HC Deb 17 June 1954 vol 528 cc2296-307

(1) Where under Part I of this Act an order is made for possession of the property comprised in a tenancy, or under Part II of this Act the court refuses an order for the grant of a new tenancy, and it is subsequently made to appear to the court that the order was obtained, or the court induced to refuse the grant, by misrepresentation or the concealment of material facts, the court may order the landlord to pay to the tenant such sum as appears sufficient as compensation for damage or loss sustained by the tenant as the result of the order or refusal.

(2) In this section the expression "the landlord" means the person applying for possession or opposing an application for the grant of a new tenancy, and the expression "the tenant" means the person against whom the order for possession was made or to whom the grant of a new tenancy was refused.—[Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

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

After what I may term the delectable abuse which I had on the last Amendment—delectable because so charmingly expressed, even if the content was so strong—I hope now to get a faint smile of welcome from the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas). I say that because this is the answer to the fear he expressed that a landlord, having got possession of a house at the end of a long lease ostensibly for redevelopment, would be able to sell the house at a profit. The hon. Member may remember that at the time I offered to consider anything, to quote my own words, … to prevent what, to put it bluntly, would be a bogus application by a landlord."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 30th March, 1954; c. 318.] I hope that I have met that point, because the same point was made by hon. Gentlemen opposite in relation to Clauses 12, 30 and 31.

In addition to criticisms on Part I, similar criticisms were made on Part II by a number of hon. and right hon. Members. The new Clause enables the court to award the tenant compensation for damages or loss sustained if it is shown that there was …misrepresentation or the concealment of material facts… It applies both to an occupying ground lessee of residential premises against whom an order for possession has been made under Part I, and to the business tenant who is refused a renewal under Part II.

As will be apparent to all my legal confrères Wherever they sit in the House, the wording of the Clause is based upon Section 5 (6) of the Rent Act, 1920, which is virtually reproduced mutatis mutandis. I hope that in so meeting the wishes expressed in Committee, I may get a faint smile of welcome for the new Clause.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Iowerth Thomas (Rhondda, West)

I should like to express my gratitude to the Minister for the very slight concession he has made. Despite its smallness in relation to the other and wider principles which we discussed in Committee upstairs, it is a help. It is evident that the arguments which we deployed in Committee have brought about some very good results, and I trust that our hopes of what may follow will be realised.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I, too, welcome this new Clause as far as it goes, but, not being one of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's legal confrères—or consoeurs, I suppose it should be—I am a little puzzled that it does not go somewhat further. It very properly proposes to deal with the landlord who has obtained his order by misrepresentation or concealment of material facts, by enabling the court to award damages to the tenant, but if the premises of which the landlord has obtained possession are still available would it not be possible and proper for the court to return possession to the tenant, if he so wished, instead of awarding him damages? I can appreciate that in certain circumstances that would not be possible; the tenant may have made other arrangements. But should it not be within the competence of the court, in cases where the premises are still standing and are not tenanted by other persons, simply to say to the former tenant, "You can go back if you so desire"?

The other matter which I should like to mention is the one on which I had a little brush with the Solicitor-General in Committee. It concerns the case of a landlord who, not by misrepresentation but perfectly bona fide, proposes to do something in the way of redevelopment under Clause 13 and then, because of circumstances of which he may not even have been aware at the time he made application and the court granted it, does not proceed with his plan for redevelopment. The new Clause gives the tenant no redress in that case; it is confined to cases where there has been definite misrepresentation. In cases where a landlord had been perfectly bona fide in his action the tenant might have suffered just the same degree of inconvenience and financial loss, but because the landlord has acted in a bona fide manner the tenant has no claim, even if the terms upon which the order was made by the court have not been fulfilled. I should be very glad to have those points explained by the right hon. and learned Gentleman before we pass the Clause with our congratulations to him.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

I rise to pay my own tribute to the Home Secretary for having made considerable amend for what has happened in these proceedings up to now. I have no doubt that he has considered whether there might not be a reinstatement of a tenant in the case of misrepresentation by the landlord. Having regard to the pattern of the rest of the Bill, I can appreciate the Home Secretary's difficulty in providing for reinstatement under this Clause. The Home Secretary is entitled to say, "I have provided that in such a case the landlord will have to pay to the tenant such a sum as is shown to be sufficient and ample compensation for any damage or loss which the tenant has suffered as a result of the order or the refusal of a new tenancy." In practice, that would probably work out sufficiently well, and it should certainly do so so as to indemnify the tenant. In those circumstances, I should like to acknowledge the fact of the Home Secretary having conceded the principle contained in this Clause.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White). I thought she made a most important point when she spoke of the landlord who obtains possession under Clause 30 (1, g), which refers to the case where he requires possession for the purpose of demolishing or reconstructing the premises in question.

We can conceive the case of a landlord who obtains possession of the premises under the provisions of that subsection and who, subsequently, for various possibly legitimate reasons, fails to do anything about it. The tenant has been deprived of his premises and his livelihood, the landlord has done nothing, and those premises are standing vacant. I feel that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have been able to expand the provisions of this new Clause so as to protect a tenant against an unfortunate event of that kind, and I shall be very glad if he can comment upon that point.

Mr. Weitzman

I shall not detain the House for more than a moment. I support two of the arguments which have been put forward as against the point of view expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). Although we are grateful to the Government for a considerable concession, I do not think it goes far enough. It is quite true that compensation will be given in certain cases. If a person is deprived of premises, money compensation is a good thing as far as it goes, but if the tenant is deprived of those premises because of a misrepresentation or a concealment of fact, it is surely right that the premises should be restored to the tenant whenever possible.

It is quite clear that that could not be done in many cases—third parties might have acquired rights, for instance—but if the misrepresentation or concealment of facts has been made within a very short time of the order and no one has acquired any rights in the matter, I cannot see why it should not be possible for the tenant to return to the county court and ask the learned judge to rescind the order and restore the tenancy. I should have thought that that would have been the proper thing to do in common justice.

If this remedy is to have effect in the case of misrepresentation or concealment of facts, why do not the Government go further and apply it in cases which fall under Clause 30 (1, f, g and h)? If a landlord intends to redevelop, an order is made accordingly, and the landlord then fails to carry out his intention, I should have thought it would have been a very good idea to extend this concession to the tenant, who may have lost his livelihood. I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should look at this question once again. In common justice, some further concession ought to be made.

Sir F. Soskice

As we have here, besides the Parliamentary Secretary, who is always of the greatest help, not one right hon. and learned Gentleman but two, I am glad to say—and I take the opportunity of offering heartfelt congratulations to the Solicitor-General—I hope they will be able to meet the points that my hon. Friends have made on this new and useful Clause, for which we are, as we have said, grateful to the Home Secretary.

There is one tiny question I have to ask. There is, I think, no doubt that the new Clause does not take away any other right that may exist in damages for fraud or misrepresentation, if there is such a right in any given case? I think it could not possibly take away such a right, but I am glad to see that the Solicitor-General agrees with me. If there had been any doubt, I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have stated it. We thank him, and hope that he will give consideration to the points we have made.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Perhaps the House will give me leave to say a word in reply to what has been said. I should like to assure the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) that those advising me and I myself did consider the question of reinstatement. It is a very difficult matter. It is very difficult to eliminate the cases where it would not be possible, and to decide an arbitrary time limit, and so on. We came to the conclusion that the difficulties were too great, but I have noted the debate, and although I cannot hold out any great hopes, I am willing to have another look at that point.

The second matter is one that raises difficulties also, because it connotes the position where the landlord has obtained possession on the strength of a bona fide intention to redevelop. We have put in the new Clause the grounds of misrepresentation and concealment, so anything short of bona fide intention will be covered. We must postulate bona fide intention to occupy or redevelop the premises, but the landlord may be prevented by a change of circumstances from carrying out his intention. It is difficult to judge such a matter. It is often connected with a great many other operations going on. We found great difficulty in finding the reasonable and equitable method of dealing with a man who is, ex hypothesi, completely innocent in the matter. Of course, there will be a number of cases where a man has run out of money in the middle of his building operations, and so on.

So we found that both these points were too difficult. All I can say is that I have tried to approach the problems put to me with sympathy. I do not want to raise false hopes, but I will have another look to see whether anything can be done. I am grateful to everyone who has spoken—

Mr. Hale

The court apparently is the county court. Does the new Clause restrict the amount of damages the court can award? I am asking for the Home Secretary's view, because what he says will count. What my hon. Friends say on the sidelines will not count.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I think that it does, but I will certainly go into that point. If there is any doubt about it, I will see whether they can go to the county court. In exactly the same way as they go to the court for other purposes under the Bill, they should go to the county court for this purpose. I will see whether it needs any clarification. We have a provision in Part IV for going to the county court, and I should like to look into that.

Question put, and agreed to.

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

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

The next Amendment is that in the name of the Home Secretary, in page 1, line 13.

Mr. C. Hughes

On a point of order. I should be grateful to have your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on whether the new Clause in the names of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) and of other of my hon. Friends and my own—(Enfranchisement provisions)—is to be called. It is of fundamental importance to us on this side of the House and, as far as we are concerned, there cannot be enough discussion about it. Many hundreds of thousands of people are anticipating that there will be a detailed discussion of this problem today. I wonder whether you could guide the House by telling us whether you propose now or later to call that new Clause so that it may be discussed.

Sir F. Soskice

Further to that point of order, and before you rule on it, Mr. Speaker, may I, with great respect, add this? As has been pointed out by my hon. Friend, this is, of course, the focal point of the Bill from our point of view, and although we must bow to your Ruling, and should not think for a second of questioning it, we should all feel deeply disappointed if we were not able to deploy our arguments and vent our feelings on this crucially important matter. On Second Reading we put down an Amendment, as you will remember, emphasising the anxiety we felt at the presence of this Bill without any leasehold enfranchisement provisions, and I, speaking on behalf of the Opposition, made it clear that I did not tie down the Opposition to any particular form of enfranchisement provisions.

The only point I would bring to your notice in asking for your guidance is this. We here do, as we in Committee did before, set out specific proposals. We have proposed that there should be a specific compensation figure in the event of the enfranchisement right being exercised before a certain period, before the end of the expiry of the lease, and a different figure in the event of its being exercised later. As there is very deep anxiety and feeling on the matter, I hope, if it is at all possible, we shall be able to ventilate our views upon it. We have here put down on the Paper specific proposals which we hope we shall be allowed to discuss if at all possible, consistently with the rules of order. If you could allow us to discuss the new Clause, we on this side of the Committee would be profoundly grateful to you.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Before we proceed, perhaps I had better say a word on this. I know the importance that is attached to this matter by hon. Members of the Opposition, and I therefore gave it great consideration. The House will recollect that the Second Reading debate was very largely occupied with a discussion of the question of leasehold enfranchisement in general, as was bound to be the case as the Question before the House was a reasoned Amendment criticising the Bill because it did not provide for it. The House will also recollect that after that, in Standing Committee, an Amendment similar to that now standing on the Notice Paper in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) received very full discussion. Indeed, towards the close of the proceedings at the Committee's first sitting the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) said: We have had a full and thorough debate on this."—{OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 4th March, 1954; c. 38.] Yet it went on for most of the next sitting as well. The House, on Second Reading, and the Committee upstairs came to a conclusion on a Division, and both Amendments were lost, and thus the House and the Committee, after full discussion of the matter expressed their view against it.

It is not usual to explain one's reasons, and it is only because of the deep anxiety that is felt about the matter, particularly in Wales, but in other parts, too, that I make this statement to the House. In view of those discussions, I could not find it compatible with the essential revising and tidying purpose of a Report stage to have a discussion on the Report of a matter which had been so thoroughly discussed and so clearly decided.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members should not argue with me on that, because my decision is final. I hope we shall not discuss the matter. I reached my decision after considerable care and consideration, and I am bound to adhere to it now. It was only out of deference to the strong feelings which some hon. Members have on this matter that I expressed my views. It is a thing which I would not normally do. I hope the House will not now attempt, under the guise of points of order, to argue about my decision, because that would be out of order and, in the interests of good order, I cannot allow it.

Mr. Hale

May I, with respect, call one point to your attention, Mr. Speaker? I do so with great respect, for I am sure the whole House is grateful to you for what is admittedly a departure from practice.

In your concluding words you said that your judgment in this matter was based on your conception of the essential tidying nature of the further consideration stage of the Bill. I respectfully submit to you that the Rulings on that matter previously, referring to the further consideration stage as that type of business, have been in cases where the whole House has formed the Committee.

Although I hesitate to do so, may I venture to intrude a purely personal consideration in making this respectful submission to you? I was one of two members of the Leasehold Committee which sat for two-and-a-half years on this matter and which produced a detailed Report of its recommendations for leasehold enfranchisement. The Clause now submitted to you is the first time this House as a House—I am not talking about the Committee upstairs—has had an opportunity of considering a detailed proposal for leasehold enfranchisement. During the debate on Second Reading the Home Secretary opened his case by saying that no one had ever been able to prepare a detailed proposal for enfranchisement and he had never seen one. He said he could not visualise how the difficulties could be overcome. This is the first time the House has had an opportunity of dealing with such a proposal.

I sat through the debate on the Government White Paper and through the debate on the Second Reading of the 1951 Bill. I sat through the debate on the White Paper of 1953, and through the Second Reading debate on this Bill. I am here on the Report stage. Anyone who cares to read the debates will find that my opinions, my name and my observations were canvassed in Committee once every five minutes almost throughout the debate. My views have been criticised. Opinions have been attributed to me which I have never expressed. I have been told that I did this or that or the other, and not once have I been able to catch the eye of the Chair to make a considered observation on the matter. I have listened happily to the four or five speeches of two of my hon. Friends, but I have never been allowed to say a word myself. With great reluctance I tore myself from the House in the early hours of the morning in order that I might be here today and speak about leasehold enfranchisement.

With great respect, the House has never had an opportunity of considering it in detail. Upstairs we are a Committee of only 40. I am quite sure that no one desires to obstruct in this matter and that no one desires to produce an unnecessarily prolonged discussion, but I submit that this matter ought to have reconsideration.

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry if the hon. Member has had bad fortune in the past in catching the eye of the Chair. He has not had it on this occasion, and he has delivered himself of a speech to which I listened with great care and to which I have given full consideration. It is, however, a wrong conception of the Report stage to say that when a Standing Committee does its work thoroughly it should always have its decisions reversed or discussed again in the House. The Standing Committee is a powerful organ of the House entrusted with a certain purpose. I am afraid I cannot have any more discussion of this matter. Hon. Members have displayed their anxiety. I have had to give my Ruling in accordance with what I thought was right.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

May I raise another point? You were good enough, Mr. Speaker, in the course of your observations on this matter, to say that the two things which had helped you to come to your decision were, first, that a full discussion had taken place upstairs, and, secondly, that the matter had been voted on. What you have said this afternoon will naturally go into the official record and undoubtedly will be studied by Speakers who follow you in the Chair. I take it that we can assume, can we not, that what you have said will not be taken as a precedent for the future?

Mr. Speaker

If I can ease the right hon. Gentleman's mind, I do not see how precedent concerns us very much. Each case must be considered on its merits, and circumstances alter so much from Bill to Bill according to the subject matter. No one will feel bound by what I said. but I wish to repel the suggestion that the Standing Committee is not a powerful and important body of this House whose decision ought to be respected by the House.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

It is a fact that some of the Amendments on the Paper were fully discussed upstairs and were voted on, and of course the Opposition were voted down. Since then the Government have been good enough to have second thoughts, and we shall later see them putting them into the Bill. If what you said earlier were taken as a precedent for the future, Mr. Speaker, perhaps it might seem invidious.

Mr. Speaker

That is what the Committee and Report stage are for. Very frequently the Government are not able to accept the precise terms in which an Amendment is offered but are so impressed by the arguments that are adduced in its favour that, in the interval between the two stages, an opportunity is taken to put the matter in proper draftsmanship form. But that is not the case here. There is no Government Amendment giving effect to leasehold enfranchisement.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

Of course I do not question your Ruling for one moment, Mr. Speaker, but in the course of your observations you said that this matter had been considered within the terms of the Clause put down by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice). If I may say so with respect, I wholly accept that and I quite understand that it ought not to be debated again, having already been fully discussed.

May I refer you to my proposed new Clause, which contains elements which are not in the previous Clause? This is a question of putting this Clause so that it will give the Government an opportunity to look at it, to hear the arguments and to see whether, with these new terms, the Government would be prepared to accept that method of enfranchisement. I submit that that is something new upon which there might be a discussion on the question of enfranchisement, if only to give the Government an opportunity of considering it and of seeing whether they would be prepared to pursue enfranchisement, at all events to the extent adumbrated in the Clause which I have put down.

Mr. Speaker

The discussion has illustrated the value of what the right hon. Member for the Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) was impressing upon me a moment ago—the desirability of sticking to precedent in these matters. I have made an exception in this case, not to create a precedent but of explaining the position to hon. Members because I knew they felt keenly about it.

In answer to the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), I considered both these proposed new Clauses and, having decided, for the reasons which I have given, that I could not select that in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice), I could not prefer to it the new Clause standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester. They amount to the same thing.