HC Deb 31 January 1951 vol 483 cc970-6
Mr. Higgs

I beg to move, in page 3, line 4, to leave out subsections (1) to (3), and to insert: (1) A tenant who by virtue of the provisions of this Part of this Act retains or is entitled to retain possession of a dwelling-house shall be entitled to give up possession of that dwelling-house only on giving not less than one month's notice to the landlord in writing and specifying the date upon which he intends to give up possession and he shall not by virtue of the provisions of this Part of this Act ho entitled to retain possession after the date specified thereon.

The Chairman

May I ask whether this matter has not already been covered?

Mr. Higgs

As I understand it, we have not in any way yet touched upon the question of notices to be served by tenants who do not wish to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill. This Amendment was intended to improve the drafting of the first three subsections of this Clause. That was its intention, and I shall move it quite shortly if you will allow me, Major Milner.

The whole of this Clause is intended to provide that a tenant who wishes to do so may opt out of the benefit of the Bill, and the first three subsections deal with three different sets of circumstances in which he may do so. Subsection (1) deals with the tenant who has a tenancy which is covered by Clause 1 of the Bill and who elects to give notice that he does not wish to take advantage of Clause 1 of the Bill; and he may do so by giving his notice not later than one month before the date of expiry referred to in Clause 1. Subsection (2) deals with a tenant, covered also by Clause 1, where he elects, either before or after the date of expiry, to give notice that he does not wish to take advantage of the terms of the Bill, and that he wants to opt out of it. Subsection (3) deals with the tenant who is protected by Clause 2 of the Bill.

We think that here we have an Amendment which would rejoice the heart of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), because we claim that we can do in one paragraph what the draftsman has done in three. We would provide that the tenant in any circumstances who wants to opt out of the Bill can do so by giving one month's notice, and that, having given that notice, he is bound by it. That is the simple effect of our Amendment, and we cannot see that it is really necessary to have three subsections dealing with three slightly different sets of circumstances in exactly the same way, when one subsection will cover all three. The Amendment seems to be a simplification.

The Solicitor-General

We can appreciate the purpose that the hon. Gentleman has in mind, and we did give very serious thought to what he proposes by his Amendment. He does, in fact, seek to combine in one form of wording the three alternative sets of circumstances which we set out in subsections (1), (2) and (3) of the Clause. On balance we feel that it is desirable to say perfectly clearly what is to happen in the three sets of circumstances. The hon. Gentleman in his Amendment does not deal with the case which is dealt with in subsection (1), where the tenant wants to bring his tenancy to an end with the expiry of the long lease. His Amendment provides for a general termination on one month's notice.

I quite agree that it is a question as to which is the more convenient form of wording, and that one obviously wants, wherever one can, to be short instead of long. At the same time, we feel that on balance, to begin with, that case is not specifically covered by the hon. Gentleman's Amendment; and, second, that it is desirable in the interests of clarity, although the draft will be somewhat longer, to differentiate between the case where the tenant wishes to give notice after the expiry of the long lease and that where he wishes to give it in the circumstances which are envisaged by subsection 2. However, we are grateful to the. hon. Gentleman for moving the Amendment, and I can assure him that we have considered very carefully whether it would improve the draft or not.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am a little surprised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's answer, for this reason, that the Amendment does, as I understand it, specifically cover the wording of subsection (1) of the Clause. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says it does not, but will he read with me the wording of the Amendment? He will see there: A tenant who by virtue of the provisions of this Part of this Act retains or is entitled to retain possession … That means to say that it covers both those who are holding over after the expiry of their tenancy and those who are entitled to go on by virtue of this Bill after the tenancy expires, if it expires on a date in the future. Therefore, a tenant who comes under our particular Amendment can give notice that he does not wish to take advantage of this Measure, because he is obviously a tenant who is entitled, but for that notice, to retain possession. Therefore, I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite accurate, whatever objections he may raise, when he puts forward as a ground for resisting this Amendment the contention that the Amendment itself does not cover subsection (1) of the Clause. I should have thought it was clear from the wording that the Amendment, in fact, is wide enough to cover that, and, indeed, to comprehend all three subsections in one short subsection.

Therefore, I should have thought that it would have been desirable, in the interests of keeping our Statutes as short as possible and of avoiding unnecessary verbiage, and indeed, of avoiding complexity, that where we could put it perfectly clearly, as it is put in the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend, we should insert such a provision, rather than put the same thing in something like 15 lines of the Bill. I think that the argument advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, so far as the first subsection is concerned, is not strictly accurate. I should be interested to know where, in fact, he can base his objection to this perfectly reasonable Amendment, put with the purpose of improving this Bill, improving its drafting, and making it more intelligible.

Mr. J. Foster

Is not the Solicitor-General suffering from pride of authorship? The three subsections of the Clause do this: the first subsection says that a tenant in a ground lease can end on the day the lease expires; the second one says that a tenant who is continued by the Bill can deprive himself of the benefit of the Bill by serving notice; and the third says that a tenant who is holding over can do that. Well, the Amendment puts all that into one expression, and says that a tenant entitled to the benefits of this Bill can end his benefit by one month's notice. I should have thought that that was clearer and shorter than putting the alternatives out one after another. That is where I disagree with the Solicitor-General. His draft does not make for clarity, because if we put alternatives one after the other we keep on thinking of more alternatives. If we put in a complete expression to cover all that, I think it is much better. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to look at the matter in that light. I can see the argument both ways, but I think the Amendment is the better way, and that it should be possible for the Solicitor-General to accept it.

7.0 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

I am sure hon. Members opposite will agree that the point involved is not a very big one. It is a question of drafting, and, while I do not want to be obstinate or meticulous about this, the suggested drafting does not cover subsection (1), to begin with, because it refers only to the case where the tenant retains or is entitled to retain possession. Secondly, the Amendment only enables the tenant to give a month's notice, specifying the date on which he wishes his notice to come to an end. He may, however, simply wish to give a month's notice, without specifying a date, in order that his tenancy, the long lease still subsisting, shall come to an end with the long lease. With a change of wording, I agree one could incorporate both those alterations into the Amendment, but if that is done it becomes so complicated that it is far better to have the slightly longer form. There is only a small drafting point between us, but we take the view, rightly or wrongly, that on balance our draft is preferable.

Mr. C. Williams

I wonder whether I could help on this comparatively small point, looking at it from the point of view of the layman? The Solicitor-General has been exceedingly kind and helpful on this Bill. Having listened with great care to what he has said, as far as I can see we have here a perfectly simple Amendment which covers practically the whole of these three very complicated points in the Bill itself. It may well be necessary between now and the Report stage to make some slight alteration to the Amendment, but from every point of view I think it would be better to accept this remarkably clear and fairly easily understandable Amendment, which would have the effect of shortening the Bill.

If the Amendment is accepted, I am sure the Government could find some perfectly easy legal method of ensuring that most, if not all, of the cases are covered. Accepting this simple Amendment, which we have now adequately discussed, would be to include something which is easy to understand, and I should have thought that the Solicitor-General, who says that only a small point is involved, would have been glad to get at any rate one little bit of the Bill quite clear. In those circumstances, in the interests of the whole Committee I appeal to him to accept this Amendment, and so get one little bit of the Bill easily understandable, which would be something even for this Government.

Amendment negatived.

The Solicitor-General

I beg to move, in page 3, line 25, to leave out subsection (5).

Mr. Manningham-Buller

On a point of order. Would it be in order to discuss with this Amendment the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay)—in page 3, line 25, to leave out from the beginning to "shall" in line 26, and to insert: Section twenty-three of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1927"? If the Amendment to leave out subsection (5) is accepted my hon. Friend might be prevented from advancing the arguments which he wishes to advance in support of his Amendment. Could they be discussed together, in case my hon. Friend wants to divide the Committee?

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) has already seen the Chair, and it has been agreed that he should raise his point later on a new Clause (Service of Notices), which is the most convenient way of dealing with the matter.

The Solicitor-General

The object of this Amendment is to pave the way for that new Clause, which gathers up into it all references to the giving of notices. Notices are to be given under the terms of this Bill in accordance with the provisions of Section 196 of the Law of Property Act, 1925, and the object of the new Clause is to say that once and for all in respect of all the purposes of the Bill. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) has, in effect, made an alternative suggestion, upon which I will not at the moment address any argument. However, I hope the Committee will agree that, whichever Clause is the one which is to govern the giving of notices, it would be convenient that there should be only one reference to that Clause in the Bill, and that therefore subsection (5) ought to be left out in order to pave the way for the new Clause.

Mr. Hay

While I do not propose to anticipate the discussion we may have in connection with this point on the new Clause, I ask the Solicitor-General between now and the time when that discussion takes place to consider the point which was obviously in our minds when my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) and myself put down our Amendment.

The Solicitor-General

We will willingly consider it. I think the hon. Member will agree that there are arguments in favour of both suggestions, and we should like to consider his as well as our own.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.