HC Deb 24 November 1954 vol 533 cc1368-85

10.1 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Rent Restrictions Regulations, 1954 (S.I., 1954, No. 1035), dated 30th July, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd August, be annulled. We complain about these regulations on two grounds; first, that they are insufficient for the purposes which the Minister ought to have in mind; and second, that, in some respects, they are misleading. They consist of a number of forms to be used for various purposes under the Rent Acts, and another document—to which I shall make particular reference—which is the form of notice that must be put into rent books and similar documents. Although the Acts allow some latitude with regard to forms, they allow none whatever in the matter of the notice. The notice has to be complied with. There is a penalty for a failure to have a rent book; there is another penalty for a failure to put on to that rent book the prescribed notice.

The first point that I wish to make—and bearing in mind that there is another Motion on the Order Paper I shall make my points as short as possible—is that the similar regulation of 1940—containing a similar notice—imposed an obligation to state, on the rent book, the standard rent.

For that obligation there has now been substituted an obligation to state on the rent book what is called the existing recoverable rent. The phrase "recoverable rent" comes, I think, out of the recent Housing Repairs and Rents Act, 1954. I suggest that it is a great pity to omit the standard rent. I say that not as a matter of form but, I am afraid, as a matter of practice.

It is common knowledge to everyone—and if the Parliamentary Secretary does not know it I would ask him to consult the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes)—that far too often rent books are not issued at all when they should be. It is common knowledge that when they are issued they are often issued with a slip of paper, obtained from the nearest stationers, printed on the outside and without any statement on it of the matters which ought to be written there. In particular, there has been in the past, and there still is, the greatest uncertainty as to what the standard rent of many controlled dwellings is. One depends, of course, upon the standard rent for the subsequent percentage increases.

Far too often the existing recoverable rent—if that is what has to be put on the rent book—will be not truly the existing recoverable rent but what has recently been paid as rent by the tenants and accepted by the landlord. Even in cases where no one can impute any bad faith at all—where, indeed, no one can impute any substantial degree of carelessness—the actual rent may be completely wrong. To omit the standard rent omits an important method of checking it.

The omission is the more curious because there still remains a statutory obligation on the landlord, in reply to a request in writing, to tell the tenant what the standard rent is. If, by statute, he is obliged to do that, why should the statement of the standard rent be omitted, on this occasion, from the form to be put on the rent book itself, and the tenant be left to a remedy of which, not being an expert in the Rent Acts—if there is such a thing; certainly the usual tenant is not one—he probably does not know?

That is not the only trouble. The tenant cannot deduce the standard rent from the information that is required to be given on this form of notice. The existing recoverable rent, if it is correctly stated, is to comprise not only the standard rent, not only the increases which are mentioned in this form of notice, but a couple of matters which may occur and which are not mentioned in this form of notice. One of them is the increased cost of providing services which may, in certain cases, result in an increased rent under Section 40 of the 1954 Act.

That is a matter with which the tenant is much concerned. It is a matter which will alter the amount of the rent, and the omission of which will not only be depriving him of the knowledge—it may have been arranged with his predecessor—that there has been such an increase, but prevent him from checking the accuracy of what he is asked to pay as existing recoverable rent.

That is one omission. But my objection to the omissions is a somewhat wider one. It is very curious that what the Minister is required to prescribe to be put on these forms of notice is nowhere laid down. A rent book in the case of a weekly tenancy is obligatory. The Minister may make regulations as to what is to be put by way of notice on to it. But the statute does not say what is to guide him in making those omissions. I suggest that in those circumstances the Minister's administrative duty—I am not suggesting that he is under any legal obligation in the matter—is to see that that notice serves the purpose for which it is obviously intended; that is to say, to inform the tenant of his general position under the rent acts, and most particularly of the rights and remedies that may be open to him.

It is a very curious feature of the form of notice now prescribed that in two cases it mentions penalties, and they are penalties which in certain circumstances the tenant may incur, but it omits to say a word about the penalties which the landlord may incur. The result is that the landlord may leave at the house of the tenant a rent book which is, in fact, obviously insufficient, which does not comply with the requirements of these regulations, and the tenant may never know.

There is, after all, a real liability on the landlord in this matter, and a liability which is enforceable by a penalty. It is extraordinary—I hope the hon. Member for Ashford will tell the Parliamentary Secretary so—how many tenants have no idea whatever that the landlord has a definite obligation in this matter, and one enforceable by a penalty. Therefore, if we are talking about penalties, and if we do not object to it being done on this form of notice, surely the obligations of the landlord and the penalties incumbent on the landlord are matters even more necessary to be mentioned than what the tenant may conceivably do wrong.

I repeat that the practical trouble about these matters is that they are not complied with, and everybody knows that. If the Parliamentary Secretary is going to say that he would be glad to deal with any cases of which I should inform him, I think he will agree with me—or again perhaps the hon. Member for Ashford will tell him—that that very convenient form of reply does not meet the very real difficulty of enforcing these obligations.

That is the second point I want to make, and I want to illustrate it by a very curious fact. When it was first made obligatory under the 1938 Act to have rent books in these cases, there was a three months' delay in bringing the provision into operation. The reason for that is perfectly obvious. Parliament, or the Ministry at that time, realised that it would take time to distribute these rent books; that the landlords must be given a reasonable period to discharge the obligation which had been put upon them, and could not be told that they must see that all their tenants had a rent book containing the prescribed particulars by the following day.

The best possible illustration of the practical inadequacy of what has happened is the fact that when one turns to these regulations one finds that the day before they came into force landlords were obliged by law to ensure that rent books contained the 1940 form of notice, but the day when the regulations came into operation those same landlords were obliged to have them pasted on to their rent books, or to issue other rent books. I am terrified by the picture of law-abiding landlords rushing round the country with their tongues getting drier and drier as they lick the paste and put the new notices into the rent books.

But does anybody really believe for one minute that that happened? Of course it did not. If I may use a rather doubtful Parliamentary expression and, for once, "bet my boots," I bet them to the effect that if one looked at all the rent books in the country one would find that the vast majority still contained the now illegal 1940 notice, and therefore entailed a penalty of £10 in each case. It shows how unpractical and unsatisfactory this matter has become when regulations are passed without regard to the obvious consequences, which are that in most oases they will not be complied with, either because the landlord's spirit is unwilling or because his tongue is too dry. I emphasise this fact because these regulations need not be left quite so much in mid-air—disregarded, or often only partially complied with.

If the form which had to be put into the rent books made it more clear that this matter substantially concerned the obligation of the landlords, and that it was up to him in the broadest possible words to keep the tenant informed as to the true position about the rent—if it made it clear that it was up to the landlord, for social as well as legal reasons, to see that the tenant had his rights—it really would have a considerable practical effect, and if it were followed up by other Ministerial steps—which I should not be in order in describing tonight—it might be possible to put some sense into this extraordinary provision, which is the only practical protection that many tenants have. If they do not understand the position they may suffer in ignorance and, therefore, in silence.

I said that there were one or two points upon which this notice was actually misleading, and I must ask the Parliamentary Secretary and any other hon. Member who can put up with the tedium of dealing with the Rent Acts, to look at the form which begins on page 3 and most of which is contained on page 4 of the regulations.

The first point I take is in paragraph 9 of the regulations. It is actually misleading, and it is misleading in this respect. This is a question about the certificate of disrepair. What it ought to point out is that if the council issues a certificate, then, subject of course to appeal to the court, certain increases are not recoverable as from the date of application. It does not say that in the first two sentences. It thinks, if a Statutory Instrument can think, that it has covered the matter by saying: If you have paid any such increase of rent between the date when you applied to the Council for the certificate and the date of the certificate, you can deduct the amount paid from any future payment of rent made within two years. What about the case where the tenant has paid rent between the date of the certificate and the date of the service of that certificate upon the tenant? He is in fact for that period, if there is a certificate, entitled to recover any increase he has paid, but this last sentence is misleading because it not only does not say that but quite clearly implies the opposite. It is the wrong date that has been taken.

The second point arises in paragraph 10. There is a misleading or doubtful statement which is of very great practical importance. This is about an appeal to the county court where a certificate of disrepair has been issued. With the first sentence I have no quarrel, but the next sentence begins, If the Court agrees with the landlord that the premises were in good repair and so on, and then states the consequences. What the Act says is that the landlord has to satisfy the court. That is in practice a most important point, and this sentence does not make it clear. I see no reason whatever to depart from the very simple and very clear language of the Act itself and to substitute this chatty little phrase for it. The other is perfectly clear, and it does make it clear to the tenant. It is of great practical importance that the landlord has to prove his case when he gets to the court, and has affirmatively to satisfy the court that the certificate ought not to have been issued.

I take one further point. I believe that if one went through this document closely one would discover others, as doubtless my ingenious Friend the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) will do. I come this time to paragraph 12. If,"— says the first sentence— after the Council have granted the certificate, the landlord carries out the necessary repairs to their satisfaction, the Council will revoke the certificate. If it were only a question of repairs that statement would be perfectly correct, but Section 26 (4) of the Act makes it perfectly clear that both the conditions for an increase have to be satisfied; that is to say, that the certificate is not to be revoked until not only are the necessary repairs done, and the dwelling house thereby made to be in good repair, but it is also made to be fit for human habitation. The rather loose phrase which has been used here is to the like effect.

What is misleading about this sentence is that it does not mention such questions as insufficient natural lighting, to take one case, which may have been a perfectly good and proper ground for a certificate being issued and which has to be put right, perhaps by extensive alteration, not by repairs, before the certificate can be revoked by the council. It tells only half the story.

I have a certain sympathy with the way in which the two necessary conditions are stated, but when the Minister has to re-issue the regulations, after he has agreed tonight to their annulment, he might well consider the possibility of referring to the various points which are mentioned in the definition of fitness for habitation in the Act. They probably narrow the matter a little, but they also give the tenant some indication of what are the things which really matter in these respects.

This is a most important notice for tenants of controlled houses all over the country. In my view, the form in which it is prescribed to be put on the rent books is insufficient, firstly because it does not make clear certain important obligations of the landlord and secondly because in some small, perhaps they will seem almost niggling, points, but points of practical importance to the tenant and likely to occur in a considerable number of cases, it is far from clear, and, I am justified in saying, misleading.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not stand on the dignity of the Minister and of the Government and that, now that these points have been made to him and these deficiencies pointed out, he will agree to withdraw these regulations and to issue regulations which are fuller, clearer and more accurate.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and 40 Members being present—

10.24 p.m.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I beg to second the Motion.

I am extremely sorry that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) should have seen fit on a point of this very grave importance to millions of people who reside in rent-controlled houses, to attempt to prevent justice from being done to them.

Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

At the time I drew attention to the fact that 40 Members were not present, there were four members of the Labour Party present in the House for this vitally important debate.

Mr. Janner

I see no reason at all why, even if that were correct——

Sir R. Boothby

It was correct.

Mr. Janner

—the hon. Member should have attempted to deny to tenants in millions of houses the rights to which they are entitled. This is not just a scrap of paper in respect of a minor matter. It goes to the very root of social conditions in this country and it affects millions of homes. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to try to do something to remove an evil which has existed since the commencement of these Acts.

They are very complicated Acts. I took a survey in my own constituency and found that a large number of people, in spite of the fact that rent books were in their possession, had been overcharged for years because they had no idea whatsoever of their rights. Those of us who have had dealings with these matters for many years, almost from the commencement of the original Act, will know that in spite of the obligation upon us as a House to make the rights of tenants clear to them we have failed miserably in bringing to their notice what exactly they should be paying and how they are entitled to recover anything which they have overpaid.

What does the tenant know about these matters? What should he have in his possession to enable him at any time to ascertain his position? It is the rent book. That was why it was decided, very belatedly, that it should he compulsory upon a landlord to provide a weekly tenant with a rent book. For my part, I should have said that it should have been provided to all tenants, but we are not discussing that this evening. The rent book is supposed to give the tenant an idea of what the Act says he is entitled to pay, and there is an obligation upon the Minister to provide such regulations, and in such a form, as will carry into effect that requirement.

The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire and all other hon. Members on both sides of the House, know very well that a large number of the questions put to them, either in correspondence or when they hold what are commonly called "surgeries," are questions relating to payments and rights and duties under the Rent Acts. We have had nearly 40 years now, since 1915, in which to find out what should be done for the tenant or the landlord in order that the Acts should be carried into effect. Yet there are several million householders among the 6 million concerned who, to this very day, are paying more than they should be paying.

They are unable to ascertain their position, except with extremely expert advice—because it must be admitted that even many lawyers find difficulties with these intricate Acts. It does not pay some people to go into them, for the time spent in doing so in the legal sense is very large. Consequently, we have this unhappy position that the homes of people all over the country are being rented, in many many cases at much higher rents than the tenants can be obliged to pay.

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he looks at the Ridley Report, 1945, where, in paragraph 117, he will find this: Evidence has been submitted to us that the provisions in the Rent Restrictions Acts and Regulations requiring entries to be made in the rent book are seldom observed and that particulars when given are frequently incorrect. Among the remedies suggested is the more rigorous application of the penalties provided by the Acts for infringement and the compulsory use of a statutory form of notice. We consider it essential that rent books should be kept as simple as possible and yet contain all the information required in order to enable a tenant to see clearly the rent he has to pay and how it is made up. May I make a practical suggestion? In my view, the rent book should give the standard rent. It should give the rates which were payable in 1914 and it should then state the net rent.

Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)

The 1914 rates?

Mr. Janner

Yes, I am talking about houses controlled under the old Acts.

Mr. Beresford Craddock

We cannot get that information.

Mr. Janner

The hon. Member cannot get away like that. Hase he never inquired about the rateable value in 1914? It is obtainable. The Rent Acts themselves say that the standard rent has to be given so it is no use suggesting either that it cannot be obtained or assessed. I was talking about the net rent. The rateable value and the rates paid in 1914 can be ascertained. The amount of the weekly rates can thus be calculated. If the amount of those rates are to be entered in the rent book, then after deduction of these from the standard rent, it will be discovered what is the net rent.

The landlord, if he does the repairs, is entitled to 25 per cent. of the net rent and another 15 per cent. of the net rent to be added to the original standard rent. I think that all that could be put in a very simple form instead of which we are going backwards. The standard rent is to be left out of the form now. We are now asked to say that we will accept a form in the rent book of particulars of rent payable which is unintelligible to the average person who is a weekly tenant and who is occupying a house which is covered by the Rent Acts.

The Government ought to think again. There is also another thing which seems very strange. There are two sorts of houses covered by the Rent Acts. There is the old controlled house which is governed by the Rent Acts of 1920 to 1938 and there is the house which is controlled by the 1939 Act. Under the old regulations there were provisions by which it was to be laid down in the rent book what particular type of house in this respect it was.

Now we propose, by this scheme, to make it more difficult for the tenant to understand whether he is covered by the old Rent Acts or by the new ones. Surely that is a retrograde, instead of a forward step. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary appreciates what I am driving at. We are proposing to put on the back of the rent book a lot of printed material, much of which does not apply, whereas under the old regulations we had two distinct sets of forms for the different Acts respectively.

Why does not he put in these forms an injunction that the lettering shall be of a minimum size? Throughout the land we get documents similar to the one I have in my hand, in which the notice to the tenant saying that he must not sub-let, or anything else, is in larger print, and all the requirements of the Acts in smaller print, just somewhat larger than on the back of a railway ticket. I submit that there is power under the Acts not only to provide the information required, but also to direct the form in which it should be presented. I suggest that if the Minister wishes to do a service to the tenants, he should put this in large enough lettering so that a literate tenant can read it and at least gain some idea of what are his remedies.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was right. Why should we only put in the rent book that if the tenant does not do certain things he can be fined £100? Why not make it clear also in the rent book that if the landlord does not fill in all the particulars that he is required to, he is liable under the Acts to a fine of £10? I have had large numbers of rent books through my hands, and I am sure that other hon. Members have had hundreds of them, where the blank spaces have not been filled in at all. Does the tenant know that the landlord is committing an offence if he has not entered the particulars in the rent book, which we, in our lack of wisdom, have asked to be put in? I say "lack of wisdom" because they are in no sense adequate to the occasion.

I do not want to quibble about the technicalities in the notice itself, but I think that we should realise that the simplicity of the form can he a boon to the landlord and tenant, who should be made aware of his rights more easily by means of simple words printed on the form. That would save the country a large amount of money, too. It would save members of political parties a number of headaches. It would save tenants large sums of money, because they would not have to seek legal advice, and it would lessen the number of cases which have to be heard in the courts of this country. Furthermore, it would prevent the exploitation of tenants who are easily exploitable. I have never said that all landlords exploit their tenants, but there are landlords desirous of taking as much as possible from the tenants without giving the necessary return.

I suggest that there should be added to the notice a very simple form stating that a landlord must complete the notice in full by leaving no empty spaces where information is required, and that he is liable to penalties if he does not do so. Why should not a tenant know that he can go to the landlord and say, "These spaces are blank; please fill them in"? There is no reason why a tenant should not know that he is entitled to do so.

We are not talking about a trivial matter, but one which affects the lives of men and women, and the scale of it is much larger than most hon. Members realise. Let hon. Members go round their constituencies as we did in North-West Leicester, and see the conditions in which some houses were kept when people have been paying the 40 per cent. increase for 10, 20 or 30 years. In some instances not a pennyworth of work was being done to the house. Why should not the rent book say whether or not the landlord is liable for the repairs? Why should it not say in simple terms "The county court office for your district is at such-and-such a place, and the local authority will give you any information in their possession that you may require"?

The forms which have been in use up to the moment are not at all good, but they are better than the ones which are proposed. I appeal seriously and earnestly to the House to agree to the annulment, because it will not mean that the tenant will be in a worse position. I am not trying to gain a party point; I believe we have been very lax in the manner in which we have dealt with the position for the tenants in particular.

Why not wait until the Queen's Speech and make a statement there that the form of notice to be inserted in rent books is being reconsidered? It will have to be altered, for the Government will find it impossible to stand by what is proposed for any length of time. Why compel landlords today to produce a new rent book when it is known that within a few months there will have to be a different kind? This is not a party matter; it is a matter of vital importance to all parties. We should deserve ill of our constituents and the country if we did not realise that the matter is of the importance that I have in perhaps an imperfect way tried to describe.

10.43 p.m.

Captain Charles Waterhouse (Leicester, South-East)

The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) prefaced his remarks by saying that at his "surgeries" in the City of Leicester he was constantly besieged by people who brought their rent books to him saying that they had been overcharged.

Mr. Janner

I did not use the terms in which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is expressing himself. I said I was frequently approached not "besieged."

Captain Waterhouse

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. He said that he was frequently approached by people who thought they were aggrieved in that they had been asked to pay rents in excess of what they should legally pay. I have also been a Member of Parliament for part of the great City of Leicester for a number of years. I have regularly attended what I call my "sessions"—perhaps more regularly than the hon. Member has attended his surgeries—and by advertisement I have welcomed people who wished to come before me to present any cases in which they thought they were in difficulties. I have had many cases brought to me where the people have said that because of the Socialist maladministration there has been a shortage of houses, and, therefore, they could not get homes.

Mr. Janner

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House how many of the houses in his constituency come within the Rent Acts? Are they not outside them? Will he also tell the House how many of these people thought it was the fault of the Rent Acts?

Captain Waterhouse

I will carry on from where I was.

I was saying that many people who have come to see me have said that because of the dereliction of the Socialist Government they have not been able to get homes in which to live, and that because of the actions of the Socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer their investments have gone down to two-thirds of their value. Yet, during the whole of the four years since I re-entered the House, in which between 2,000 and 3,000 people must have seen me, not one has said that he believed he was being overcharged in his rent. The hon. Gentleman made some ridiculous suggestion that the houses are outside the Rent Acts.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

It seems to me that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is carrying his argument a little beyond the annulment of the regulations.

Captain Waterhouse

With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you allowed the hon. Gentleman to make the point, which was a telling point, that he was constantly besieged.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

But I think he was connecting it with the form of the notice in the regulations.

Captain Waterhouse

That is what I intend to do.

Mr. Mitchison

Further to that point of order. Is not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman speaking in support of the annulment of these regulations, and saying that it is unnecessary?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is a matter of opinion, not a point of order.

Captain Waterhouse

The point I am trying to make is that when the hon. Gentleman, who has the honour, as I have, to represent part of Leicester, says that there is widespread grievance on this matter which has been expressed to the Members of Parliament for Leicester, it is untrue. His last remark that in my constituency there is this great disparity between the houses he has got and I have is complete rubbish, because he knows full well that both of us, to the best of our ability, are endeavouring to represent the various sections of the population of Leicester, whether it is those who work with their hands or those who work with their heads.

10.49 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. W. F. Deedes)

In view of the opening remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) I should start by saying, at the earliest opportunity, that we shall not withdraw these regulations. I had hoped that the intention of the hon. and learned Gentleman in praying against the regulations was to seek information, which I will try to give to remove some of the misgivings he has, but I am sorry I must disappoint him.

Both hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have expressed, broadly, I think, the view that the tenant should be given the fullest possible information in the simplest form to safeguard his or her right. There, we do not differ. Where we do differ is about how it shall best be done, and I hope to be able to show that the way we are proposing to do it is a great deal better than either hon. Gentlemen has made out. In my view, and I have read both carefully, there is considerably more information for the tenant in the new notice, which is an infinitely better document than its predecessor. In a moment I will put that to the test. Not only is it written in much clearer language, in shorter words and sentences, in direct rather than indirect terms—and that is most important—but it contains one or two items to safeguard the tenant which the earlier book did not have.

I wholly accept the desirability of explaining his position to the tenant in the simplest possible language. May I bring to the attention of hon. Members an example of where the new book is superior to the old? Let us compare what is paragraph 9 in the new book with paragraph 7 in the old. I will read out the sentences from the old rent book: If the tenant considers that the premises are not in a reasonable state of repair he is entitled to apply to the sanitary authority for a certificate to that effect. Where a certificate is granted, and the tenant serves a copy of it on the landlord— I break off for no purpose, only because that is as far as that point goes.

Paragraph 9 of the new book reads: If you consider that the premises are not in good repair, or that they are not reasonably suitable for occupation, you can apply to the … Council at … for a certificate of disrepair. If the Council grant the certificate you must serve a copy of it on the landlord or his agent— The language of the second is not only simpler, but far more direct than the language of the first. That is not the only example in which the second is superior to the first.

Mr. Mitchison

Unfortunately, the 1940 regulations were past praying against when I came into Parliament. The question is whether the present ones are sufficient and correct, not whether they are better or worse than the old ones.

Mr. Deedes

The hon. Member indicated that they were inferior to the preceding regulations.

Paragraph 10 of the new book contains some information which was previously the law, but which was not in the old rent book. It comes under the 1923 Act, Section 5 (1)—the right of the landlord in respect of a county court. Paragraphs 8, 9, 10 in the old book almost exactly correspond to paragraphs 14, 15, 16 in the new book.

Bearing in mina that there is a limit to how large print can be, and—far more important—how much people will read and assimilate, I consider that the tenant has better safeguards in the second book than in the first. There is a limit to how much can be included in these notices. Both hon. Members stressed that the language should be simple, yet the documents should be comprehensive. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) ended his remarks by saying that the prink should be large enough to be legible—perhaps larger print than is now used. It is very difficult to make all three considerations compatible with the requirements of a rent book.

I think it is fair to add that more guidance has been generally offered, quite apart from the rent book, about this particular legislation than on any previous occasion. I stress that because of what the hon. and learned Member for Kettering said about widespread breaches of the law. I do not accept that that amount of overcharging is going on. The tenant today has a wider opportunity of discovering his rights under the Act than on any previous occasion. The Ministry has made available the background of the main points in a document which is familiar to hon. Members of both parties.

This is not a party matter, because both parties have helped in information and guidance as have local authorities and voluntary bodies such as the Citizens' Advice Bureaux. Generally, the tenant today is more conscious of his rights than ever before. I am entitled to rebut the suggestion that the tenant has been kept in the dark about his rights or his position. The particular point was made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering, who suggested that the standard rent has been omitted from the rent book. That is quite true. In place of the standard rent in the old rent book, there is the existing recoverable rent in the new rent book. In our view, this is what the tenant needs to know.

To the statement of the existing recoverable rent in paragraph 4 is added, in paragraphs 5, 6 and 7, a statement of the deductions which the tenant can get if the house is not in repair. That is an important point for him. To know the standard rent without knowing how it is arrived at is not necessarily of much assistance to the tenant.

Mr. Janner

Would the hon. Member explain what he means by that? I do not understand him.

Mr. Deedes

Very few tenants could define what the standard rent is; very few know.

I consider that the combination of these four paragraphs offers to the tenant ample guidance on whether or not he is being fairly dealt with, and it has the merit of greater simplicity than the old system. The paragraphs have the merit of giving the tenant the information which he must have for the purposes of the 1954 Act, as well as of the earlier Acts. This is a safeguard: if the tenant does not know the standard rent and wants to know it, he can ask the landlord—this was admitted by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering—in writing, and he must be given an answer within 14 days. The standard rent cannot be concealed from the tenant.

Mr. Mitchison

If he knows of that right, but does he know?

Mr. Deedes

He is entitled to ask what the standard rent is. If nobody knows, he can go to the county court and ask for the amount to be settled. The court can determine a standard rent by reference to similar houses in the district That is an additional safeguard, if neither party knows what the rent should be. I cannot see any injustice or prospective injustice in that paragraph.

Mr. Mitchison

The point about the standard rent requirement is that in 99 cases out of 100 the tenant does not know about it. This notice does not tell him, nor does it tell him what the standard rent is.

Mr. Deedes

All I am saying is that if he wants to know the standard rent, he can get to know in 14 days; or, if nobody knows, the court will provide an answer.

I want to say a word about Form A and Form C. In respect of Form C, which is the one with which we are mainly concerned if the increase is in respect of higher rates, full details of those rates increases are given on the new form. Of course, the way in which the rent is made up is not strictly relevant to that particular increase, but the tenant may want to know how the increase in respect of rates is arrived at.

Form A deals with the increase in respect of improvements, and it has the merit of simplicity. I maintain that all the information which the tenant needs to defend his rights is provided, and it is without information which might easily confuse him. A new form on the old pattern would need not five items but eight items, because in addition to the five items already there, we should have to add repairs increase, passed on repairs increase and services increase. I think that might be more confusing to the tenant than the existing form.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering spoke of omissions from the form of notice in the rent book. There is the strongest case for simplicity and there is also a very strong case for the notice being as comprehensible as possible. I accept that. I think that one can be the enemy of the other. In fact, it is very difficult to satisfy both requirements. If we give the tenant all the available information, it is comprehensive but it is not necessarily simple. If we give him a simple statement which is not comprehensive, we are open to the accusation which both hon. Members made tonight, that the tenant is not given enough information. We have tried to strike a medium and I think we have been successful. The result is that the tenant will be in a stronger position than ever before.

Question put, and negatived.