HC Deb 05 June 1957 vol 571 cc1333-5

Lords Amendment made: In page 5, line 8, at end insert: relating (if it so provided by the order) not only to future but to past rental periods",—[Mr. H. Brooke.] [Special Entry.]

Lords Amendment : In page 5, line 13, at end insert: and (b) the consent contained an acknowledgement (however expressed) that the rent could be increased on account of the improvement.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This Amendment is linked with the last Amendment on the Notice Paper, in page 44, line 43, at end insert: and that paragraph (b) of the proviso to the said subsection (3) shall not apply. The two Amendments are designed to ensure that in future, when consenting to an improvement, a tenant will do so with his eyes open to the fact that he may be charged an increase of rent in respect of it. I hope that this will be generally acceptable.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

We agree with the intention and principle of the Lords Amendment. There is only one question that I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman. I take it that the acknowledgment has to be part of the consent in writing, and, therefore, that it is in writing, and that there is no question of a casual and verbal acknowledgment of any sort. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can reassure me on that point.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I should like to explore a little further the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I would draw attention to the words "(however expressed)". It seems an odd phrase to have in the Bill. Does it widen the measure of consent if one allows the consent to be more than just an acknowledgment, or does it narrow it? I should have thought that "consent" was a consent and that "acknowledgment" was an acknowledgment. I do not see why it is necessary or desirable to insert extra words which seem not to define the matter in any way but leave it extremely vague.

One could imagine tenants giving consent to increases in rent in language which might not be regarded as quite appropriate for legal documents. Is this just a warning that if one uses perhaps a four-letter Anglo-Saxon word in an agreement to have one's rent raised, it does not in any way invalidate the consent?

The House ought to be told why it is desirable to insert these words, and whether we can assume that a good working rule is the general principle that because the Minister is inserting them they must be unfavourable to tenants. One usually finds that that explains things, but I do not know whether it does in this case.

Mr. H. Brooke

It will be found that the Amendments made in another place have mostly been favourable to tenants. The words referred to need to be read with the immediately preceding words in lines 9 to 12, in page 5 of the Bill, where there is reference to the tenant under the controlled tenancy consenting in writing to the improvement.

The view was taken in another place that that consent might be given without the tenant appreciating that the improvement would cost him something in increased rent. The Amendment is designed to remove any danger of that kind. It provides that the consent must contain an acknowledgment, however expressed, that the rent could be increased on account of the improvement. The consent must be in writing. Therefore, I do not see how the consent, if it is to contain something, could contain something which was not in writing. It would be in the interests of everybody to make sure that there was no dubiety on that matter.

I hope that I have satisfied the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). It is not for me to criticise another place for having suggested inserting certain words. I thought that the hon. Member for Widnes was suggesting that the Amendment was wrongly or too fully drafted. I do not think that it is. I think it wise to have these words in the Bill. I do not see that they damage the sense in any way. I think that the one substantial point was that raised by the hon. and learned Member.

Mr. MacColl

Surely it is highly undesirable to insert in a Bill words which mean nothing. That is asking for trouble. Lawyers are paid to find meanings for words and if these words are inserted lawyers will find meanings for them. Merely to say that we should agree with what another place has done and not waste time on it, and that another place must have had some reason for doing this, although the Government do not know what it is, is derogating from the duties of this House.

Our business is to protect people from sloppy legislation and against building up possibilities for litigation. I can see another place having a happy time as the supreme court of appeal in deciding the meaning of these words, at considerable profit to a large number of people in the process. We should be quite certain that words are necessary and desirable and carry some meaning with them.

Mr. H. Brooke

They mean exactly what they say. They mean "however expressed." It is not a matter on which forms, and so forth, will be prescribed, as they have to be prescribed elsewhere in the Bill. We should make all this as simple as possible and if the words "however expressed" are retained in the Bill, that will avoid possible arguments about technicalities, which is the kind of thing which the hon. Member said it was desirable to avoid. If the words are bad for anybody, they are bad for lawyers.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]