§ Lords Amendment: In page 13, line 11, at end insert Clause B:
|B.—(1) Where it is so agreed in writing between the tenant under a statutory tenancy of a dwelling and a person proposing to occupy that dwelling (hereinafter referred to as the "incoming tenant"), the incoming tenant shall subject as hereinafter provided be deemed as from such date as may be specified in the agreement (hereinafter referred to as the "date of exchange") to be the tenant of the dwelling under that statutory tenancy; and the question whether the provisions of the Rent Acts as to the succession by the widow of a deceased tenant or by a member of his family to the right to retain possession are capable of having effect in the event of the death of the incoming tenant shall be determined according as those provisions have or have not already had effect in relation to the statutory tenancy.|
|(2) An agreement under the foregoing subsection shall not have effect unless the landlord is a party thereto, and if the consent of any superior landlord would have been required to an assignment of the tenancy on the coming to an end of which the statutory tenancy arose the agreement shall not have effect unless the superior landlord is a party thereto.|
|(3) An agreement under subsection (1) of this section may provide that the provisions of the Rent Acts mentioned in that subsection shall be capable of having effect in the event of the death of the incoming tenant notwithstanding that they had effect in favour of the tenant to whom he succeeded.|
|(4) It shall be unlawful to require the payment of any pecuniary consideration for entering into an agreement under subsection (1) of this section; and—|
|(a) the amount of any payment made which under this subsection could not lawfully be required shall be recoverable by the person by whom it was made either by proceedings for its recovery or, if it was made to the landlord, by deduction from any rent payable by the said person to the landlord;|
|(b) a person requiring the payment of any consideration in contravention of this subsection shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds, and the court by which he is convicted may order the amount of the payment to be repaid by the person to whom it: was paid:|
|Provided that subsection (4) of section two of the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949 (which allows an assignor to charge the assignee for apportioned outgoings, improvements, and goodwill) shall apply with the substitution for the reference to subsection (2) of that section of a reference to this subsection, and for references to the assignor, the assignee and the taking effect of the assignment of references to the tenant, the incoming tenant and the date of exchange.—[Mr. Bevins.]|
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to the Lords Amendment, in line 15, after "landlord", to insert "consents and".
I should like also to refer to a similar Amendment in line 19, and to a further Amendment in line 19, at the end to insert:Provided that a consent required under this subsection (other than a consent by a local authority) shall not be unreasonably withheld or made subject to an unreasonable condition.(3) A dispute as to the reasonableness of the withholding of any such consent as is mention in the proviso to the last foregoing subsection or as to the reasonableness of any 1350 such condition as is mentioned in that proviso may be determined by the county court, or in Scotland by the sheriff, on the application of the tenant. Rules of court may provide for notice of such applications, for the joinder of appropriate parties and for the hearing together of two or more applications. On such an application the court or the sheriff may order that the consent shall be deemed to be given, subject to such conditions, if any, as seem just, and such an order shall have effect as if the consent had been given in accordance with the order.We on this side of the House have something to say about this proposed new Clause as a whole, having regard to what was said on Report in this House, but for the moment I take it, as it is on the 1351 Notice Paper, that it refers only to statutory tenancies. There are many people in this country who are statutory tenants without knowing it because by now many tenancies which started as a matter of agreement have become statutory tenancies, for instance by increases of rent. There is no doubt that they are the majority of tenancies of controlled houses, and without this Clause it would not be possible to assign those statutory tenancies or to exchange them. That I take to be the object of the Clause.
The Government, ever since the Bill was introduced and at every stage of it, have found their sole justification for the hardship and uncertainty that the Bill is certainly going to cause in the contention that it will make it easier to make good use of the existing supply of houses. That is the whole of their case, so far as it is a case, that they dare bring forward to the light of day. The remainder of it rests on uncovenanted and unreasonable benefits to landlords which they do not so use as the best reason to give for the Bill. So we may take it officially that the reason for the Bill is that it will promote the better use of existing accommodation.
For that reason one would have expected the Government at a much earlier stage to have taken notice of the suggestion which many of us, including myself, made as early as the Second Reading of the Bill, that if that was what they really wanted they ought to facilitate exchanges. We pointed out at the time that exchanges no doubt serve a useful purpose and that if they could be carried through without driving people forcibly out of their houses we would be doing a great deal to help the better use of existing accommodation.
It was not until we brought forward two proposed new Clauses on Report that anything was done about that. One of those new Clauses, the one which in moving I and a number of my hon. Friends stressed, differed from the other in this respect that we knew by quite long experience, and experience in many parts of the country both in England and Scotland, that, in fact, the difficulty about exchanges had always been—this I think was admitted on the Government side—that many landlords would not agree to exchanges because they hoped to get possession of the houses and, perhaps, to sell them or to deal with them in other ways.
1352 That was the attraction to the landlord before the Bill came in. The attraction to him, if and when it becomes law, will be that he will be able to get his house decontrolled. Consequently, if we are to leave the question of exchanges and the question of remaining in control to whether the landlord does or does not agree, we shall only get results which, but for this technical difficulty about the statutory tenancies, we might have got anyhow. We are taking no steps whatever to ensure that the landlords in those cases will prefer the public interest—that is the better use of existing accommodation—to their own private interest which will lie in getting the houses in question decontrolled.
I need not remind the House that the burden of this trouble is that if there is a new tenancy the house, whatever its value, becomes decontrolled. The result is that but for some provision about it there would be decontrol all over the place arising from exchanges. If we are to facilitate exchanges, the worst thing to do is to threaten the two tenants concerned with passing from control to decontrol. Yet that was what the Government proposed to do. Now in relation to statutory tenancies they have got so far, broadly speaking, as putting in machinery, and it is little more than machinery, for making an exchange possible between tenants of two separate houses when the landlords are willing, but the Government have declined, in spite of what was said on Report, to take any steps whatever towards dealing with a recalcitrant landlord.
I have never said in the House, and do not say now, that all landlords are wicked people, but I do say that, like many other people, they tend to look after their own interests, and in this case their own interests may well prevail over what is the public good. What is it we are proposing should be done? We are simply proposing that if on the proposed exchange between statutory tenancies a landlord refuses to consent it should be open to those who are primarily concerned—the people who have to live in those houses—to take that landlord to the county court, or in Scotland the sheriff court, and get it decided whether his refusal to consent is unreasonable or not.
There is a precedent for that, and quite an old precedent. It goes back some 1353 thirty years and it is now the law of this country that if there is a stipulation in a lease that an assignment, which is what this amounts to, should not be made without the landlord's consent, then there is to be implied that that consent shall not be unreasonably withheld, and there is legal machinery in that case in the High Court for giving effect to it.
It is with that legislation in mind—and that legislation is, I am sure, fresh in the memory of all of us, and particularly fresh and fruity in the memory of the Parliamentary Secretary, whose long experience of local government and whose present experience of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, should at least enable him to know something about it—that I heard with surprise the hon. Gentleman say that the objections that "we", that is, the Government and their supporters, "feel towards the proposal" were that it was a proposal "that compulsion should be used in the matter of exchanges". Later again, when asked by me if taking the landlord to the county court was thought by the Tory Party to be compulsion, the answer was, "That is the element of compulsion in the new Schedule" which we were then discussing and which raised exactly the point, which, within rather a narrow compass because of the character of this Clause, we seek to raise by the Amendment we are now presenting.
Let us see what that means. It comes to this. In the eyes of the Tory Party, in this Bill, with all its consequences, the landlord is entitled unreasonably to withhold his consent and to take him to the county court to determine any question about it is compulsion. Is it that landlords are above the law, or is it that the Tory Party as a whole is above the law, or do hon. Members opposite prefer to support those whom they wish to be above the law?
Here is a Bill reeking of county courts so far as the tenant is concerned. He is dragged there by every point of it. If we want to take the precious landlords to the county court, the ones who are unreasonably withholding their consent, we are told that is compulsion. I feel inclined to reply to the hon. Gentleman that if that is compulsion, I do not wonder that he complains of some other things that are done in this place by 1354 both sides of the House. It is, of course, merely a recourse to the ordinary machinery of justice.
What does "unreasonably withhold" mean? I think that it is probably clear, as it was clear in similar circumstances when they arose under the Rent Acts, that it would be an unreasonable refusal if the landlord simply objected because he did not like the operation of the Bill. I think it right to say that in order that the refusal should not be unreasonable, there must be some objection to the character of the proposed tenant—he may not be able to pay the rent—or, on the other hand, some objection to the way in which the premises are to be used and occupied. If it is of any interest to lawyers opposite, there is authority to that effect, but I do not desire to trouble the House with matters of that sort at the moment.
§ Sir Ian Horobin (Oldham, East)
Any plausibility in the argument which the hon. and learned Gentleman is now addressing to the House surely disappears, at least I hope so, if he will direct his attention to the first lines of the last Amendment on the Order Paper in his name and the names of his hon. Friends which says:Provided that a consent required under this subsection (other than a consent by a local authority) shall not be unreasonably withheld …So on his argument everything he has put to us means that the local authority can unreasonably withhold its consent, which is surely nonsense.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I do not think that helps. It seems to me that local authorities have a public duty to fulfil and it is not proper that their performance of that public duty should be dealt with in the county courts. It is not in other respects, and I do not see why it should be in this.
I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman—and I am much obliged to him for calling attention to this, because I was about to do so. Let me tell him why. This proposed new Clause relates entirely to statutory tenancies so we cannot have local authorities in the position of withholding consent. They will not have statutory tenancies as housing authorities. The words that we put in, out of which I think was really an excess of caution, 1355 were to cover the case not of housing authorities but of those local authorities who had to provide houses for people like teachers, police, and so on.
I think that the answer there is that if, in fact, they do provide those houses, they are almost always on an equivalent of a service tenancy. I was going to say—and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised the point—that if that is all that sticks in the gullet of hon. Gentlemen opposite I will here and now offer, if they will accept the Amendment, to ask your leave, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and by consent, to put in a manuscript Amendment removing the offending words. To tell the hon. Member the truth, I do not think that they make much difference one way or the other. If there are any such cases they will certainly be extremely rare.
Let us go from the niceties of draftsmanship and curious instances to the real substance of the matter. The hon. Gentleman will remember that he found this argument rather attractive on the Report stage, and I am hoping to have his support in the Lobby later on. I feel certain that with his long experience he would not support the type of landlord against whom this Amendment is directed.
I say quite frankly, at the risk of repeating myself, that it might well be that only a minority of landlords will be unreasonable in this respect. I do not myself think so, because it is in their personal interest to be rather unreasonable, but if we assume that is the case it is still wholly wrong that even a minority of unreasonable landlords should be allowed to obstruct what the Government say is their only real object in the Bill—the proper use of housing accommodation. That is the substantial point.
If any council or anyone who has had to deal with negotiating these exchanges were to get up and say what they know, this would be the answer. Some landlords will play; other landlords just will not play. They are unreasonable in the sense, not so much because they have a bad reason as because they have no reason at all. There have been reported cases in the courts where they insist on some divine right of a landlord to choose the next tenant. We cannot rely on that when we are dealing with the housing 1356 accommodation of the country. We cannot rely on people who look only at what they can get out of the house and who are only too anxious that there should be no exchange because, in that way, the house will become decontrolled, and instead of the rent being roughly doubled, it will be increased by—I take the rough estimate that has been given—2½ or three times. We should not do it; nobody should try.
I say that this Amendment, drafted as best we can—it may not be perfect and there is certainly no room for error at this stage of the proceedings—puts the right principle on the right path. It will create no hardship to anyone except to the man whose unreasonable attitude and unreasonable action is obstructing the national advantage by preventing an otherwise desirable exchange.
§ Mr. Niall MacDermot (Lewisham, North)
I beg to second the Amendment.
It is extraordinary that the Government should introduce only at this very late stage a Clause to deal with the crucial problem of exchanges between controlled statutory tenants. When one sees them introducing it at this stage and in such an emasculated form as this, it shows the hypocrisy of the arguments which have been adduced in favour of the Bill.
With what is the Bill supposed to be dealing? There are two major problems to be dealt with. One is how to get more money spent on putting into a decent state of repair the poorer class of properties. It is proposed in the Bill to deal with that by offering the landlord a bait by enabling him to increase the rent, and I will say no more about that because it is not relevant to the Amendment. The second problem is how to make the best use of existing accommodation. That means, in effect, how to overcome the problem of under-occupation and how to facilitate movement by the occupiers of such properties.
The Government believe that by their extensive measures of decontrol they will contribute to the solution of the problem. We disagree with them and we have argued about it, but I will say no more about it at this stage. The Government's Clause and our Amendment are concerned with how to deal with 1357 the problem of under-occupation in properties which remain subject to control under the Bill. The solution to the problem can to any substantial extent be found only by way of exchanges. This is nothing new; it has been known for a long time, and the Minister is himself very well familiar with the nature of the problem because he was the Chairman of the Housing Management Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee which reported very fully on the question in 1953.
In its lucid Report, the Committee analysed what were the existing obstructions to these exchanges between tenants where some properties were under-occupied and there was overcrowding in other properties. It showed how in some cases reluctance on the part of local authorities to take part in exchanges with other local authorities or private landlords was a bar to such exchanges. It showed how in one instance there was an impediment from the will of the tenants themselves, in that a tenant of a controlled property with a very low rent would not be willing to change if it meant a rent increase.
The Committee recommended for that reason that in the revision of Rent Act legislation an attempt should be made to equalise rents. That has been done by the Bill. Consequently, the only bar which was mentioned to exchanges from the tenants' side, if the Government prove right about this, has been removed.
What remains? There remains what was recognised in the Report to be the major impediment—the refusal of private landlords to participate in such exchanges. The relevant paragraph is paragraph 26 of the Report, which reads as follows:There are a number of explanations for the fact that comparatively few exchanges take place which involve the tenants of private landlords. In very many cases, a result of the Rent Restriction Acts is to give the private landlord a strong financial inducement to aim at obtaining vacant possession of his house in order to sell it. The tenants most interested in the idea of exchanging are often old people who would like to move into a smaller house; but, because they are old, the landlord may be reluctant to agree to a change since this is the property likely to fall vacant soonest. This practical difficulty is the more regrettable in that it is precisely these exchanges involving old people which might contribute most towards reducing under-occupation and bringing larger houses into fuller use.1358 The fact that under the Bill the landlord who gets possession of his house will, in addition to being able to sell it, be able to let it at a so-called free letting rental will not alter the fact that the whole weight of financial inducement to the landlord will be towards holding out for vacant possession, whether it is to sell or whether it is to let at the so-called free rental. In either event he has the same financial inducement.
The importance from the national point of view of overcoming this unwillingness of landlords was fully recognised by the Committee over which the present Minister presided. The recommendation, contained in paragraph 16, was in these terms:We recommend that all house-property owners, whether public or private, should in the national interest as well as their own examine whether they can do still more than they are doing in the way of judicious encouragement of suitable transfers.All we are asking by the Amendment is that landlords should not be allowed unreasonably to withhold their consent to exchanges of this kind, which must on all sides be conceded to be in the national interest. That, in a nutshell, is what the Amendment is about. I hope we shall hear no more of this cant about not wishing to introduce an element of compulsion against landlords. Let it be remembered that what we are dealing with here is ex hypothesi properties which are still subject to control and which are therefore of a type and in an area where there is a shortage of such houses, otherwise they would be decontrolled, presumably, by the Minister under his powers in Clause 10 (3) or there would be alternative accommodation. We are, ex hypothesi, dealing with properties of a class in which there is a shortage.
§ Mr. MacDermot
The hon. Member says it is a false hypothesis. I will give way if he wishes to show why.
In these circumstances, if the landlord is allowed to withhold his consent, and if he is allowed to wait until he gets vacant possession and then is able to compel the new tenant to pay a rental which is artificially inflated by that very housing shortage, there is a very strong element of compulsion in favour of the landlord against the tenant. That is an element of 1359 compulsion against which there is no safeguard by any provision that the rent shall be a reasonable rent. All that has been swept away. All that we are asking is that when a provision is being introduced to facilitate exchanges of controlled properties the landlord shall not be allowed unreasonably to withhold his consent.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hay
The history we have had from the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) on the subject of this Lords Amendment and the Amendment which he moved lacks a few details. I would remind the House that we discussed this matter fairly fully on the Report stage, when there were two propositions on the Paper. One was a new Schedule proposed by the Opposition, which, in the view of many of us on this side, introduced—I apologise to the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot)—what we considered to be an undesirable element of compulsion. The second was in a much easier form, which did not have that particular element, and, if I remember correctly, my right hon. Friend said that he would think the matter over and, if possible, suggest to the other place that some new Clause not containing this element of compulsion should be introduced and added to the Bill. As I understand it, that is the new Clause which, as a Lords Amendment, the House is now considering, to which the Amendments have been tabled.
At that stage, as I think the House should be reminded, hon. Gentlemen opposite were by no means dissatisfied with the progress they had made. They had recognised at an early stage, as has been said, that there is a problem in exchanges, and they had tried—I think even during the Committee stage—to introduce something into the Bill to deal with it. But having achieved that progress and got that assurance from my right hon. Friend, they now complain bitterly because the first course they wanted us to take, involving the first Schedule which we discussed on Report, has not been introduced. I hope to show in a few moments that a lot of the fears which have been expressed in the two speeches to which we have just listened are likely to prove unjustified.
§ Mr. Mitchison
The hon. Gentleman is most kind in giving way, because we shall 1360 have to refer to this matter later and it is well to have it right. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary:Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to be undertaking on behalf of the Government to insert in another place a Clause to the effect of the new Schedule standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren)?The Parliamentary Secretary replied:The hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 27th March, 1957; Vol. 385, c. 1172.]I mention that because the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), as he will remember, gave a somewhat more qualified account.
§ Mr. Hay
That, I think, is what I was just saying to the House. [HoN. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, I think so. There were two propositions, two Schedules. The House as a whole, as I think the debate showed, did not particularly like the first one. The second was more acceptable, and my right hon. Friend, or my hon. Friend, gave the assurance which the hon. and learned Gentleman has just read out. The Government are now carrying out the pledge which was given, and the Opposition are complaining again.
Let me leave the history, since there is some dispute—let the record speak for itself—and come to the merits here. It is right to say that we on this side are as much concerned as hon. Gentlemen opposite with the correct and full use of housing accommodation. To adopt the words used by, I think, the hon. and learned Member for Kettering in moving his Amendment, we are all concerned about how best we can facilitate the proper use of housing accommodation.
§ Mr. Hay
What is wrong with the Amendment is that it seems to ignore the fact that, if an exchange between two people, which the new Clause in the Lords Amendment seeks to facilitate, does not come about, no unit of housing accommodation is lost. If the landlord does not consent to the sitting tenant moving out and letting another tenant come in in his place—and that is what the Lords Amendment is all about—that 1361 does not mean that the unit of accommodation is lost. It may be that the landlord will obtain decontrol, but unless he intends to use that accommodation for some entirely different purpose, such as industrial or commercial user, he will eventually want to re-let it.
As I see it, the argument comes down to this. The party opposite would like us to provide here that the unit of accommodation is to be re-used not at a free market rent but at the controlled rent.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I can quite understand the argument of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) that, without the Amendment, the dwelling unit is preserved, as it were. What I asked him in an interruption, to which he was good enough to reply, is what he thinks would be wrong in principle if the Amendment which my hon. and learned Friend moved were accepted. Before I sit down, may I remind him that the effect of it would be simply to introduce into this matter of the exchange of statutory tenancies what is already a statutory right in the case of any other leaseholder who is restrained from assigning his lease without the consent of the landlord. It was the late Earl of Birkenhead who, in his legislation, provided the very thing in that respect which my hon. and learned Friend seeks to introduce into this matter of the exchange of statutory tenancies. The hon. Member knows this matter extremely well. What I asked him was: what, in his opinion, would be wrong, in principle, with the Amendment?
§ Mr. Hay
If I may, I will answer the question a little later.
As I see it, the difference between the two sides of the House is that whereas the Opposition wish the re-letting of this unit to be at the controlled rent, we on this side believe that nothing is wrong if the landlord is allowed to re-let under decontrol. My reason for saying that there is not a great deal between the two sides is that by the earlier Clauses of the Bill we are providing a rent level for controlled houses, such as those which we are now discussing, which is much closer to the economic or market rent than such rents have been up to now.
The hon. and learned Member said in his speech that landlords would be able to let this sort of accommodation decontrolled, not at twice the present rent, but 1362 at two-and-a-half or three times the present rent. I did not interrupt him, but the test is not the present rent, but two-and-a-half or three times the gross value. If it is accepted—
§ Mr. Mitchison
Two-and-a-half or three times is only an estimate. I understand from a journey to Hampstead that the Minister has accepted that what is meant is two-and-a-half or three times the present rent, or a much higher figure than twice the present rent, which is also a rough figure arrived at from the exact basis of the Bill.
§ Mr. Hay
I am talking about what is in the Bill. It provides that the controlled rent for these houses in future will be normally twice the gross value. Estimates were given from a number of quarters, both inside and outside the House, that the level of decontrolled rents, certainly in the larger towns, would be somewhere between two-and-a-half and three times the gross value, whatever the present rents may be. That, I think, was the point that the hon. and learned Member was making. I do not think, therefore, that there is really such a great deal between us on this point.
§ Mr. Hay
I will come to the point about selling. The landlord must do one or other of those things. When he does, he will do so at something approaching, or perhaps a little above, the controlled rent in any event. I do not think there is all that much in it.
If the landlord seeks to sell the house, he will be selling in a market very different to the one we have experienced up to now. He will be selling in a market in which rent levels, for both controlled 1363 and decontrolled property, are much closer to the economic rent. That happens to be one of the by-products of the Bill which is so much attacked by the Opposition. It will result in a disappearance of these sales to pull in as much money as possible. Why are landlords selling at the moment? When they can get possession of a decontrolled house, they sell it with vacant possession so that they can unlock some of their capital. If they can let a house at an economic rent, they will have no such compulsion to sell.
§ Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)
Will the hon. Member tell us of any time in history when any landlord did not get all he could whenever he could?
§ Mr. Hay
I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who asked what was wrong with his hon. and learned Friend's Amendments. I think they are unnecessary. I do not think there is any need to have this provision about an appeal to the county court by one or other of the two persons concerned if the landlord refuses his consent for the reasons I have tried to explain. We are not in the presence of a situation in which a unit of accommodation will be lost completely to the letting market simply because some obstinate landlord refuses his consent. The place will be re-let and, though the level of rent will be different, the accommodation will be there.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
Is the hon. Member not missing the immediate consequence of an unreasonable refusal by a landlord to allow the exchange? It surely would be that one family would remain overcrowded and another family would remain with more rooms than it required, and one workman would have to travel fifteen miles to work and the other possibly ten or twelve miles?
§ Mr. Hay
I am glad to see that at last the light is beginning to dawn on the benches opposite. As soon as the Bill is enacted, we shall have at once a freer situation in housing and the power to let at whatever rent we can get. The 1364 problems which the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) sees as militating against an exchange at the moment will not arise.
Here is something else for the Opposition to jeer at. If anything is needed to make the new Clause B work better, it is the omission of subsection (4), because I can conceive that a landlord, faced with the possibility of obtaining possession and having the chance of re-letting at a decontrolled rent, may very well say, if he is not allowed to make anything on the transaction, "I will not give my consent." That might be the way of making sure that the new Clause will work better than it may do as it stands. That is a point of argument, but I am certain that the Opposition Amendments are unnecessary, for the reasons that I have explained. There will be no loss of accommodation if the new Clause B is passed unamended. The level of rent to be charged will be approximately the same, though perhaps a little higher in one case, and there should be a useful supplement to the operation of the free market which will do a great deal in the years ahead to solve our housing problems.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
We must be very grateful to the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) for disclosing a good deal of the Government's intentions. It is rather surprising that we have had to wait until this very late stage in the proceedings of the Bill to obtain the information which we are now getting. It has been studiously put about by the Government, in the House and outside, that, in effect, the only major field of decontrol is the decontrol of those houses which are over certain rateable value limits. Throughout the country the great mass of people still believe that to be so.
In by-election campaigns in which this Bill has been a major issue the party opposite has distributed leaflets declaring that this is the position. When many of us on this side of the House have done our best to make the facts known to the general public, we have been told that what we say is not true and that we are misleading the people. But here is the hon. Member for Henley saying precisely what many of us have been saying about the effect of the Bill in widening the field of decontrol.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Of course it has, but hon. Members opposite and their party, officially, in campaign after campaign in the country, including that in Newcastle, North, have said in the Press and in their own leaflets that the Bill will only affect properties of a rateable value in London of £40 and of a rateable value of £30 in the provinces.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ It is monstrous that the truth about this is only now being admitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, when it is too late to do much about it. However, further by-elections will no doubt take place, and there it may be even more difficult for hon. Gentlemen than in the recent case of Hornsey. There will be a different climate of public opinion, and it will be even more difficult for hon. Gentlemen than it has been during recent months to make any progress in getting even their most solid seats returned to the House. Indeed, one may even have fears about the position of the constituency of the hon. Member for Henley—
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
We also understand the hon. Gentleman's solicitude for landlords as a whole, good, bad and indifferent.
It is important to note that we have this further emphasis from the hon. Member that one of the results of the Bill will be that large numbers of properties on change of tenancy will be decontrolled. The hon. Gentleman has said that this will not have any real effect upon rents. I do not understand how he can say that. I do not know what justification he has for saying that it will not result in higher rents than the rents provided for controlled properties under the Bill. Indeed, I think that it will be found that much higher rents may be extracted by the landlords in the new realm of decontrol, which may come as a further shock to tenants all over the country.
The other point we wanted to discuss was the way in which this new Clause, although making a useful mechanical change in the provisions of the Bill, 1366 really goes nowhere to meet the real needs of the situation as we know them. Those of us who meet our constituents week by week, and have an enormous number of such claims upon us to try to help in arranging exchanges, know that today there are as many of these cases as there are appeals for additions to the ordinary council housing list.
I think hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that there are a great number of people who want to secure exchanges and who have gone to a great deal of trouble and difficulty to get another tenant to agree to an exchange. Often one landlord is the local authority, which has expressed its willingness to approve an exchange, but the other is a private landlord who will not do so. I have cases every week, as I am sure have many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and it seems only obvious and reasonable that we should try to ensure that those exchanges should go through.
I should have thought that the modest wording of our Amendment, which tries to ensure that a landlord shall not withhold his consent unreasonably, is a proper proposal. We know the kind of situation that arises in our divisions in our constituencies. Often we have the case where a local authority says that it is willing to rehouse a tenant if it can get the use of the accommodation that he is leaving. The local authority says to the landlord, and it seems fair, "We do not require you to take any special tenant. We ask you to agree to take one tenant from our list."
In Newcastle, we still have a waiting list of about 16,000 people. I know that there are cities with more. It is not unreasonable to invite the private landlord to select someone from the waiting list to help to reduce it. What the authority says is not, "You must take a particular tenant", but, "You should take someone from the list". Very many landlords, unhappily, will not comply. To their credit, a few do. Some of the landlords who arc agreeable to having exchanges have come to me and said, "We think it is unfair to us that we should be willing to do this when so many others are not. Why do you not take some powers so that in proper cases you can insist that a private landlord must take the tenant who is offered, as long as there is no obvious objection which could be taken to the proposed tenant?" 1367 These are the sort of points that we are putting forward. It seems to me that, as my hon. and learned Friend and other hon. Members have pointed out, unless what we propose is accepted, it makes nonsense of the suggestion of hon. Members opposite that they are eager to encourage exchanges. When I had some responsibility for these matters I tried to stress the importance of exchanges. Here, the Government have an opportunity to give some reality to what has been said over a long period. I hope that they will provide this small encouragement for exchanges and so, to a minor degree, mitigate the harm which I sincerely believe the other provisions of the Bill will cause.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I think that in our discussion we are inclined to forget that the heading to the new Clause is:Provisions to facilitate exchange of controlled dwellings.That is what what we are talking about. All the rather cruel social philosophy which the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) trotted out had nothing whatever to do with the Amendment. Moreover, as a matter of practical housing administration, the hon. Member was completely wrong.
We are asking that the new Clause inserted in the Bill in another place shall be given teeth by giving the benefit of the compulsion of the county court, which is already applied in the Bill in several cases, to the tenant. We think that what is good enough for the tenant is quite good enough for the landlord, especially when we discover that even before the Bill becomes law landlords are withholding properties from letting.
We are told that there is a tremendous need for exchanges—I agree that there is —and that there is such a demand that landlords can let their properties whenever they like. Yet landlords are withholding them. I have here a photograph of an advertisement appearing in a well-known newspaper. It reads:This property to be let when the new Rent Act becomes operative. For full particulars, apply…to the agent, to whom I do not propose to give any publicity.
This was an advertisement of property in the London area. Landlords have 1368 properties which could be let—hon. Gentleman opposite agree that they ought to be occupied by people who badly need houses—and yet, in spite of the fact that their hearts are said to be bleeding for the poor working man who badly needs a home, they are holding up lettings, and they even have face enough to state it in their advertisements, knowing that as they will be new lettings the properties will, in any case, be decontrolled and so they can charge any rents that the market can bear.
Hon. Members opposite may think that that is all right. We do not. That illustrates the vast difference between their social philosophy and ours. We think that the tenant is as entitled to a fair deal as the owner. If the hon. Member for Henley presses me, I will give him a list of profits and dividends paid by property companies this year.
§ Mr. Gibson
To leave the necessities of life to what the hon. Member and his hon. Friends call the market is a mad philosophy and has produced all the misery, poverty and hunger which the world suffers. I want to alter that position. I am a Socialist who wants to see Socialism applied in this and other countries, and that means common public ownership of property like housing and land. In the meantime, we have not got as far as that, but we have managed to persuade a Tory Government to insert a provision purporting to ease transfers between tenants. We think that it does nothing of the sort.
I have some experience of these matters. As hon. Members know, I was for many years a member of the London County Council Housing Committee and for many years an officer of it. London County Council has always done its utmost to encourage transfers. Even when the Tories were in control there were many transfers every year. Before the war the L.C.C. transferred its tenants at the rate of about 5,000 a year, but only a tiny minority was transferred to privately-owned property.
1369 The usual experience is that the owner of an empty property is not prepared to take another tenant from the L.C.C. or a borough council because he feels that he loses some control. Is there any likelihood that the Bill will improve that position? The Bill provides that the landlord must agree before a transfer can take place. Why should the landlord agree? The Bill was introduced to help landlords and the Property Owners' Federation did its utmost in its propaganda for the Bill. The Bill provides very much for the property owners. Why should they give up their right to squeeze the market to the utmost, even if tenants bleed in the process? Of course, they will not do that and an advertisement appearing on the hoardings in London proves that.
If the Government really want to help tenants affected by the Bill in places like London, where—as hon. Members opposite, in their quiet moments, admit—there is a tremendous housing shortage and where the mere change from one tenancy to another can do a great deal to alleviate the position, there must be teeth in the Clause. Experience shows that unless such a Clause has teeth, nothing will happen and that landlords will wait until property is decontrolled and they are able to charge the 300, 400 or 500 per cent. increases which will be charged in places like Chelsea.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ The other place has not gone far enough with this provision. If the Government are to help the exchange of tenancies in London and other large cities they must make it possible, if the landlord unreasonably withholds his consent or imposes unreasonable conditions so that the tenant and the landlord cannot agree, for the tenant to have the right to go to the county court and for the county court to decide. I do not expect any very great success even at the county court—but I may be rather suspicious of the legal fraternity. At any rate, it will give the tenant a chance to fight and to get a reasonable transfer arrangement made if he possibly can.
§ After all, it is the tenant who is going to the county court and not the landlord, and presumably the tenant will have to pay the bill. What we suggest should be done is so obviously reasonable that I 1370 am surprised that the Government did not insert the provision in the other place, and are, apparently, to resist it this evening. If they do, it will be only another illustration of the fundamental lack of concern of the party opposite for the welfare of the ordinary people.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I cannot understand how hon. Members opposite have the effrontery to refuse my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment. What are they offering in the Lords Amendment?—absolutely nothing. Since when has a landlord been unable to agree with a tenant in regard to a transfer if he wants to? The Lords Amendment merely says that if the landlord likes he can allow tenants to exchange, and if he does not like he need not. What utter humbug to introduce into a Bill something which means nothing. As the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) knows, the Lords Amendment means nothing without that of my hon. and learned Friend.
§ Mr. Hay
As the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said in opening the discussion, the Lords Amendment enables the exchange or assignment of statutory tenancies. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) now says that it means nothing. He ought to listen to an explanation of what it means if he does not know. It means that statutory tenancies can be assigned. That is the whole point of the Lords Amendment.
§ Mr. Janner
I am obliged to the hon. Member for trying to help me. Of course I know that a landlord could make the tenancy a statutory tenancy if he chose, without compulsion. He could let the house for as long as he wanted. If he is a landlord who does not want to turn out his tenant he can allow him to stop there as long as he likes, but the Lords Amendment without my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment is nonsense because, in effect, it says that if the landlord refuses to exchange he refuses, and there is an end of the matter.
Are we as a Parliament going to hold ourselves up to ridicule throughout the country by accepting a Lords Amendment which means nothing? It does not carry the law one step further; it does not provide anything which is not already 1371 within the possibilities of an agreement between a landlord and his tenant; it merely says that if the landlord likes he can make it a statutory tenancy and if he does not he need not. That is the present situation, in any case. There is nothing to prevent a landlord entering into an agreement with the tenant and saying to him, "I will let you these premises on similar conditions to those which will prevail in respect of any houses at present controlled." Who will stop him from doing it? All that the Lords Amendment says is that a landlord can do what he is already able to do.
This situation means one of two things; either the Government are deliberately throwing dust in the eyes of the people or they have walked into a trap of their own in believing that they are doing something when in fact they are doing nothing.
§ Mr. Janner
Were that the case it might be commendable, but I do not think it does even that. It is so absurd that no lawyer would dream of going to court with a case. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] All he would say is that it is absolute nonsense and bound to fail or to succeed as the case might be.
I am advancing what I believe to be a perfectly serious point. An Amendment of this sort would add nothing and detract nothing from the present position. That is why we on this side of the House are asking, "Why not accept our Amendment?" I am glad that the Minister has returned to the Chamber. I ask him what he intends to do. He tells us he has made a concession. He says that we have managed to persuade him that the question of exchange is an important matter, and indeed it is. Not only is it important from the point of view of a home, but it is important from the point of view of industry. Many people are being prevented from taking employment in certain districts because they cannot get accommodation and they cannot exchange accommodation.
I will give an illustration from my own constituency where there are people who were engaged in the knitted glove industry. I have raised the matter in this House time after time and asked for help 1372 for them in order that the industry may be preserved. It is declining very rapidly and people engaged in it have to find other employment. Such employment may be available in a different district. In most cases, they can find other people willing to exchange accommodation with them for various reasons, perhaps to be nearer to their families or to their work. It is an important matter from an industrial point, so why not compel the landlords to act in this matter unless it is unreasonable to do so; unless, for example, the prospective tenant is a bad tenant, or cannot pay or for some other reason? But if the prospective tenant is a decent fellow, prepared to do the same as the sitting tenant, what does the landlord lose if he agrees to an exchange? The only way he can lose is that instead of the house continuing to be controlled it becomes decontrolled.
If the house becomes decontrolled, it means that what the Government have been talking about—that there is a free market and he will not be able to get a higher rental—is proved to be nonsense; because the whole object of this. as we see it, is to decontrol property as rapidly as possible. Hon. Members should remember that it is not a question merely of decontrolling houses above a certain rateable value. As soon as it becomes vacant, every house becomes decontrolled. People are labouring under a misunderstanding in this matter. They think that control is continuing for those houses below a rateable value of £40 in London and £30 elsewhere. That is utter nonsense. The houses are already three-quarters decontrolled, or will be the moment this Bill becomes law, because as soon as a tenant goes out of a house it is decontrolled and any rent may be charged.
That means that if people wish to exchange houses—and under our Amendment the landlord would be compelled to allow them to do so—they are in the position of having to go into this great open market about which the Government are so optimistic. If the Government are right, if they are attempting to show the country that exchange will be useful and will protect the tenant, and if they are right about the free market, why put the Lords Amendment in at all?
This is pure bluff. It is a clear attempt to make the country believe that the 1373 Government are doing something when they are doing nothing. If that is not the case, the Minister must concede the point that we are now asking for. He must say that exchange shall become possible for those who are in a position to interchange their places without causing any hardship to the landlord except that of not being able to obtain greater rent. I understand that that is what the Minister wants; so let him not try to maintain a foolish Amendment of the House of Lords but amend it in such a way that is really becomes a practical proposition.
§ Sir I. Horobin
We have spent a great deal of time on a matter which is of great importance, but whether we accept the Lords Amendment unamended or amended as is now proposed, it will amount to very little. As long as there is this very large difference between the value of a controlled house and an uncontrolled house the scope for exchange is very limited. There are perfectly good reasons which one could elaborate. There are matters involving persons who are on the local authority housing list, and matters connected with the immediate financial interest of the landlord.
Only two things can be done, or at least are worth trying. We could have something like the Lords Amendment without the second half, thus saying to the landlord, "You are giving up either the prospect of early decontrol, or of taking on tenants whom you would like to come to you." There is nothing particularly against that, except perhaps that they are young and might stay longer and the landlord could get a reasonable price agreed upon so as to make it worth his while to go for early decontrol. That would allow a monetary payment by agreement for the landlord to give up something. Otherwise, we could do what is, broadly speaking, now being proposed by the Opposition, which is to fill the houses with tenants that the landlords do not want.
§ Sir I. Horobin
Things being as they are, very few cases of that kind would get past the courts. The landlords affected would fight like tigers and make every objection, good and bad, that a lawyer could put up, to prevent the landlords being saddled with tenants that they 1374 did not want. If they were so saddled, would the relationship between the landlord and tenant be happy and useful, in the general public interest, and the sort that it is desirable to have? The scope for these exchanges will be small while the big difference in value remains.
I think we are spending a great deal of time discussing something which, in either event, will not get us very far. Under those circumstances, at this late stage I imagine that the Government are not likely to accept an Amendment which would only produce a mass of irritation and appeals and really not be worth the trouble it would produce. Therefore, for my part, although I frankly admit that the Lords Amendment will not lead to many exchanges, nevertheless the opportunities are so small and the objections are so great that it would be better to accept the Amendment as it comes to us.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Has not the hon. Member remembered that a provision of this sort has been in operation for thirty years now and has never produced the terrible consequences he anticipates?
§ Sir I. Horobin
Surely the hon. and learned Member must appreciate the complete difference there. There does exist this difference that the rent and conditions are freely negotiated in that case. The whole essence of the problem we are struggling with, on both sides of the House, in this matter of exchanges is that the terms of the statutory tenancy are not agreed terms. They are not a lease accepted between landlord and tenant as a fair market rent. They are imposed. I am not going to argue whether it is good that they should be imposed or not, but, in fact, they are imposed. The comparison with the ordinary law of property where there is an assignment of a lease is quite irrelevant to the difficult problem we are discussing.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) always disappoints the House, if he will allow me to say so with respect. He begins an elaborate speech and maintains a reasonable attitude for the first fifth of the speech, but then he becomes less and less reasonable and, in the end, he reaches a position which becomes frankly unintelligbile.
1375 The hon. Member began by saying—and here he will find more agreement on this side of the House than among hon. Members opposite—that the Amendment proposed in another place is, by itself, virtually useless. It does very little more, if anything more, than put into statutory form the present position because, of course, if the landlord of a controlled house wants to consent to an exchange of tenancy he could always do it and could do so whether the Amendment adopted in another place were accepted by this House or not. It makes absolutely no difference. So far, I am completely with the hon. Member—
§ Mr. Silverman
What the hon. Member said was that the change made in another place would have very little effect.
§ Sir I. Horobinindicated assent.
§ Mr. Silverman
That is what I thought the hon. Member was saying. It was in the second part of his speech that I found his argument to be unintelligible. Having said what is perfectly true, that the Amendment made in another place made little difference to the law, he went on to say that the Amendment we propose would make little difference to the actual position in any case, but there he was quite patently wrong. It is one thing to say that if the landlord consents the change may take place and will have certain effects, when that always would have been the position. It is quite a different thing to say that the landlord shall agree to the change unless he has reasonable grounds for not agreeing to it. That is precisely what the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) sought in his opposition to the Amendment. That is what he means by saying that our Amendment introduced an element of compulsion. If it does introduce an element of compulsion whereas before there was no element of compulsion, it really becomes unintelligible to say that there is no difference between the one and the other. If one is an element of compulsion and the other is not, there is all the difference in the world between them, both as a matter of law and in view of the practical result.
What we have to look at is to see whether the hon. Gentleman is right when he says that there is no element of compulsion. Of course there is. If we say to a landlord, "You shall consent to this 1376 unless you can satisfy some reasonable third party in a third party judgment, in a court of law, that you have reasonable grounds for not consenting to it," it is merely playing with words to say that there is no element of compulsion. Of course there is.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman is really trying to have the best of both worlds. He may be enjoying himself, but as I said to one of his hon. Friends on another occasion, it is not at all clear that he is laughing at the right joke.
§ Mr. Silverman
That, of course, is the kind of remark one expects from the hon. Member. Perhaps I may address the rest of my argument to other hon. Members of the House who, I hope, will listen to it with some attention. I am trying to deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Henley that not merely would this Amendment introduce an element of compulsion but that there would be something wrong in introducing an element of compulsion.
What I tried to say to him in the course of his speech was that although there is an element of compulsion involved in my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment it is not a new thing in law. The hon. Gentleman was trying to say that there was no analogy in that portion of the law in which the element of compulsion has always been and the present section of the law of landlord and tenant in which we are seeking to introduce it. I follow his argument but I do not agree with him. I think that there is the closest possible analogy. The only difference he suggests in the case of a lease is that die rent has been freely negotiated but in the case of a statutory tenancy the rent has not been freely negotiated.
The hon. Member thought it would make only little difference to the amount involved in freeing it from control because, he said, we could always trust the working of the market to produce a just result. That is his point. When I asked why, then, we had any element of control, he was frank enough to say, "Why do we?" He made it perfectly clear that he would abolish all control of all rents as soon as he had the opportunity.
1377 My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) must therefore modify his suspicion of lawyers. I remind him of the tombstone on which someone wrote, "Here lies John Smith, a lawyer and an honest man"; and someone else asked, "Why did they bury them both in the same grave?"
The hon. Member has given his answer. He is a lawyer and an honest man, and he states his position clearly; he states, "I do not believe in control at all". But the Government do believe in control.
§ Mr. Silverman
Or if they do not believe in it, they are not as honest as all their supporters and would not be as frank as the hon. Member for Henley.
Coming back to the question whether there is a complete analogy apart from this exception—if it is an exception, and I do not think it is an exception at all—for more than thirty years it has been the rule that a leaseholder, even though his lease contains a covenant under which he is not entitled to part with his lease or his premises without the consent of his landlord, is nevertheless not bound by that freely negotiated condition. The lessor and the lessee, the landlord and the tenant, have made their bargain and both of them, the tenant included, have agreed to a covenant that they shall not assign their lease without the consent of the landlord. Thirty years ago Parliament intervened to change that and said, "In spite of your agreement that you will not assign your lease without the consent of your landlord, nevertheless you may do so, provided that the man to whom you wish to assign it is a reasonable and responsible tenant. In spite of the covenant, if your landlord refuses to agree, then you may go to the court and the court will confirm your assignment without his agreement".
No one has ever suggested in the course of the debate that there is anything unfair about that. Nobody has suggested that it ought to be altered. The hon. Member has never objected to the form of compulsion about that. It is the same element of compulsion as would have to be introduced into this field by 1378 the Amendment now proposed—exactly the same thing, except that the hon. Member's differentiation works the other way round, because we are dealing here in the case of the lease with a covenant freely negotiated, and even in that case the law now says that the covenant is unenforceable in the case of a responsible and reasonable tenant.
All that my hon. and learned Friend is suggesting by the Amendment is that we shall give to a controlled tenant, who is entitled as long as he behaves himself to remain in those premises at that rent for as long as he likes, the same right as we give to a lessee of non-controlled premises to assign his lease without the landlord's consent, even where he has agreed not to do so.
To allow the one to remain and to object to the other on the ground that it is unreasonable compulsion is merely —I am afraid I must say this—another instance of the way in which the Tory Party look differently at equitable considerations according to the class of the population affected by them. In the case of a shopkeeper or tenant of an office bound by a lease, the hon. Member would never dream of allowing a landlord unreasonably to withhold his consent to a change of tenancy. He thinks that is absolutely right, and yet he holds up his hands in horror when my hon. and learned Friend suggests that exactly the same law should apply to a controlled tenant. Rather, he did not hold up his hands in horror; he said it was unnecessary.
He went on to say that there was a difference and that the difference was the extra rent, no matter how big or how small the extra rent involved. In the case of the office tenant or the shopkeeper or the lessee of a dwelling-house, however, there is no question of any increased rent. The assignment would have to be at exactly the same rent. Whether he realises it or not, the hon. Member's opposition to the Amendment is nothing more and nothing less than a further instance of the class distinction which dominates the whole of this Government's approach to social questions of this kind. I hope that my hon. Friends will persist in their Amendment and, if it is resisted, carry it into the Division Lobby.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)
The House will agree, I think, that we have had a very fair and wide debate on this subject of exchanges. Although the debate has made clear some of the political differences between the two sides, it would probably be more useful if I were to deal with the two propositions which we are discussing, that embodied in the Lords Amendment and the Amendment to it moved by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), on a rather more practical basis. The House is interested in this question rather from the point of view of what we can do to promote exchanges than with the politics which one associates with the question.
When this Bill had its Report stage in the House, two Amendments were put down by hon. Members of Her Majesty's Opposition, one for exchanges with the consent of the landlords, and another, a Schedule, providing for appeal to the county court against the landlord's refusal—
§ Mr. Bevins
—against the landlord's unreasonable refusal to give consent. I made it quite clear on that occasion that the Government were prepared to consider the principle of the Amendment and the related Schedule in the name of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), which embodied the proposition in favour of voluntary exchanges. The Lords Amendment now before us is certainly designed to implement the undertaking which I gave on behalf of my right hon. Friend at that point.
The House would not, I think, at this juncture wish me to refer in any detail to the new Clause now before us in the form of the Lords Amendment.
§ Mr. Janner
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that subject, would he answer the question I put? What is the difference which is created by the Lords Amendment which cannot today be brought about by an agreement between the two parties?
§ Mr. Bevins
If the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) will just be a little patient, I will answer that question.
1380 What is provided in the Lords Amendment is perfectly simple. It enables a statutory tenant to assign a tenancy to any other person with the consent of the landlord. That would allow exchanges between one statutory tenant and another, between one statutory tenant and an owner-occupier, and also between a statutory tenant and a local authority tenant. The various subsections deal with the question of succession. I need only say here that subsection (3) makes it clear that, in certain cases, the landlord can agree to treat the incoming tenant as the first statutory tenant, although, in fact, he may be the second, because there may be circumstances, for instance, where an elderly couple constitute the incoming tenants, when the landlord would he willing to treat the matter in that way.
Subsection (4), which has been referred to by two of my hon. Friends, would make it unlawful either for landlords or for tenants to require premiums for these transactions. In spite of what has been said in our debate today, it is still the view of my right hon. Friend that it would be wrong to allow incoming tenants to make payments in the form of sweeteners to landlords to encourage them to agree to exchanges.
These provisions, as embodied in the Lords Amendment, become necessary because, of course, Clause 10 (2) would, in the ordinary course of events, prevent an incoming tenant from getting a controlled tenancy. It is the view of my right hon. Friend that these provisions will facilitate exchanges, particularly in those classes of case where there is little or no difference between the dwellings' twice gross value and their market rent. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) rightly pointed out that to the extent that new rents approximate to free rents exchanges will be assisted.
To turn to the Amendment—
§ Mr. Janner
The hon. Member has not answered my point. What is there illegal in a landlord and a tenant making an arrangement which contains precisely the same kind of conditions as would prevail if it were a statutory tenancy?
§ Mr. Bevins
As I said before, if the hon. Member will be patient, I am coming to that point.
1381 I should like to examine the terms of the Amendments of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and his hon. Friends on a purely practical basis. The party opposite would give power to the county court, or to the appropriate court in Scotland, to dispense with the landlord's consent if it were unreasonably withheld or to modify any unreasonable condition imposed by the landlord. To the extent that that would enable the county court to override the objections of landlords, there can be no doubt that that introduces an element of compulsion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley was perfectly right to say what he did, and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was quite right to underline that this represents an element of compulsion. He was right in spite of what was said by his hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) who, with rather a nice choice of words, referred to the expressions of my hon. Friend and of myself as so much cant. The fact is that if a county court is to be allowed to override a landlord's objections, that must represent an element of compulsion.
What is the position? Under Clause 10 (2), it is perfectly legal for the owner of a house to let it on such terms as the market allows when he secures vacant possession. He is entitled to let at a free rent to any prospective tenant to whom he decides to let. In many cases, the provisions of the Amendment would deprive the landlord of that right.
The question which the House has to ask itself this evening is this perfectly simple one—in what circumstances would a county court say that the landlord should not be allowed to seek a free rent from a tenant of his own choice? We have heard a lot about the iniquities of what has been proposed from this side this evening, but I have listened carefully to all that has been said in this debate and I have not heard a single hon. Member opposite attempt to answer that question, because, of course, it is unanswerable.
How could a county court say that a landlord was behaving unreasonably by refusing to take a tenant at twice the gross value in rent? It is necessary only to pose these questions in their simplicity for the House to see that the provisions 1382 of the Amendment would almost certainly be ineffective in practice. Indeed, the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) got rather near to admitting that, because he said that even if these Amendments were accepted he was not very optimistic about whether the effects would be very beneficial.
§ Mr. Mitchison
The hon. Gentleman must have forgotten that a provision of this sort, including cases referring to the Rent Acts, has been administered by the courts for thirty years now without the least difficulty and with a well-established line of authorities as to what these words mean.
§ Mr. Bevins
That may well be the case. I would not dispute that statement from the hon. and learned Member for one moment, but I put it to the House that these alternative provisions have to be considered against the policy for which the Rent Bill stands.
§ Mr. MacDermot
Since he appears to be moving from the point, may I put a question to the hon. Gentleman? He is suggesting that no county court judge could consider that it was unreasonable for a landlord to refuse consent because he wanted to re-let at an increased rental. Does the hon. Gentleman consider that the landlord is only being allowed to charge an unreasonable rent when the rent he is being allowed to charge is the controlled rent? if the controlled rent is a reasonable rent, why should not the county court judge think it reasonable that the landlord should continue to charge that rent?
§ Mr. Bevins
Surely the position is quite simple. What is being argued from the other side of the House, though not very convincingly, is that if the Opposition Amendments were to be accepted and county court judges were enabled to say whether or not a landlord's consent was reasonably or unreasonably withheld, obviously that could only be done on the ground that it was a matter of convenience for the incoming and outgoing tenants that it should happen. But in the last resort it would be a matter which involved the rent that those people were prepared to pay.
If the Opposition Amendments were accepted, it would mean that judges in 1383 the county courts in England would be empowered to drive a coach and horses through Clause 10 of the Bill as it stands. And a matter basic and fundamental to the Bill is the belief that it is desirable on vacant possession of the house that decontrol should take place and the landlord should be a free agent to secure in a free market a tenant of his own choice.
It is our view on this side of the House that the provisions embodied in the new Clause brought to us from another place go as far as a Government ought reasonably to go in facilitating exchanges and that it would be wrong to recommend the House to accept the principles of the Opposition Amendments, which would be at variance with the principles in which we on this side believe.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
The hon. Gentleman has put the point that no county court would find it reasonable to expect a landlord to have a new controlled tenancy when he could get vacant possession, but that is not the case that will go before the county court at all. The case would be whether the present tenant should remain at the same controlled rent, or whether he should be able to assign a sub-tenancy to a reasonable tenant at the same controlled rent. This is not a question of vacant possession versus controlled rent but of one controlled rent versus another.
§ Mr. Bevins
With all respect, the question which the county court judge would have to consider would be whether or not the withholding of consent by a landlord was reasonable or unreasonable. Quite simply, my right hon. Friend's view is that that puts on county court judges a task which they could not discharge, in the nature of the case, for what would be the test of "unreasonable"? I have already invited hon. Gentlemen opposite to give us some criterion as to what unreasonable would be.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Since the hon. Gentleman has invited someone to say what would be the test of unreasonableness, may I say to him that on the exchange of statutory tenancies no question of rent would arise? The test of reasonableness would be whether the 1384 proposed new tenant was a reliable person, likely to prove a good tenant or not. That has been the test for thirty years.
§ Mr. Bevins
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the question of rent would arise. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes, in circumstances where a landlord thought he had a prospect of his property becoming vacant, and he foresaw the prospect of getting the market value or the free value of that house, obviously that would be a consideration.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
The Minister has given a very weak answer to the Amendments—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer?"] No answer at all—but he has said one or two things that must be answered, even at this hour. The hon. Gentleman said that we have to consider these alternative propositions against the background of the policy for which the Bill stands. We have many ideas about the policy for which the Bill stands, but the Government themselves have repeatedly given two reasons for it.
The first reason was that they were trying to facilitate the utilisation of the maximum housing space in the country in which, of course, the matter of exchanges is one of the key points. The second was that they were concerned about the state of disrepair of houses in this country, and they were anxious that through this Bill the landlords would be in a better position to finance the repairs. That was the reason given for the increased rent and the decontrol.
On the point we are discussing now, if we consider it in the light of those two propositions, the case argued in Committee—which has been argued throughout the stages of this Bill in regard to exchanges—and the principle which the Minister himself admitted in Committee, on which he gave us a promise that he would try to bring in a provision to facilitate repairs, was the well-known fact that landlords throughout the country, because of rent control, have been refusing to allow tenants to exchange into controlled houses so that they could force them out and get decontrol. That is the case, as everybody knows. We know it is a serious situation and there have been many attempts to try to find a solution. It was because of this situation that the Government gave the assurance which was given in Committee.
1385 The new Clause does not in any way facilitate these exchanges, as has been admitted, and I do not think that whatever the Minister says will convince anyone on either side of the House that it will do so, because of the factor of the landlord's consent. It has been pointed out over and over again that tenants can exchange now if they can get the consent of the landlord, and the only thing that has been preventing exchanges so far has been the withholding of landlord's consent.
Therefore, in view of the fact that the new Clause makes no difference to the present position, the Minister has no right to stand at that Box and say, as he said, that the new Clause is certainly implementing the undertaking he gave upstairs in Committee or, as he also said, that he made it clear on that occasion that the Government were prepared to consider this principle.
The Minister has asked us what are the considerations that the court can examine if an application is made for an exchange which is opposed by the land-
§ lord. There are two answers. The first is whether or not a reasonable rent is being offered. The other point concerns the matter of repairs. If a landlord goes to the court and submits to it that he cannot consent to an exchange because the rent under the control arrangements would not be sufficient to enable him to maintain the house in good repair, I suggest that the court might have reasonable grounds for giving the landlord his case.
§ Therefore, because of the complete absence of any justification by the Minister, and because of the reasonableness of our effort to incorporate in the Bill a provision which would in some way facilitate exchanges, though not to the extent that we would wish, I am determined to contest the matter in the Lobby, and I hope that my hon. Friends will do likewise.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Lords Amendment:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 242, Noes 313.
|McKay, John (Wallsend)||Prentice, R. E.||Swingler, S. T.|
|MacMillan, M. K. (Western Istes)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Macpherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Price, Philips (Glouostershire, W.)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Mahon, Simon||Probert, A. R.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Mainwaring, W. H.||Proctor, W. T.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Pryde, D. J.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Mann, Mrs. Jean||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Mason, Roy||Randall, H. E.||Thornton, E.|
|Mayhew, C. P.||Rankin, John||Tomney, F.|
|Mellish, R. J.||Redhead, E. C.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Messer, Sir F.||Reeves, J.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Mikardo, Ian||Reid, William||Viant, S. P.|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Rhodes, H.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Monslow, W.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Moody, A. S.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Weitzman, D.|
|Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Gaernarvon)||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert(Lewis'm, S.)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Mort, D. L.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Moss, R.||Ross, William||West, D. G.|
|Moyle, A.||Royle, C.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Mulley, F. W.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Short, E. W.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Oliver, G. H.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Wigg, George|
|Oram, A. E.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Wilcock, Croup Capt. C. A. B.|
|Orbach, M,||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Oswald, T.||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Owen, W. J.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Padley, W. E.||Snow, J. W.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Paget, R. T.||Sorensen, R. W.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Sparks, J. A.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Steele, T.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Panned, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich)||Woof, R. E.|
|Parker, J.||Stonehouse, John||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Parkin, B. T.||Stones, W. (Consett)||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Paton, John||Strachey, Rt. Hon, J.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Pentland, N.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Plummer, Sir Leslie||Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Popplewell, E.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Browne, J. Nixon (Craighton)||Erroll, F. J.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bryan, P.||Farey-Jones, F. W.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Bullus, Wing commander E. E.||Finlay Graeme|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Burden, F. F. A.||Fisher, Nigel|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Butcher, Sir Herbert||Fletcher-Cooke, C.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (SaffronWalden)||Forrest, G.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Campbell, Sir David||Fort, R.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Carr, Robert||Foster, John|
|Ashton, H.||Cary, Sir Robert||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Chichester-Clark, R.||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'ombe & Lonsdale)|
|Atkins, H. E.||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Freeth, Denzil|
|Baldcok, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Cole, Norman||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Gammans, Lady|
|Balniel, Lord||Cooke, Robert||Garner-Evans, E. H.|
|Barber, Anthony||Cooper, A. E.||George, J. C. (Pollok)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Gibson-Watt, D.|
|Barter, John||Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Glover, D.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Godber, J. B.|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Goodhart, Philip|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Cunningham, Knox||Gough, C. F. H.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Currie, G. B. H.||Gower, H. R.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Dance, J. C. G.||Graham, Sir Fergus|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Davidson, Viscountess||Grant, W. (Woodside)|
|Bidgood, J. C.||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. D. (Nantwich)|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Deedes, W. F.||Green, A.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Grimond, J|
|Black, C. W.||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Grimston, Hon, John (St. Albans)|
|Body, R. F.||Doughty, C. J. A.||Grimstone, Sir Robers (Westbury)|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Drayson, G. B.||Grosvenor, Lt,-Col. R. G.|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||du Cann, E. D. L.||Gurden, Harold|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Duthie, W. S.||Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Braine, B. R.||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. (Kelvingrove)||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||EI1iott,R.W.(N'castle upon Tyne,N.)||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Harvey, Air Cdre, A. V. (Maeclesfd)|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Errington, Sir Eric||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Hay, John||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||McAdden, S. J.||Robertson, Sir David|
|Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Henderson, John (Cathoart)||McKibbin, A. J.||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Hesketh, R. F.||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Russell, R. S.|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)||Sharples, R. C.|
|Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Shepherd, William|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Holt, A. F.||Maddan, Martin||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Hope, Lord John||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Hornoastle)||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Hornby, R. P.||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Soames, Christopher|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Speir, R. M.|
|Horobin, Sir Ian||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Fiorenoe||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Howard, Hon. Creville (St. Ives)||Marshall, Douglas||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Howard, John (Test)||Mathew, R.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Mawby, R. L.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Hulbert, Sir Norman||Medlicott, Sir Frank||Storey, S.|
|Hurd, A. R.||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Hutchison, A. M. C. (Edinburgh, S.)||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark(E'b'gh, W.)||Moore, Sir Thomas||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Hutchison, Sir James (Sootstoun)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Hyde, Montgomery||Mott-Radolyffe, Sir Charles||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Nabarro, G, D. N.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Nairn, D, L, S.||Teeling, W.|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Neave, Airey||Temple, John M.|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Nicholls, Harmar||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Jennings, J, C. (Burton)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Nugent, G. R. H,||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Oakshott, H. D.||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W.D.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Joseph, Sir Keith||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Kaberry, D.||Osborne, C.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Keegan, D.||Page, R. G.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Kerr, H. W.||Partridge, E,||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Kershaw, J. A.||Peyton, J. W. W.||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Kimball, M.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Kirk, P. M.||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Lambton, Viscount||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Pitman, I. J.||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Langford-Holt, J. A.||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Pott, H. P.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Leavey, J. A.||Powell, J. Enoch||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Leburn, W. G.||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E, A, H.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Profumo, J. D.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Ralkes, Sir Victor|
|Llewellyn, D. T.||Ramsden, J. E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G.(Sutton Coldfield)||Rawlinson, Peter||Mr. Richard Thompson and|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Redmayne, M.||Mr. Hughes-Young.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.—[Mr.Brooke.]
§ Mr. Mitchison
When moving my Amendment, I made it quite clear that I had some comments to make on the Lords Amendment. I can make them quite shortly. They come to this. In Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary, 1390 in a passage which I read just now, undertook in terms to put into effect the Amendment then before the House, namely, that in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren). That Amendment imported a Schedule that we proposed to add to the Bill, and the Schedule referred in terms both to contractual and statutory tenancies.
It was of considerably wider effect than the Lords Amendment. It allowed, 1391 for instance, two contractual tenants of houses subject to rent control to exchange their tenancies with the landlords' consent and to maintain the controlled character of those tenancies. The Lords Amendment falls far short of that, because it deals only with statutory tenancies, and all it does, in effect, is to remove a rather technical difficulty in the exchange of statutory tenancies.
I say, without mincing my words or taking too long about them, that the Government have not carried out the undertaking given in this House on Report. The Lords Amendment falls far short of what the Government undertook to do, which was to put into effect the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
On at least two occasions in the last discussion that we had the Parliamentary Secretary promised to explain what the Lords Amendment does which a landlord cannot do by agreement. He did not give an answer then; perhaps he will do so now.
§ Mr. Bevins
If I may speak, with the permission of the House, the hon. and learned Member has suggested that the Lords Amendment does not represent the implementation of what was offered on Report. At that time I gave an undertaking on behalf of my right hon. Friend that we accepted the principle of the Amendment and the Schedule in the name of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren). We take the view that we have implemented the promise given on that occasion.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I must read to the hon. Gentleman once more exactly what he said. I said to him:Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to be undertaking on behalf of the Government to insert in another place a Clause to the effect of the new Schedule standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Welling. borough (Mr. Lindgren)?That is the Schedule which related both to contractual and to statutory tenancies. The hon. Gentleman's answer was:The hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right.… "—[0FFICIAL REPORT, 27th March. 1957; Vol. 567, c. 1172.]This new Clause does not carry out that undertaking.
§ Mr. Bevins
I disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. In the view of 1392 my right hon. Friend this Clause implements the undertaking given to the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] With great respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, may I say that it is all very well for him to become vehement and say that this Clause deals only with statutory tenants and not contractual tenants. But I assure hon. Members that I have taken most careful advice on the point and I am informed that the Clause as it stands does not refer to contractual tenants because it is not necessary to do so. It is not necessary to give power to a controlled contractual tenant to assign the tenancy with the consent of the landlord, because in that case the landlord can always consent as it is a contractual tenancy, and the incoming tenant would have the same rights as a statutory tenant when the contractual tenancy ended. I am assured that that is the correct legal position, and therefore in that sense the Government are giving effect to the promise which was given.
In reply to the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), the view of my right hon. Friend is perfectly clear, that before this Rent Bill becomes law it is generally the practice of owners of house property approached to agree to an exchange to decline to do so simply on the grounds that they desire vacant possession with a view to selling; as generally they are doing badly under rent control. Because of this Bill and its effects on rents, both controlled and de-controlled, the margin will be very much less than it was and to that extent the change will be inherent.
§ Mr. Weitzman
Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question I put? What is it that this Clause does that a landlord cannot do by agreement?
§ Question put and agreed to.