§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Robens)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Second time."
The purpose of this Bill is to provide on a permanent basis reasonable protection of the rights and civil liabilities of persons who are called up from time to-time for service or training with the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces, of persons who volunteer in similar circumstances for service or training, and of National Service men. In appropriate cases this protection is also afforded to their dependants, whose position is indeed often the major anxiety of these men in these circumstances.
The protection under Part I of the Bill extends to any person, whether a dependant or not, who is financially affected. The Bill does not afford protection in the case of persons who enter in the ordinary way upon a Regular engagement as a result of volunteering, because the Regular may reasonably be expected to adjust his domestic and civil affairs to fit the service career which he has chosen.
Protection of the employment of most of the persons covered by the Bill is already provided as appropriate in the National Service Act, 1948, in the Reinstatement of Civil Employment Act, 1950, and the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Act, 1951. When this latter Act was being debated, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air informed the House that the Government were proposing to introduce a Bill covering, amongst other things, superannuation rights and restriction on the execution of remedies for default in payment of money.
This Bill carries out the intention then stated. It will apply to the Z reservists and others shortly to proceed on their training, but it will also apply in retrospect, in so far as is appropriate, and without creating the anomaly of retrospective offences, to classes of reservists such as those who were first recalled to Korea in the summer of last year.
1435 It will probably be convenient, in what I am afraid must inevitably be a lengthy speech, to describe first, very briefly, the different kinds of protection given in the Bill and the classes of men covered by it. We might then discuss the general principles on which the Government has been acting in drawing it up, and then describe in more detail just what is implied by the various Parts of the Bill.
The first Part deals with the debts or other obligations of a Service man and, broadly speaking, provides that a creditor may enforce payment of the debts only with the leave of the court—for instance, putting the bailiffs in, taking possession of any property, or forfeiting a deposit. The court will consider whether the failure to meet the obligation in question is due to the performance of service, and may either give or refuse the creditor leave to proceed, or give leave subject to conditions. This protection is given in respect of service of every kind described in the Schedule.
The second Part protects a Service man's home. In the case of persons performing service for three months or more, this protection takes the form of extending the Rent Acts to premises to which those Acts do not already apply; in other cases it prevents the Service man or his family being evicted from their home without leave of the court.
The third form of protection given by this Bill is in respect of business premises. In Part III the aim has been to protect the small man—the "working proprietor"—from termination of the tenancy of the place where he carries on his business or profession while he is away on service and unable to attend to his affairs. This does not apply to men called up for short periods of training—in other words, for less than three months.
Next, there comes in Part IV protection for a man's superannuation rights while on service. This portion of the Bill makes it possible for the appropriate authorities to make rules which will enable the period of service to be counted for superannuation purposes. The Civil Service, local government, police and firemen are specially dealt with, but this Part is also of general application to private superannuation schemes. Except in the case of those National Service men whose rights are 1436 already protected by other legislation, it affords protection to all classes of men and women covered by the Schedule.
Part V of the Bill is designed to give protection against loss of benefits under, and to prevent forfeiture of, policies taken out with industrial assurance companies, collecting societies and friendly societies, where the owner falls down on the payment of his premiums as a result of his service, or some one else's service. It applies again to all classes covered by the Schedule. Part VI is a general Part which deals with such matters as evidence as to the performance of service, application to Northern Ireland, and so on.
The Schedule sets out the descriptions of service in respect of which protection is given, though not every description of service is covered by all Parts of the Bill. Broadly the cover is in respect of Reservists and Auxiliaries called up for service, Reservists and Auxiliaries called up for training under the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Act, 1951, or who, whether they were liable or not to such call up, volunteered—men and women—for service or training, National Service men who were called up under the National Service Acts for their two years' whole time service and for their part-time training, and members of the Territorial and Auxiliary Forces during their period of annual training.
The need for the forms of protection given in this Bill is very similar for all these different classes, and the principles upon which the Bill is based, which I hope to describe later, make it appropriate that, except where the shortness of the service renders it unnecessary, the protection should be available to all classes in which cases of individual hardship may arise. This principle of the need for protection is, of course, not a new one. The Military Training Act, 1939, did something comparable, but, of course, the war and subsequent legislation has altered the whole background against which this subject has now to be considered.
In framing this Bill—and I am sure that when hon. Members get down to dealing with it in detail they will recognise what a difficult Bill it is, providing, I should think, a lawyers' day out, if I may say so—the Government had to balance two conflicting interests. We had to look at the reservist or other Service man who is 1437 required, or who volunteers, to leave his home and his family and his employment, possibly to go abroad, and to accept rates of pay which will probably make a very big difference in his standards of living. On the other hand, the creditors and landlords have rights, and may well be placed themselves in difficult circumstances if they are unable to exercise their rights as they had intended and would have been able legally to do had the man not been called up for service. In those cases, and they will probably be few, in which hardship arises, it is not, therefore, all on one side, and in any individual case it may fall more heavily on the landlord or creditor than on the Service man. Indeed, the landlord or creditor may himself be a Service man who himself will enjoy the protection of the Bill.
So there are these two main principles on which this Bill has been based. First, that the Service man while on service, and for an appropriate period after that, should have some protection against the strict or unreasonable enforcement of certain of his obligations, against being turned out of his house or business premises; but equally no hard and fast rule has been, or could be, laid down, because this might act unfairly in the circumstances. Instead, the necessary steps are taken to ensure that the courts can intervene either through the obligations placed on the landlord or creditor, or through the rights given to Service men to apply for protection. In dealing with each case the court can consider the individual circumstances, and has discretion as to the course of action it may direct.
The second principle which I am sure, the House will agree is very important, is that, so far as possible, use should be made either of existing machinery and procedure, Or of that which was well known during the war and the years immediately after it. Part I is modelled on the Courts (Emergency Powers) Acts which were in force during the war and for some time thereafter, and Part II makes use of the Rent Acts, appropriately modified. Part III makes use in England and Wales of the Leasehold Property (Temporary Provisions) Bill now passing through Parliament, and in Scotland of the Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act, 1949. Part IV applies the same principles to superannuation rights as was applied in the war, and Part V 1438 sets out a system which worked very satisfactorily also in war time.
This Bill does not deal with the question of the making up by his employer of the balance of civil pay, in those instances where the remuneration for his service is less than the remuneration he received in his civilian employment. That is, after all, a matter for individual employers. The House will be aware from recent statements by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that the Government as an employer have decided that balance of civil pay is to be paid to civil servants called up for service in Korea and to those called up for periods of three and 18 months under the plan announced by the Prime Minister on 29th January; and a measure of special leave with pay will be given to staff called up for 15-day period. I have no doubt that, in connection with that declaration, other employers have considered and are now considering their attitude.
It is necessary now that I should say a word or two about the salient points relating to each Part of the Bill. The first Part, as I have said, has been based largely on the Courts (Emergency Powers) Acts which were in force during the war and applied generally to the whole population; so that the courts, on whom this Bill imposes a difficult jurisdiction, will have the advantage of their war time experience.
I think I should make it clear that it is no purpose of this Bill to see that a Service man, or any other person protected by it, is relieved of his debts and obligations. The protection is against the enforcement of remedies against a person who is in difficulty as a result of the performance of service, either by himself or by someone else. It assumes, however, that, given time, he will make proper arrangements for adjusting his affairs and to meet his debts and obligations. The question of any financial assistance necessary for him to do so does not arise on this Bill. It obviously arises in another connection entirely.
Before proceeding to enforce a judgment, or take a self-help remedy, against a Service man, it is incumbent on the creditor to find out whether or not his debtor is covered by this Bill. This raises the question of the method of identifying such a person, and since this comes up 1439 also under other parts of the Bill I shall deal with it more fully later.
The second Part of the Bill deals with protection against eviction from residential premises. The majority of dwelling-houses are already covered by the Rent Acts, but there are certain categories not so covered which are of importance to the Service man. I ought to make it clear that this special protection is provided only where the man has one or more dependants living in the premises at the time of his service, and where they continue to live in those premises. Bearing in mind that this protection is necessarily at someone else's expense, we do not think it right to extend it to a man living alone, but think we should confine it to covering the serving man's family to give him an assurance, which means a great deal to a Service man, that while he is away on service, his wife and children will not be turned out of their home.
In the case of persons performing service for less than three months the protection takes the form of protecting them from eviction without the leave of the Court. In the case of persons performing service for three months or more, the protection takes the form of applying the Rent Acts to premises not already protected by these Acts. Broadly speaking, I think it can be said that the result of applying the Rent Acts will be that the landlord will not normally be able to obtain possession of the premises unless he can show that there is suitable alternative accommodation. Protection under this Part of the Bill—and this is, I think, of importance—is for the period of service and four months after it.
So far as unfurnished accommodation is concerned, the main classes of premises not covered by the Rent Acts are houses of high rateable value, local authority houses, houses on Crown property, houses where the rent payable is less than two-thirds of the rateable value, and premises occupied by an employee in circumstances which do not make him a tenant of the employer, in which case he would be covered by the Rent Acts. We shall apply the Rent Acts to all these cases except where the Crown is the immediate landlord of the Service man.
As the House knows, the Rent Acts at present do not apply to any case where the Crown owns an interest in the property. The Bill applies the Acts to 1440 cases where the Crown interest is that of a superior landlord but not that of the immediate landlord. At the present moment, where the Crown is the immediate landlord and the tenancy is one to which the Rent Acts would normally apply, it behaves as if it were bound by the Rent Acts. The same principle will apply here, and I should like to give this specific assurance, not only on behalf of Government Departments and the Commissioners of Crown Lands, but also on behalf of the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, that where they are immediate landlords, they will act as if they were bound by Part II of the Bill.
As far as furnished lettings are concerned, rent tribunals at present only have power to give security of tenure where an application has been made to fix the rent. In the case of furnished lettings, to which Part II of the Bill applies, the rent tribunals will be empowered to extend the tenancy for periods not exceeding three months at a time, even though there is no application before them to fix the rent.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
Before he leaves that point will the right hon. Gentleman clear up this question? Does he mean by what he has just said that of their own volition, rent tribunals will be intervening in these matters? I assume there must be some sort of application?
§ Mr. Robens
Application will be made, but they will be entitled to extend the period under the Bill.
§ Mr. Robens
Yes, or by the Service man's wife or dependants.
The other type of dwelling was, of course, concerned with the people living in furnished lettings where board or attendance is provided. We looked at this very carefully, always having in mind that one wants to give the utmost protection, and it was felt, after very careful consideration, that the personal relationship in a letting of that kind could not very suitably be dealt with by legal provisions, and so there is no protection in the Bill of furnished lettings where board or attendance is provided. I think it will be found that this is the only case where some protection is not extended.
1441 While the general principle of the Rent Acts is being applied to these additional classes of dwellings, certain special points have had to be provided for, and of these I would like to mention two in particular. First, there is the case where, for one reason or another, the tenant has been paying a rent which is less than two-thirds of the rateable value of his house, and because of that he does not enjoy the protection of the Acts. This will usually be because the expiring tenancy is a long lease of over 21 years and the lessee is paying a ground rent.
In this case, the Service man, like any other occupying leaseholder in such a position, will get the benefit of the Leasehold Property (Temporary Provisions) Bill which is now passing through Parliament. This means that he will get up to two years' extension of his long lease on its existing terms, including rent, and will therefore, so long as that protection lasts, not fall within this Bill at all. In a few other cases where a rent of less than two-thirds of the rateable value is being paid, the Rent Tribunal will be empowered to fix a reasonable rent.
Second—and this again is important as it is a peculiar case—is the tied cottage with employment tenancy. Here, as in the case of other premises protected by the Rent Acts, the general principle is to be that a man's dependents cannot be evicted while he is away on service unless alternative accommodation is available. The Bill provides, however, that the court may grant possession without proof of alternative accommodation if the landlord is a public authority and the premises are required by that authority in the public interest.
I should like to mention right away the kind of case one has in mind in dealing with this matter. The case we had in mind was, for example, that of the lock-keeper's cottage or the signalman's cottage, where it is essential for the man having that particular job to live on the spot, and no other accommodation is available for him.
§ Mr. Robens
I do not think that miners' houses meet the kind of case to which I am referring, which is the isolated house for a specific public service.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
Would not they come within the exception to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred?
§ Mr. Robens
I am not too sure on that point. As I am not well versed on legal matters, I would prefer the learned Attorney-General to deal with that point when he replies. I can only say that in framing this Bill, that was the kind of case we had in mind—where an individual would have to go, without having alternative accommodation, and it was essential in the public interest that the man who was going to do that job should live on that particular spot, and there is no other accommodation for him.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Why not alternative accommodation? Surely, he can claim the protection of the Act.
§ Mr. Robens
That is a matter which we can discuss in detail in Committee. I think that this is a Bill which we should look at in a very human way. We are not going to talk politics in connection with a Bill of this kind. The House will be anxious to protect the rights of the Service man, and anything that we can do to improve the Bill in Committee we shall be only too pleased to consider, in order to produce a Bill of which the House will be proud and which will do the right thing by the Service man and his dependants.
To continue, the House will be aware that, once the Rent Acts have applied to a letting of any dwelling house, they continue to apply, and particularly that the rent for that letting is the standard rent for any future letting. In this Bill, we are extending the Rent Acts, for very special reasons and for strictly limited periods, to certain classes of tenants for whom it has not, in general, been thought necessary to give the kind of protection that the Rent Acts provide.
That, as I have explained, is because the tenant is a Service man who is away from home and unable to make the usual arrangements to provide accommodation for his wife and family. But it is no part of the policy of this Bill to make permanent extensions in the scope of the Rent Acts by a sort of side wind. We do not mean to provide that just because the tenant of a particular house at a given time happens to be a Service man and enjoys the benefits of this part of the 1443 Bill, that future letting of the house shall always be subject to the Rent Acts. That would obviously not be fair, because other similar properties which did not come within these provisions, would not be affected.
So we have made it quite clear in the Bill that once a Service man has come home and settled down with his wife and family—that is, after the four months' protection which we give him at the end of his service—that protection comes to an end, and the provisions affecting the application of the Rent Acts automatically come into being. From then on, neither the ex-Service man himself, nor any future tenant, will have the Rent Acts protection.
While Part II protects the Service man from eviction from his home, Part III protects him in respect of his business premises if he is a working proprietor. The Leasehold Property (Temporary Provisions) Bill, and the Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act, 1949, give protection to shop tenants of all kinds, but to shop tenants only. When we are dealing with Service men, I think that a rather different approach is justified. On the one hand, it seems reasonable to extend protection to all kinds of small businesses and professional practices, including small garage men and people like that.
A temporary substitute may be able to carry the business on during the Service man's absence on a day-to-day basis; but that is a very different matter from having to negotiate a new lease if, for example, the old one falls in while the Service man is away on service, or from having to look for alternative premises, and decide whether they would be suitable, for instance from the point of view of maintaining goodwill.
On the other hand, we think that protection need be given only if the Service man is, in effect, the boss of a one-man business. After all, if he is only one of a number of partners in a bigger concern, I think it reasonable to argue that the other partners can look after his interests, so we give this protection to the one-man business. I suppose that we could really compare that case with the employee's right to reinstatement, since it is really a protection for his livelihood.
For the method of giving protection, we follow closely the machinery which the House has already approved in 1444 Part II of the Leasehold Bill. That is, if a tenancy expires we give a right to apply to the county court for its renewal. Any person acting on the Service man's behalf can make application for the new tenancy. The court will, of course, only be able to grant renewal in a case where the business is still being carried on in the man's absence, and will have a wide discretion, subject to certain guidance, to decide whether the grant of a new tenancy is in all the circumstances reasonable. If a new tenancy is granted, it can be for any length of term the court thinks fit, provided that it will not end later than four months after the end of the man's service. The court are also to fix the rent and other terms of the new tenancy according to what they think is reasonable in all the circumstances.
This part of the Bill, like the Leasehold Bill on which it is largely modelled, is binding on the Crown as an immediate and as a superior landlord, subject to special safeguards which enable Government Departments to resist the grant of a new tenancy of premises, which are required on security grounds or in the public interest. The Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster are not bound by Part III, but they have given an assurance that they propose to act in accordance with its principles. Exactly the same principles have been followed for Scotland, but the code which we use for this purpose is not that of the Leasehold Bill, which does not apply to Scotland, but the slightly different code contained in the Tenancy of Shops (Scotland) Act, 1949.
I ought to say at this stage something which I did say before, but which it is important that we should bear in mind, namely, precisely who is covered. This does not apply to a man doing a short period of training and a short period of training in the Bill is a period of not less than three months. Of course, this Part of the Bill does not remove any rights the Service man may have under the Leasehold Bill or the Scottish Act. If he is a shop tenant but not a working proprietor, he gets the protection of those Measures only: if he is the working proprietor of a business other than a shop, he gets the protection of this Bill only: if he is both a shop tenant and a working proprietor, he gets 1445 both codes of protection and in so far as they are different, he can choose the one which suits his purpose best.
§ Brigadier Head (Carshalton)
The right hon. Gentleman did say that this Bill applies to nobody doing less than three months. He said earlier, however, that it applied to the National Service man doing part-time service, but part-time service is less than three months.
§ Mr. Robens
Did I? I will repeat that part. When we are talking about long periods, we are speaking in terms of three months or more. When we are talking about short service we mean under three months. I am sorry, but this is a very complicated Bill and I have had a lot of other things to do recently, so that it was a job to get hold of it.
The fourth form of protection given by the Bill is in respect of superannuation rights. This protection has already been given to National Service men by the Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 1948 and the Police Pensions Act, 1948, and what this Part of the Bill does is to extend that same form of protection to all the other persons performing the classes of service mentioned in the Schedule. The point here is to permit public authorities and trustees of private pensions schemes, covering industry and commerce generally, to treat for superannuation purposes the period of service defined under the Bill as though it were a continuation of the man's normal occupation. This system worked satisfactorily during the war, and has been shown by the experience with National Service men, to meet the needs of the situation.
Part V of the Bill sets out the provisions relating to relief where owners of policies are unable to pay premiums as the result of the owner or some other person being on service as defined under the Bill. The main provisions are that, provided a minimum of one year's premium has been paid, policies may not be forfeited because of non-payment of premiums due to service, and here is also provision for reinstatement of any policies already forfeited in similar circumstances before the passing of this Bill. Clause 44 deals in detail with the manner in which the sum assured may be adjusted in respect of premiums not paid.
1446 These detailed provisions—I am sure the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) will be interested in this small point—might perhaps have been made by Order in Council under the Bill, but in view of the experience I had for some years in another capacity, I thought it wiser on the whole that the arrangements should be subject to full Parliamentary control. [HON. MEMDERS: "Hear, hear."] When I was writing that bit into the speech I thought it would get a "Hear, hear" at least from the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames.
§ Mr. Robens
As regards ordinary life policies, which are not covered by Part V of the Bill, the Board of Trade have been in consultation with the Life Offices Association and the Associated Scottish Life Offices, and understand that their member Offices are prepared to give the most sympathetic consideration to all cases in which Reservists have difficulty in meeting their premiums by reason of their call-up. There was a somewhat similar arrangement during the last war and from my own personal experience, I think it worked very well.
There are two points in the last and general Part of the Bill to which attention should be called. The first relates to Clause 48, the evidence as to performance of relevant service, and it is desirable to pick up at this stage the point made earlier about the effect which this Bill has under Parts I and II upon those members of the public who are creditors or landlords of men and women undertaking service of the kind mentioned in the Schedule to this Bill.
Under Parts III and V of the Bill it is the Service man or someone acting on his behalf who has to apply for the protection and it is very necessary, therefore, that it should be reasonably easy for both parties to know that the service being performed is protected in these various ways. More particularly, it is of the greatest importance that the dependants of the man concerned should know the kinds of protection to which they are entitled and how they can show that they are so entitled, for even where the interests of the creditor or landlord 1447 are affected, without any steps having to be taken by the Service man or his dependants, the warning signal may often be given by the statements of the serving man's family.
In the first place, therefore, careful arrangements will be made by the Service Departments and by my Ministry to ensure, as far as practicable, that the men themselves at the time of call-up are aware of their rights and, more important still, that their wives are aware of them.
§ Brigadier Head
Does the right hon. Gentleman propose that this should be done by pamphlet or by a talk to the men? My own experience is that it is very difficult to get men to read pamphlets especially on subjects like this.
§ Mr. Robens
I am going to describe the arrangements that are proposed in the Bill. If hon. Members think that they can improve on this method of notification, we will look at it. All we want to do is to make certain that the Service man knows his rights under the Bill and also that his wife knows of his rights under the Bill, because anything can happen if a chap is abroad for two or three years. We shall ensure that the dependants of the man will know.
Secondly, the Service Departments and, as far as conscientious objectors are concerned, my Ministry, will do their best to provide, where called on to do so, certificates of performance of service where it is in doubt that the persons concerned in fact qualify for protection. These can be produced readily where the proper Service particulars are given and every effort will be made to see that the man's dependants know what these are, and where they should apply for such a certificate.
The second point relates to Clause 51 under which the Bill is to apply to Northern Ireland by Order in Council. This method of proceeding has been adopted at the request of the Northern Ireland Government, as the most practical method for a Bill which involves so many different subjects and powers. While the matters dealt with in the Bill are mainly ones on which the Northern Ireland Parliament has power to legislate, the delay which would inevitably be entailed in passing similar legislation in Northern Ireland will be 1448 avoided under the method proposed in Clause 51, and at the same time the rights of the Northern Ireland Parliament to pass further legislation on the same subjects are expressly preserved.
This Bill, as I previously said, is very long and technical, and I apologise to the House for a rather lengthy speech, but I did feel when I was given this Bill and the notes on the Bill, that as this affects the lives of so many people it was right for me to go into great detail on the Second Reading. I felt sure that the House would bear with me in doing so. Of course, we could have divided it into two or three Bills, but I think it is preferable, on the whole, to put together in one place all the forms of protection to which it is felt men called up for the country's service in peace-time are entitled. That is something which I learned, of course, from hon. Members opposite on many occasions when introducing other Bills.
It is not anticipated that the number who will require to apply for protection will be large. I am sure the good will and the sense of the community at large will prevent that, but the aim has been to ensure that there is protection for the individual cases where severe hardship might arise. It is to protect those individuals that the Bill is presented.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)
This is indeed a very complicated Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour when he concluded his speech made some reference to his feelings when he was given this Bill on entering his new office. I suspect that perhaps his feelings were fairly strong with regard to the complexities of the Bill which it had suddenly fallen to him to deal with, and I am grateful to him, as I am sure we all are, for the way in which he has tackled the formidable task of explaining so complicated a Measure in such a short time.
This is a very substantial Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought it would constitute a lawyers' day out. I think that a more accurate description would be to say that it would certainly constitute a lawyers' purgatory, unless the lawyers are amply supported by the Service representatives on the other side of the House and by the brigadiers and others on this side of the House.
1449 In some respects this is a really terrible Bill. I am not sure that it is not a worse Bill in some respects than the Town and Country Planning Bill which was bad enough, and the Leasehold Reform Bill which again was a very bad one in some respects. This is a terrible Bill because, first of all, it is a difficult one to read. If there is any hon. Member who is still suffering from insomnia, I think he ought to listen to the speeches on the Bill today, or start reading it, and he will soon find a cure. Secondly it must have been a difficult Bill to draft, and I should like to express my sympathy to the Parliamentary draftsmen and my congratulations on the way in which they have dealt with the difficulties. Thirdly, it is not at all an easy Bill to comprehend. The long Explanatory Memorandum has made it much easier, and the right hon. Gentleman himself has contributed to that very considerably. We should commiserate with him in having to face so formidable a task so soon after entering his new office, and congratulate him also on the way in which he triumphed over the difficulties.
One thing that can be said is that the object of this Bill can be very shortly stated. As I understand, it is to give protection to those whose civilian life has been disrupted by recall to the Forces, whether for a short period or for a long period and to protect them and their dependants from the consequences which might, but for this Bill, ensue. We on this side of the House entirely support and agree with that object, and I say straight away, in case there may be some anxiety among hon. Members opposite, who perhaps are now a little exhausted after the manoeuvres of last night, that we shall not, of course, divide on the Second Reading of this Measure. We welcome it. Indeed, we have from this side of the House pressed for something of this sort.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) on 22nd November raised in this House the question of securing some protection for those who were occupying tied houses. He was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low). My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) also pressed not only for the protection of those in occupation of tied houses but for something to be done with regard to 1450 superannuation. It is not uninteresting for me to observe that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour—whom I am glad to see here—in a spirit of despondency on that occasion which I am glad has now evaporated, said in reply:I do not believe that we can solve these problems by legislation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 375.]Well, here we have the Bill. No doubt, he has changed his belief, or be cannot be very keen in his enthusiasm about the effect of the Bill.
This Bill deals not only with the case of the man recalled who was occupying a tied house—it not only protects his wife and family in his absence—but it also deals with superannuation, insurance policies and a wide field in addition. It is the result of trying to achieve that most desirable object of protecting the recalled Service men and women that we get a Bill of this length and complexity. It will be necessary—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree with this—that we should give very careful consideration to the contents of this Bill in Committee, and I hope that if time permits, we shall be given a little time between now and the start of the Committee stage so that we may give further consideration to the details before the Committee stage; that in turn may shorten the Committee stage.
We shall consider this Bill in Committee not in any hostile spirit—I can give the right hon. Gentleman that definite assurance—but with a view to trying to effect improvements, and we all know that when we get a non-controversial Measure, it is wonderful how this House can improve a Bill, in spite of all the trouble and care that may have been taken first in its preparation. We shall also seek to achieve another objective which I myself think is of great importance if this Bill is to operate as we all want it to operate, and that is to see if we cannot secure some degree of simplification in this very complicated Measure. I do not know if it will be possible to secure that, but on one thing I am certain; it is really very desirable that we should bring about some simplification if we can.
Each part of this Bill, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman agrees, is very complicated. I would hesitate to say 1451 which is the most complicated, but as an illustration of its complexity may I take one case. Take the case where a judgment has been obtained in the High Court against an individual for a sum of money due under a contract, and the solicitors for the successful plaintiff want to enforce the judgment. That is a very simple case. They, of course, will not know whether the man or woman who is the defendant to such an action is or is not protected by this Bill. They will obviously have a look at the Bill when it becomes an Act.
The first thing they will do will be to start at the beginning, and they will see under Clause 2, that before they enforce the judgment they will have to apply for the leave of the court to its enforcement unless the contract on which they sue was made after "the relevant date." They will probably search to see what that means. They will find that referred to in Clause 3 (10), where it says:The relevant date means the date on which the service man in question began to perform the period of relevant service.There is a proviso that when he performs two or more periods of service, "relevant date" means the commencement of the last or the latest of those periods of service.
Then the solicitors will have to try to discover from the Measure what is meant by "period of relevant service." Unless they can find out that, they cannot find out the relevant date, and cannot find whether they have to get the leave of the court to proceed to enforce judgment. "Relevant service" they will find defined in Clause 50 (1) asservice after the fifteenth day of July, nineteen hundred and fifty, of a description specified in the Schedule to this Act.We have not got to the end of the matter yet, because when the solicitors look at the Schedule, they will see a long list of servicesrelevant for the purposes of this Act.Many solicitors will now be inclined to give up the pursuit. Few solicitors would be able to determine whether or not a man against whom judgment has been obtained was or was not performing, or had commenced to perform, service within that Schedule before or after the 1452 contract was made on which judgment was obtained.
§ Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
It would appear that the Bill does at least protect the civil interests of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces, which is its purpose?
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I am not at all sure that that follows, as I shall indicate in a moment.
By a lucky chance, the solicitors may turn back to Clause 48 and find there that they can get a certificate from the appropriate authority as to whether the man is serving a period of service, when it commenced and all the necessary information. It follows from that, that the granting or issuing of such certificates is going to be of immense importance if this Part of the Bill is to operate. I am merely taking this one illustration from Part I of the Bill to indicate the complexities, because it is important to try to iron them out in Committee. One could give similar illustrations under the other Parts of the Bill.
This certificate will be a very important ingredient in the operation of Part I, and indeed of the other Parts of the Bill. It is important that the public and the legal profession should be acquainted with the power of obtaining such a certificate, and should be told to whom application for such a certificate should be made. There is no information in the Bill as to that. The certificate can be given by anyone authorised by the Admiralty, the Army Council or the Air Council, and it is very important indeed that it should be speedily issued after application is made for it. I hope that the Attorney-General will be able to give us information on these points: To whom should the application for the certificate be made and how long will it take to get it? We all know how long it takes to get replies from Government Departments, and the Service Departments are no exception from the general rule in that respect.
It seems that where any judgment of the nature I have mentioned is obtained in the High Court, or any judgment of the nature affected by the Part I of the Bill, whether against a man or a woman—the Schedule refers to people who served in the A.T.S. and have been recalled, to the W.R.E.N.S., to Queen 1453 Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service and of course, and I am glad that it does, to the Territorials—it will be advisable for the solicitors acting for the judgment creditors to apply in each case for a certificate. I hope the Attorney-General will agree with me. If they do not, as I understand it, they will not be able to find out whether the defendant is or is not protected by the Bill, and they will run the risk of doing something which, under the Bill, they will not be entitled to do.
I am sure that no one wants to see Service men and women harassed and worried by the proceedings which the Bill is designed to prevent happening. We do not want a lot of abortive proceedings to enforce judgment. It is not enough to say, "If you take these steps they will be of no effect"; one wants to see that the steps are not taken or started. It is of such importance that not only the public but the legal profession should be fully informed of the contents of the Bill and its complexities. It is for those reasons that we must really try to see whether we can bring about some simplification to make it easier for people who are affected by the Bill to determine whether or not they come within its protection, and to make it easier for solicitors and others to find out whether a person against whom they are proceeding comes within it or not.
As far as I can see, the other parts of the Bill are equally, if not more, complicated. Part II gives protection against insecurity of tenure of a place of residence. The provision of the Rent Acts are extended for a limited period to cover classes of property outside and above the normal Rent Acts limit. It is rather interesting to me to note that the Government have made this alteration and extension of the Rent Acts in this Bill, in view of their adamant opposition to the proposal which we put forward from this side, in the course of the debates on the Leasehold Bill, to extend legal protection to tenants, under ground leases, of premises which would otherwise, if they were not held on ground leases, be well within the Rent Restrictions Acts limit. That constructive proposal would have given a great deal of protection, but when we put it forward we met with no success. The Government have now made this extension of the Rent Acts for this limited period.
1454 I am very glad indeed that provision has also been made for the protection of the occupant of the tied house and his dependants. We must examine it in detail in Committee. I should be interested to know, in connection with this Part of the Bill, why the Crown are only to be bound by this Part of the Bill if they are the superior landlords and not the immediate landlords. I find it a little difficult to understand, particularly when the right hon. Gentleman in moving the Second Reading said he would give the assurance that the Crown, if they were the immediate landlord, would in every case act as if they were bound by the Bill. If that is so—and I do not doubt it—I am a little puzzled to know why the Crown is expressly excluded from the Bill when the Crown is in the position of the immediate landlord.
We shall have to consider very carefully in Committee what the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to the particular power of public authorities to secure possession of tied houses. He gave the cases of the signalman and the lock-keeper. I am not at all sure that, as it is drafted, the Bill does not go further than that and give a considerable power of eviction to the public authority in the case of the National Coal Board and possibly British Railways a power of eviction which would not be possessed by the ordinary landlord. We shall be able to consider that in Committee and I will not say any more about it now, except that we want to see protection as adequate as possible given to the occupant of a tied house and his dependants, no matter who is the landlord, and I hope that between us, we shall be able to bring that about.
It is also not uninteresting to note—the right hon. Gentleman did not say anything about this—that although the operation of the Rent Restriction Acts is being extended—and extended to apply also to local authority houses—express provision is also being made to enable the local authorities, in spite of these houses for the first time being brought within the operation of the Rent Restriction Acts, to raise the rents of council houses occupied by the Service men who have been called up, within certain limits, if they so desire to do. Again that is a question which we shall have 1455 to discuss in Committee, but it is a point of some importance.
I do not propose to say much about Part III of the Bill, because if I do, I shall find that many hon. Members will begin to feel cured of any insomnia resulting from last night, but it is curious to me to note that there is a certain degree of overlapping between Part III, which gives protection against insecurity of tenure of business and professional premises, and Part II of the Leasehold Property (Temporary Provisions) Bill. We made certain improvements to Part II of the Leasehold Property (Temporary Provisions) Bill, such as in the case of the Clause dealing with the determination of rents, and those improvements have not been carried forward into this Bill. I believe that they will be equally applicable.
I doubt very much if it would be any advantage to the Service man to seek to take action under Part III of this Bill if he can bring himself within Part II of the Leasehold Property (Temporary Provisions) Bill—that will be for him to determine—but there is a very great deal to be said for trying to get the codes under Part II of the Leasehold Property (Temporary Provisions) Bill and Part III of this Bill as similar as possible, otherwise there will obviously be very great difficulties. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not exclude appeals from the county court to a higher court in the event of disputes because that may be just as much to the advantage of the tenant as it may in some cases to the other side.
I do not propose at this stage to make any comment on the Parts dealing with superannuation and insurance except to say that we welcome them. There are a great many other points on which I could comment, but I believe they are points which we can more appropriately discuss in Committee, and I hesitate to add to what is, I fear, already becoming a rather lengthy speech, although perhaps it is not so long as the right hon. Gentleman's had to be.
We support the objects of the Bill entirely. We can almost claim some degree of responsibility for its paternity. We shall do what we can to improve it and to simplify it, and I hope that the 1456 Attorney-General will do all he can to bring its provisions before those who practise in the legal professions. If the Bill is to operate as we want to see it operate, it may be desirable to have published at the time it becomes law, some simple text-book which will explain carefully, accurately, and shortly the real effect of its provisions. We wish the Bill well, and we hope that it will be improved before it reaches the Statute Book. With those words, I repeat that we shall not divide against it.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
I am not a lawyer but just a simple countryman who has tried to understand the Bill.
§ Mr. Gooch
I must confess that I am not really fitted for the job of understanding a Bill of such complexity. I welcome its general provisions, and in doing so I offer my congratulations to my right hon. Friend upon the way in which he has presented it to the House. I welcome the Bill for a very special reason, that it will protect the Service man and his dependants against eviction.
My interest in this aspect of the Bill goes further than that. I am particularly interested in the protection given by the Bill to Service men living in tied agricultural cottages. Throughout the years these men have never been given protection. Hon. Members know that I have been campaigning against the tied agricultural cottage for the last 30 years, and this is the first move made by any Government to give such men any protection whatever. During the last war farmers secured orders against farm workers living in tied agricultural cottages and these men were evicted. I recall an incident during the last war when a farmer applied for a cottage certificate to the war agricultural executive committee to evict the families of men who were at the time prisoners of war in Singapore. Therefore, I have some grounds for expressing my thanks for the action which is proposed in the Bill.
It is not generally appreciated that, although agriculture has been enjoying a "blanket" in regard to service in the Forces, a number of farm workers will be affected by the present arrangements. There are farm workers who are Z reservists 1457 and will have to serve for a short time, and toward the end of the year the "blanket" will be completely removed from agriculture and farm workers will be called upon to serve. I understand that this Bill will give those men the protection they have been wanting for a long time.
In addition to giving an assurance to Service men living in tied agricultural cottages who will be called up that their families will not be disurbed while they are serving, I should like to see the procedure carried further by seeing the machinery now used for the ultimate eviction of the tenants of agricultural tied cottages completely at a standstill from now on. The hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), will know what I am talking about when I refer to the issue of cottage certificates by county agricultural committees. Before a farmer seeks to evict a farm worker from a tied cottage today, he goes to the agricultural committee to get a certificate——
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. If we are to debate the entire system of the issue of certificates by county agricultural executive committees on this Bill, it will cover a wide field and, I think, anticipate a debate which is to take place on the Adjournment Tomorrow on that very subject.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I had not appreciated the point, and I will take note of what the hon. Member says and will call him to order if necessary.
§ Mr. Gooch
I was really making the point that in addition to giving the Service man living in a tied cottage an assurance that he will not be disturbed, we should give a measure of assurance that his family will not be disturbed by the procedure which usually takes place before eviction follows. That is done by the farmer going to the county agricultural committee and applying for a certificate to evict the family. Here is a chance to relieve the minds of the families living in these cottages by saying that even the procedure leading up to possible eviction will be stopped for the time being. However, I do not want to embark upon a general discussion of agricultural tied cottages. 1458 I shall be ready for that when the opportunity comes and I appreciate what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, that this is the wrong time to talk about it.
One of the chief reasons for Clause 2 is to relieve the minds of people by ensuring that they will not be disturbed under certain circumstances. That being so, why cannot we relieve the minds of the same people in this way? There should be no possible eviction where the householder or a member of the household, is serving. It ought to be possible to give that assurance, not only where the father of the family is called up, but where the son is called up.
Now I come to some points of detail which can be debated at a later stage, but on which I should like the Minister to know what is in my mind. Clause 16 (3) excludes agricultural land exceeding two acres in extent from the provisions of subsection (1). In some parts of the country there are men who have such land attached to their service cottages, so that if this part of the Bill goes through, these men will not be afforded any protection whatever.
Clause 16 (5) implies that where the Crown are the employers, the Bill will not give protection to the Service occupant of the cottage. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to this point and I am with him all the way. I cannot understand why there should be this differentiation. Even where the Crown let the cottage directly, they are under as much obligation to give a man protection for his cottage as a farmer who lets his cottage to the farm worker. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will look at this matter again. If we make this distinction in the case of the Crown, many men working for, say, the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture and living in service cottages will not be subject to the protective Clauses of this Bill, and this would be unfair to the families of such workers. If this assumption is correct, I should like now to offer my objection to it.
Clause 19 (1) gives as an interpretation of a "dependant," a member of the Service man's family, fully or mainly maintained by him. This is a departure from the Rent Acts, where the tenancy can pass from a husband to the wife without taking away any security of tenure. 1459 We may find circumstances existing where not only the Service man himself works for the owner of the cottage, but so does his wife. As many hon. Members will know, this obtains a great deal in agriculture. In fact, often when the farmer engages a man, he engages the whole family, and there are many cases where a wife works on the farm and in the farmhouse too.
Supposing the wife is working on the farm and is earning £4 a week, are the courts bound to rule that, as she earns enough to keep herself, she is not a dependant and is therefore excluded from the protection of the Bill? I should like the Attorney-General to address himself to this point when he replies. I object to the interpretation of a dependant as a member of the family who is "wholly or mainly maintained" by the Service man and I suggest that protection should be given to any member of the family living in the cottage when the man is called to do his service.
Clause 21 deals with the position of a man during a short period of training, presumably a Class Z man, and subsection (2) leaves it to the discretion of the court as to whether or not an order for possession of the premises is executed. We should go further, and by statutory authority prevent the person obtaining an order for possession of a service cottage and getting authority to execute the order until the period of training is complete and for a reasonable period thereafter. Subsection (5) gives the same interpretation of a dependant as in Clause 19, but I suggest there is a need to include every class of dependant of a Service man living in his cottage. I conclude by expressing the hope that the Minister will give some thought, as I am sure he will, to the points of detail I have raised. They are worthy of consideration in the interests of a very deserving section of the community. I thank my right hon. Friend for the way in which he has presented the Bill, to which, in the main, I give my wholehearted support.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Brigadier Head (Carshalton)
The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), introduced his speech by defining himself as a simple countryman. I am in no way disrespectful when I say that his speech did not convince me that he was 1460 an entirely simple countryman. If he is simple, then I begin my speech by saying that I will make my remarks as a moronic militarist.
I support what, I think, all hon. Members have said about the Bill, that it is warmly welcomed on both sides as something that is required. It seems to have gone very closely into the whole question and to have made a real effort to ensure that all the men concerned have a very wide range of possible hardships and difficulties covered. In my opinion, however, the very width, range and complexity of the Bill might inherently do something to stultify its effectiveness.
Any hon. Member who has been concerned with questions of war damage and the like will agree that an immense number of mistakes and invalid claims are made because of ignorance of legislation on the subject concerned. My doubt regarding the Bill is whether the men concerned will ever be fully aware of their rights. All the good will and complexity in the Bill will be to no avail unless by some means this information is known to the men to whom it applies.
In the House, especially with the kind of hon. Members now present upon these benches, we are apt to take it for granted that people know about these things or that they take the trouble to find out. Alternatively, we might say that if they do not take the trouble to find out, their ignorance is their own fault. If the Bill is to be effective, I should like the Service Departments to institute some form of procedure such as, for instance, an introductory talk, by someone with a full understanding of the matter, to all men who arrive for training during their period of call-up, so that they may have a list of the various broad headings under which they have rights, enabling them to make more detailed inquiry in the directions in which they are affected.
I am very much afraid that if men are merely to be issued with an ordinary kind of pamphlet produced by, say, the Judge Advocate General's Department—for whom, I should say, I have no disrespect—they would not take the trouble to read it, At this early stage, therefore, I make the plea that the whole question of information for the men concerned should be tied up between the Ministry of Labour 1461 and the Service Departments. No doubt this point will be further discussed during the Committee stage.
The Minister of Labour, who explained the Bill with very great clarity and whose explanation certainly was most helpful to me, referred to the question of bachelors. A man who is married and who has dependants, and who is called-up, has his rights under the Bill, but not so the bachelor. I appreciate the validity of his exclusion. I feel rather sorry for the bachelor—I am not one myself—as a person who possibly may get a raw deal. If he finds himself without a house as a result of his call-up, I wonder whether some arrangement could be made to ensure that his local council gives him some kind of priority for housing, as is done for men coming out of the Regular Forces. The bachelor might come up against considerable hardship as a result of the Bill, and he has no rights whatever. Could the Attorney-General explain what happens to a man who is engaged to be married? Is his fiancée a dependant?
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Frank Soskice)
His fiancée would not yet be a member of his family. A dependant has to be a member of the man's family.
§ Brigadier Head
The man who is called up and who is engaged to be married might well lose his house, but he gets no protection under the Bill. I do not know whether there is any way of legislating for this eventuality, which is, after all, a human problem and could cause much irritation to those concerned.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, North, who spoke in such "simple" terms about the Bill, mentioned the question of dependants. With housing conditions as they are, I can foresee difficulties as far as dependants are concerned. Nowadays, a man who is married does not have people in his house only because they are dependent upon him. If he is lucky enough to have a house, he has them with him because they belong to his family. Although they may be working for themselves, it is only the husband or the head of the family who is given protection by the Bill. As a result, it is possible that great hardship may be inflicted upon his relatives. Other hon. Members will know from experience that people do not always live in the same house because they are 1462 all dependants who require support, but because the house in which they live is the only roof which the family can get to cover far too many people. This is a matter which will need to be gone into at a later stage; as far as housing is concerned, the old definition of dependants is no longer valid.
There is some anxiety whether reservists who are called up may become involved in a lot of litigation. Would a man in this position be given free legal advice in questions of litigation, or must he pay for it? When the Attorney-General replies to the debate, I should like him to say whether it is expected that the provisions of the Bill will cause any great amount of litigation. As one who is somewhat ignorant on such matters, I should be reluctant to feel that many of the provisions might cause long, protracted and, possibly, expensive litigation for those whom the Bill is intended to protect. We on this side welcome the Bill, and I hope that it will have a speedy and successful passage through the House.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
One of the most moving parts of the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) in welcoming the Bill from this side of the House was when he pointed out the grave effects which the Bill will have and the alarm and despondency which it will cause to the legal profession as a whole and to solicitors in particular. I hope that the House will bear with me for a few moments if I look at this admirable Bill from the standpoint of one of those who will have to make it work.
I do not think there is the slightest doubt in any part of the House that a Bill of this kind is urgently necessary. There is, however, a preliminary question which I wish to ask, because the Minister of Labour did not deal very fully with the point when introducing the Bill. Is there any kind of preliminary estimate of the number of people who will be covered by the provisions of the Bill? According to the Schedule, certain types of reservists and others who are called up for different types of work in connection with the present "near-emergency" are to be covered, and in addition, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), in certain circumstances the dependants of those people 1463 will be covered also. It would be a help to the House to know roughly how many people it is thought will be covered by this Bill.
There is, however, one matter with which I am very concerned. As my hon. and learned Friend said, it will be particularly solicitors who will have to operate this Bill and I am very much afraid that unless we have some clear guidance at a fairly early stage a great deal of difficulty will be experienced and possibly great damage may be done. No one denies the necessity for the Bill; no one in his senses would try to deprive the Service man of adequate protection, but I should like to know at this stage what kind of procedure the Government envisage for working the provisions, particularly of Part I, of the Bill.
When he introduced the Bill this afternoon, the Minister of Labour dealt with the question of who should have the obligation upon him of taking certain steps to bring the protection of the different Parts of the Bill into effect. He pointed out quite rightly that as far as Parts III and V of the Bill were concerned, it was for the Service man to look out for himself, and bring protection over himself. But the right hon. Gentleman did not deal, as I think he promised he would deal, with what was to happen under Part I. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South pointed out the difficulty in which the litigant may be. If a litigant feels he has the right to take some sort of proceedings against an individual, what kind of provision is there to be to make it clear to that litigant whether his prospective defendant is a Service man?
What I have in mind particularly is a case where "A" has a claim for money against "B" and "B" is liable to call-up, but that is not something known to everyone. The matter proceeds, "B" enters an appearance and the case goes on, but suddenly "B" is called up for Service. What is then the position of "A"? How will he have known before that stage about the liability of "B" to Service? What is to be done about costs? "A" will have had his action stayed, or, if he has a judgment, he will not be able to enforce it. What is the position of "A"?
1464 I want to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether it is envisaged that the rules of court, which obviously will be necessary to provide for proceedings under the Bill, will contain the same sort of provision for service with the original proceedings as were provided under the Courts Emergency Powers Act. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that under the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act a notice was served with the writ notifying the prospective defendant of the protection of the Act. Is that the procedure which the Bill is likely to bring in? If so, it will be a rather cumbersome way of protecting what obviously will be a small number of people. It may mean that a great deal of expense and work will be incurred by solicitors who will not know until they are told by someone, or can find out from some source, whether the people with whom their clients are concerned are people liable to recall.
It is a very technical point and I hope to have an opportunity of dealing with it more fully in Committee, but I should like to make a preliminary inquiry as to what the procedure is to be. Is it for the person who is himself plaintiff against a Service man to find out whether the defendant is covered by this Bill? I think we are putting a very great deal of difficulty in his way and also in the way of his solicitors. The solicitors have to operate the Bill.
There seems to be no provision in this Bill corresponding to the kind of legislation we had during the war years known as the Liabilities (War-time Adjustment) Act procedure. That was a form of mechanism which enabled a person who could not pay his debts—not just one judgment but a lot of debts—to be protected against the consequences if in fact, because of his Service in the Forces, he could not meet the obligation. It was a kind of bankruptcy without the stigma of bankruptcy, and many people obtained considerable benefit as a result.
I do not know whether the provisions of this Bill will be sufficient to cover that sort of individual. If we take the case of a small trader: he is already perhaps in some difficult financial situation in these awkward days and he may suddenly receive a call-up notice and be required to serve for a comparatively long period. Under the Bill he will be protected as 1465 far as the tenancy of his shop is concerned and against the enforcement of any judgment against him. But there may be a large number of debts which ought to be paid and the creditors may be pestering him. In normal circumstances, unless he was able to meet them, he would have to go bankrupt. Under those circumstances the Liabilities (War-time Adjustment) Act procedure came into operation. He could go to a liabilities adjustment officer who operated as a sort of temporary receiver for his property and managed the business for him until he was able to stand up to his obligations.
Is anything of that sort thought necessary in the present situation? Naturally, we do not want to encumber the machine too much and we are legislating for a comparatively small number of individuals, but this is a point which should be looked at. It is not a point which easily can be raised in Committee and that is why I am raising it now. If the Government will look at it, perhaps they can introduce a new Clause to meet the situation. We welcome the Bill, for the parentage of which we feel in some measure responsible, and we wish to give it a speedy passage this afternoon. If we can have a few weeks in which to prepare those Amendments which are obviously necessary, we shall be able to ensure a fairly speedy passage through Committee also.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayrshire, South)
Like the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) I think we require a certain amount of time to digest this very complicated piece of legislation. Perhaps I might put one or two preliminary questions to the Attorney-General. Incidentally, I do not know whether he has been congratulated upon his appointment, but I would certainly embarrass him by giving him my congratulations.
Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would help us a little by explaining certain questions which arise out of Part II of the Bill which we are told deals with protection against insecurity of tenure of place of residence. Perhaps he could enlighten us exactly on what a "place of residence" means. Does it mean, for example, a barracks? [Laughter.] It is a very relevant question because surely a place of residence can be a barracks, or even a detention barracks. If a barracks 1466 is a place of residence, and I submit that a barracks does become a place of residence if people in uniform reside in it, then I want to know how security of tenure is to be given to soldiers who happen to have their only home in a barracks. This is not a theoretical point. I am interested in people who were actually evicted from a barracks.
I know it may be argued by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) that I am not in favour of their being admitted to the barracks in the first place, but when people are living in a barracks and in a town where there is no other alternative accommodation, the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton is very relevant. I ask the Attorney-General what is to be done to protect soldiers, who have been in the Army for 20 years, from eviction from the barracks which happens to be their place of residence. I again would put the point which I have put before to the House. In the garrison town which is in my constituency and in the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore), there was a very regrettable incident when soldiers' families were evicted from a barracks and had no alternative accommodation.
I wish to know if this Bill gives any sort of remedy to families who are evicted from a barracks; what sort of protection they will have and whether action will be taken against the people who own the barracks. If so, shall we have the Attorney-General taking action against the Secretary of State for War? I hope he will, because surely it will be rather anomalous if we are prepared to take action against the proprietor of a house but are not prepared to take similar action against the Secretary of State for War. It may even be, and I hope it will be, that the Secretary of State for War may land in the Old Bailey. I hope that if that happens, the jury will convict him.
I wish to return to the case of the injustice done to the families of soldiers because they cannot get alternative accommodation. In the town of Ayr we had four families evicted from a barracks, and they were living in tents for many weeks during some of the worst weather we have ever had in Scotland. There was considerable indignation as a result of this state of affairs. I think we are entitled, 1467 if we are considering the question of the tenure of a place of residence, to ask that some action be taken to protect the ex-soldier and his family who are evicted from a barracks. The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton referred to the fact that local authorities allowed certain housing accommodation for ex-soldiers, but I am afraid he is mistaken so far as Scotland is concerned.
§ Brigadier Head
I did not say they allowed housing accommodation. What I said was that in the case of a Regular Service man who is leaving the Service, a certain number of points is allowed to him with regard to priority.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that that does not apply universally in Scotland. Very often an ex-soldier and his wife and family find themselves at a great disadvantage by having to take their place in a long housing queue. It is a very difficult and complicated matter for the local authority. I suggest that if the purpose of Part II of the Bill is to give protection and security of tenure of the place of residence, there should be some provision for ex-soldiers who, after 20, 25, or 30 years' service, find they have no home to go to. Although the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton and I disagree as to matters of military and strategic policy, I am sure we are united in that we want the best human treatment for the man who has been in the Services all his life. I hope that on the Committee stage we shall be able to get some satisfactory assurance that provision will be made for the proper treatment of ex-soldiers and their families; and that those people shall be given legal protection.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I know well the optimism of the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but I think that that optimism will be over-exerted in the hope that he has just expressed. Whatever may be the merits of the proposals he has made, they would seem to have remarkably little to do with a Bill which deals expressly and solely with reservists and auxiliary forces.
Having said that, I would like to say how much I agree with the hon. Member 1468 on one point, that is in offering congratulations—which I think all of us would like to offer—to the Attorney-General on what most of us feel was his thoroughly well-deserved promotion. Perhaps I am particularly in a position to express that, because the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames has a very peculiar and special relationship with the Law Officers of the Crown, and may I also inform the Attorney-General that I have a personal predeliction in favour of the preferment of Balliol men?
It must be a very agreeable experience, both for the right hon. and learned Gentleman and for his right hon. Friend, that their maiden trip in their respective new offices should be made in charge of a Bill which commands, not only the support of His Majesty's Opposition, but, what is apparently rarer in the case of a Government Bill in these days, of the supporters of His Majesty's Government. That fact is more remarkable when hon. Members contemplate the name that appears first on the back of the Bill.
This Bill seems a complex attempt to do the right thing, and I was much struck by what the Minister of Labour said in moving the Second Reading, to the effect that there was here a balance of conflicting interest. That is manifestly so, but I hope that during the later stages of the Bill, where that balance appears to raise difficulties, the House will proceed on the basis of coming down, where there is doubt at all, on the side of the serving man as against the other parties. I say that for this particular reason.
We are in a very peculiar position at the moment, in as much as the overwhelming majority of us are, with all the blessings of Socialist rule, living our ordinary lives, while a very small majority of us, to a good many of whom this Bill directly applies, are facing all the horrors, tension and strain of modern war. When we are in that peculiar position of an overwhelming majority of citizens of this country living their normal lives while a small minority are exposed to all the experiences of modern war, it seems right that if there is any doubt whatever as between the balance of conflicting interests that doubt should be resolved in favour of imposing the unfairness—if there must be unfairness—on the other party and not on the Service man.
1469 I should like to ask a question which arises from something which was said by the Minister of Labour in moving the Second Reading. He gave what seemed to me a very satisfactory assurance as to the attitude of Government Departments to the making up of the pay of Government servants called up in the Auxiliary and Reserve Forces, and he expressed the hope, which I respectfully support, that private employers would do the same. It would complete the picture if the Attorney-General, when he replies to the debate, could say whether similar steps have been taken to suggest similar action in the case of those great industries which under nationalisation, or to use the Foreign Secretary's phrase, "socialisation," the Government directly control. I hope that we can be given an assurance in that respect, because certainly one of them until quite recently has not acted up to the standards of the Minister of Labour's appeal.
Another issue which seems to arise was touched upon by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), which seems to me to constitute the only substantial blemish upon the Bill. That is the fact that the protection given to the families of serving men against eviction from their homes is very much diminished where the landlord happens to be some form of public authority. I am bound to say that I find it very difficult in principle to see why, for example, in the case of a Service tenant a high degree of protection should be given where the tied cottage belongs to a private individual or a public company and a very much smaller degree of protection should be given where the landlord happens to be some kind of public authority.
This is not indeed as small a matter as the speech of the Minister of Labour may have led one to believe. For example, in Clause 18, the protection given to the tenant is very substantially reduced wherethe landlord is a body who are a local authority (as defined in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947), statutory undertakers (as so defined) or a development corporation (as defined in the New Towns Act, 1946).…There may be an argument, into which I do not propose to enter, in the case of a local authority. I do not see any argument at all in the case of a new town corporation and why it should be put in a special category.
1470 The width of the other exception—the statutory undertaker—can be appreciated only when hon. Members refer to the definition of that term, to which reference is made in the Bill now before us. The definition is that of the Town and Country Planning Act, and in order that hon. Members shall appreciate the width of the exception I will quote the definition.'Statutory undertakers' mean persons authorised by any enactment to carry on any railway, light railway, tramway, road transport, water transport, canal, inland navigation, dock, harbour, pier or lighthouse undertaking, or any undertaking for the supply of electricity, gas, hydraulic power or water,…That is a very wide exception. I cannot believe it to be essential in the public interest to make that exception for that one sphere of industrial and commercial activity, whereas it is thought, in my view rightly, that it is not necessary to do so in respect of the remaining industrial, commercial and agricultural activities of the country.
I hope that when we come to the Committee stage it may be possible to introduce some diminution of that exception into the Bill. I mention the matter at this stage because I think it might be of assistance in arriving at some reasonable compromise on the matter if this issue were brought at once to the notice of the Government Front Bench so that they may have the opportunity of considering what attitude to adopt on what is admittedly a complex question, and in which also that balance of considerations to which the Minister of Labour referred undoubtedly arises.
Many of my hon. Friends particularly welcome this Bill because it embodies in legislative form suggestions which some of us made in the debate on the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Bill on 22nd November last. In particular, it contains those provisions with respect to the superannuation schemes of local authorities and those provisions relating to the tied cottage situation—to which I referred in another context—which were put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low) and myself. We were told then, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, in words which my hon. and learned Friend has quoted, that nothing could be done about it. I am glad that the resources 1471 of the Parliamentary Secretary's Department have proved to be less inadequate than he at that time thought, and that what was then said to be impracticable is now brought forward in the language of the Government Bill.
I say that with complete sincerity, because it seemed to me on 22nd November that the provisions to protect those who are bearing the peculiar and special burden of service were inadequate without some such provisions. I respectfully congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary and his Department on having overcome the admittedly grave drafting difficulties in dealing with that matter. That is the spirit in which I approach this Measure. I am certain that it is intended to do good, and I am sure that in many ways it will do good. But it is equally beyond controversy that so complex a Measure will undoubtedly reveal some difficulties when submitted to the close analysis which it is the duty of hon. Members to give it during its Committee stage.
We wish the Bill well. It could hardly have been brought forward at a more appropriate moment than this, when the minds of most of us in this House and in the country are so deeply concerned by the heavy and grave events which have fallen upon those of our fellow countrymen who are fighting in Korea at present.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Frank Soskice)
May I at the outset express my warm sense of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) for their very kindly references to myself, which I greatly appreciate.
This Bill is, I entirely agree, extremely complicated. I agree still more that if we can possibly simplify it we certainly ought to do so during the Committee stage. The Government will listen very sympathetically to any proposals which may have that effect which may be advanced from any quarter of the House. But having been personally closely associated with the preparation of the Bill, I can assure the House that we have already tried very hard to make it simpler and we have not really got beyond what 1472 has been produced and what is before the House today.
As the hon. and gallant Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) said, this is certainly a Bill which requires and calls for full examination in Committee. The whole House is agreed upon the principle of it, but I think that the whole House is also agreed that the detail of it requires a great deal of further consideration. I repeat that when the Bill is examined in Committee, any proposals that are forthcoming to improve it will be most sympathetically and gratefully received by those who speak for the Government.
After listening to the speeches today, I might in reply perhaps try to group the points which have been made into one or two broad categories. I am sure that it would not be appropriate, nor would the House wish it, for me to anticipate now the Committee stage debates, but one or two broad matters of principle have been raised to which I might refer.
The first which was raised was the important point that a creditor or the legal adviser to a creditor may find himself in great difficulty in determining whether or not he requires the consent of the court to take further steps to enforce any judgment that may have been obtained. Frankly we recognise that it is a very serious difficulty. We had hoped to meet it by the provision which we have made in Clause 48 for the furnishing of certificates. Whether that will in practice go the whole way to meet the difficulty I am not sure. What it is hoped will eventuate is that anybody who can satisfy any of the Service authorities that he is interested in proceedings either as a defendant in them or as a person wishing to enforce relief which has been awarded to him by the court, or the legal adviser of such a person, will be furnished with a certificate.
One hon. Member asked how long it would take. It is most important, when one is contemplating proceedings, that it should not take long. It is difficult to know exactly what the volume of applications may be, but we apprehend and hope that it should be possible to furnish the certificate at all events within a week of it being asked for. Perhaps that is a hope that will be falsified, but it is what is hoped.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
It would be helpful if the Attorney-General could indicate now what he has in mind as to the machinery for obtaining the certificate. Where is the request to be made?
§ The Attorney-General
I shall come to that point in a moment. I was first going to say that in order to make it possible to furnish certificates which will be reliable and of real use in any proceedings which are contemplated the certificate will be of an affirmative rather than a negative character. By that I mean that it will state that so and so is doing or has done this or the other service but it will not state that such and such a person has not been engaged in service in His Majesty's Forces. It would involve a great deal more inquiry and research to provide certificates in negative form rather than in positive form. I think that is evident. If one has reasonable particulars identifying an individual one can furnish a positive certificate, but if one is asked to inquire of all the Service Departments in which that person may have rendered service in order to be able to say that he has not served in any of them room for error creeps in, and it becomes necessary to carry out a much wider range of research to furnish negative certificates.
The question is asked, where one will have to apply for the certificate? The administrative arrangements will be worked out but I can say that the Service man will get a leaflet in language that will be simple—if I may assure the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), it will be as simple as possible—which will state his rights. It will tell him to whom he has to go if he wishes for information and it will afterwards tell him where he is to go or where any of his dependants are to go if they need any of these certificates. He will be encouraged not to take the leaflet with him but to leave it behind with his family so that reference to the leaflet can be made by his dependants in his absence should need arise.
That will, it is hoped, adequately safeguard the Service man. It does not necessarily furnish the same protection for the opposite party as for the person who claims relief. We are trying to devise such arrangement as we can to make the information as public and as easily accessible 1474 as possible to all concerned. I do not think that I can go further than that now. It is a matter which can be more fully probed during the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Hay
Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman really saying that if a litigant wishes to enforce the judgment which he has obtained against an individual who may or may not be a Service man, it is incumbent upon the litigant or his advisers to make a search for a certificate? Does that mean that in almost every case, before the litigant can proceed with any prospect of safety, his solicitors will have to apply for a certificate or find out whether a person is serving. Will it not make it an extremely cumbersome system which will encourage a large number of applications?
§ The Attorney-General
I agree with a lot of what the hon. Gentleman says. If we can think of a more effective system, we shall do our best to implement it. We hope that it will not work out so badly as might have been implied by what has been said. Generally speaking, but not always, in the ordinary course of litigation both parties know a certain amount about each other. If there is reason to suppose that service considerations may be present, the plaintiff can ask for a certificate. We shall have to see how this system works out, and we shall consider any proposal which might work better. It is an important and difficult point.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
It is an important and difficult point, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not mind if I interrupt. I am considering a case falling within Clause 2, of someone who has already obtained judgment seeking to enforce that judgment.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
A person who has done that may be completely unaware of the obligations which fall upon the defendant—the man against whom judgment has been filed. If he is to comply with this Bill, that judgment creditor must find out whether or not the judgment debtor is liable to serve. If he applies for a certificate, I gather that he can only get one if the man is serving or has served; he will not get what has been called a negative certificate. Unless the 1475 judgment creditor can get a negative certificate to say that there is no liability, the liability may arise in the future; and there will be no safeguard to ensure that the judgment creditor can comply with the Bill. Is not that the position?
§ The Attorney-General
That is a difficulty which is inherent in the situation. During the war one operated the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act, and the difficulty did not arise so much because that was applicable to the whole population. One knew without having to make inquiry that the protection afforded by that Act was applicable to everybody. Here we are protecting a far more limited class of persons. I am sure that everyone will agree that it would be completely pointless and a waste of time and money to try to produce a system like that in the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act which applied to everybody. Once we are faced with a situation where it applies to a limited number, the difficulty immediately arises.
I hope that in cases under Part I the two litigants will know a certain amount about one another. It should be possible as a matter of practice for the plaintiff to inform himself without too much difficulty. But we shall listen sympathetically to any proposal whereby administratively the matter could be improved. Indeed, we would be willing to change the provisions of the Bill with that end in view. However, we feel that it cannot really take any other form. Having regard to the material with which it has to deal, it is difficult to devise any better system.
I pass from that point to deal with other matters of principle. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) referred to the Liabilities (War-Time Adjustment) Acts. We certainly considered that carefully, but we rejected it. Our experience of the administration of those Acts was that it was not always the most deserving person who benefited by their provisions. Very often it was the case that the individual who really was not deserving of protection, who really was not trying to face up to his liabilities, got much more advantage from the application of the provisions of those Acts than a man who was doing his best to face the difficulties in which he found himself. We have taken the view partly for the reason I have indicated that, it did not really work well, and 1476 partly also because, having regard to the situation, we do not think that their very drastic provisions are necessary. We remain content with the rather more limited form of protection in this Bill.
Several hon. Members on both sides of the House were concerned with the position of the service tenant. First, may I say that the National Coal Board is not included within the definition of a statutory undertaker contained in Clause 18 (3). As the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames pointed out, the definition of a statutory undertaker is borrowed from the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and it does not include the National Coal Board. Some hon. Members on both sides were apprehensive that perhaps it went too far, as it stood already, in not including the National Coal Board. I hope that hon. Members will not think that that is the case. The kind of situation that one envisages is a situation in which there is a service tenant of a house, or a service licensee of a house, and there is an urgent public need to use the house or cottage in which he is living.
The case has been mentioned of the lock-keeper. That is one example. One could give a number of examples where the public interest has to be balanced against the private interest of the person who is a service licensee or tenant of a house. In the circumstances, it was felt that it really was necessary that it should be possible for the public interest to prevail. I reassure hon. Members, particularly on this side of the House, that the fact that we have made it possible, where the public interest requires it, to terminate a tenancy or licence of a service tenant, does not mean that he is bound to lose his cottage.
The court will only evict him if it is established that it is reasonable so to do. Without the provisions of Clause 18 (3) it would not be possible to get him out unless alternative accommodation were shown to be in existence. The test is that the court must think in the circumstances that it is reasonable to turn him out; and no doubt, in deciding whether it was reasonable, the court would balance the public requirement—what public interest demanded—against the circumstances in which a man found himself.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does that mean that the commanding officer of a barracks 1477 would have to go before a court before he could evict an ex-soldier who was living in married quarters in the barracks?
§ The Attorney-General
I think that my hon. Friend is a little too apprehensive about married quarters in Army camps or establishments. The Bill does not cover Regular serving soldiers. It is Regular serving soldiers who are usually found to be the occupants of married quarters in barracks. The categories of Service personnel dealt with in this Bill would not, except possibly on rare occasions, include the occupants who live in married quarters in barracks or Army camps with their families. I do not think that the point raised has any practical or real application in the circumstances.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Can the Attorney-General say why the considerations to which he has referred are coterminous with the definition of a statutory undertaking? Surely the factors he has raised are as material in the case of, say, engineering or munition factories as they are in the case of railways and canals.
§ The Attorney-General
If we have wrongly limited the area, that is a matter we can put right in Committee. I commend the principle which is that we may have a situation where a person is living in a cottage when there is an urgent public need that some other person should be substituted for him. If that is the case, then the court is given the right to say whether it is reasonable that that person should be evicted from the cottage or not. That is the situation. If we have wrongly drawn the limit to which that principle can apply, we will reconsider it and change it in Committee. For the time being, we have felt it right to borrow the definition from the Town and Country Planning Act. It is a matter to which no doubt hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will give further attention later during the course of this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), was concerned with the position of families, particularly the fathers of Service men. He referred also to the wives. We have drawn the Bill upon the assumption that protection shall exist in the case of residential premises only, where it can be said that the Service man was living in the premises and that he had some member of his 1478 family dependent upon him, either wholly or mainly. The premises need not be premises of which he is the tenant. The tenant may be the dependant. The tenant may be a father of the Service man who has been called up for service. It is considered necessary that there should be an element of dependence and that the member of the family in question should be wholly or mainly dependent.
With regard to the wife, it would be a question of fact whether she was wholly or mainly dependent. In a great many households I should have thought that even if she was also earning something, the fact could be proved that she was, at any rate, mainly dependent upon the Service man who was her husband and who in fact supported her. It is a matter of fact, and the court would have to consider the situation in any case. The certificate of the County Agricultural Executive Committee under the provisions of this Bill certainly is not a circumstance which dispenses with the necessity of providing alternative accommodation. My hon. Friend has indicated that he is satisfied with the provisions of the Bill in that respect. This Bill has a limited objective. It deals only with Service personnel of certain categories. Although it is permanent, I do not think it could be contemplated as within the scope of this Bill to do in general terms what my hon. Friend would have wished that it should do.
In commending this Bill to the House, I have sought, I hope not unsuccessfully, to treat with the general issues of principle which emerge from the arguments which have been put forward. Perhaps I am wrong, but I do not think that any general issues of principle remain to be dealt with. Of matters of detail, there are legion, and there are bound to be in a Bill of this complication which is some 51 pages long. I hope that the House will think that it is sufficiently acquainted with the general purposes of the Bill, and that it is sufficiently in agreement with the way in which the Bill seeks to set out those purposes, to agree that it should be given a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, could he reply to the request which I made to him to amplify what the Minister 1479 of Labour has said as to making up the pay of reservists recalled, in reference to the nationalised industries?
§ The Attorney-General
I am afraid that I have no further information than that given by my right hon. Friend, who referred to Government Departments and also to private employers. In the case of local authorities, the matter is under consideration, but I have not any decision to announce. In the case of the nationalised industries, I am in a position to tell the House that, whatever decision they may take on the point, no legislation would be required, and it would not, in any case, be feasible, within the provisions of this Bill, to deal with that particular topic by way of any legislative enactment. It is a matter for them, and I can only answer the question which the hon. Gentleman asked me by saying that I have not any decision which I am able to report.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that he is making, or will make, efforts to secure that they will follow the example already set? Will he do that? Perhaps the Minister of Labour will say that he will make inquiries and use his influence to see that they follow the example set?
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. and learned Gentleman wants assurances and so on, but it must be left to the bodies concerned, and, no doubt, in due course, they will consider it and decide what is proper in the circumstances.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
May I ask a question about the protection of superannuation rights under Clause 37? Am I to understand that the Exchequer will make up the full superannuation contribution? Will it fall to the local authorities? This may be a Committee point, and perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend will tell me if it is. Will it fall to the local authorities, or, in the case of teachers, will the teacher concerned have to make his contribution? This will have an important bearing on the question whether the pay is made up or not.
§ The Attorney-General
That would be for the local authorities to decide, but what the effect of that might be on their 1480 block grant is another matter, which would have to be taken into account.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee.