HC Deb 17 June 1954 vol 528 cc2400-36
Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I beg to move, in page 7, line 36, to leave out from the beginning, to "are," and to insert: and any of the initial repairs. It would be convenient to consider at the same time the Amendment in page 7, line 41, to leave out "carrying them out," and to insert: ascertaining what repairs are required as aforesaid and in carrying out such of the initial repairs as are so required. and the Amendment in page 8, line 17, at the end, to insert: and, where there are any initial repairs so required, the amount to be included in the payment for accrued tenant's repairs in respect of the cost incurred by the landlord in ascertaining what initial repairs are so required. The three Amendments meet a point raised during the Committee stage by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens). I promised to meet the substance of his Amendment, although I could not accept the form in which it was placed before the Committee. The purpose of the Amendments is to include survey fees in the payment for initial repairs.

Sir F. Soskice

I am sure that the Home Secretary will realise not only from what I but many of my hon. Friends have repeatedly said that we shall not be very pleased with his Amendments. I suppose that the survey fees for the purpose of ascertaining what repairs are due to be carried out in the case, for example, of one of the old houses which I have mentioned might be anything from 15 to 20 guineas, if not more. The Home Secretary shakes his head. I do not know for what figure he thinks the surveyor would carry out the survey on property of that sort. Surveyors have to be paid, and, naturally, they want reasonable remuneration for their services.

His Amendments seek to put the fees as an extra burden upon the shoulders of the tenants. If the tenant had not already got very heavy burdens to bear, perhaps there would be a case for saying that, as between the landlord and the tenant, that necessary expense, if the repairs are repairs which should have been borne by the tenant, should at any rate be partly shouldered by the tenant as well as by the landlord.

However, as I have said, our main objection to this part of the Bill is that in its practical application it will confront tenant after tenant with the prospect of bankruptcy or eviction or both. It seems to me that in these circumstances it is bordering on the vicious to seek to add to the tenant's burden the extra fees payable in order to ascertain the amounts of the repairs to be carried out.

After all, what will be the practical situation. It may be that many landlords will have done absolutely nothing about it, and probably have not even carried out the repairs which they them. selves should have carried out, nor called upon the tenant to comply strictly with the provisions of a repairing covenant. When the tenancy or the long lease comes to an end, the landlord will look around to see what is his situation with regard to these particular premises, and, no doubt, many landlords will be delighted to see that there is an extra burden which they can put upon the tenant beyond the burden of the accrued repairs and the market rent, which the tenant has to pay. These landlords will seek to exact the cost of the surveyor's fee if the Bill enables them to do so, and landlords who have a tinge of unscrupulousness in their make-up will think that the burden of the surveyor's fee is just another turn of the screw to be put upon the tenant.

It may be said that, if the Government have already plunged as far as that in favour of the landlord and against the tenant, this is just another drop in the ocean with which they are overwhelming the tenant, and, therefore, it could be said that there is no violent and deep principle involved in it. They have gone so far and it perhaps does not make any serious difference if they go a bit further in their campaign against the tenant, but I am quite sure that the Home Secretary will realise that, when he assented to this proposal, he was doing something which would please no person who is well disposed to this very large number of tenants who will have this weight put upon their shoulders by this Measure.

Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)

I want to thank my right hon. and learned Friend for this Amendment. I take an entirely different view about this matter from that taken by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice). I think that the position of the tenant and the ordinary lay landlord, who will have to interpret this Act, will probably be extremely miserable unless a surveyor is brought in to assist the lay landlord. The big landlords have their own expert advisers; it means nothing to them, and the tenants will not be charged anything on that account. The small lay landlord who has taken up a repairing covenant under a long lease will bring in a surveyor of good standing, who has the job of interpreting—and who can interpret—the provisions of this Bill, and who will do as much to restrain the landlords from making exorbitant demands on the tenant as anyone else. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite speaks as if every landlord and surveyor is not to be trusted. [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman tempts me into saying that—

Sir F. Soskice

I did not say that all landlords were unscrupulous or that all surveyors were, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that I did not do so. I have never done so, and I do not believe it to be so. What I said, as I am sure he will agree if he will calm himself, was that there are some landlords who are unscrupulous, just as there are some tenants who are. It is incumbent upon a Government which really means to do justice as between landlord and tenant not to go out of its way to put the scrupulous tenant at the mercy of such unscrupulous landlords as there may be.

10.15 p.m.

Sir P. Spens

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that the expert advice of a surveyor is as valuable as the expert advice of the profession to which both he and I belong. They both have standards of honesty and honour which have to be kept up, and he ought to know that bringing in a surveyor in cases like this is likely to be of benefit to the tenant. Therefore, I approach this matter from a different point of view from that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. I asked for this provision because I know that the big landlords have their own surveyors who will deal with all these things in accordance with the provisions of the Bill as we pass it. It will cost the tenant absolutely nothing. It is for the lay landlord who does not know and cannot interpret the Bill and who wants extra advice that the Amendment has been put forward. It is in the interests of the tenant and not of the landlord that I want the honourable profession of the surveyor brought in to interpret these provisions, and I am certain that it will be very much in the interests of the tenant in most cases that this honourable and expert advice should be given.

Mr. Hale

I thought that the Home Secretary would not have reason to thank his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) for his assistance by the time he sat down. We are, however, very grateful, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given us useful information, including information about where the Amendment came from. It apparently came from the surveyors' association, at the request of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington. South.

He said that the surveyors' profession was an honourable one. So it is, but so is the profession of the lawyers and that of the doctors, but when a surveyor or a doctor goes into the witness box to give expert evidence he invariably gives evidence for the side which has called him. Those of us who have been in workmen's compensation cases will agree with me that we always know what the employer's doctor or the workman's is going to say before he goes to give evidence. If I did not know that the workman's doctor was giving evidence for the workman, I should get another examination.

I would ask the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South whether he has seen the sort of schedule of dilapidations that surveyors can produce, and whether he thinks that it is an impartial document. Is he not aware that this system has been practised for well over 100 years and that many complaints have been made about it? Does he not agree that the surveyor often makes a list of demands for repairs and replacements that would turn a hovel into a palace—they are so expensive? Has it not always been necessary to employ another surveyor?

What is the suggestion in this case? That a small additional burden should be put on the camel's back of the tenant. We should see what this burden means. As I read the Clause, it covers not only the items that the surveyor would require to be done but the surveyor's seeing that it is all done. If I am right, we reach the situation in which the landlord has given a notice which is of no effect. The tenant has said, "I want to continue in occupation, if I can do so at a reasonable figure." The landlord and tenant have failed to agree. The surveyor goes in as an agent of the landlord.

I would ask the House to remember that we have heard for years the argument in this matter of landlord and tenant that the landlord renders a useful service in preserving property because of his expert knowledge and experience and his lifelong devotion to the task of being a landlord. The landlord is helping to keep the property in condition because he says what repairs have to be done. He brings in his expert and his inherited knowledge of a thousand generations of landlords. It may be now only 30 or 40 generations, because the assistant editor of Debrett has rather exposed this theory about indigenous Peers.

The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South now tells us that the poor wretched landlord does not know anything about houses, and has to ask his surveyor. How can he talk about repairs and say, "The mantelpiece is in a bad condition. You must put in a new mantelpiece," or "The decorations are bad and need replacement?" How can the landlord do all that without expert advice? A company director needs advice. Everybody knows that a company director has to have accountants and solicitors, and that he takes their advice. That is the system. I have seen it at work.

The landlord says to the tenant, "We cannot agree, so I shall fetch in my surveyor." The surveyor serves a schedule of dilapidations on the tenant and says, "These are what we think are important to do, and if you are not satisfied you must go to the county court judge". The poor wretched tenant is just beginning to get a rough idea what this Bill means, but he already has a better idea than most of us have in this House. I do not think that any of us understand the Bill but it is beginning to develop in our minds that there are a few snags about it.

The poor wretched tenant seeks legal advice. The solicitor says, "I have a good common law clerk, I will get him to read the Act." He comes back and tells the tenant, "This is really a question of repairs. How can I advise you about a new mantelpiece? You must have a surveyor."

Of course he must have a surveyor. What is the good of going to the county court with expert evidence on the one side and not on the other? It is no use a solicitor saying to the county court judge, "My client does not think that the room wants doing." The county court judge says, "There may be much in that, but I have a surveyor's expert evidence and it has been said that this should be done."

There we are. The poor tenant has to get a surveyor—another 15 guineas gone. But that 15 guineas is only for going into the house, typing out a list and making a report. There is no agreement. The surveyor to the landlord gives a figure of £300 and the surveyor to the tenant says that it should be £100. We go to court, and there is another 10 guineas a time to get the surveyor to the court.

And I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say to his profession that if they want to serve the community it would not be a bad idea if they laid down a scale of charges for appearing in court. Not so long ago I was asked by an expert witness—a specialist—for a fee of 200 guineas. But let us be reasonable and call it 10 guineas£I want to put the case with moderation. We now have a figure of 25 guineas aside.

Then the unhappy county court judge says, "What can I do? There is a surveyor on each side, and one says one thing and the other another. I shall have to call in an expert surveyor to advise me." One knows that this has happened. Every time one had a complicated workmen's compensation case the colliery doctor said one thing, the miners' doctor another, and the judge said he must have an assessor. That is 20 guineas, of course, because the surveyor has to be paid as a county court assessor, so now we are up to about 70 guineas. I am told that it is 80 guineas, which shows I am being moderate and not overstating the case.

By this time the tenant is asking the pawnbroker what he can pawn. By now the tenant really does not know what he is to do. This is the whole accumulated series of burden's. The poor wretched man has lived in the house for six months without knowing what his obligations are or what will happen. At the end of it all the county court judge, trying his best to do what is reasonable, will have to saddle the tenant with a burden of several hundred pounds in costs, surveyors' fees, repairs—landlord's repairs which the landlord claims he had to do because the tenant could not—and arrears of rent.

We are now adding to that. We are entitled on Report to wonder how this came about because you, Mr. Speaker, said—and I ventured to express, with some respect, some dubiety about your Ruling at the time, but having thought it over I no longer contest it—that the object of the further consideration stage was to tidy up. Certainly one expected the Home Secretary, than whom no one is more courteous, more helpful to the House or more patient—and indeed, very few Ministers speak with greater clarity on a complicated subject—to consider the matters which had been raised and the representations made during the Committee stage. In some respects he has met us, although on matters more of detail than of substance, if I may say so without being ungenerous. We did not expect the light to descend upon him on his way from Committee stage to the Report stage of this Bill, as it did upon St. Paul on his way to Damascus.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The hon. Member cannot have heard what I said. I said that the point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) in the Committee stage was unnecessary. My right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General then said: There is provision in Section 146 of the Law of Property Act, 1925, for the recovery of such items in certain circumstances. We would like to have an opportunity of considering whether an Amendment should be tabled to have survey fees included, and I would be grateful if the Amendment could be withdrawn."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, Standing Committee D, 18th March, 1954; c. 193.] Upon that my right hon. and learned Friend withdrew his Amendment. That is why I raise the matter now.

Mr. Hale

I am much obliged. I understand the position now. I had overlooked it.

It is not unreasonable that I did so, because in the course of 42 columns of the debate on that day the whole subject occupied precisely half a column. That half column contained not merely the opening speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) but the reply of the Solicitor-General and the responding speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

It is a little unfortunate that the Solicitor-General, in his brevity, should have referred to such an inappropriate Act. He referred to the Law of Property Act, 1925, which refers only to business premises and could have no bearing of any kind upon this matter. That Act is specially concerned with such matters as goodwill value.

Mr. Mitchison

That is the 1927 Act.

Mr. Hale

These are matters in which I have never had to do any research. I had the good fortune to pass my examination two years before those Acts were passed. I have looked at the matter from the outside on many occasions. I took in a conveyancing partner and absolved myself from the duty of mastering it.

This Bill really will not work. In effect, in all these provisions the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying, "In respect of the business of long leaseholds, where a man has occupied a house which, usually, his ancestors built and paid for, and where he clearly has a moral claim to the property, we do not want to face the moral issue that arises in South Wales, where tenants are turned out on to the streets, together with their furniture, and are left homeless and helpless. So we will introduce as much as the landlords will allow us to introduce. We shall give tenants a modest security, with burdens they cannot bear.

We shall deal with this matter in the same way as we dealt with the question of imprisonment for debt. Public conscience revolts against people being imprisoned for debt, so we will abolish it. In this case we shall make an order for them to pay, and commit them for contempt of court if they fail to comply. We shall throw tenants out because they fail to pay a rent which they cannot afford; because they fail to pay costs which they cannot afford, and because they are unable to bear the burden placed upon them by the Bill. That is how we shall absolve our consciences from throwing people out of houses."

I suggest that I have been able to show, by illustrating the effects of the last few Clauses, that the Bill will not work. There is one good thing about a bad Bill. It stimulates activity. It may be that had the right hon. and learned Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench shown a little more sense, and a little more sense of justice, it would have been accepted. It may be that in the stir of public business it would have lasted for some years. It may be that one would have said, "Well, we have dealt with this matter, perhaps not as well as we might have done, but we have dealt with it." It may be that in that way the right hon. and learned Gentlemen might have avoided some of the difficulties which usually follow temporising with land leases.

10.30 p.m.

In discussing these three burdens we are dealing with a moving history which goes back for centuries. We are taking part in that moving stream of history which has gradually forced action. Over the centuries we have seen Tories resisting improvement, and right forcing the granting of concessions. That has been the history of Ireland. It was the history for a century of a million people dying of famine before Ireland got a little amendment of tenant right of the battle of land reform going on a battle which will go on.

I hope that my hon. Friends will say in no uncertain terms that when a Labour Government comes back the first thing that Administration will deal with is this question of leasehold enfranchisement, the removal of these burdens and the giving of security to people. We stand by our faith that a man is entitled to a home and should, as far as possible, be free from an unnecessary burden of rent.

Mrs. White

I had always supposed that the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) was a close relation of the Forsyte family, and the fact that he has persuaded the Government to accept this proposal confirms me in that opinion. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to come here almost with tears in his eyes and with a break in his voice, and to say, "Look at these small lay landlords who cannot cope with their property and who must be helped to obtain professional advice in order to secure their rights."

But, after all, we are dealing here with ground landlords, not with the owners of small rack-rented properties. How many of these landlords are such poor, pathetic creatures that they are quite unable to secure their rights? It is not only the occasional small ground landlord who exists here and there who is going to benefit from this Amendment.

I think I am correct in supposing that our dear friends, Western Ground Rents of Cardiff, will be able to claim a considerable portion of their expenses under this Amendment. They will be able, I think I am correct in imagining, to claim considerable sums of money in respect of their permanent professional staff, because there is nothing here about having to employ an occasional surveyor. If people have permanent surveyors on their staff, they will be able to claim expenses which they may put forward as having been incurred.

It seems to me that that is one of the ultimate meannesses about this Bill. It gives a certain security, but, having done that, it then proceeds to lay every possible burden on the tenant and to do everything possible in favour of the landlord. This surely was one thing which even the Government had not thought of, but which, one can only suppose, was put into their minds during the Committee stage at the indirect insistence of the professional persons concerned. Even if the Government could not accept the other major points put forward from this side of the House, at least they might have resisted this rather mean Amendment. I very much hope that we shall express our indignation by rejecting it.

Mr. Iorwerth Thomas

This Amendment is one of the meanest and most despicable of proposals. As my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said, the Government have been inspired by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens). I am not going to question the honesty of the surveyors' profession, but I do know that the surveyors' fees that are chargeable are to a great extent determined by the assessments of repairs. The surveyor who estimates repairs at £10 receives a comparatively small fee. What would the fee be if the assessment were £200? This proposal is an incentive to any surveyor engaged about his master's business, who knows the tenant will bear the cost, to discover every little defect or excuse for a repair he can, and so to inflate the assessment of the estimate of the repairs.

Under the Rent Acts all that is required to satisfy a court about the state of repair of a property is a certificate from the local authority's inspector. The Solicitor-General, in Committee, said he did not want to quarrel with the Rent Acts. If the local authority's inspector's certificate is acceptable in determining the state of good repair of property under the Rent Acts, why is his certificate not of equal value and not equally acceptable in determining what is required to put into a state of good repair property affected by the Bill?

We have heard much about the poor, illiterate, uninformed landlords, but who are the people who are to bear this additional burden of expense? In Wales, particularly, it is the older generation of people who occupy these properties. They, in the autumn of their lives, are to be burdened with this additional cost. This is exploitation of the most honest, good-living social types in our community. Acceptance of this Amendment means robbing them of their assets, their homes. I hope we shall express our indignation at the Government's acceptance of this proposal by a vote.

Mr. West

I appeal to the Home Secretary to give another thought to this Amendment. It really is a mean thing that is proposed. What is being done?

The landlord, who is to be recompensed for the expense involved in ascertaining the repairs required to the property, is getting the capital value of property he has not paid for; he is getting a property someone else has built and maintained, and all the services for which someone else has paid. Now the Government say this man, the owner, who is now expropriating this property, should have this cost borne for him by the tenant. It really is a shocking and a mean thing, and I hope that the Home Secretary will say that he will have another look at this matter. If not, I am sure that my hon. Friends will feel that they must register their indignation in the Division Lobbies against it.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 144; Noes, 179.

Division No. 156.] AYES [10.40 p.m.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Proctor, W. T.
Baird, J. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Bartley, P. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Reeves, J.
Bence, C. R. Janner, B. Reid. Thomas (Swindon)
Benn, Hon. Wedgwood Jeger, George (Goole) Rhodes, H.
Beswick, F. Jeger, Mrs. Lena Ross, William
Blackburn, F. Johnson, James (Rugby) Royle, C.
Blyton, W. R. Jones, David (Hartlepool) Shackleton, E. A. A.
Boardman, H. Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.) Short, E. W.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Bowden, H. W. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Bowles, F. G. Keenan, W. Skeffington, A. M.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Kenyon, C. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Brockway, A. F. King, Dr. H. M. Sorensen, R. W.
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Lawson, G. M. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Sparks, J. A.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.
Callaghan, L. J. Lewis, Arthur Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Champion, A. J. Logan, D. G. Sylvester, G. O.
Coldrick, W. MacColl, J. E. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Collick, P. H. McLeavy F. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Mainwaring, W. H. Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Manuel, A. C. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Deer, G. Mason, Roy Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich) Mitchison, G. R. Thornton, E.
Edelman, M. Monslow, W. Turner-Samuels, M.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Moody, A. S. Viant, S. P.
Fienburgh, W. Morley, R. Wallace, H. W.
Foot, M. M. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Weitzman, D.
Freeman, John (Watford) Mort, D. L. Wells, William (Walsall)
Gibson, C. W. Moyle, A. West, D. G.
Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Motley, F. W. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Grey, C. F. Nally, W. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Hale, Leslie Oldfield, W. H. Wilkins, W. A.
Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Oliver, G. H. Willey, F. T.
Hamilton, W. W. Orbach, M. Williams, David (Neath)
Hannan, W. Oswald, T. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)
Hargreaves, A. Padley, W. E. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.) Paget, R. T. Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Hastings, S. Pearson, A. Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Hayman, F. H. Peart, T. F. Willis, E. G.
Hobson, C. R. Plummer, Sir Leslie Yates, V. F.
Holman, P. Popplewell, E.
Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Porter, G. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Mr. Holmes and Mr. Rogers.
Aitken, W. T. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield) Osborne, C.
Alpert, C. J. M. Harvie-Watt, Sir George Page, R. G.
Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Heath, Edward Perkins, Sir Robert
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Higgs, J. M. C. Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Powell, J. Enoch
Baldwin, A. E. Hirst, Geoffrey Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Barlow, Sir John Holland-Martin, C. J. Raikes, Sir Victor
Baxter, Sir Beverley Hope, Lord John Redmayne, M.
Beach, Maj. Hicks Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry Rees-Davies, W. R.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Remnant, Hon. P.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Horobin, I. M. Ridsdale, J. E.
Birch, Nigel Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Roberts, Peter (Heeley)
Bishop, F. P. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Robson-Brown, W.
Black, C. W. Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.) Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Bossom, Sir A. C. Hylton-Foster, H. B. H. Roper, Sir Harold
Bowen, E. R. Iremonger, T. L. Russell, R. S.
Boyle, Sir Edward Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas
Braithwaite, Sir Gurney Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Jones, A. (Hall Green) Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Kaberry, D. Shepherd, William
Bullard, D. G Kerby, Capt. H. B. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Bullus, Wing Commander, E. E Kerr, H. W. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Burden, F. F. A. Lambert, Hon. G. Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)
Campbell, Sir David Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Spearman, A. C. M.
Cary, Sir Robert Lindsay, Martin Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Linstead, Sir H. N. Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.)
Cole, Norman Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C. Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)
Colegate, W. A. Low, A. R. W. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Cooper-Key, E. M. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Summers, G. S.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) McCallum, Major D. Sutcliffe, Sir Harold
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Macdonald, Sir Peter Teeling, W.
Crouch, R. F. Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) McKibbin, A. J. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Deedes, W. F. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Thompson, Lt-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W)
Digby, S. Wingfield Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.) Tilney, John
Dodds-Parker, A. D MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty) Touche, Sir Gordon
Doughty, C. J. A. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Turner, H. F. L.
Drewe, Sir C. Maitland, Patrick (Lanark) Turton, R. H.
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E. Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Finlay, Graeme Markham, Major Sir Frank Vosper, D. F.
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Marlowe, A. A. H. Walker-Smith, D. C.
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Marples, A. E. Wall, Major Patrick
Foster, John Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin) Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Fraser, Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale) Maude, Angus Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Garner-Evans, E. H. Medlicott, Brig. F. Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)
George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd Mellor, Sir John Wellwood, W.
Glover, D. Morrison, John (Salisbury) Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Godber, J. B. Nabarro, G. D. N. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Gough, C. F. H. Neave, Airey Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Gower, H. R. Nicholls, Harmar Wills, G.
Graham, Sir Fergus Nield, Basil (Chester) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Grimond, J. Nugent, G. R. H. Wood, Hon. R.
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Oakshott, H. D.
Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury). O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hall, John (Wycombe) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. Mr. Studholme and Mr. Legh.
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.

Question put, and agreed to.

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.

Further Amendments made: In page 7, line 41, leave out "carrying them out," and insert: ascertaining what repairs are required as aforesaid and in carrying out such of the initial repairs as are so required.

In page 8, line 17, at end, insert: and, where there are any initial repairs so required, the amount to be included in the payment for accrued tenant's repairs in respect of the cost incurred by the landlord in ascertaining what initial repairs are so required."—[Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe.]

Sir F. Soskice

I beg to move, in page 8, line 32, at the end, to insert: (7) Notwithstanding anything in this Act contained the rent payable under the statutory tenancy together with the amount of any instalments payable in respect of repairs shall not in respect of any period of a year exceed twice the gross rateable value of the dwelling-house on the first day of September, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, or when it was first assessed, whichever first happens.

This is another Amendment which I move with faint hope of its being accepted. I move it because I think it is important that it should be discussed and considered by the House. It is akin to efforts we have been making to try to put some limit on the amount of the financial burden which devolves upon the tenant when the statutory tenancy begins, the long lease having ended.

The framework of the Amendment is that the rent payable under the new statutory tenancy, which the county court judge is empowered to fix, shall not exceed, with the amount of any accrued repairs, a certain sum. It is not to be more than twice the gross rateable value of the dwellinghouse as it was at a certain date.

We have followed closely the Government's scheme in the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill. In that Bill, the Government have adopted the gross rateable value of the house to which the repairs relate so as to fix a ceiling above which the landlord cannot increase the rent when he has done the repairs which that Bill deals with. We have adopted the same device, subject to certain slight changes which the necessities of the case require. We envisaged the tenant I have been describing, who in an assumed case finds that after paying a ground rent of £5 a year he has to pay the market rent; and then he finds that he has to pay the bill for accrued repairs, which in the assumed case I estimated as £150 yearly.

In an endeavour to erect some protection to prevent tenants from being victimised and turned out of premises, we propose in this Amendment that the total of the rent, and on top of that the total of the instalments due in respect of acccrued repairs, is not to exceed twice the gross rateable value of the dwellinghouse. The Amendment had to state a date on which the gross rateable value of the house was assessed. We have taken the date of 1st September, 1939, or when the house was first assessed.

We start, therefore, by selecting the gross rateable value as it was at that time, that is to say, a value which can be measured by relation to a fixed period, the period selected by the Government for the Repairs and Rents Bill; and we say that we will try to come to the aid of tenants faced with a burden which they cannot bear. We try to do so by saying that whatever the tenant has to pay—40s. weekly and the instalment of the £150— together shall not exceed the aggregate of twice the gross rateable value of the premises.

I confess that this Amendment is not one with which I am pleased. We have put it on the Order Paper as a second best. The county court judge, under the terms of this Bill, is required to assess the market value of the rent. If he is to be required to put upon the tenant's shoulders the burden of the market rent, we say let us put some ceiling on it. We think the market rent is a wrong rent to make him pay, but if the Government are insisting on giving the landlord the right to exact that amount of rent, we say that there should be this ceiling.

I move the Amendment with faint hope, for the Government have made clear that they are not prepared to abate the advantages of the landlord under this Bill. I suppose there is no likelihood that the Government will agree that there should be a ceiling, an upper limit, to what the tenant may be called upon to pay, but I put forward the suggestion in this spirit: if the Government wish the tenant to pay a great deal more than he was paying before, let the Government at least consider, as a kind of half-way house an upper limit upon the total amount which he may have to pay per week.

I hope that the Home Secretary will consider that Amendment. He must have been impressed by the feeling that has been evinced from this side of the House; he must have been feeling some degree of shame about the Clause which he has flung at us. He has a further opportunity. He can go back to the Home Office and sit in quietude in his own study and reflect on whether he has not been a bit harsh. He has had time to do so since the Committee stage, but that has not produced much effect.

He has today seen what the feeling of the whole House is on this matter. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, having tasted of it and realised the vehemence and sincerity of it, will have another think about the matter. If he is frightened to go to the landlords and say: "What you are getting by the Bill is too large a measure," let him pluck up his courage. Let him say to them: "You must give away a bit of the rich booty which you are getting." That is what we are saying in the Amendment. It is our second best, but I hope the Home Secretary will realise that we are desperately sincere in asking him to put some limit to the intolerable financial burden on tenants who are threatened with eviction from their homes.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The present Amendment and other Amendments were discussed in Committee. That discussion will be found by anyone who wants to use it for some sinister purpose—I cannot see any other reason for his going to find it—in columns 193–218 of HANSARD, for the fifth sitting.

As we had that discussion, I hope the House will forgive me for not traversing in detail the points which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) put forward in his speech. The Solicitor-General dealt with the general question of rents. The only fresh point which the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend raised was the relevance, according to his argument, of the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill which has recently gone through this House.

That Bill is concerned, broadly speaking, with old rents, that is standard rents fixed by reference to a letting made in, or before, 1939. It is only for such rents that a repairs increase is available. The Bill does not seek to revise those rents to a modern level, but to provide an increase to prevent the landlord being out of pocket, if he keeps the house in repair.

11.0 p.m.

Now the "stopper," to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred, in the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill, the limit of twice the gross rateable value, is a convenient method of scaling down the increases in cases where the landlord is already getting a fairly high rent and, therefore, should not need the full increase. It is no part of the philosophy of the "stopper" that tenants should not be called upon to pay a rent higher than twice the gross value of the premises. If the tenant is already paying such a rent, the Housing Bill does nothing to reduce it.

That has no relevance to this situation. We had to work out what was a fair way of arriving at the rent of the new Rent Acts tenancy, which the tenant under the ground lease gets under this Bill. There are various circumstances in which he may have acquired the tenancy and the landlord may have acquired the rights, and these have been canvassed ad nauseam in our discussions. We think we have arrived at a fair compromise between the interests of the two sides. I know there is a dispute about it, and I am sorry we are so far apart. I do suggest, as we have stated our views so clearly and so often, that we should express our views in the Division Lobbies and proceed to the other parts of the Bill.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

There is one aspect of this matter that I really do not understand at all. That is, why the Home Secretary should reject this measure of twice the gross rateable value in relation to Clause 8 (6) when, according to himself and the provisions in the Bill, twice the gross rateable value is regarded as the proper limit for compensation.

When we get to Part II of the Bill, and it is a question of compensation for business premises, twice the rateable value is quite adequate. But, when we try to import it into these provisions of this absolutely chaotic and harsh Bill, then, for some reason or other, the Home Secretary does not think that this measure, this yard-stick, of twice the gross rateable value, ought to be accepted. I cannot understand that.

Perhaps, later on, whoever is going to reply to the arguments now being put forward, might explain the curious situation as to why there happens to be magic in this term of twice the gross rateable value when it comes to compensation on the landlords' side, to serve the interests of the landlords, but when it is proposed in respect of the tenant, and its purpose is to operate in favour of the tenant, it is rejected out of hand.

It is a curious infirmity on the part of the Government that they do not appreciate the interests of the tenant as against those of the landlord. No doubt that can be understood on that side of the House, but I should like to serve notice on the Government that it is neither understood, nor appreciated, on this side.

There is an important element here. First of all, this Amendment is intended to be an addendum to subsection (6), which provides that the provisions of the Second Schedule are to have effect where the landlord fails to carry out the initial repairs. Any reasonable person who cares to scruitinise the Second Schedule will satisfy himself at once that those provisions are quite inadequate, if not irrelevant, to the interest of the tenant in respect of the point we are considering at the moment.

This Amendment seeks to put a limit when it is absolutely essential in the interests of justice that there should be a limit, otherwise the calculation of the assessment of the sums will get completely out of hand, and the result may be that, in fact, the cost will be so burdensome to the tenant that he will lose every other right to which he is entitled under the Bill because he will not be able to sustain a continued holding because of the excessive cost of these repairs. It becomes essential to do something about this, and in my submission it is an outrage on the tenant's rights and interests not to do it.

What has happened? It is hoped by the promoters of the Bill that the landlord and the tenant may be able to agree on these matters, but if they do not agree then they have got to go to court. Incidentally, the fact that the poor tenant is being forced into court without legal aid is forgotten as being of no consideration. They have to go to the court to resolve this matter, and the first difficulty we come up against is, how has the court to decide this point? The machinery provided for the purpose in Clause 9 (4) is absolutely inadequate.

The court has to decide what is the amount that has to be paid. It is perfectly clear that the court will not have any other method open to it of dealing with this matter. There is no other practical calculation which can be made in order to adjudicate upon this matter with any finality. The open market figure is to be adopted. That really is an outrage altogether on a tenant's rights.

It is all very well for the Home Secretary to use phrases like, "We ought to hold the balance between landlord and tenant." It is nonsense to talk about holding the balance when the Government are tilting it all the time in favour of the landlord. This is not holding the balance at all. It is weighting the balance in favour of the landlord. I cannot understand why the mind of the Home Secretary cannot adjust itself to some sense of balance in this matter. It is most essential to apply that test.

At the moment, on one of the most vital elements in the whole purpose and structure of the Bill, namely, what the tenant has to pay, the position is left at large because, I repeat, it will not be in accordance with whether what the tenant has to pay is excessive or not, or whether he will get any benefit from the Bill at all. As the Bill stands, that is the last thing he will get. He will not get any benefit, because every time the open market price is charged any benefit he can get under the Bill is absolutely destroyed. In nine cases out of 10 it will be impossible for the tenant to sustain the holding under those terms.

Even at this hour of the night, when we are approaching the witching hour of midnight, surely the Home Secretary will bring himself to look afresh at this matter. No doubt, suffering from the consequences of last night's sitting, his mind is a little tired—and no doubt his heart is a little numb as well—but I do really ask him to look at this point because it is something which requires putting right. If he looks at it with the intention of doing the right thing by the tenant—of holding the balance, as he put it—he may not accept this particular Amendment but he will do something which will at least embed the principle in the provisions of the Bill.

Mr. West

As the Home Secretary will realise, hon. Members on this side of the House are very disturbed about many features of this Part of the Bill. Those who are familiar with the problem will realise how absurdly the Bill will work out in practice. A man may have bought two houses, in one of which he resides and the other one, next door, he lets. He has bought the two houses and maintained them. The lease expires and the ground landlord takes them over.

The position will then be that the tenant who has been paying a weekly rent is protected under the Rent Acts. His rent is limited. The value placed upon his rent—or the maximum limit of the rent—will be twice the gross value of the property. The owner, who bought the house and maintained it will, when his lease expires, be called upon to pay to the ground landlord, when the ground landlord takes over without compensation the current market rent. That might be three or four, or even five times, more than that which his next door neighbour will have to pay. Yet that next door neighbour will have to pay his restricted rent to the same ground landlord as the person who, in fact, bore all the expense of the property and has to pay this vastly increased rent.

There is no logic or reason in it. It is an absurd situation. It therefore seems reasonable to expect that the Home Secretary will try to bring into this Bill some sense of fairness and justice with regard to the leaseholder who is now being converted into a weekly tenant. We know that it is very difficult to expect the Government to have very great consideration for tenants. Those of us who sat on the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill know full well from our discussions on that Bill, as we know from our discussions on this one, that the Government have done everything they possibly can to protect the interests of the landlord at the expense of the tenant.

There has been no suggestion whatever in either of the Bills which have come before the House of the tenant's interests having been protected. On every conceivable count everything that could be done in the interests of the landlord has been done, and I think the people of the country ought to be made aware that the Government really are seeking to serve the landlord class at the cost and expense of the tenants.

11.15 p.m.

What is the gross value of a property? It is that value fixed by officials of the local authorities to ascertain the contribution which the owner will have to pay towards social services. It is upon that basis that rates are paid. It is regarded as the economic value of the property. More often than not it is the value fixed by the Inland Revenue authorities. It is regarded as the proper market value. Our proposal that the gross value of the property should be increased to twice that amount, for the purposes of giving the landlord that protection which the Government seeks to give him, I feel is over-generous.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that as far as I am concerned I have strong views about the landlord system which I have expressed in the House before. The landlord ought not to have the current market value when expropriating a property belonging to someone else. We know the system and how it grew up, and it is idle for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say when the lease was granted 100 years ago the landlord rarely foresaw that the property would revert to him or his descendants. That is humbug, and those who have had anything at all to do with these transactions know that. Not only is the ground landlord getting the capital value of the property but the unfortunate lessee is required to pay a higher rent than tenants of comparable property.

Again, how does this system work out in practice? Our complaint in the past has been that when the lease has expired, or is about to expire, the ground landlord uses his power of expropriation and his power to enforce dilapidations to demand unjust terms from the tenant on the sale of his property. In the case of Crown lessees, the Bill actually worsens their position. Formerly, although the ground landlord was prepared to utilise his powers to extract as much as he could in terms of cash on the sale of the property, he has been actuated more often than not by moral considerations and hesitated to eject tenants because of the indignation which would be created, and he has been content to demand from the ground lessee a sum we have considered exorbitant in the circumstances, but a sum which will be less than he can now demand under this Bill.

I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will realise that under this Bill and under the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill the Government have pursued a consistent policy of trying to serve the interests of the landlord at the expense of the tenant. I hope that my hon. Friends when we come to a decision on this matter, will decide to take it to a Division, unless the Government have second thoughts about it.

Mr. Iorwerth Thomas

It is very difficult to discuss this matter fully now, having regard to the very lengthy debates which took place on it during the Committee stage, but it provides additional evidence of the Government's discrimination against tenants and the undue preference which they give to this class of landlord. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. West) referred to the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill. In that Bill the Government saw fit to apply the stopper principle. They imposed a ceiling of twice the gross value of the property. In that case they were dealing with 5 million properties. It is admitted that in the inter-war years 50 per cent. of the rent-controlled properties became decontrolled and were, therefore, let at rents decided by the market value.

Only a few landlords are concerned here, because they are substantially large corporations, or people with very large estates, and the Government are telling them, "You are not called upon to contribute a penny to place these properties in good repair. The cost is to be borne by the tenants, and because you have not to bear any financial responsibility we are going to allow you the privilege of having your rents determined for you by the county courts, with no restriction or limitation whatever. They will be determined entirely by the view taken by the county court judge, after he has examined the trend in respect of the free market value in the locality."

Where the tenant bears the cost of repairs the sky can be the limit so far as the rent is concerned, but where the landlord is called upon to bear the cost of repairs the Government are imposing a limit. The stopper principle will apply in such cases. That appears to be a very unbalanced view on the part of the Government. They are discriminating against the tenants of the new landlords who come into existence at the expiration of the leases.

The Minister and his right hon. and learned Friend have been arguing consistently that the rents of these properties shall be determined by the free market price. During the Committee stage I called the attention of the Minister to a report presented by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in May, 1951, and in their White Paper, "Housing—The Next Step" the Government themselves referred to that Report.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said: The rent a dwelling may be expected to fetch in a free market on the footing described above is its 'gross value'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 18th March, 1954; c. 198.] Therefore, all that we are asking the Government to do is to give further consideration, because during the Committee stage the Minister said that he was attracted by the point about the maximum, and that he would give further consideration to it.

I do not know what unworthy influences have been brought to bear upon the Minister, but that attractiveness which he saw in the proposal on the Committee stage seems to have disappeared. I invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman very seriously to consider what the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said. The Government have shown an inclination during the whole discussion on the Bill today to ignore entirely what we on this side of the House have to say on the matter. I do not think that the Minister should ignore the views expressed by this very responsible authority.

I should like to hear the Minister's reasons why this recommendation has been ignored. The Government were so enamoured of the Royal Institution's recommendation that they adopted it in the Repairs and Rents Bill. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if any body of tenants is entitled to have the privileges and the protection of the upper limit of the stopper principle, it is surely those men and women about whom I have been speaking. They have a top priority to claim this protection.

It is argued that it is for the court to decide and to take a very reasonable view, having regard to all the circumstances. Having given the court that latitude, I think that a responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Legislature at least to indicate the amount to be paid. That is necessary when we realise the disparity, the diversity and the variety of conditions that come within the purview of I do not know how many county courts in this country. Even within the geographical province of a county court there is the most glaring and extreme disparity in rents paid by persons living in similar properties.

Where people are living in comparable properties, we should avoid disparities in the rents paid, and which are bound to reveal themselves unless this Amendment is accepted. It is patent to the Minister that what will happen in my constituency and in all the constituencies throughout Wales is that one house will be controlled by the Rent Acts and will be rented at 2 guineas or —2 5s. a month, while a similar house next door will be rented at £3, £4 or £5 a month.

11.30 p.m.

Scarcity value is not measurable; it is not uniform; conditions vary. Very often scarcity values are determined by the location of industry and the changes taking place in industry. For instance, in the South Wales coalfield, because of the reorganisation of the mining industry and the closing of old mines, miners are compelled to seek occupation in other parts of South Wales, and they have to look for other homes. So the scarcity value in South Wales is determined by local considerations.

If the stopper, or maximum, is a good thing in limiting rents paid for more than 5 million properties within the purview of the Rent Acts, then the principle is a sound one to be applied to these new tenancies created as a result of the expiry of leases. Unless we can get some satisfaction from the Government I hope we shall express by a Division our resentment and disappointment, and I should be willing to persist all night to obtain a concession from the Government on this matter.

Mrs. White

I have no doubt the Home Secretary would like to pass rather quickly over this part of the Bill. He suggested that as we had a fairly full discussion of the matter in Committee we need not refer to it again now, and could come fairly rapidly to a conclusion on it. He cannot, however, be surprised that a number of us on this side of the House wish to argue this principle. For the reasons which you stated earlier, Mr. Speaker, we are not able to debate again what we still regard as the main issue, leasehold enfranchisement. Not unnaturally, we think we should spend a fair amount of time on what is the second major point, the level of rent. Our contention is that the concessions made in the Bill to the ground leaseholders are likely to prove spurious if nothing is done about putting some kind of limit on the level of rent.

We all know the circumstances in which many of the people concerned are placed. There are many hundreds of them in the constituencies of my hon. Friends from Wales. I personally have virtually no constituency interest in this matter, but being a good Welshwoman I have the strongest possible sympathy with those in the Principality who are affected by the Bill.

Mr. Skeffington

What about poor old England?

Mrs. White

The right hon. and learned Gentleman resists us in his ingratiating way. He is always having a battle with his conscience, and he has won another of those endless tussles of his. Once more he has succeeded in persuading himself that nothing is required to be done. I put it to the Home Secretary that what will happen in many of these cases is that there will be the landlord in a much more powerful position than the tenant; and many of the older tenants will be really frightened of the idea of having to go to the courts. Let it be remembered that no kind of definite ceiling is stipulated.

Let us suppose that some of these tenants come to those of my hon. Friends who are lawyers and ask for advice. My hon. Friends will be unable to give any advice because they will not be able to advise what sort of rent should be agreed with the landlords. These people will have to go to court, where they will get a purely arbitrary decision on the part of the judge. They may, probably, say that they have no money and cannot, therefore, engage lawyers; and, consequently, they will ask if they can obtain legal aid. Then they will be told, "No, we are sorry, but there are no legal aid provisions for this kind of case." They will have to bear the whole expense themselves.

Faced with these disquieting facts, what will they do? They will feel completely defeated and will tend to agree to anything which the landlord proposes; that is what is likely to happen. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. West) who pointed out that whereas the better type of landlord behaves in a manner which is not too unreasonable when leases fall in, even those "better" landlords will find themselves positively encouraged to ask for higher rents. Indeed, far from giving protection, this Bill is doing a positive disservice to tenants, who will be worse off than if this Bill was never passed at all.

I notice that the Home Secretary looks doubtful, but I would remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there are scarcity values in our industrial areas; and particularly in the older industrial areas, where this Bill will be an undoubted disservice. It will encourage landlords to ask for more than they would otherwise ask. If only this Amendment, or some similar Amendment was accepted, the whole position would be altered.

If only some kind of definite ceiling for rents was provided, then my hon. Friends could say, "Well the landlords cannot charge more than such and such and people can be advised to pay the maximum or, because of such and such circumstances, we advise something rather less." There would be something to go on. When one is dealing, by and large, with the big people on the one side, and really small people on the other, and there are no legal aid provisions applicable, it is the duty of Parliament to frame legislation which reflects some sort of justice.

We on this side of the House have tried again and again to meet the position, because we realise that with different levels of control in existence it is not easy to legislate with regard to controlled rents. I do sincerely feel, however, that we are fully justified in once more expressing very emphatically the view that, without some provision of the kind which we suggest, even the good which the Government are trying to do through this Bill will be found to be very largely vitiated.

Mr. G. Thomas

I do not want to keep the debate going, but I should be lacking in my duty if I did not speak in support of this Amendment. Like other hon. Members, I was here throughout last night, and I should like to escape and have some rest tonight. But I feel that I am under an obligation to ask the Minister if he will meet us by saying that at least the principle proposed here is a good one.

Surely there is some limit somewhere that can be put upon the landlord as to what he can shake out of the tenant, because in the majority of cases it is the little person against the big combines. It is the big combines which own the city of Cardiff, and the same applies in West Wales. It is the little people whom we represent and for whom we are asking that there should be some limit.

We do not adhere firmly to the words of this Amendment. When the Bill goes to another place the Minister could easily have inserted an Amendment enshrining this principle and containing figures which he preferred. It is no use the Government saying that this is not a landlord's charter if there are to be no brakes at all on the landlord. Where are the rights of the little man? All that is being offered is that he can stay in the house, but if the cost goes up beyond this proposed level he will not be there long. Believe me, when the first family is evicted, because they cannot meet the cost under the terms of this Bill, the Government will pay a heavy price, because the public will never forgive them.

Mr. Hale

Surely the Home Secretary proposes to say a word? This is too important a matter to be treated in a cavalier way. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to approach this matter from the point of view that what is happening is that something new is being incorporated into county court proceedings. As I read this Clause, there is nothing in it which gives the county court judge a discretion in this matter. He has to find out what is owing and make an order for the payment of that sum by instalments, and that will be in addition to the current rent. The sum total may reach a very heavy figure. All this will be put in an order which cannot be revoked.

It may be that a tenant will be in fairly good circumstances and that the judge will make an order which is reasonable. But I see no provision for revision of any order which is made. Normally, when a county court judge makes an order for payment by instalments, if the tenant fails to keep up the payments, he can be brought back to the court on a judgment summons; and nearly always there is a reduction and the repayment of the original debt is suspended while the arrears are being paid.

If, in the most important of human relationships, that of man and wife, there is a separation, no man can be ordered to pay enough to keep his wife and family. All that he can be made to pay is what he can afford. He must be allowed to keep enough to live on. The court can tell the wife, "We are sorry, we do not think that £2 a week is sufficient for your maintenance but that is all that can be obtained."

Here there is no such provision of that kind except in so far as it is implicit in the instalments ordered by the county court judge who fixes the initial figure. The penalty for failure to pay is eviction. I hope that I am wrong, but, as I understand it, there is no right to go back to the county court to have the order revised. A decision is made, and once a tenant has failed in his obligation there is to be eviction.

11.45 p.m.

It may be that in drafting the Amendment we have put an arbitrary figure of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not approve. It may be that he would like to reconsider the matter and put some limit. Surely there is to be some limit. Everyone knows that there may be cases where the instalments are too much for the tenant. He may suffer a change of circumstances, or illness. He may have to reduce his payments.

I hope I am wrong, but, as I understand the position, the landlord can throw him out; the tenant depends entirely upon the landlord in this matter. There is no further appeal to the county court judge. The tenant has failed to carry out the conditions imposed by the court. He loses his home, and may perhaps have to leave the village in which he has lived throughout his life. He may be thrown on public resources, to start life afresh. I cannot think that that is the intention of the Government.

It is an affront to the House in a matter of this importance if the occupants of the Front Bench opposite are not prepared to make a reply to the speeches to which we have listened. It would be regrettable. It is not our fault that the House has had an exacting time. Everyone wants to go home. We do not arrange the business. There have not been many measures of alleged social reform introduced during the last two or three years. I tried on a public platform the other day to recall half a dozen, but I could not do so. There was a day when we were accused of introducing too many measures of social reform, and it was said that we were making it difficult for the Civil Service to deal with them. That has ceased.

In a matter of this importance, whether the hour is late or early, we ought to know what are the Government's intentions. This is a matter which affects the life, the liberty, the freedom and security of many of Her Majesty's subjects. We ought to be told whether the Government intend to impose a limit, and whether they are prepared to give the county court judge discretion to order a reduction of payments when it is right and equitable that that should be done; or whether they are going to say, as so often in the historic past, that when they talk about landlords new principles emerge; that when they are dealing with the power of the landlords and those who have owned the land for centuries, they are not going to permit any invasion of their rights, even if that meant the invasion of the rights of the humble members of the community.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Surely we are to have some reply from the Solicitor-General. I know that the Government is anxious to make progress with the Bill, as I understand that it is suggested that another place should deal with it next week. Therefore, the Government consider it essential that this House should part with the Bill to-morrow. Many of us were here throughout last night, but even so we think that there is still time for a few brief words from the Solicitor-General in reply to the cogent arguments advanced from this side of the House.

Time and again during our discussion the occupants of the Front Bench opposite have sat mum. That is treating the Opposition and the House with scant respect. If, when the Labour Government sat where the right hon. and learned Gentleman now sits, they had treated the House in a similar fashion there would have been uproar. We are dealing with a matter of great moment to thousands of people, and the House and the country expect at least some sort of reply, if there is one that can be given. The right hon. and learned Gentleman smiles. I find nothing to smile about. It is a serious matter. We insist on some reply, even if it is the usual negative one.

Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)

I am sorry that the Government Front Bench are not giving us a reasoned reply to the very powerful case that has been put forward. This is a social problem. The Government pride themselves upon the number of houses that they are providing for the people, yet here they are turning people out of their homes.

I would direct attention to the fact that these arrangements are very advantageous to the landlord. The repairs that he receives to his property at the end of a lease are an Income Tax-free bounty, given by the tenant to the landlord. This very harsh arrangement would be modified by the Amendment. I appeal to the Government to say that when the Bill gets to another place they will do something to modify it. They should accept the Amendment. Those of us who have been here all night will be very anxious to assist the Government to get the Bill if the Government will agree to the very reasonable proposition that has been put before them.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Might I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Can I move to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, in order to give the Home Secretary an opportunity to reply?

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has already spoken on this Question, and we cannot report Progress when the House is sitting. That is a matter for the Committee of the House.

Mr. C. Hughes

It is a matter of elementary justice that a ceiling should be fixed for rents. I am sorry that the Home Secretary, who is usually so fair-minded and treats us so courteously, should seem to be failing in his duty in explaining to the House why he is not prepared to meet us in this matter. Surely it should not be difficult for him and the Solicitor-General, with the resources that they have at their disposal, to devise some formula acceptable to both sides of the House.

If a ceiling were fixed beyond which rents could not be raised, the tenant, the county court judge and the landlords would all know where they stood. I urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman to let the House hear his views on this matter. Let me give him an example.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

But I have spoken on this matter, and I cannot speak twice.

Mr. C. Hughes

Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke, formidable and cogent arguments have been brought forward.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Tell me one argument that we have not heard 50 times in the Committee.

Mr. C. Hughes

The arguments that were placed before the Committee have been reinforced, and cogent new arguments have been brought forward. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that a house which has been in a family for a period of a century, and for which a ground rent of £5 is payable under a long lease, should be converted overnight to one with a rent of, say, £2 10s. or £3 per week? That is the issue. Cases of very great hardship may arise and exorbitant rents may be levied.

We are not saying that all landlords are unreasonable and unfair. There are good landlords who will levy reasonable and moderate rents, but we know there are other types of landlords. When we were discussing the Bill in Committee, the Home Secretary, at one stage, said words to this effect: the possible proportion of good landlords to bad landlords might be in the ratio of two to one. If that is true, many tenants may expect their rents to be exorbitant.

After all, this is one of the fundamental points of the Bill and I feel it would be discourteous to the House if the Home Secretary did not give the House the benefit of his honest views on this matter. I think he should give the House an undertaking, because feeling is running very high on this side of the House, that he will look at this matter again and that we might expect some reasonable formula, which might be discussed in another place.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. C. Hughes

I beg to move, in page 8, line 32, at the end, to insert: (7) Notwithstanding any agreement or statutory or other provision the landlord shall not be entitled to recover possession of the dwelling-house on the ground of breach by the tenant of any repairing obligation during his long tenancy or of any non-payment by the tenant in respect of any accrued tenant's repairs of or any obligation under his statutory tenancy in respect of any disrepair that had occurred before the statutory tenancy. I propose to be brief. There was a discussion about this subsection in the Committee, but it is not yet quite clear what the position of the tenants will be in relation to a breach of a repairing obligation.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

On a point of order. Have we no remedy against an hon. Member on the other side of the House who has not, so far as I know, been in any of the debates, who comes in now and is continually muttering so that we cannot hear what is being said.

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members should not interrupt.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for drawing attention to the muttering on the other side of the House, of an hon. Member who has not presented himself to the House throughout the debates.

It may well be that, owing to financial difficulties and embarrassments, a tenant has not been able to fulfil certain obligations. There may be, for example, a defective roof in the house, which would be expensive to repair, and obviously the tenant would be anxious that there should be a proper roof but, owing to lack of money, the tenant may have been patching the roof over a period of months and years.

When the lease expires, the tenant, because of his financial failure to put a new roof in the house, may be penalised out of all proportion to the omission. Let us take the case of a poor person, perhaps a widow or a spinster, who has inherited a house which has been in her family for a very long period. She may be on pension. She may be in receipt of National Assistance. A person of that kind would not be in a position to spend a great deal on the house.

Nevertheless, under the Bill, as it is at present, that person may be evicted from the house, because she is unable, through lack of means, to fulfil the repairing obligation. Can the Home Secretary say what would be the position in those circumstances? Can he say if there would be an arbitrary eviction, or would there be some protection for a person in impoverished conditions if there was a breach of an obligation which might be quite trivial.

12 midnight.

Mr. G. Thomas

I beg to second the Amendment.

We are quite clearly concerned here with Part IV of the First Schedule, which says: Any failure by the tenant to make a payment for accrued tenant's repairs, or any part or instalment of such a payment, at the time when it becomes due shall be treated as a breach of the obligations of the tenancy for the purposes of paragraph (a) of the First Schedule to the Act of 1933 (which relates to recovery of possession where the rent has not been paid or any other obligation of the tenancy has not been performed). It is quite clear that people of limited means are the people who are going to be hit most by the provision, and unless the Amendment is accepted by the Government, we feel that the poorer section of the community are going to have a very thin time indeed. It may be we are wrong, and that the Home Secretary will be able to satisfy us. I hope he will. I am anxious lest in days to come anyone will point a finger at me and say that I remained silent whilst a thing of this sort was saddled on people, because we must not forget that most of us here are young enough to see these chickens come home to roost. I should like my conscience to be clear on this sort of matter.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I have listened very carefully to the speeches of the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), and I should like to make one comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West. Few people will ever point the finger of scorn at him at all, but the number who will point the finger of scorn at him for remaining silent will be infinitesimal.

The Amendment seeks to do two things. The first is to prevent a landlord being able to get possession in the circumstances that during a long tenancy or during the succeeding statutory tenancy there was a breach of a repairing covenant. I should like to deal with that point first, because in my view there is no difficulty about it. That object is already covered by the Bill, as drafted.

During the long tenancy, if the landlord takes proceedings to enforce a repairing covenant, the tenant can apply for relief under Clause 16. If he does, a court order for possession is rendered of no effect except as regards costs and the tenancy is treated as if it were for a term ending seven months after the date of the court order. At the end of the long tenancy the grounds on which the landlord is entitled to possession, as is laid down in Clause 12 and the Third Schedule, do not include a breach of the repairing covenants of the ground lease.

During the statutory tenancy, any act or default which occurred during the long tenancy is not a ground on which the landlord can apply for a possession order under the Rent Acts. That is provided by Clause 10 (2), and if the hon. Member for Anglesey will look at Clause 10 (1) he will see that the tenant is relieved of his repairing liability under the terms of the long tenancy. There was an Amendment down on Committee stage on the subject, and at that time we went into the matter. We have considered it very carefully and on the first point we are satisfied that there is no difficulty at all and that hon. Gentlemen need have no fear.

The second object of the Amendment, which is that during the statutory tenancy the landlord should not be able to get possession on a failure to make a payment for approved tenant's repairs, is different. As we see it—and naturally we are more hopeful than are others about the working powers of our own child—in many cases the obligation under the long tenancy will be reduced, either by agreement or by the court, in accordance with the changed conditions, and the payment for the accrued tenant's repairs will represent a substantially smaller liability for the tenant. Also he will be entitled, of course, as I have said, to arbitration by the county court on the amount of these initial repairs and on the method by which he has to pay.

When there has been the initial scaling down—when, if necessary, the matter has been to the court either as to scaling down or as to method—there is then a substantial improvement in the tenant's position, and paragraph 17 of the First Schedule provides failure to make payment as a ground for possession if the court thinks fit. As I say, we have considered it carefully and I think that that is the true position in regard to this matter.

Amendment negatived.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I beg to move, in page 8, line 36, to leave out "either."

This is an Amendment on which I have very strong support, because I see some names added to mine which I am not usually fortunate to have under mine on the Paper. It may also be of convenience to the House if I discuss with this Amendment that in line 38. Together, they meet a drafting point raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells) and by the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels).

The purpose is to make entirely clear that, where the court determines that initial repairs are to be carried out, the upper limit is either the good repair standard or what the landlord has proposed, whichever is the less. The result is that initial repairs cannot exceed the good repair standard except with the consent of both parties.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 8, line 38, leave out from "or," to "in," and insert: the carrying out of any repairs not specified by the landlord."—[Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe.]