained about the nature of this Clause, and two points occur to me which support this argument. I hope they will be considered by the Attorney-General; indeed, they may have occurred to him already. The first is this—the date upon which this Bill will come into operation eventually depends, presumably, on the accident of the date of the Royal Assent, and since Clause 1 provides for a period of exactly two years from that date, the end of the protection which the Bill affords also depends on the accident of the date of the Royal Assent.

Has it occurred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider whether that is right, and what consequences may flow if the protection which this Bill affords should come to an end on quarter day exactly, or the day before or the day after? Since we have passed the period of two years in Clause 1, we ought to consider making some specific provision as to the date on which the Bill will come into operation, and the date upon which the protection which it affords will cease. I think it has emerged from the discussion—and this is no party point—that the intention of this Clause is to embrace every kind of tenancy which may possibly be the subject of the permanent legislation. It is also possible that when the permanent legislation comes in, it will not cover exactly the same classes of property as are now covered in this Clause. Therefore, for some property the protection under this Measure will end. That is the first point about which I wanted to ask.

The other point also may well have occurred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It would arise, for example, in the case of ground leases which expire in June next. A ground landlord may have entered into a binding contract to sell or grant a new tenancy to somebody who is going to occupy, or expects to occupy, on 30th June. The contract which has been made may be of such a nature as will enable the purchaser or new tenant to bring the landlord to court. If this Bill prevents specific performance it may allow a claim for damages.

Has that situation been contemplated, because hon. Members on both sides who practice as solicitors realise the position? People who buy houses have to plan ahead. A has bought a house or entered into contract to buy a house on 30th June, and he will have contracted to sell his own house to B and B to sell his to C. So a whole sequence of moves is held up, with consequent hardship on a succession of people, because one person who has to move first is unable to do so. Have the Government considered the situation which would arise in the case of somebody who, before he knew what the provisions of this Bill were, had entered into a binding contract to dispose by way of sale with vacant possession a house or tenancy, which he had then the right to assume would fall in on a date subsequent to the coming into operation of the Bill?

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I feel sure the Committee will agree with me that we have had a very useful discussion on the question whether this Clause should stand part of the Bill, and after listening to the debate one fact has emerged—the longer hon. Gentlemen opposite have to consider this Clause, the more signs there are of dissatisfaction with it in their ranks. First of all, there is the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner). He is quite obviously extremely dissatisfied with this Clause.

Mr. Janner

I want it extended.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

He thinks that it is entirely inadequate. I heard no word of praise from him. Then there is the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), who made an extremely courageous speech, having regard to the side on which he sits, based on sound sense, in so far as it consisted of criticism of the Government for the way they are facing the task of revising the Rent Acts, and, indeed, the way they are shirking for another two years dealing with the problem which confronts any Government after the report of the Leasehold Committee. I entirely share the view put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) with regard to the Clause. I do not intend to take up the time of the Committee in repeating his well-founded observations, but I want to draw attention, as shortly as I can, to one or two criticisms.

The first criticism is a matter of drafting. I hope that the Attorney-General will say that he will give serious consideration to the alteration of the language of the Clause by the insertion of the word "residing" instead of "living," and, secondly, by the insertion somewhere in the Clause of a reference to "dwelling-house." While it is common ground between us that the intention of the Clause is that it should not apply to occupants of dwelling-houses, the word "dwelling-house" does not occur anywhere in the Clause. Nevertheless, the objections to the Clause go far deeper than that and cannot be remedied by any drafting Amendments, although the Clause can be slightly improved.

In spite of the speech which he made on Second Reading, the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) has at last perceived some of the evil consequences of the Clause. He may not have perceived that those evil consequences might apply also to other landlords than local authorities. The Committee have heard a great deal today from those benches about preventing mass evictions, but we heard the voice of the hon. Member for Clapham complaining because local authorities—he referred to a Socialist local authority—who have gone in for compulsoriy purchase on a wholesale scale will, in consequence of the Bill, be unable to evict the people who are living in those houses which have been compulsorily acquired.

Mr. Gibson

That was not the point I was mentioning at all, but that the new circumstances would give an opportunity for excessive compensation to be paid in cases where a site must be acquired.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

This may be somewhat outside the limits of the discussion, but if a Socialist local authority is compulsorily acquiring, it is doing so presumably with a view to securing possession, which means the present occupants ceasing to reside there and moving out. We may use the word "eviction" or not, but let us use a colourless expression and say that they will be dispossessed of occupation. The hon. Member for Clapham is at last perceiving that the Bill will stop local authorities pursuing that course for a further two years, unless they can make a bargain with the present occupants. In the making of that bargain, the hon. Member perceives, landlords, whether local authorities or landlords by purchase, may be held up to ransom.

That is the very point that we were putting from these benches yesterday. It applies not only to cases where the local authority as landlord, but to cases where any other landlord, is seeking to secure possession for some purpose which is in the public interest. He, too, may be held up to ransom and will be unable to do anything in the way of redevelopment and improvement for two years. That is one of the harmful effects of the Bill.

Those effects do not stop there. I am not going to refer to the many other objections that we have made, but just to take the case where the landlord has been waiting for a lease of a big house to fall in, with a view to its conversion into a number of flats providing more accommodation. That is something which I should have thought would be welcomed by hon. Gentlemen opposite in view of the great and acute housing shortage which is so largely the result of their policy. That sort of conversion cannot take place. It will be held up for a further two years. There is no provision under the Clause whereby, however desirable it may be, on the part of a local authority landlord or of a private landlord, fresh housing accommodation can be created by putting many families into one large house where one family is living now. If the Bill is passed in its present form, there is no possibility of that being done. We think that that situation is wrong.

4.45 p.m.

I hope that the Attorney-General will say, when he replies, that between now and the Report stage he will not only reconsider the drafting suggestions that I have put forward but will consider inserting some provision whereby a landlord, whether a private or a local authority landlord, can secure possession in cases where it is made clear that the purpose for which that possession is desired is the increase of housing accommodation available to the nation.

I want to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to deal with one other point. Under the Clause as it now stands, the whole of the ground lease is extended for two years automatically. It may be that the tenant under that ground lease is living in only a portion of the property which is subject to the lease. Why should not the lease only be continued so far as he is concerned and with regard to the part of the house in which he is living? As the Bill now stands, the whole of the property is affected and he will have a further two years in which he can draw rack rents from sub-tenants.

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will give consideration to all these points. When we find lawyers disagreeing on the other side of the Committee, we can rest assured that the Clause is incomprehensible, vague and bad.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham)

Lawyers would not get a living if they did not disagree.

The Attorney-General

We have had a long, I do not say a too long, discussion on the first Clause of the Bill. A number of points have been raised, some of detail, by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I will try to deal as faithfully as I can with the majority of those points. First, I would like to say that, whatever the discussion may have done, it has reassured me in the belief that the Clause is a good Clause and that the Bill is a good Bill. Some hon. Members have said that the Clause does not go far enough. There is a lot to be said for that point of view. Other hon. Members have complained that it goes much too far. I do not think that there is so much to be said for that point of view. In the face of that conflict of opinion, I cannot help thinking that we have been wise in taking a middle course in a Bill which does not pretend to lay down a final solution of the problem with which we have to deal.

The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) put forward what seemed to me to be a curious criticism, if criticism it was, of the Clause and of the Bill as a whole. He made the suggestion that the Bill would attract votes in the country. I am not sure that the fact that a Bill will attract votes in the country is necessarily a ground for condemning it as a bad Measure. I certainly think that the Bill will command considerable support in the country, not because it remedies grievances—although a Bill which remedies grievances is in itself very likely to be a good Bill and for that reason alone to command support—but because it at least paves the way to providing a greater measure of social justice in these difficult matters. The electors of the country approve of social justice, and therefore they tend to support any Government which brings in legislative Measures designed to promote that end. That being my view, I reject the hon. Member's criticism on that ground, and I shall proceed to try to pick up some of the more detailed points raised by hon. Members about the actual terms of Clause 1.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), asked about the case where an original lease for 21 years or more had expired before the commencement of the Act and the tenancy had been continued. If the tenancy was continued on the same terms as before, then the case will fall within the protection of the clause which we are. I hope, about to consider. If, on the other hand—I think this was the case which my hon. Friend had in mind—after the expiration of the original lease a new lease for less than 21 years was negotiated, the case would not be covered.

I have no doubt that there may be many hard cases of that kind. There may be many cases where tenants have been compelled, owing to the shortage of housing accommodation, to enter into agreements for leases on onerous terms. They have had to submit to them because there has been no alternative. Some of those cases will be covered by the rent restriction legislation and some will perhaps be covered by the provisions of the 1949 Act, but I am bound to concede at once that some will not and that they will not get protection under the Bill. We did not think that in this Bill, which creates a standstill in regard to a particular type of tenancy and which was only and fundamentally designed to cover the case of the long ground lease, it would be possible to rewrite these more recent tenancies and bring them within the scope of the Measure.

My hon. Friend also referred to the definition which we have in practice adopted in the Bill of what is to be regarded as a ground lease. There is a long lease and there is a ground lease. We think that in practice the two things will turn out to be the same in all but a very few exceptional cases. My hon. Friend asked whether a lease for 21 years and one day would be a long lease and a lease for 21 years minus one day would be a short lease. The answer is that the lease for 21 years and one day will be along lease and the lease for less than 21 years will not be a long lease within the meaning of the Bill.

Whether it will be a short lease within the meaning of some other enactment, I cannot say, but the point which my hon. Friend makes would arise in exactly the same way and with the same apparent force whatever line we took. If it were five years or 50 years, we should get the marginal case of a day on one side or the other coming within or without the definition we had chosen. I am afraid that one has to accept that in this kind of legislation. It is an inevitable criticism, for what the criticism is worth.

Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)

Does that correspond roughly to the difference between the ground lease and the ordinary occupational tenancy?

The Attorney-General

I think so. As far as we can judge, that corresponds fairly with it. We think it would be very unusual to find a case of a lease for more than 21 years which is not a true ground lease in the sense that we have been understanding it.

The hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) and the hon. Member for Henley raised some criticism on the drafting of Clause 1. So did my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). It is always extremely easy to criticise the drafting of Bills, particularly when they deal with inevitably complex subjects such as this. I must confess that in the days when I occupied the happily irresponsible position of the hon. and learned Member for Wirral, I indulged in a good deal of criticism of that kind myself. [Interruption.] That was when I was appearing as counsel in the courts.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant as a back-bencher.

The Attorney-General

I am afraid that I did not have that privilege.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)

It would have done the right hon. and learned Gentleman good.

The Attorney-General

While it is always easy to poke fun at the draftsmen and to criticise the drafting of a Bill, I must confess that since I have occupied my present position and tried my hand at drafting, I have realised what an extremely difficult and expert task the drafting of legislative Measures is. I should have thought that the Bill was as clear as any Bill dealing with so complex a subject could be made by the most expert of a class of very expert people, the Parliamentary draftsmen who serve the Governments of this country.

I was surprised at the criticism which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester advanced against the Bill in this connection. He said that the Clause was not susceptible to amendment. I should have thought that that was very good commendation of the drafting and that it pointed clearly to the conclusion that the drafting of the Bill was the best that could be done and that all the legal ingenuity on both sides of the Committee had not been able to suggest any improved form of words. I will not discuss the interesting theory which my hon. and learned Friend developed about "vacillating conceptions." I am not quite sure what it meant.

The hon. and learned Member for Wirral said that the Bill would protect speculators in fag-ends and other unmeritorious persons. We had a good deal of speculation about speculators in fag-ends when we were discussing Amendments to the Clause yesterday. It is possible that in a few cases such speculators might exist and that they might obtain some benefit from the provisions of the Bill; I do not know, although I confess that I thought they existed mainly in the ingenious imagination of the Opposition. Whether the Clause will here and there protect an occasional and ingenious speculator is a matter which does not concern me so much as the fact that it will give protection to a very large number of obviously meritorious and deserving tenants. It will protect those who cannot be satisfactorily protected by the alternative proposal put forward from the other side of the Committee that these cases should be brought within some ill-thought-out and ill-defined but emasculated variation of the rent restriction legislation.

5.0 p.m.

Then my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) and the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) put various questions with regard to the position of local authorities. If a local authority bought a house, whether compulsorily or not, in the expectation that the occupancy would fall in, their position under this Bill would be that the occupancy by the local authority would be deferred by two years, just as in the case of any other purchaser of premises in that way; subject, however, to this, that the local authorities have certain requisitioning powers, and they have been placed by Parliament in that matter in a totally different position from the individual owner. Parliament has thought fit to decide that it is in the public interest that local authorities, but not individual owners, should be given certain requisitioning powers in connection with housing purposes and other matters. I have used the phrase "local authorities," but technically the position is that the requisitioning powers are delegated to the town clerk. In such cases it may be possible, if the proper case arose in connection with any particular premises, for the town clerk to requisition the remaining leasehold interest in the house.

The hon. Member for Hampstead raised another case about the speculator, who has become so familiar in the course of our discussions here but who we rarely 'meet in practice, who bought the fag end of a lease, occupied part of it and sublet the rest at exorbitant rents. The danger of that kind of case would be largely met by the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1949, which, as the hon. Member knows, now permits the tribunals, in the case of any post-1949 lettings to fix the new standard rent at what they consider to be in all the circumstances a reasonable figure.

Mr. H. Brooke

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman excuse me for interrupting? I was not in my argument suggesting that the rents were necessarily exorbitant, but was saying that, having regard to the amount of the premium which the leaseholder had originally paid for the lease, the fact that the lease was now to be extended would enable him to make a very good thing out of drawing the rack rents for a further two years.

The Attorney-General

I would have thought not, because the rent would be controlled and the tribunal, in deciding what would be a fair rent, would no doubt have regard to all the circumstances of the case. Moreover, in regard to premiums there is also in Section 2 (1) and (3) of the 1949 Act—I agree it applies to post-1949 cases—a prohibition of premiums in the case of premises within the Act, whether the lease is up to 14 years or over.

Then the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) followed. The hon. Member has no doubt the great pleasure and advantage during his speeches of seeing the faces of hon. Members upon this side of the Committee. I confess that it is always a matter of regret to me that the hon. Member for Torquay is not able to see the faces of the hon. Members on his own side of the Committee when he makes his contributions to our debates; but, on reflection, I am not sure that it would make the slightest difference. I feel sure that even if he were to see the manifestations of dismay on the faces of his hon. Friends, he would none the less not deny himself the pleasure of listening to his own voice.

Then the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) asked a question about the duration of tenancies which were extended under Clause 1, and whether the position was that the tenancy comes to an end within the currency of the Bill. It is the fact that it would be extended by a period of two years as from the date of the Royal Assent; and, as the hon. Member pointed out, that date might not coincide with a quarter day. Similarly, if a tenant has beep holding over, although his tenancy had expired before the commencement of the Bill, his tenancy—subject to the provisions of the Bill in connection with the matter which we shall come to discuss—would be extended by a period of two years as from the date of the Royal Assent, and that date is less likely to be quarter day. However, I do not think that any inconvenience or difficulty is likely to arise in that because, when we get to the final legislation, we shall have to pick up these cases in one way or another, and in tidying up the position the quarter day point will certainly not be overlooked.

The hon. Member also asked me a question about the effect of the Bill, when it becomes law, on contracts which have been concluded for the sale of premises with occupation. The law about frustration of contracts is a difficult branch, and I would like to see the terms of the particular contract before expressing any opinion upon what the final effect of the Bill would be. The general opinion in frustration is that the loss lies where it falls, but I would like to look at each contract rather than try to answer hypothetically a general question on the matter.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am not seeking to press the right hon. and learned Gentleman on that point, but may I suggest for consideration that it would perhaps be desirable to put something in the Bill to deal with that situation so as to avoid, if possible, litigation between vendor and purchaser?

The Attorney-General

Although I am a lawyer, I am in favour of anything which avoids unnecessary litigation. If the hon. and learned Gentleman, bearing in mind the wide variety of contracts which may have to be considered, would be so good as to suggest to me any kind of provision on those lines, I will give it serious and sympathetic consideration. I will go further and say that even if he does not make any suggestion himself, we will consider the point. However, it is a difficult one to deal with by legislation in advance because there are such a wide variety of circumstances which may arise in the case of such contracts.

The hon. and learned Member for Northants, South, also raised two or three drafting points. He asked whether we would introduce into the Bill the expression "dwelling-house." That expression was embodied in one of the Amendments put down from the benches opposite which we discussed yesterday. The definition which hon. Members opposite used was not one that would have achieved its purpose. They define "dwelling-house" as having the same meaning as in the Rent Acts; that is to say, premises let as a separate dwelling. Now "let as a separate dwelling" will not do for the purposes of this Bill, firstly because when the ground lease was created there was presumably no dwelling there at all. That was the whole point of the ground lease. It is that kind of lease that we are attempting to cover. I am not making a technical point; it is a substantial one.

The second difficulty is that we are deliberately covering the case where the ground lease, although it was a building lease and contemplated the erection of a building, also had on it at the time other premises. We are intending to cover those other premises. If, however, we eliminate the words "let as a separate dwelling" in the definition of the hon. and learned Member, we are left only with the word "dwelling"; and there is really no definition of "dwelling." Anything is a dwelling in which a person happens to dwell at the time. However, I realise the point which the hon. and learned Member has in mind. We will certainly look at it, but it is not quite as easy a matter as would appear to the hon. and learned Member. To me, at first sight, there is a similar difficulty with the use of the word "residing." I am not sure that there is really any different legal connotation in "residing" from the word which we have in the Bill—namely, "living"—but we will look at that point also.

The final point which the hon. and learned Member put to me was whether we should amend the Bill to enable possession to be obtained where there was some scheme for rehousing and in matters of that kind. I have covered that to some extent by referring to the requisitioning powers of local authorities. We have, of course, given a lot of study to this point—it is not unattractive—when considering the form of the Bill. We came to the conclusion that within this temporary standstill Measure the difficulties were so great that it was really impracticable to make any special provision beyond that which already exists under the requisitioning powers.

I return to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), with whose remarks I had considerable sympathy. The Bill, as he pointed out, is intended to be a standstill on leaseholds, but it is not intended to reduce Parliament to a standstill. I hope therefore, that we shall now be able to allow the Clause to stand part of the Bill.

Several Hon. Members


The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I hope that the Committee can now come to a decision.

Mr. C. Williams

I shall not be very long, Sir Charles, but this is the Committee stage and I have spoken only once on the Clause. I have a duty to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he said about me. I made certain remarks on the Clause, but he, on the other hand, said something about me. I do not in the least object to it, because he has said it now about 20 times. What I should like him to do is to say something novel.

On a very important Clause such as this when we have a reply such as that to which we have just listened, which does not meet the points raised concerning local authorities in any way whatever, it is a very great pity that, in a Bill which most of us, at any rate, want to get through with reasonable speed, we are subject to these tragically slow and blundering speeches from the Attorney-General. I hope that we will be allowed to have a more competent authority to whom we can put our points on the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.