HC Deb 26 March 1957 vol 567 cc1069-108
Mr. H. Brooke

I beg to move, in page 8, line 38, to leave out from the beginning, to "the" in line 39.

In the Standing Committee on the Bill an Amendment was carried against my advice, the effect of which would have been to prevent the decontrol of houses which had been purchased on or after 7th November, 1956, being the date when this Bill was published. I deeply respect the intentions of those of my hon. Friends who moved and supported that Amendment. Their sole purpose, I know, was to punish speculators in house property who were seeking to make a quick and indefensible profit out of the provisions of the Bill.

When that Amendment had been carried I had to consider most carefully what was the right advice which I should give to the House on Report, because I expressed myself in no uncertain terms in Committee about speculators. I said that I was willing to do anything I effectively could, whether by administrative action or by legislative proposals to the House, to make sure, as far as it in me lay, that speculators did not have a chance of easy money under the Bill.

I had to examine carefully what the effects and consequences of the Amendment then inserted into the Bill would be, and I am bound to say that I came to the conclusion that it would hit perfectly honest and honourable and normal transactions much harder than it would hit speculative deals. I have made inquiries, and contrary to what appears to be the common opinion in some quarters, there has not been any uprush of transactions in house property consequent on the Bill. In the stock market, if speculation develops in this market or in that, one can see that there is an unusual flurry of transactions; people are getting in and out quickly. There has been no evidence of anything of that kind in the property market since the Bill was published, nor was there such evidence in the weeks or months before that.

I grant the House at once that this does not prove that nobody has sought to speculate in the property market. The speculator will always be present and, in normal times, may perform a useful function in steadying the market and ironing out sudden oscillations this way or that. Certainly I do not propose to stand up here and say to the House that there are no speculators in property. What I say is that all the evidence available goes to show that there has been no outburst whatever of speculation, either in expectation of the Bill or after its terms were published.

We have to examine how the Bill would work if it were left at it stands. The words inserted against my advice in Standing Committee would have a limited operation; they would apply only to houses purchased after 7th November, 1956, and before the commencement of the Act. The House will appreciate that if a purchase took place after the commencement of the Act, then if the house fell within the rateable values for decontrol it would become decontrolled irrevocably and could not, as it were, be pulled into control again by this Amendment.

That small chronological section of houses purchased during that limited period would have remained in control if the Bill went through as it stands, and I have been asked whether it would be possible at a later date to decontrol them by use of my powers under sub section (3), under which it is possible to decontrol further categories of houses in one area of the country or another. I went into that and I was advised that it would not be possible to use my powers in order to decontrol the particular class of house which was retained in control because of the Amendment passed in Committee.

The conclusion which I reached, therefore, taking one thing with another, was that though this Amendment might hit the odd speculator, it was likely to do injustice to a far greater number of people who, in the perfectly normal course of business, had conducted property transactions on and after 7th November, 1956.

Certainly one is anxious to avoid injustice to the honest individual; that is. indeed, one of the purposes of Parliament. Moreover, I was very doubtful whether it would catch the speculators, because it struck me that the man who was determined to make a profit would examine how he could avoid the mischief of the Amendment and would take steps to see that his actual purchase, in the legal sense, did not take effect until after the commencement of the Act. He would then escape the effect of the Amendment. He would have been, as it were, too clever for it. On all these grounds, I reached the conclusion that this was not an effective way to punish speculators, a thing which I should dearly like to do if there were practical means of doing it.

I know that publicity has been given to the kind of speculation that might take place. An hon. Friend of mine in Committee referred to a case—I think in the Borough of Harrow—where it was said that a block of flats had been purchased by speculators who intended to evict the tenants and let the flats furnished to American Service men who were stationed in the area. I have endeavoured to follow up everything that was said in the Standing Committee, and the moment that was said I had inquiries made; and what I found was that the block of flats had changed hands before the publication of the Bill, so that in any case it would not have been caught by the Amendment, and out of the 320 flats concerned only six were above' the rateable value limit for control. If, therefore, the buyers had bought them in the expectation that they would be able to get vacant possession of all the 320, they would have been grievously disappointed in about 314 of them; so that case certainly did not assume the proportions of scandal which at first it appeared it might.

I have examined a number of alternative possibilities to see whether I could find some device or some formula which would catch the speculator without also catching the bona fide purchaser. Having in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) said earlier about the importance of acquainting myself with professional opinion, I have taken steps to try to obtain the best advice on the effect of the Amendment and as to alternative suggestions which might be made for achieving the object we all have at heart in some other way which would do less harm.

I have, as I say, considered a number of alternatives, but frankly none of them passed muster. They did not appear to me to be at all likely to penalise the man who was just out for a quick profit, whereas they would certainly have damaged and damnified ordinary people who in the course of perfectly normal business, winding up estates and the like, would have entered into property transactions after 7th February, 1956. I say here and now that I am grateful to my hon. Friends for having raised this in Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, because I think that a good purpose has been served through the Committee for the time being disregarding my advice. I am being perfectly frank with the House. This will have given a sharp shock to the few people who thought that it was easy to disregard our intentions in a matter like this.

I am sure that if anyone had been acting in that way he would have spent an uncomfortable afternoon when reading in the evening paper that the Amendment had been carried. I am quite certain that during the period of weeks since the Amendment was passed and before I put down this Amendment there must have been a great deal of heart searching and, undoubtedly, some withdrawing from transactions which might otherwise have been entered into. In that sense, I consider that my hon. Friends have served their purpose and a valuable purpose. If their Amendment were to remain in the Bill and reach the Statute Book, I can only advise the House that the injustice it would cause to a large number of perfectly innocent and honourable people would heavily outweight any good that it would do by hitting the speculator. It is for these reasons that I invite the House to accept my Amendment.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

The right hon. Gentleman is acquiring the manners of a school master intent on punishment. He ended his speech by thanking his hon. Friends for inserting an Amendment. He began by rebuking them for disregarding his advice. I am not quite certain whether we take Philip complacent or Philip irritated as the better of the two personages.

Mr. Brooke

Philip sober.

Mr. Mitchison

Philip sober. I hope so, but there are moments when, having regard to the contents of the Bill, I wonder whether we should take Philip sober, but the right hon. Gentleman himself invited the comparison which I should not have dared to make.

This has been a more successful mutiny than the Margate one. Apparently a mutiny is better understood in Oldham than in Margate, and in this case an Amendment was carried against the advice of the right hon. Gentleman, no doubt a most irritating state of affairs. I would remind him that the Amendment was considered in Committee at the same time as an Amendment which would have taken the date a great deal further back. What strikes me in the whole of this discussion is that the right hon. Gentleman finds it very hard to draw the line between speculation and legitimate transactions. So do I. I am not at all sure that there is such a line.

It is extremely difficult to draw a line in the case of landed property and the question is what ought to be done about those who had speculated—if I may use the right hon. Gentleman's words—in landed property, and not only since the date which now appears in the Bill. I never quite knew why that date was introduced. Could we not go back to the Llandudno period when the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor was talking about complete decontrol? Could we not go back earlier yet to when the Tory Party was talking about reviewing the Rent Acts? Could we not go back to the period when one section of the Tory Party was saying that on no account whatever would rents be increased if the Tories came back to power and another section was saying that, all the same, the Rent Acts must be reviewed?

It would be a very interesting study, but is there any very large distinction between the gentlemen who will be caught by this Amendment and those who have been indulging in speculation earlier? Is it not the fact that transactions in landed property, whether we call them speculative or not, are going to yield, as a result of the Bill, an uncovenanted benefit to those who made them at the expense of the tenant? That seems to me to be the position. I hope we shall not take too long about the matter, because, at present, it is a dispute between, on the one side, the right hon. Gentleman and his loyal supporters, and on the other his loyal opponents on this side of the House and another crowd of doubtful, rather hesitant mutineers who, I am perfectly certain, will neither support nor vote for the Amendment which they moved and voted for during the Committee stage. We have seen quite enough of Tory dissidents to know that and to know that they will produce excellent reasons why they should not do so.

I hope that we shall not take too long about the matter, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that hon. Members on this side of the House have no intention of letting pass unopposed any Amendment which limits the effects of a subsection which we regard generally as quite wrong. Therefore, we shall vote against what he now proposes to do.

Sir I. Horobin

As the hon. Member who succeeded both in defeating and pleasing the Minister on this matter during the Committee stage discussions, I feel, despite the avuncular advice of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), that I must ask the House to spend a little time on it. In spite of what my right hon. Friend said, I still think that this is a bad and an unnecessary Amendment which he is moving. I regret it and I still think, in spite of what he has said—and bowing to his great experience and his special facilities for expert advice—that most people in the country feel, whatever their views on the general principles of this Bill, that there is a danger of undesirable speculation having occurred in the early days after this Bill was introduced.

Whether this is the right way of dealing with it or not, I feel that hon. Members on both sides of the House consider that something ought to be done about it. I say at once, as I said during the Committee stage discussions, that I agree with the Minister that a great deal of nonsense is talked about this and many other subjects by hon. Members opposite, They talk a lot about speculation, but they have not succeeded in putting anything on the Order Paper with regard to it. So far, the Amendment which I carried against the Government is the only one put down——

Mr. Mitchison

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not make that sort of statement. We moved to leave out the whole of the subsection in which this occurs.

Sir I. Horobin

I know, but that has nothing to do with speculation. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman was not listening to himself while he was talking.

On the other hand, in this matter, whatever their views about speculation in general, I think most people will feel that in the very tricky and difficult operation of getting rid of something like forty years of an artificial market, the presence of people seeking a quick profit will complicate the issue, and that, if it is at all possible, they should be specially dealt with.

From what they have said to me, I think that some hon. Members, who were not present during the Committee stage discussions, are not clear about what the Amendment which was carried upstairs would do and what it would not do, and 1 wish to make that clear. In the first place, and for reasons which seem to me obvious and sensible, it is not retrospective legislation. We are not altering the law retrospectively to the damage of anybody. No owner of property would be any worse off as a result of the Amendment than he would have been before the Bill was introduced. He would only be not quite as much better off as he will be if the Minister's Amendment to put the Bill back into its original form is carried. Nor will the Amendment carried in Committee affect any of the other ways in which property can be decontrolled. It does not affect Clause 10 (2) at all. All it does is to take away the automatic decontrol arising out of the gross rateable value of the house.

I am very glad that the Minister has made the point himself, but lest he should give the impression that this was an oversight on my part when I drafted the Amendment I repeat that, in addition, it does not bring back into control any house automatically decontrolled when the Bill becomes law. There is no question of its imposing a permanent standstill in respect of a certain type of house. If, when the Bill becomes law, a house is in the same ownership as it was when the Bill was introduced, it will automatically become decontrolled, and the Amendment carried in Committee will not act to bring it back into control.

The Amendment affects a small, but important, section of the property market. It deals with those houses which changed hands between the time when the proposals of the Government became known, on 7th November last, and the time when the Bill becomes law. It deals, in reality, with an even smaller set of houses. As the Minister has admitted, after the Amendment was passed on 20th February the whole of the speculative market, such as it was, collapsed. I am glad to think that I played some part in bringing that about. Anybody buying after that date bought in the knowledge that there was a risk of his being left with controlled and not decontrolled property.

When we are talking about the Bill as it left Committee we must be absolutely clear what the Minister is trying to do in the Amendment. I still believe that in respect of houses whose ownership changed between the date of the introduction of the Bill, which made it known that legislation was being introduced to decontrol certain properties—which was on 7th November last—and the date upon which the Amendment was carried in Committee, certain special characteristics make it wise for Parliament to insert a certain special protection.

I am glad that I asked the Minister to refer to a point which I put to him, which carries the matter a little further, namely, that even those houses which were bought with the immediate knowledge of the decontrol provisions do not require to be permanently left as special exceptions. The Minister has said that Clause 10 (3), which gives him power to make orders, does not in its present form enable him to make a later order decontrolling such properties when the market has settled down. I was surprised to hear that, but, even if his expert advisers are right, it could not be in the least difficult for another place so to amend that very wide order-making power as to make it possible for the Minister, if he so desired, to decontrol these houses at a later date.

9.0 p.m.

Surely that is the sensible way of proceeding. The whole of this Bill is based upon the theory—I think the right theory —that a fair market will develop in these higher gross rateable value houses. I know that hon. Members opposite do not accept that, but at least that is the basis upon which the Bill is presented and we do accept it. Surely it does not follow from that that we have to spoil a good case by overstating it and pledge ourselves to the view that that perfectly safe, well-known, straightforward market will settle down in the immediate future. I should have thought it doubtful that it would in some parts of the country.

Even expert advisers will not be able to advise clients what is the right and proper figure for leases and new agreements. Surely, the sensible thing to do—if I may use the colloquialism—is to keep these people "on ice" until the market has settled. Then everyone can make up their minds as to what is a reasonable agreement and an Order can be made to deal with it. If it is not possible under Clause 10 (3) as it stands, it should not be beyond the wits of Parliamentary draftsmen to make it so. I confess I cannot understand how that cannot be done even as it stands. If hon. Members will look at page 9 they will see that the Minister can make Orders and subsection (3) says: … an order under this subsection may be made so as to relate to the whole of England and Wales, to the whole of Scotland, or to such area or areas in England and Wales or in Scotland as may be specified in the order, and so as to apply generally or only to, or except to, such classes or descriptions of dwelling-houses as may be so specified. I frankly cannot understand on that basis why an Order cannot be made covering the whole of England, Wales and Scotland and applied to those houses, and only to those houses, which would have been decontrolled but for the words in the Amendment we passed in Committee upstairs. If that would not be an Order applying … generally or only to, or except to, such classes or descriptions of dwelling-houses as may be so specified, I cannot understand the words of the English language.

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)

Could the hon. Member explain to the House why he considers it undesirable to speculate in land at a certain date, but obviously desirable to speculate before that date?

Sir I. Horobin

I was coming to that. The distinction I am making is simply that in the immediate period after these proposals became known some of us believe—certainly a great many persons outside believe—that a substantial number of undesirable people who, as always when it is likely that the price will go up, jumped on to it. It is the natural thing to do——

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

It is Tory philosophy.

Sir I. Horobin

It is not only Tory philosophy. I have no doubt that if we looked at the shares of hon. Members opposite we would find that they did not always buy something before it went down. Let the hon. Member ask some of the millionaires in the metal market who sit beside him. Do they always buy copper or lead when it is going down? They would not have made the vast sums they have made if that were so. Come off it. It may be Tory philosophy, but it is the practice of a great many millionaires on the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Mitchison rose

Sir I. Horobin

There is a Guillotine on this discussion. The next point I want to put to the House arises directly out of the point I have been making that the clear, known, straightforward, balanced market cannot be expected to arise in a few months when this Bill becomes law.

There are two dangers we have to guard against. First, there is the danger of what I may call the eviction in error. My right hon. Friend and many people defending the Bill have frequently said that the real protection is that if owners ask too much they will burn their fingers and have their houses empty.

There is a great deal in that, but what consolation is it to somebody who has been turned out of a house? Once the market has declared itself we may reasonably hope, and I am sure it will in fact happen, that people will know what is a rent which can be asked and what is a rent which they must expect to pay for similar accommodation, and an arrangement will be reached. But if these unsavoury gentry in fact give a number of evictions, then, even if they eventually burn their fingers, a great many people will have been turned out of their houses who ought not to have been turned out of them. For that reason alone I think the Amendment which we passed in Standing Committee is good.

There is a second, and to my mind very much greater, danger which we have to guard against. In many cases, we must guard the tenants against themselves. As a result of much of this propaganda which has gone on, with some basis but a great deal of it very exaggerated, there is a danger if we are not careful that many tenants will sign agreements for three years and other periods for rents which later the landlords would have been unable to get. and they will be very sorry that they have signed them. It is partly a result of Socialist and Thanet propaganda that there is a danger of tenants entering into agreements which later they will regret..

During these discussions, which have been going on for weeks, I have suggested that it might well be worth the Minister's while to consider putting a compulsory break clause in the Fourth Schedule for any of these leases which are signed. I know there are objections to that, but I strongly suggest to the House that in the case of some of the persons who bought property immediately after the introduction of the Bill there is a danger either that they will evict or that they will lead tenants, through fear, into signing agreements which they ought not to sign. The Amendment which we carried in Standing Committee would protect tenants against that, and for that reason I believe it should be allowed to stand..

I must deal with two other points which the Minister has used in his argument. He started by talking about innocent transactions. Of course, a great many of these transactions are perfectly innocent in that sense, but I cannot assent to his proposition, nor can I see why hon. Members on either side of the House should assent to it, that owners of property are entitled to feel that they have a grievance if a Bill is amended in the course of being passed through Parliament. The Minister is saying that it is wrong for the hon. Member for Oldham, East in Standing Committee to change a Bill on 20th February, because people may have entered into transactions on 7th November thinking that they would get control of houses. He says it is wrong that on 20th February, while the Bill is going through the House, that provision should be altered. How can that argument be used? Two days earlier, on 18th February, the Minister himself introduced an Amendment telling unfortunate, innocent people who had bought expecting to get decontrol in six months that, in fact, they would have to wait for fifteen months. Why is it wrong and improper forty-eight hours later?.

The other argument which is put to us is that here we are getting the complication of a peculiar little set of houses contrary to the general rule, and it makes it an untidy Bill. That is the kind of thing Departments always say. It is perfectly true that it is an arbitrary date to some extent. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said he did not understand. I would not stress that but at any rate it is an arbitrary date. But whatever the hon. and learned Member may say on that. the Minister cannot..

I would invite the House to look at the Sixth Schedule in page 31, of the Bill as introduced by the Minister. This was not an afterthought or a revolt, or a "Jolly Roger" business. This is how it was originally introduced. The Minister put in a provision—I think a very good one—that we should improve the opportunities for owners who wanted to get their own house for their own occupation to get it without proof, in that case, of alternative accommodation..

I do not want to upset the Minister at this late hour, but I must just read three lines from his own Bill—paragraph 21: (h)the dwelling-house is reasonable required by the landlord (not being a landlord who has become landlord by purchasing the dwelling-house or any interest therein after the seventh day of November, nineteen hundred and fifty-six) … If it is very wrong to draw a distinction between people who buy after and people who buy before, he is in the dog house with me.

A third point is surely this. Nobody can go into metaphysics as to whether a purchaser is innocent or guilty. We have to draw a broad distinction. On the one hand, there are some persons, who, without any idea of speculation at all, have become possessed of their property in those three months, and will not, if our Amendment stands, be quite as much better off as they would have been. To that extent they are less better off than are others. On the other hand, we have to balance the possibility that tenants of landlords of the undesirable type whom all of us, including the Minister, do not like, may find themselves either on the street or subject to a long lease which they have signed, under misapprehension, at too high a price. How can anyone seriously balance the two damages that will be done, on the one side and on the other?

I have taken some time, but I believe that this matter of speculation is important. Of course, if the Government, by hook or by "Brooke"—[HON. MEMBERS: "By crook."]—are deterinmed to get this, nobody, at this late stage, can stop them. I know that we shall be jeered at by the hon. and learned Gentleman. We have carried this against the Government upstairs, but there is no point at all on our part to try to force it by voting against the Government. [Interruption.]Well, what will happen? People who have not listened to the debate will come in and it will be "Clear the Lobbies—bring in the dancing girls," and the Minister——

Mr. Mitchison

Is it in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. to refer to hon. Ladies in this House as dancing girls?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

I think that the hon. Member's imagination went too far.

Sir I. Horobin

I am sorry. I was led away, thinking for a moment that I was Mr. Dulles explaining the American way of life to Ibn Saud.

I can only hope that, on the balance of argument, in another place the Government will realise that on this matter they will be very well advised to try to do something. if the Minister does not like our way of doing it, then, I say, it is up to him to find a better way. I am very sorry that he has moved this Amendment, and I hope very much that he will think better of it.

Sir Harold Webbe (Cities of London and Westminster)

I am afraid that I cannot hope to emulate the boisterous and breezy manner of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin). Indeed, having listened to him, I think that there is every reason why the Chancellor should reconsider the whole question of entertainment tax and put some sort of tax on our debates here.

I want, if I may, very briefly to make a suggestion. I do not want to traverse or in any detail go into the arguments in favour or against this particular Amendment. I should like for a moment to remind my right hon. Friend of what happened when this Amendment was moved in Committee upstairs. I was not a Member of the Committee, but I have with me the OFFICIAL REPORT of what took place.

9.15 p.m.

When the Amendment was introduced, the Minister welcomed it as one with which he had the greatest sympathy, and he expressed himself as entirely in sympathy with its object. He then proceeded to say a great many things about speculators and he showed a fluency of invective of which I, in the years I have known him, had never before suspected him to be capable. He made the point, which he has made again tonight, that the number of speculators is probably much less than many people think, but he did say: I agree with my hon. Friend that the number is very small. but, even so, a few evilly-disposed people can do great damage". He went on to express his own concern that something should be done to curb the activities of speculators, however many or few there may be, and said: I certainly assure the Committee that I intend to go into this matter very carefully and to leave nothing undone to secure the objectives which my hon. Friend has in mind and which I believe have the support of the Committee. A little later he said: I am giving this assurance in the strongest possible terms". and he said that from his experience at the Treasury he had learned that it was desirable not to explain in too great detail in public what devices are available to those who are seeking to prevent these light-fingered gentlemen from getting round the law Or around public opinion."—[OFFCIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 20th February, 1957; c. 880-1] I have looked at the Notice Paper. Apparently, my right hon. Friend feels that his lips are still sealed and he has not yet given any indication of when he will be prepared to open them.

A little earlier today we had a short debate on a proposed new Clause intended to limit the rents which landlords might demand of their tenants for a short interim period of three years. Quite frankly, I did not like that Clause as it stood, because, as the Minister pointed out, it went far too wide and might be properly effective, perhaps, in such areas as Central London but would have a bad effect in the rest of the country. I therefore voted against that new Clause. The problem of the speculator still remains, and one method of exploitation open to him is the demanding of excessive rents. Coming to consider the Amendment now before us, I believe that the Minister is right to ask that the words which were inserted by the Committee should be withdrawn, because, with him, I consider that the words as they now stand go far too wide and affect too many people.

The suggestion I should like to put to him in this. Is there not here a possibility for a compromise solution? Would my right hon. Friend consider whether he could, in another place, introduce some provision which would impose a reasonable limitation on rents which a landlord could demand, but apply it simply to the limited class of property to which the Amendment now under discussion relates? We must assume that that class comprises many, if not most, of the speculators whom we all desire to stop.

If we could have some kind of limit on those speculators, if the figure were reasonably fixed, no serious damage would be done to honest investors in property who fell within the category of short-term owners. No serious damage would be done to them because the limit would not be one which they, if they were serious owners, would want to exceed, but it would certainly be another method of holding up the speculator in preventing him from using the weapon of demanding excessive rents.

If before the time that the Bill goes to another place my right hon. Friend could consider whether a compromise of that kind could he reached by the insertion of a temporary rent ceiling in respect of this limited group of properties, I believe that it would he appreciated by the public. I believe that it would have some effect, and I do not believe that the objectionable consequences to which my right hon. Friend has referred would follow.

Mr. Sparks

I want to add a brief word in support of the retention of these words in the Clause. There is validity in some of the arguments which have been advanced from the benches opposite, and it is a development of which the Minister should be aware. In the first place, we all know that in point of law a tenant of a house is not entitled to sublet any part of that house unless he has obtained the consent of the landlord to the subletting. Over the course of time, a good deal of subletting of this kind has taken place, especially in our great cities and towns, in which the tenant has sublet accommodation in the house without the knowledge and the consent of the landlord. We know that these subtenants have no security whatever under the Bill, but there are undoubtedly cases when. at sonic time, the tenant probably had the verbal consent of the landlord to subletting part of the house.

I am rather amazed at the new development which is taking place. An old lady came to see me in my constituency a few days ago. She is the tenant of a house. In the course of years her family grew up and went away and she sublet part of the house to two other tenants. The house had been sold to a new landlord since 7th November, 1956. Quite recently, the new landlord came to the house and introduced himself. He asked the tenant to let him see the house. She proceeded to let him see it, and obviously had to reveal that there were two subtenants. He said. "But they have no right to be here." The woman said to him, "But they have been here for some years." He replied, "Show me the landlord's consent to the subletting." Obviously, she could not show him any consent, although by custom over a period of time the sub-tenancy arrangement had continued.

As it happens, the house itself will come out of control under the Bill because it is about £40 rateable value. But if the rateable value were apportioned among the three tenants in the place it would be retained in control. The new landlord has told the tenant that he intends to obtain possession of the house and to sell it. He has told the tenant that he has no right to sublet any part of the house, and the tenant was unable to produce proof that the landlord had at any time given consent to subletting.

The object of this new form of development is quite clear. In my constituency, where there is a serious shortage of housing accommodation, the object is to acquire a house of that kind at a reasonably low figure and then to dispossess the tenant, because the house goes out of control, and to dispossess the sub-tenants because the mesne tenant is unable to produce proof that the landlord has consented to subletting, and then to take possession of the house. put three families out on the street and sell the house at a higher price than could be obtained for it a few months ago.

I have an idea that if the words proposed to be left out remain in the Bill some protection will be given to those people who live in the house, because the house has been purchased since 7th November, 1956. and this individual would be one of those who would not be able to benefit by what is obviously a sheer speculation. I am quite satisfied that this sort of thing is going on. It may well gather momentum unless there is some form of protection to tenants and subtenants in similar conditions.

I hope that the Minister will look into this aspect of the matter. In Committee pressed him to inquire into this very factor, but he has not indicated whether he has done that or what proposal he will submit to the House to protect innocent people who find themselves in a situation in which they are likely to be put out on the street, either because of the custom of subletting in the way I have mentioned, or because the superior or mesne tenant has not proved that the landlord has actually given him consent to sublet. I hope, therefore, that the House will agree to allow these words to remain in the Clause, because although they are not a very great protection, they are some measure of protection against the growth of speculation of the kind that I have described.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I hope that the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks. I was unable to follow the niceties and complexities of his argument. I want to take up the matter of the Amendment which deals only with the question of houses purchased after 7th November, 1956. The Amendment, unfortunately, is wholly indiscriminate. It covers the good with the bad. It covers the trustee who is buying on behalf of the widow in the same way as it covers the others, but it is quite useful until we have some proper provision against speculation. Every hon. Member has spoken against speculation, but there is no provision in the Bill against it which will have any effect at all, other than that which refers to premiums, and that will have no effect until it be amended later.

9.30 p.m.

Before we discuss speculators, we should define what they are. Neither the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) nor the Minister has had a crack at that task. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin), in his engaging if somewhat schizophrenic speech—schizophrenic only because he complained against speculation, but puts down an Amendment which will hit speculators and others equally. and then attacks me for having put down an Amendment which would, in fact, protect one against any speculation, and against excessive rents and which would have the desired effect we all have in mind. However that may be, I think it is important to define what is a speculator. May I suggest that a definition of a speculator is as follows? A speculator is a person who engages in transactions—more than one—for the purpose of gaining unjust enrichment at the expense of tenants. [Laughter.] I am not quite sure whether, so to speak, hon. Gentlemen opposite are laughing with me or against me, but I hope it is not at me, but with me.

The principles of the doctrine of unjust enrichment are part of the common law of England, and it is perfectly clear what are the principles of unjust enrichment. It is for the Government to determine when they become unjust, in the light of the circumstances of the case. In fact, if we prescribe such a level of rents as takes no account of the factor of scarcity, so that people can exploit the emotions of other people, we are doing something in the way of providing opportunities for unjust enrichment, and that is speculating in rents.

Let us examine some cases of speculation for sale. In the case of a speculator, a person who sells at the proper date with possession and in the open market cannot be a speculator on the sale of property, because there is the free play of the market. But if one goes to a woman who has lived for twenty-five years in a particular property, whose children are at the local school and whose friends have been built up in that neighbourhood, and says to that person, "I am going to ask you £2,500 for this property whereas I would only ask £2,200 in the open market; I know you will pay the extra £ 300, because you do not want to move," one is, in fact, inviting unjust enrichment and engaging in speculation.

Mr. Janner

Is not that precisely what this Bill is doing? It is exactly what the Bill does.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) obviously did not hear the observations which I made earlier this afternoon, and the suggestion which I put forward to prevent this type of speculation, either by way of limitation of excessive rent or premiums or by giving an option to the sitting tenant to purchase.

What I am saying is that if the hon. Gentleman is sincere, and I presume that he is sincere in his desire to stop speculation, and if we are, in fact, to stop speculation, we must stop it both in selling and in letting, in premiums and in excessive rents, and also deal with it in the question of sale by providing that the tenant has a chance to buy. If we do that in these three fields, we shall prevent speculation; otherwise, we shall not do so.

May I now give examples in relation to this Amendment? Although I am attracted to the idea behind it, I think that, in fact, it is completely impracticable. Let me take two examples. Malvern Court, Chelsea, was bought by the Glass Bros. last October or November, and they asked a £7,000 premium, with the offer of a lease to be taken up for sixty years. They are also asking for high rentals, well over double what they were previously.

This Amendment will not cover them because the cleverest of the speculators bought twelve to fifteen months ago in London. They have not been buying since the Bill was published. They have been waiting to see its effects. I assure the House that they have not been buying very much since some of us made speeches in the Second Reading debate, because they recognised that there was a great deal of feeling against them on both sides of the House. They have been waiting. Therefore the speculator was either the person who bought earlier or he will be the man who will start after the Act comes into effect.

Now I will take the case, a shocking one, of Park West, Edgware Road, a block of flats near the Marble Arch. I have the facts from an estate agent concerned in the matter. There are 650 tenants at Park West and all of them will receive notice to quit. The intention is to convert the flats into service suites, all furnished. The present rentals are £200 to £300 a year unfurnished, and for a two-room service suite furnished a price of £37 a week is to be asked. It is no good people saying that this Amendment will cover that type of person. I suggest that something has to be thought of before the Bill becomes law to stop that type of unjust enrichment.

I am not contending that any of the Amendments which I or my hon. Friends have put down are perfect. It would be intolerable for anyone to suggest that any specific Amendment is perfect in housing matters of this kind. They all represent the lesser of two evils, but, one way or another, it seems to me that such a type of person must be stopped. I say frankly that this Amendment may have played some part in stopping what has been going on. That is entirely in accord with what the Minister has said on this matter, namely, that there has not been a lot of speculation since the Bill was published up to the present time. However, at some stage, and somehow, these people must be stopped. They will not have a very long run once the market settles down. We hope that tenants will listen to professional advice and will not be stampeded by landlords. The fact that this Bill is going through, and the views which have been expressed, may well stop tenants from being stampeded. Nevertheless it would appear that somehow there ought to be some quid pro quo for the removal of the Amendment.

The Minister said it must have been a sharp and salutary shock for the speculators when the Amendment was carried, and that they must have had an unfortunate afternoon. I think they must have done, but the cleverer ones knew quite well that it would be reversed here. They said so. They knew it would be reversed for a very good reason. They knew that the Minister has a good knowledge of housing and knew that the Amendment was unsatisfactory. To be frank, so did all the hon. Gentlemen on those 'benches opposite know it was unsatisfactory. They knew very well that it was not the way to do it. Therefore, we have to find another way.

I can see that in the light of what has been said this afternoon we must find a way. I hope that in another place, where there are men with considerable knowledge of the property world—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to laugh—[HON. MEMBERS: "We are agreeing."]—I know, but, after all, some landlords and their professional advisers are not averse to safeguards and Amendments. For a very good reason, too. We often talk here about the bad landlord. He represents less than 10 per cent. of all the landlords, and about 90 per cent. of the property of this country is in the hands of the great companies, such as the Prudential and others, whose standards are of the highest. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, and these good landlords recognise that it is the bad landlord who is giving a thoroughly bad name to the profession. If it means losing a little money from their point of view for a short term to create conditions of stability, it is my judgment that these landlords are prepared to forgo that money for the sake of stability in the long run, for they are in the market for their lives, for the future and for the stability of their companies.

In conclusion, I would make this plea. I hope that before the Bill takes effect some further safeguards will be provided by way of graduated rents, or a control on the ceiling of rents, and also a control on the option to purchase. Then I believe we shall be able effectively to prevent the type of unjust enrichment which, I believe, defines what is meant by a "speculator."

Mr. Blenkinsop

We cannot let the Amendment go without asking the Minister to reply to the very strong speeches which have been made from both sides of the House. We are suffering under the Guillotine, which prevents free discussion of the matter, but on this subject we have had expressions of concern from all who have spoken. There is doubt about the value of the Amendment carried in Committee and general agreement that there must be revision of the Measure before it becomes an Act.

If there were an honest free vote and hon. Members opposite could express their views, or had the courage to do so, there is no doubt that the Bill would have

to be altered, whether the Minister liked it or not. Will he, therefore, at least let us know what Amendments he proposes to meet the case put by all his hon. Friends who have spoken?

Mr. H. Brooke

Naturally, I shall give attention to everything that is said in the House, as I did to everything that was said in Committee. The fruits of that attention are seen in a large number of Amendments in my name on the Order Paper.

However, at the moment we are addressing ourselves to an Amendment I have moved to delete some words inserted against my advice in Committee, which, if they remained in the Bill, would do a grave injustice to a considerable number of innocent people. It is contrary to my principles and philosophy to advise Parliament to do harm to innocent people, and it is because I believe that the Bill will do great good without these words that I must urge the House to accept the Amendment.

Question put That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 237, Noes 268

Division No. 85.] AYES [9.42 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W Corbet, Mrs. Freda Grimond, J
Albu, A. H Cove, W. G Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hamilton, W. W
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Cronin, J. D. Hannan, W
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Crossman, R. H. S. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)
Awbery, S. S. Cullen, Mrs. A. Hastings, S
Bacon, Miss Alice Dalton, Rt. Hon. H, Hayman, F. H.
Baird, J. Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Healey, Denis
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J Davies, Harold (Leek) Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Herbison, Miss M
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Deer, G Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)
Benson, G. de Freitas, Geoffrey Holman, P.
Beswick, Frank Delargy, H. J. Holmes, Horace
Blackburn, F, Dodds, N. N Holt, A. F.
Blenkinsop, A. Donnelly, D. L Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)
Blyton, W. R Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Howell, Denis (All Saints)
Boardman, H. Dye, S. Hoy, J. H.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Hubbard, T. F
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Edelman, M. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Bowles, F. G Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)
Boyd, T. C Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Hunter, A. E.
Brockway, A, F. Edwards, W.J. (Stepney) Hynd, H. (Accrington)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)
Burke, W. A. Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Irving, Sydney (Dartford)
Burton, Miss F. E Fernyhough, E Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Fienburgh, W Janner, B.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Finch, H. J. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.
Callaghan, L. J. Fletcher, Eric Jeger, George (Goole)
Carmichael, J. Forman, J. C Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pnes, S.)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. George, Lady Megan Lloyd Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)
Champion, A. J Gibson, C. W. Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)
Chapman, W. D Gooch, E. G Jones, David (The Hartlepools)
Chetwynd, G. R Greenwood, Anthony Jones, Jack (Rotherham)
Coldrick, W Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Jones, J. ldwal (Wrexham)
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Grey, C. F Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.
King, Dr. H. M. Owen, W. J. Stonehouse, J. T.
Lawson, G. M. Padley, W. E. Stones, W. (Consett)
Ledger, R. J. Paget, R. T. Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Paling. Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Palmer, A. M. F. Swingler, S. T.
Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Sylvester, G. O.
Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Parker, J. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Lewis, Arthur Parkin, B. T. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Lindgren, G. S. Paton, John Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Lipton, Marcus Peart, T. F. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
MacColl, J. E. Pentland, N. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
McGhee, H. G. Plummer, Sir Leslie Thornton, E.
McGovern, J. Popplewell, E. Timmons, J.
Mctinnes, J. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
McKay, John (Wallsend) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Viant, S. P.
MacDermot, Niall Probert, A. R. Wade, D. W.
MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Proctor, W. T. Warbey, W. N.
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Pryde, D. J. Watkins, T. E.
Mahon, Simon Randall, H. E. Weitxman, D.
Mainwaring, W. H. Rankin, John Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Redhead, E. C. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.) Reeves, J. West, D. G.
Mann, Mrs. Jean Reld, William Wheeldon, W. E.
Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Robens, Rt. Hon. A. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Mason, Roy Roberts, Albert (Normanton) White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Mayhew, C. P. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Wigg, George
Mellish, R. J. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Messer, Sir F. Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Wilkins, W. A.
Mitchison, G. R. Ross, William Willey, Frederick
Monslow, W. Royle, C. Williams, David (Neath)
Moody, A. S. Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Short, E. W. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Morrison, Rt. Hn,Herbert(Lewis'm,S.) Shurmer, P. L. E. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Mort, D. L. Silverman, Julius (Aston) Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Moss, R. Skeffington, A.M. Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Moyle, A. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.) Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Mulley, F. W. Slater, J. (Sedgefield) Woof, R. E.
Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.) Sorensen, R. W. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
O'Brien, Sir Thomas Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Zilliacus, K.
Oliver, G. H. Sparks, J. A.
Orbach, M. Steele, T. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Oswald, T. Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons.
Agnew, Sir Peter Browne, J Nixon (Craigton) Fort, R.
Aitken, W. T. Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Butcher, Sir Herbert Freeth, Dezil
Alport, C. J. M. Campbell, Sir David Garner-Evans, E. H.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Carr, Robert George, J. C. (Pollok)
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Cary, Sir Robert Gibson-Watt, D.
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Channon, Sir Henry Godber, J. B.
Arbuthnot, John Chichester-Clark, R. Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan
Armstrong, C. W. Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Goodhart, P. C.
Ashton, H. Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Gower, H. R.
Astor, Hon. J, J. Cooke, Robert Graham, Sir Fergus
Atkins, H. E. Cooper-Key, E. M. Green, A.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Gresham Cooke, R.
Baldwin, A. E. Corfield, Capt. F. V. Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)
Balniel, Lord Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Grimston, sir Robert (Westbury)
Barter, John Crouch, R. F. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col- R. G.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Gurden, Harold
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Hall, John (Wycombe)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Cunningham, Knox Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Currie, G. B. H. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald Dance, J. C. G. Harris, Reader (Heston)
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Davidson, viscountess Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)
Bidgood, J. C. Deedes, W. F. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Digby, Simon Wingfield Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesld)
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Doughty, C. J. A. Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)
Bishop, F. P. du Cann, E. D. L. Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)
Black, C. W. Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Harvie-Watt, Sir George
Body, R. F. Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Hay, John
Boothby, Sir Robert Duthie, W. S. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Bossom, Sir Alfred Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Elliott, R. W. Henderson, John (Cathcart)
Boyle, Sir Edward Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Hesketh, R. F.
Braine, B. R. Farey-Jones, F. W. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Fell, A. Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Finlay, Graeme Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Fisher, Nigel Hill, John (S Norfolk)
Brooman-White, R. C. Fletcher-Cooke, C. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount
Hobson, J. G. S.(War'ck & Leam'gtn) MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Robert, Sir Peter (Hesley)
Holland-Martin, C. J. Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Robertson, Sir David
Hope, Lord John Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Robson-Brown, W.
Hornby, R. P. Maddan, Martin Roper, Sir Harold
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Russell, R. S.
Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.
Howard, John (Test) Marlowe, A. A. H. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Marshall, Douglas Sharples, R. C.
Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Mathew, R. Shepherd, William
Hulbert, Sir Norman Maude, Angus Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.) Mawby, R. L. Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr, S. L. C. Spearman, Sir Alexander
Hyde, Montgomery Medlicott, Sir Frank Speir, R. M.
Hyiton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
Iremonger, T. L. Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Moore, Sir Thomas Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Morrison, John (Salisbury) Stevens, Geoffrey
Jennings, J C. (Burton) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Nabarro, G. D. N. Stewart, Sir James Henderson (Fife, E.)
Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Nairn, D. L. S. Stoddart-Soott, Col. M.
Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Neave, Airey Storey, S.
Joseph, Sir Keith Nicholls, Harmar Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Studholme, Sir Henry
Kaberry, D. Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch) Summers, Sir Spencer
Keegan, D. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Kerby, Capt. H. B. Nugent, G. R. H. Temple, John M.
Kerr, H. W. Oakshott, H. D. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Kershaw, J. A. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Kimball, M. Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D. Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)
Kirk, P. M. Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Thornton-Kemsloy, C. N.
Lagden, G. W. Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Lambert, Hon. G. Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare) Turner, H. F. L.
Lancaster, Col. C. G. Osborne, C. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Langford-Holt, J. A. Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale) Tweedsmuir, Lady
Leavey, J. A. Partridge, E. Vane, W. M. F.
Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Peyton, J. W. W. Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Pike, Miss Mervyn Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Linstead, Sir H. N. Pitman, I. J. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Llewellyn, D. T. Pitt, Miss E. M. Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. D. C.
Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Pott, H. P. Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Longden, Gilbert Powell, J. Enoch Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.) Webbe, Sir H.
Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L. Whitelaw, W.S.I.(Penrith & Border)
Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick) Raikes. Sir Victor Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Rawlinson, Peter Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
McAdden, S. J. Redmayne, M. Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Macdonald, Sir Peter Rees-Davies, W. R. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry Remnant, Hon. P. Wood, Hon. R.
Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Renton, D. L. M. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Ridsdale, J. E.
McLean, Neil (Inverness) Rippon, A. G. F. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Barber and Mr. Bryan.
Mr. Speaker

The next Amendment I propose to select is that in page 8, line 44, at the end to insert: and the tenant of which was not then over pensionable age".

Mr. Mitchison

This and the next two Amendments on the Order Paper, in page 8, line 44, at the end to insert: Provided that—

  1. (a) where under this subsection a dwelling-house becomes decontrolled a statutory tenant who was in possession of such dwelling-house for a period of one year or more immediately prior to the seventh day of November, nineteen hundred and fifty-six, may serve upon the landlord a notice requiring the landlord to grant a tenant a lease of not less than three years at a rent to be agreed; and, failing agreement, either party may apply to the county court to determine a reasonable rent, hereinafter called the new rent; and
  2. 1096
  3. (b) upon such new rent being determined by agreement or otherwise the landlord shall grant a lease (which except as to rent shall be upon the pre-existing terms and conditions) to such tenant if required to do so by the tenant and in the event of his failing or refusing to grant such lease the landlord shall not be entitled to recover possession of the said dwelling-house until after the expiration of three years from the passing of this Act so long as the tenant pays the new rent and observes the other terms and conditions of the tenancy.
and in page 8, line 44, at the end to insert: Provided that—
  1. (a) where under this subsection a dwelling-house becomes decontrolled a statutory tenant who was in possession of such dwelling-house for a period of one year or more immediately prior to the seventh day, of November, nineteen hundred and fifty-six. may serve upon the landlord a notice requiring the landlord to grant to the tenant 1097 a lease of not less than three years at a rent to be agreed; and, failing agreement either party may apply to the tribunal to determine a reasonable rent, hereinafter called the new rent; and
  2. (b) upon such new rent being determined by agreement or otherwise the landlord shall grant a lease (which except as to rent shall be upon the pre-existing terms and conditions) to such tenant if required to do so by the tenant and in the event of his failing or refusing to grant such lease the landlord shall not be entitled to recover possession of the said dwelling-house until after the expiration of three years from the passing of this Act so long as the tenant pays the new rent and observes the other terms and conditions of the tenancy.
were not discussed in Committee because of the Guillotine and, having regard to the Guillotine and subsequent Amendments on the Order Paper, and only for that reason, we do not propose to move them.

Mr. Godfrey Lagden (Hornchurch)

I beg to move, in page 8, line 44, at the end to insert: Provided that, for the purpose of this subsection, the Urban District of Hornchurch and the Borough of Romford shall be deemed to be included in the Metropolitan Police District. The effect of this Amendment will be to bring into the scope of the Clause the Borough of Romford and the Urban District of Hornchurch and make them as the Metropolitan Police District. Those of us who are familiar with the Metropolitan Police District sometimes look upon it as merely the area of Central London and its immediate neighbourhood, but in point of fact the Metropolitan Police District stretches very far wide of Central London and the particular district which is covered by K Division takes in places such as Ilford, Barking, Dagenham and Chadwell Heath and goes right to the borders of the Borough of Ilford and the Urban District of Hornchurch.

The Borough of Ilford has some 85,000 people and the Urban District of Horn-church has 115,000 people. I hope that the Minister has made inquiries. Perhaps I may reasonably hope that he visited this area. If he has, I challenge him to say where the Metropolitan Police District starts and finishes. If this Amendment be not accepted the position will be that neighbours conversing with each other over their garden fences on a Sunday morning will find that one man can say, "I am a Londoner, and the amount of the rate-able value which affects me is £40," while his next-door neighbour will be able to say, "For the purposes of this Bill I am a provincial, and for me the amount is £30." That is an obvious injustice which I do not think even the Minister can explain away.

I hope my right hon. Friend will not tell me that the matter is dealt with in this way because it is a neat and tidy way of doing it. I think he should pay more regard to the effect which it is likely to have on this tremendous number of people and a little less regard to the neat, tidy and convenient way which his Department would like to deal with the matter. I was very glad to hear the Minister say, "I am anxious to avoid injustice to honest persons." I am presenting him with an opportunity to be just to nearly 200,000 persons. This is a question of expediency versus justice, and I hope I may be confident that my right hon. Friend will come down on the side of justice at the expense of expediency.

If we contemplate some of the other divisions in the Metropolitan Police District, we find that nowhere does the same set of circumstances apply which applies in the K Division. Nowhere are there such tremendous numbers of the population which actually meet, street by street, and house by house, with populations in the Metropolitan Police District. For instance, if we take the S Division, we will find that just inside is Potters Bar and Radlett and just outside is Smug Oak. In the B Division West Moseley is just inside and Esher outside, with four divisions of country between the two.

If the Minister, when looking at this matter, is attracted by attractive names, he will find that in the P Division Farnborough is just inside while Pratts Bottom is just outside. I wish to do no injustice to Pratts Bottom, but I wish to do justice to Hornchurch and Romford. In case my right hon. Friend should think this only a small matter, I can assure him that the 200,000 people in those two very large areas will be saying tonight, or tomorrow morning, "I wonder whether the Minister was really sincere when he said, 'I am anxious to avoid injustice to honest persons.'" These are honest persons and they look to the Minister to do justice in this case and to accept the Amendment.

Lieut.-Colonel J. K. Cordeaux (Nottingham, Central)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Mitchison

I am reminded of one of my hon. Friends who represents a Scottish constituency and who, during the discussions on a Scottish poaching Bill, sought on every possible occasion to exclude the River Tweed. This is a magnificent constituency Amendment. I rise to put my nose into the affairs of these two places only because I find the motive for the Amendment extremely interesting. I have been sitting here throughout the day watching the splits in the Tory Party. They run in every possible direction. We have the Oldham mutineers and the Margate mutineers, and here we have a separate and highly individual effort on behalf of the constituency of the hon. Member for Horn-church (Mr. Lagden). What he is anxious to do is to remedy injustice, and what is so interesting about the matter is what he considers to be injustice. He considers it unjust that people living in the neighbourhood of London in houses which have rate-able values between £30 and £40, should find those houses decontrolled.

He considers that to be an injustice because he looks at the question from the point of view of his constituents. For the people living in his constituency decontrol is a wicked and unjust thing, and it is in order to remedy that injustice that he requires part or the whole of his constituency to be deemed to be part of the Metropolitan Police District.

Mr. Lagden

I should like to inform the hon. and learned Member—although I should have thought that he would have known this—that the Borough of Romford is not in my constituency; it is represented by one of his hon. Friends.

Mr. Mitchison

I quite agree, but what interests me is the hon. Member's advocacy on behalf of his own constituency, and his reasons for it. I find it very fascinating. It comes to this: the hon. Member considers it an injustice to his constituents that the Bill should deconrol those houses in his constituency with a rate-able value of more than £30. He wants to extend the decontrol limit to one of £40 rate-able value.

That was the whole burden of his speech. How an hon. Member who holds those views of decontrol can possibly support this part of the Bill passes my understanding. For that matter, it passes my understanding how the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) could really say that he was in favour of the Bill and then demonstrate with such particularity and eloquence the enormous amount of harm that would be done by it, by giving examples from one part of London and another.

The demoralisation on the benches opposite is growing to a degree which begins to interest us all. Is there a single right hon. or hon. Member opposite—except the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary—who is really in favour of the Bill, or in favour of all of it? Or is it the case that hon. Members opposite are all in favour of some little bit, but would like exceptions made and, like the hon. Member for Horn-church, would like it to apply to the rest of England but not to Hornchurch, or the rest of England but not to the Isle of Thanet, or the rest of England but not to this or that other marginal constituency held by a Tory Member on the outskirts of London or anywhere else?

It is fascinating to watch the spread of this demoralisation; the splits growing and widening; the number of factions opposite getting larger and larger; the efficacy of the Government slowly fading away, and the Minister being pushed over first in one direction and then in another by his professed supporters. I hope that he will learn a lesson from this small and innocent Amendment and do the honest and thorough thing—withdraw the the Bill.

Sir Victor Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)

In view of the taunt which has been made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) that this is merely a constituency matter, I as the Member for the Garston Division of Liverpool rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) on this Amendment.

I think I am entitled to give my reason why I support the Amendment. I know a little of the County of Essex. When one gets to the Romford and Hornchurch area one is just approaching the Green Belt. Supposing the area which my hon. Friend was referring to was the other side of the Green Belt, it might be said that the whole of it should be considered outside the Metropolitan area, but that is not so. Probably the Minister has a map before him, but certainly the hon. and learned Member for Kettering had no map in front of him, as was plain from his speech.

Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

He would not have been able to read it.

Sir V. Raikes

He may have been able to read it as one can read anything, but I do not think he did. The Metropolitan area spreads out. Here we have an area on the border of the Green Belt, partly in and partly out of the Green Belt. If it were outside the Belt there would be no complaint at all, but looking at the map of Metropolitan London, I challenge my right hon. Friend to say that Rom-ford and Hornchurch are not an absolute mess, which in fact they are.

Mr. Lagden

Much as I appreciate the attempt of my hon. Friend to support me, I must disagree with him when he says that Hornchurch is a mess.

Sir V. Raikes

I apologise most deeply to my hon. Friend if I suggested that Hornchurch was a mess. It was until my hon. Friend was returned for the constituency. I must not say more, although I should like to. It is what we might call a territorial mess from the point of view of the Metropolitan area. Every Ministry hates making any change. It is not a question of tidiness. I disagree with my hon. Friend over tidiness. It is vilely untidy, but every civil servant hates to see his own tidiness tidied up when it becomes untidy. With the growth of population and[...]e Green Belt it has become incredibly untidy. The tidy way of dealing with this matter would be to make the Green Belt the demarcation area. Then no one could complain.

Mr. Janner

Will the hon. Member give the House the benefit of his views as to why he wants this particular district to have a £40 limit, whereas his own constituency should have only a £30 limit? What is it all about? The Minister said that decontrol is a wonderful thing; does the hon. Member say it is not?

Sir V. Raikes

I am much too old to he caught out by that sort of thing. The answer is very simple. If Romford and Hornchurch were the other side of the Green Belt, they should be treated as being outside the Metropolitan district. As they are inside the Green Belt, in my view they should be treated as being within the Metropolitan area, irrespective whether the limit is £30 or £40. The latter point does not affect me. I am talking in terms of tidiness. I am glad the hon. Member realises that I cannot be caught out with that sort of catch question.

Mr. H. Brooke

First of all, I suggest that the House should set aside all these arguments about the alleged tidiness of the civil servants and the alleged messiness of Hornchurch. Neither of those is a true bill, and I certainly wish to defend the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) against any such dastardly allegations.

I assure him that Romford and Horn-church are not wholly unfamiliar to me. Of course, I have not his intimate knowledge of all the physical quarters of his constituency which he described, but I have some understanding of the map and the relation of his constituency and the Borough of Romford to the Metropolitan Police District and to the Green Belt. I understand and sympathise with his motives in moving the Amendment, although I am afraid that I must disappoint him by saying that I cannot advise the House to accept it.

The fact is that ever since the original Rent Act in 1915, there has always been a separate rate-able value limit for the Metropolitan Police District. That is not because civil servants wish to be tidy, but because Parliament in its wisdom has always felt certain that there should be definite and known demarcation lines with no uncertainty or dubiety about them, and the Metropolitan Police Area has always been taken for the purposes of the Rent Acts as it stood at the time when the legislation was introduced.

My hon. Friend is suggesting that we should deem the area to be extended to include one particular fringe area. I am saying nothing derogatory of his constituency, but I think that is the most accurate way in which I can describe the plea which he is making to me. He will correct me if I am wrong, but to the best of my knowledge the Metropolitan Police District boundary does not run through his constituency or through the Borough of Romford but to the west of them. The plea which he is making to me and to the House is that the Green Belt would be a better boundary for Rent Acts purposes than the long-established boundary of the Metropolitan Police District.

The facts are that the greater part of Hornchurch and almost the whole of the Borough of Romford are within the Green Belt, and if one made the boundary for Rent Act purposes the inner edge of the Green Belt, one would have the situation in which most of his constituency and almost all the Borough of Romford were in the provincial area for Rent Act purposes whereas South Hornchurch and Rainham, and possibly some other small areas, would be within what is classed as the London district for Rent Act purposes. My hon. Friend does not want that. By his Amendment he wants the whole of the urban district of Hornchurch and the whole of the Borough of Romford to be brought within the area. I must ask myself, if I were to recommend Parliament to do that, what consequential action we should have to take. I am sure that he has given attention to this, too, because it is such an obvious point.

10.15 p.m.

Clearly, we must look all round London to see if there are other areas where a similar case could be made. I have tried to do that, and, undoubtedly, there are places like Watford and Dartford—and, I have no doubt, others—where a similar case could be made. I give my hon. Friend the greatest credit for having been the hon. Member who has brought to the attention of the House the particular case for his own constituency, but if he were to rest his case on the Green Belt argument, I think that he would be creating more difficulties than he would solve, because we would have a new dividing line which would, in fact, cut through both these local authority areas.

I am sure I carry the whole House with me when I say that whole districts have to be taken for the purpose of certainty. Therefore, one cannot take the Green Belt dividing line. One must either stick to the Metropolitan Police District area, with all the criticisms that may be brought against that, or one must extend it—as it were, bulge it out in this direction or in that—in order to include a further built-up area which has developed on the fringe, just outside the district. The Metropolitan Police District area, having stood for these forty-two years as the dividing line, and having got that very important degree of certainty, I could not advise the House to make an alteration in it tonight.

I know that, whatever boundary one takes, one will have anomalies. One is so familiar with it in the county boundaries. My own constituency is on the edge of the County of London. One walks along the road and finds oneself, unknowingly, having walked into the County of Middlesex. That may make no difference so far as the Rent Acts are concerned, but there may be anomalies in other spheres. I fear we cannot make this land of ours so tidy that one can draw with absolute certainty demarcation lines that will avoid all anomalies. In my view, were we to depart from the Metropolitan Police District boundary we should do more harm than good.

Mr. Janner

Before the Minister sits down, would he take the opportunity of explaining to his hon. Friends that, after all, it does not really matter? I think that the Minister will be able to explain that it is much better that the district should have decontrol at a rateable value of £30 instead of £40, because the Rent Acts are an iniquitous system of rent control. Perhaps the Minister will explain that his hon. Friend ought not to press the matter, because it is much better for his district that the control should be at the rate of £30 and not £40.

Mr. Brooke

I am asking my hon. Friend not to press his Amendment, and I hold to what I said before, that, over the years, the Rent Acts have proved an iniquitous system of rent control. But what I am arguing is that it is desirable that there should be certainty in these matters.

I am arguing that it is impossible to avoid all anomalies, and I am suggesting to my hon. Friend, with great respect—and with all honour to him for the way in which he has put up a constituency point—that we should, as a Parliament, be doing more harm than good if, at this stage, we were to seek to adjust the demarcation line for Rent Act purposes.

I am well aware that my hon. Friend is arguing that his constituency and the Borough of Romford are parts of the built-up area of London rather than parts of the rural County of Essex. That may well be so. Nevertheless, I must ask the House to lay down a definite line, and I do not think that we shall get a more definite line than the Metropolitan Police District boundary.

Mr. Lagden

Having listened to my right hon. Friend the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Hon. Members


Amendment negatived.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, in line 10, at the end to insert: or where an exchange tenancy is created and registered in accordance with the Schedule (Exchange Tenancies) to this Act.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think it would be convenient to discuss with this Amendment the new Schedule concerning exchange of tenancies.

Mr. Mitchison

Would it also be convenient if we could discuss the next following Amendment in line 10, at the end to insert: or where an exchange tenancy is created and registered in accordance with the Schedule (Exchange of Tenancies) to this Act. and the Schedule appertaining thereto? They are very closely related.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes, I think that would be for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Mitchison

It is really rather remarkable that Amendments about exchanges of tenancies should not have been introduced into the Bill at a far earlier stage by the right hon. Gentleman himself. I have listened very carefully to the case which has, from time to time, been made for the Bill from the benches opposite, not only by the right hon. Gentleman but by his supporters. It has really been based, as far as I can understand, on two points only, the first being that landlords are entitled as of right, by Act of Parliament, to a certain return on their property if kept intact or maintained. I say nothing about that at the moment, because this Amendment is not concerned with it. I would only make it quite clear that it seems to us on this side the most complete nonsense, and philosophically, politically and morally entirely wrong.

There is another matter which has some validity in it. It is pointed out that the census of 1951 showed a considerable degree of under-occupation in the country. It is further pointed out that there is ground for supposing that some, at any rate, of that is still there. One is faced, therefore, with a situation where there are, on the one hand, houses which are under-occupied and, on the other hand, houses which are over-occupied, often being overcrowded. When this was put forward on Second Reading as a reason in favour of the Bill, I took the opportunity of saying at once, in reply to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the Parliamentary Secretary as he then was, that the right remedy for that situation is exchanges, and I went a little into the history of it.

The right hon. Gentleman is particularly qualified to consider this matter, for he was the Chairman of the Central Housing Advisory Committee when it reported on transfers, exchanges and rents. That Committee pointed out, quite rightly, that a very great deal can be done to help the housing situation by transfers and, even more, by exchanges. In the course of the passage of what is now the Housing Repairs and Rents Act, 1954, there was from our side an Amendment moved to facilitate exchanges and empower local authorities to take action, into which I need not go now. When I refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings of the Committee, I find that the right hon. Gentleman himself, on 16th March, 1954, rose to speak and began by saying: Having spent a considerable part of the last 18 months in studying related questions to this, I can claim to be as keen as any Member of the Committee on facilitating exchanges, because I am one of those who believe that a very large contribution can be made by extending the system of exchanges towards securing fuller use of the housing accommodation that we have."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, , 16th March, 1954; c. 988–9.] That has been substantially the only point that I could appreciate urged in favour of the present Bill by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. The right hon. Gentleman then took exception to the method in the particular Amendment, but we are not concerned with that today.

That being the position, let us take it just one stage further. The next result was that the Amendment was refused by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Prime Minister. The next stage was that the present Prime Minister attempted by a circular to impose transfers and exchanges rather more on local authorities. I take no objection whatever to that. The difficulty about the matter was that while he suggested that to local authorities, much of what was proposed depended upon consultation and agreement with private landlords. That consultation and agreement seem to have been quite ineffective, for nothing whatever has been heard of the matter—at least, nothing has been published—since Circular No. 68 of 1954 followed on the Amendment moved by us in Committee.

Then I come to the right hon. Gentleman's party political broadcast on 14th of this month, in which, again to cut the matter quite short, the case he made for the Bill, apart from the landlord's supposed right to have a certain return on his investment, depended so far as I could see solely on the question of under-occupation and the desirability of exchanges.

The next question is, if so much depends on exchanges, what is to be the effect of the Bill, and particularly of the subsection which we are discussing, on exchanges? The subsection provides that if a new tenancy is created, there is to be decontrol. The Rent Acts are not to apply and the obvious consequence will be that in most cases, given the present housing situation, the landlord will ask for a very much higher rent. That is perfectly obvious. It must have been obvious to the right hon. Gentleman all along and yet it has been left to us, at the very last moment, to introduce proposals to meet that difficulty.

I want to emphasise once more the effect of the Bill as it stands on the object which the right hon. Gentleman himself seeks to attain and which he puts forward, quite illogically, as one at least of the main grounds for the Bill. It is perfectly clear that if there is to be decontrol on a new tenancy, the tenant who is in the house will not agree to it except for some very special reason, for it is obvious that he would have to pay a higher rent.

Let us take the most obvious case of a desirable exchange. Take the old people, whom on Second Reading, with the support of at least some hon. Members opposite, I took as a typical instance —the old couple who, having brought up a large family, have been left in a house which, as matters now are, is too large for them, where they have, in short, more rooms than they need. Take that old couple, on the one side, and, on the other side, younger people who are rearing a family and without sufficient room for their young folk. We ask the old folk to move out of the house, and the first consequence is——

It being half-past Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered Tomorrow.