HC Deb 23 June 1958 vol 590 cc34-165
Mr. H. Brooke

I beg to move, in page 4, line 25, at the beginning to insert: Without prejudice to the power of any court apart from this section to postpone the operation or suspend the execution of an order for possession". This Amendment is designed to make clear without any possible doubt that the Bill does not in any way affect the existent inherent power of the court to grant a stay of up to four or six weeks where the occupier cannot satisfy the tests for suspension of an order for possession under Clause 3 (1, a). It was the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) who raised the point in Committee. I gave an assurance that, if there was any doubt, an Amendment would be put down on Report. I am very anxious

"not unreasonably refused or tailed to accept any proposal made by the owner for the grant of a new tenancy of the premises or part of the premises, being a tenancy for a term of not less than three years and not being a tenancy to be granted at a premium or requiring the payment of increased rent in respect of any period before the date on which the proposal was made."

This Amendment covers a number of different points which will, I think, commend themselves to the House. Its effect is to recast subsection (1, a) of Clause 3; that is to say, the first test on which the occupier has to satisfy the court in order to obtain suspension of an order for possession. As the Bill stands, this condition is (a) that he has made all reasonable efforts to secure agreement with the owner for a tenancy of the premises for a term of not less than three years;

Among other matters discussed in Committee, there was a discussion about the interpretation that could be put upon the word "all". The question was raised whether, if one possible step which it was reasonable for the occupier to have taken had not been taken, on that the landlord could be certain of succeeding. Would the tenant be bound to fail?

I made it clear in Committee that it certainly was not the intention of the Government that the word "all" should be so interpreted by the courts, and it has seemed to us on reconsideration that it would be better to put this subsection round the other way to make quite sure that we were getting rid of that difficulty. It certainly was never our wish to give the landlord the chance to win his case simply by producing a possible step which the occupier might have taken, but of which the tenant at the time had failed to think.

The House will see how we are dealing with that by recasting this subsection, but we are also tackling three other points at the same time. It appeared to the Government that subsection (1, a) did not that there should be no doubt whatever on the matter, and that is why I am moving this Amendment.

Mr. Weitzman

We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the concession which does put the matter beyond doubt

Amendment agreed to.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. H. Brooke

I beg to move, in page 4, line 28, to leave out from "has" to the end of line 30 and to insert:

make as clear as it might precisely what was expected of the landlord and tenant respectively. The difficulty might arise, where the landlord had not made an offer of a new tenancy: what could it be reasonable for the occupier to have done to secure one? There might be cases in which the occupier knew from the start that it would be a waste of time to try to negotiate. He might know that the owner would refuse.

We do not want any doubt remainin in the terms of the Bill, and, therefore to make absolutely clear what each side needs to do, we are proposing, by this Amendment, to recast the conditions so as to disqualify the occupier only if he has refused or failed to accept an offer of a new tenancy, which he could reasonably have been expected to accept.

It will be clear to both parties, if we adopt the Amendment, that it will be for the owner to make a proposal for a new tenancy. If the owner has not made such a proposal, then the occupier will automatically have passed the first test. There is, of course, plenty of time before October during which fresh proposals can be made. If the occupier has refused or ignored a proposal which the owner had made, it will still be open to him to show that it was quite reasonable to have acted in this way. Later in the Clause, there are provisions which require the court to take into account the means of the occupier, his age and any disability.

There are certain other points which we felt we should deal with at the same time in the course of this recasting of this subsection. The first of them concerns the case which I was discussing a moment or two ago in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), where accommodation is in excess of the requirements of the occupier and the landlord is thinking in terms of converting the premises into two or more dwellings.

I have explained to the House why I think something like that could hardly be fixed up as a result of an order of the court. It is much more appropriate, if this is to be the solution, that it should be dealt with here in connection with these tests, and if this Amendment is accepted the right course for a landlord who has that kind of thing in mind will be to offer the occupier a tenancy of part of the premises. Of course, it will be open, as before, to the occupier to refuse a tenancy of part of the premises if he can show that it was reasonable for him not to accept.

That is the tenant's safeguard against having to accept a tenancy of part of the premises where this would not meet his needs. On the other hand—and I think that this meets part of the problem which my hon. Friend has had in mind—a tenant who unreasonably rejects a tenancy of part of the premises which is offered to him by the landlord will lose the protection of the Bill.

The second point which we are seeking to cover by this Amendment is that the occupier should not be required to justify to the court his action in refusing or failing to accept a proposal for a tenancy if it would involve him in paying a premium. The object of the test—an object, I think, which all of us have accepted as the right object for a test—is to show that the occupier is willing to take a tenancy on reasonable terms for a period of at least three years.

It is not intended to disqualify him if he is unwilling to purchase the house, and we must take into account also the possibility of the offer of a long lease. It is a known fact that in a number of cases of decontrolled tenancies, and especially decontrolled tenancies of flats, long leases of twenty-one years have been offered, and for a long lease of twenty-one years a premium may legally be charged. But a long lease on a low rent, together with a substantial capital payment, is, in fact, tantamount to a sale—at any rate, tantamount to it in this context.

As the object of the subsection is not to disqualify an occupier who refuses to purchase, he could equally not be disqualified if he refuses a tenancy which would involve him in paying a premium. In other words, this part of the Amendment will put a sale of a lease on the same footing as the sale of a freehold.

The third and last point with which the Amendment seeks to deal is the case of a demand by a landlord for an increased rent which is to come into operation retrospectively from a date before that on which the new tenancy was offered. I have already stated at this Box that I have been advised that a three-year tenancy purporting to require the tenant to pay an increased rent before the date on which its terms were agreed cannot break the standstill period under the Fourth Schedule, and that the increase in rent is not recoverable during the standstill period. A demand for rent retrospectively in these circumstances is, therefore, an attempt to obtain a payment which, on the advice tendered to me, is not recoverable. It is surely logical to provide that an occupier has acted reasonably in refusing an offer if such a condition is attached to the offer.

I apologise for having explained this Amendment at some length, but it covers four different but related matters, and I trust that it will be seen that the Government have made a genuine attempt both to meet points which were raised in the discussion in Committee on this subsection and also to provide in the Bill for certain other contingencies.

Mr. Mitchison

This is a major Amendment. It completely alters the position between the landlord and the tenant on an application under this subsection.

I must begin by saying that it is true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that there is time between now and October, but this Bill was introduced, as he has himself said, in a different form, in a form which would have made the tenant's chances of success on an application for an extension of his tenancy or occupancy distinctly smaller than they will be under this Amendment.

It is fair comment on the change which is now made, as it was originally fair comment on the Bill itself, that the Bill left out of any benefit which it might offer those who had already made their bargains. That position will have continued in this respect between the time when the Bill was introduced and the time only a few days ago when this Amendment appeared on the Notice Paper.

When these points were raised in Committee we did not expect anything like the concessions that I am glad to say we now see made on the Notice Paper, not only in this respect, but in others, too. The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman showed an obduracy, or shall I say an apparent obduracy, in Committee which made us despair of him even more than we had despaired before. While we welcome even the most partial reformation, we still say that it is very late, that the process of eating his words has no doubt gone a little bit further—that is all to the good—but that we wish that next time he would not commit himself in advance to the opposite of what he is going to do, and, when he brings a Bill in, would not refuse to make a few weeks earlier in Committee the concessions which we are glad to see he is now making.

The substance of this is that under the Bill as drafted it was the tenant who had to show that he had tried to get an agreement with the landlord. It is now up to the landlord, as in good sense it always was, to ask for the agreement first, and the tenant has only got to show that, having been asked, he did not unreasonably refuse or fail to accept—a very different state of affairs and one which, so far as it goes, we welcome warmly, while regretting that it could not have been made before.

On the point as to part of the premises, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that is the right way of approaching it. Of course, it will be open to the court, as I see it, to say that an offer which might have been quite reasonable if it had been made in rather different circumstances—reasonable as regards rent, repairs, and so on—is none the less an unreasonable offer because it would not leave the tenant and his family sufficient room to live in. That is a question which has now become, under the terms of this Amendment, a matter of what is and what is not reasonable and, accordingly, a matter for the county court. That is the right way to deal with questions of that sort and we welcome that method of treating it.

4.0 p.m.

I want to refer to premiums. In the Rent Act, the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Gentleman has put down an Amendment to the proposed Amendment to deal with the subject of premiums. It cannot be moved until we have agreed that the words which it is proposed to leave out be left out. We shall then come to the second Question, that certain words be there inserted, and it is to that Question that the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment is directed.

Mr. Mitchison

I am much obliged, Sir. I did not intend to deal with the subject at length. I wished merely to refer to those issues which the right hon. Gentleman himself raised.

The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that there were serious objections to a premium in these cases, that it amounted, as he put it, to the owner demanding money to which he was not entitled. However, it amounts to more than that. Under the provisions of the Rent Act, the demanding of a premium in these cases is illegal. It is not only illegal, it is punishable, for what the right hon. Gentleman has done under Section 13 of the Rent Act, which applies to these decontrolled tenancies which we are now considering, is to apply Section 2 of the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949, which not only prohibits premiums in these cases, but also—in subsection (6)—renders a person who requires such a premium liable to a fine of up to £100 on summary conviction.

I hope that it will be perfectly clear that to demand these premiums is not only asking for money to which the owner is not entitled, but is also a matter which entails the risk of criminal proceedings.

I go beyond that. The Amendment stigmatises, as it were, a tenancy which is to be granted at a premium and also stigmatises a tenancy which requires the payment of increased rent in respect of any period before the date on which the proposal was made. In view of the Amendment with which we are to deal later, leaving aside for a moment the question of the relation between those two forms of inadequate tenancy, or wrong tenancy, there is not the least doubt that this practice of demanding back-dated rent has been prevalent in many parts of London.

My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger) has already called the right hon. Gentleman's attention to it and it was she who elicited the statement to which he has just referred. The practice has not been confined to her constituency. I have personally known of a number of cases in which it has been done, and it was a very unfortunate feature of one of those cases to which my hon. Friend directed the right hon. Gentleman's attention that the solicitors who were acting in the matter said that they regarded it as proper practice. It is not proper practice. It is criminal practice, for these back-dated leases offend against the Rent Act just as much as a demand for a premium in terms.

I am certain that right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite disapprove as much as we do of cases in which advantage is taken of tenants under the provisions of the Rent Act itself, cases where the landlord has been enabled to make lawful demands which we would regard as excessive and where he has taken the opportunity of making unlawful demands.

If a free market in small houses in cities where there is a notorious and obvious insufficiency of small houses for the people who want to live there is once let loose, it is very likely that this same sort of trouble will arise and that there will be an extension of what some of us regard as lawful but otherwise wrongful demands, demands which we should also agree to be illegal.

I am very glad that this provision has been inserted. I note with passing regret that there was no reference to this matter of backdated leases in the original Bill, although the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministry and his right hon. and hon. Friends must have known, from Questions they have been asked and from Press comments, that something of this sort was going on and was sufficiently widespread to deserve some remedial action. Still, to the right hon. Gentleman once more we must say, "Better late than never". If anybody can rejoice over the right hon. Gentleman, I suppose it is the occasion to rejoice over his repentance. We welcome the substance of the Amendment, after a few somewhat critical comments on the right hon. Gentleman's immediate past.

Mr. Page

Despite the begrudging manner in which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has received the Amendment, and despite his rather ungracious remarks about my right hon. Friend, I am glad he began his comments by saying that this was a major Amendment, since the more that that can be underlined at this stage, the better. The Amendment entirely alters the position, certainly for the landlord and to a lesser degree for the tenant, since it is now the landlord who has to take the initiative. The more that alteration can be stressed and called to the attention of landlords, and the more that they can be made to appreciate that they have to take the initiative in offering the agreement, the better it will be.

My right hon. Friend has found the right solution in this matter of the tenant who will be sufficiently accommodated in part of the premises. Those provisions should be brought into this part of the Bill and not into that part where I and some of my hon. Friends endeavoured to insert them by another Amendment. By the Rent Act we wanted to throw open the accommodation of under-occupied premises. It seemed to us that as it was drawn the Bill might prevent some of that accommodation coming into the market for reletting. However, with this Amendment that problem is solved.

I am worried about the latter part of the Amendment. Why should we introduce the question of premiums at all? If it is unlawful to demand a premium, then is there any need to mention it in the Bill? If it is mentioned, does not that throw doubt on whether the previous provisions, the provisions of the Rent Act, were effective or not? I am puzzled why we need to introduce it at all.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend has attacked the back-dating of leases and claims for rent over some imaginary past period when the lease is assumed to have been in operation. But, here again, surely that is a premium and is already unlawful. Is it necessary to introduce it and throw doubt on the law as it now stands?

I have one further point to make about the last few words of the Amendment, … the payment of increased rent in respect of any period before the date on which the proposal was made. Surely if it is unlawful to claim rent under the back-dated lease, all the more it is to claim rent for a period back to the date when a proposal was made and no lease signed at all. I think that considerable doubt will be thrown on the operation of the Bill if we use the provision that the landlord shall not claim rent back to the date when a proposal was made. Of course he should not. He has no right to do that now. He would be committing a criminal offence if he did so. Why throw doubt on it by using these words in the Amendment? My right hon. Friend may have a perfectly good explanation for it. If he has, it has not dawned on me as yet.

Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was determined to regard this as a major Amendment and one in which the landlord would now have to take the initiative. The Amendment will be welcomed considerably by Scottish landlords.

I am concerned with the question of the occupier who, until the Amendment appeared on the Notice Paper, occupied the whole house and then the landlord makes a proposal for a new tenancy and desires to take part of the accommodation. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) thought that the proposal contained in the Amendment was the best way of dealing with the situation a this time. That may be all right south of the Border. But north of the Border, where 30 per cent. of the rented accommodation is already grossly overcrowded, the Amendment will be of benefit to landlords.

Let me give a typical example to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland of a five-apartment house which is occupied at present by five units and the landlord makes the proposition in his new tenancy proposals that three rooms are sufficient for these five units. Three rooms for five adults would be considered in Scotland to be ample accommodation because of the gross over-crowding that there is in privately rented property.

I would be prepared to leave it to the sheriff to determine what standard of accommodation should be set up. For example, will it be the standard laid down by the Scottish Advisory Council which is included in the Housing (Scotland) Acts, or will it be merely something determined by the sheriff himself? Will it be five units for two, three or four rooms? I am a little perturbed about the inclusion of this aspect in the Amendment and I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will give us some guidance about it.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)

The sheriff will decide each case on its merits. I can assure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) that his fears are quite groundless. The offer made by the landlord must be reasonable in the view of the sheriff.

4.15 p.m.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

The points that I should like to raise are mainly interrogative. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has said, the fact that there has been delay in bringing forward the Amendment has meant that many people have already signed agreements which involve them in paying back-dated rent, and, contrary to what hon. Gentlemen opposite may think, many solicitors are still advising clients that there is nothing improper in landlords demanding back-dated rent.

The Minister has considerably clarified the position, but I know that I shall be asked by many constituents—and I shall not be the only hon. Member who will receive many inquiries on this point—whether there will be some case for adjustment of rent or refund of rent which has been paid prior to this clarification.

The second point on which I should be glad of the Minister's guidance arises from the statement that he made in the House on 4th March, to which he has already referred this afternoon. He said: … I am advised that a lease purporting to commence before the date on which its terms were, in fact, agreed, though valid in other respects, would not be a tenancy for purposes of paragraph 4 of the Fourth Schedule to the Rent Act, 1957."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 971] We are considering an Amendment in which the Minister uses the phrase, … of any period before the date on which the proposal was made. To the layman, there is a difference between a proposal being made and the terms of a lease being agreed. It is important for us to know whether it is sufficient for an agent or landlord suddenly to remember that he offered, say, Mrs. Jones a tenancy over the telephone six months ago, or whether the Amendment is meant to have the same effect as the statement that the Minister made on 4th March—that is, that the terms were, in fact, agreed. I should be grateful if the Minister can clarify that point.

Mr. Weitzman

It would be ungracious not to recognise that the Minister has gone a long way to meet a number of the criticisms which have been made about this Clause. We on this side recognise it. At the same time, there are one or two points that clearly require clarification, and my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger) has referred to an important one.

Like my hon. Friend, I am a little troubled by the words, before the date on which the proposal was made. They are strange words. If an agent said that he had, on the telephone or by word of mouth, made a proposal to the tenant on a certain date and that was taken as the date on which the proposal was made—presumably that would be the evidence provided by the landlord showing when the proposal was made—apparently it is proper for the landlord to demand increased rent from that date. That obviously throws the door open to a great deal of possible abuse.

Mr. H. Brooke indicated dissent.

Mr. Weitzman

The Minister shakes his head. I am merely interpreting the words. Surely it is possible to alter these words in some way to make the position much clearer and prevent, at any rate, the possibility of abuse.

There is one further point which I should like to mention. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) referred to the use of the word "premium" and suggested that it ought not to have been inserted in the Clause. On the other hand, he explained that it was essential to point out to the landlord that the onus was upon him to make a proposal. In the same way, it is important in the Clause, particularly in reference to the matters dealt with under the Bill, to point out to the landlord that there must not be any question of any demand for a premium. If only for that reason, the words are justified in the Clause.

I am glad that the Minister has inserted words dealing with the question of back rent. That is a real problem. In my constituency, many constituents have approached me when landlords have made proposals and when, in many cases, they have demanded the payment of back rent. I am glad that the Minister has made clear in the Amendment that that is a practice which now will not be permitted.

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)

I remind the House that the Bill was introduced after tenants or occupiers had been subjected to grave misapprehensions about what would happen to them under the 1957 Rent Act. Many of them, even before the publication of the Bill, had entered into agreements with landlords. Our attention has been drawn to this by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), who says that it was illegal to do these things before a certain date. I want to know from the Minister what redress those people who signed those agreements under duress will get. Will they be able to recover in any way if the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament?

Our proceedings are going along fairly happily this afternoon and I hope that things will continue this way. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something, because I have specific cases of people who have agreed to back-date their increased rent from the receipt of the agreement and I would like to know whether it is possible for them to recover any increased amounts to which they have agreed.

Mr. H. Brooke

I am not sure whether I should say that I am grateful for the reception which the Amendment has had. There seemed to be moments when the Opposition were disposed to criticise me for putting down Amendments on Report at all, on the ground that this action had left people in uncertainty for a period, but I fail to see what is the point of having a Committee stage if it does not afford an opportunity to the Government and to hon. Members, on both sides, to give further consideration to everything that is said in Committee and to all the further evidence which may accumulate as a result so that, before it leaves the House, the Bill may be as perfect as we can make it.

I agree that this is a major Amendment, but its major effect will be in simplifying the issues that have to come before the court when a case is taken into court. It will not make any far-reaching difference in the number of cases or the ultimate issue, but it will certainly shorten and facilitate the proceedings if a case comes into court.

In reply to the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler), I have repeatedly said, and so have my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and many other people, in official and unofficial positions, that before they enter into new agreements tenants and landlords should take professional advice. If they have signed agreements which were unreasonable in some respect or other, not having taken the precaution of getting expert advice on the matter, I am sorry for them, but it has happened through their disregarding the dictates of common sense. I must make it quite clear that there is nothing in the Bill which amends the Rent Act for the benefit of people who may have acted unwisely, before the Bill was introduced, in entering into agreements.

Mr. Weitzman

How could a professional person giving advice to somebody who applied for it anticipate that the right hon. Gentleman would bring in a Bill of this nature?

Mr. Brooke

I am coming presently to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). I was dealing with the generality of cases.

A number of hon. Members have spoken particularly about the last few words of the Amendment, the difference between the date of proposal and the date of agreement, and have made points of that nature. I am not sure whether the House has appreciated that we are dealing with two separate things. The matter on which I gave a reply to the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger) some months ago is one on which I gave her, and the House and the country, the best advice that was available to me.

That advice was that the rent would be irrecoverable if an agreement were made which purported to come into force, so far as increased rent was concerned, before the date of the actual agreement. I am paraphrasing what I said, but the hon. Lady will, I think, agree that in non-legal language that was the effect of it. It did not destroy the validity of the agreement. It did make that rent irrecoverable.

Here we are coming to a different issue. We are coming—

Mr. Mitchison

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but this is an important question. He has just said that it did not destroy the validity of the agreement—we may have to look at that in connection with the next Amendment—but he says that the rent would be irrecoverable. Does he mean all the rent under the Bill, or does he mean the rent before the agreement was come to?

Mr. Brooke

Perhaps it would be wise if I reminded the House of what I said on 4th March. I said: While only the courts can decide questions of this kind with authority, I am advised that a lease purporting to commence before the date on which its terms were, in fact, agreed, though valid in other respects would not be a tenancy for purposes of paragraph 4 of the Fourth Schedule to the Rent Act, 1957, and could not, therefore, have the effect of breaking the standstill period. Accordingly, a landlord could not recover under such a lease any increase in rent before 6th October, 1958, at the earliest. The tenant would, however, have the benefit of the lease when his statutory protection had come to an end, namely, from 6th October, 1958, until the lease was due to expire. I am advised that the interpretation I have given would apply to leases of longer than the minimum period of three years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 971.] Now, we are moving from that interpretation of the 1957 Rent Act to the quite distinct question which arises under the Clause concerning the view which the court is to take of certain offers that have been made. The Amendment is drafted in this way so that it shall be on the Statute Book that the offer of a tenancy requiring the payment of increased rent in respect of any period before the date on which the proposal was made, shall not be a proposal such as the court need take into account. If the offer has been a tenancy of that character, it will not be necessary for the occupier to argue whether he has unreasonably refused or failed to accept it. That sort of offer will not count.

4.30 p.m.

The date must be the date on which the proposal was made, because it would be unreasonable to give some adventitious advantage to a tenant who had spun out the negotiations over a long period after the offer had been made. We are taking here, as the case which is not to count at all, the case where the landlord has offered a tenancy purporting to require an increased rent before the offer was made, without respect to the date on which any agreement might have been reached or was not reached. The two are distinct. These matters are some-what complex, but I have done my best to explain the difference here.

I do not think that it will increase the difficulties of the courts. It is more likely to ease them. I hope that from what I have said the House will appreciate that the words in the Amendment do not put any gloss on the words of the Rent Act regarding leases which seek to claim rent from an earlier date. Nothing that I say today and nothing that is contained in the Amendment alters the terms of the Rent Act as I offered an interpretation of them to the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South on 4th March. For that reason, what she said about the disadvantage of the delay falls to the ground, because the situation remains unchanged.

If the landlord has offered some other kind of proposal—not the kind of proposal which I have said does not count if we accept the Amendment—it will be for the court to consider whether the tenant's action was reasonable or unreasonable in refusing or failing to accept it. But if it is one of those kinds characterised in the last line or two of the Amendment, then, as far as that test is concerned, the landlord will have no leg to stand on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) asked why we mentioned premiums at all. If premiums are illegal, he asked, why should we make special provision here? Again, I must reply that there is a distinction between the two Measures. The Rent Act ordained that a premium asked for a lease or tenancy of a three-year character should be illegal, but there is nothing in the Rent Act which renders illegal a premium asked or a charge made for a long lease of more than twenty-one years. Those premiums will still be legal.

Nevertheless, it appeared to the Government that it would not be right to draft the Bill in such a way as to enable the landlord to say that he was making a reasonable offer of a new tenancy to the tenant if, in fact, what he was offering was a long lease, which is so very distinct in its terms and conditions from a new three-year agreement. That is why the Amendment is so drafted as to exclude an offer of that kind also from counting in this respect. I hope that I have dealt with the main points raised in the debate. If the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) moves his Amendment to line 4 of the proposed Amendment, it may be possible to say something further about premiums.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

The Minister has not dealt with the point raised in the debate about a part of premises. There is no doubt whatsoever that the right hon. Gentleman has made a concession in the Amendment, but I wonder whether he is not taking some of that concession away by introducing a provision that an agreement in respect of part of premises is one that can be offered and considered reasonable.

Let us see what the practical effect of that will be. The tenant is offered a three-year lease not of the whole premises, but of one or two rooms. There may be a family of three who have lived in a house and enjoyed its amenities for many years. The house has become part and parcel of their lives. Then they are suddenly invited by the landlord to come to an agreement by which they can occupy one or two rooms and the accommodation as a whole house is shared with another family or with the landlord himself.

Such people are placed in an extremely difficult situation, because, whatever the court may decide about its being legal, when the matter comes to court, if they refuse they are taking a chance that they may lose any opportunity of an extension of the tenancy. That goes much too far. There should be some qualification in respect of a part of premises. I admit that where people live in premises which are much too large for them it is a good thing to make some provision for other people to live there, but the House should consider what an instrument this could be in the hands of an unscrupulous landlord in trying to get round the provisions of the Bill and trying to get rid of the tenant.

As frequently happens, when a landlord makes an offer of shared accommodation he goes in himself. He behaves in an unreasonable manner and "plays up" the tenant until the tenant feels that life is so miserable that he must get out. Sometimes, the landlord puts in an unsuitable tenant to share the premises. This is a danger which may defeat the whole purpose of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will look at these words again and consider whether he is not giving away more than it is safe to give away on this point.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

I apologise if, before I came into the Chamber, the Minister dealt with the interpretation of the words "unreasonably refused", but I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman for some information.

If the tenant is taken to court, the court will have to decide whether he had unreasonably refused an offer of a tenancy by the landlord. The greatest factor in the making of a new agreement is the rent which the landlord proposes to charge. If the rent is a reasonable one, within the tenant's income limits, I am sure that he would be very glad to conclude a tenancy agreement, but it may well be that the landlord is proposing a rent which is far beyond the tenant's means or income. There may well be cases where a tenant would refuse such an offer of a tenancy because to him the rent was unreasonable and one which he could not pay at all.

I have in mind a case which was brought to my notice the other day, of a house that is to be decontrolled. The tenant has been offered a tenancy at a rate of £3 a week plus rates, which will mean roughly another £1, making a total of £4. The only income of the tenant and his wife is the old-age pension of £2 a week each, which is £4, and the rental from sub-letting two unfurnished rooms in the house, with the landlord's knowledge and consent, for £2 10s., which includes the supply of fuel, light and heating, and which is not an unreasonable amount to charge.

Their total income in £6 10s. a week and the proposal of the landlord is that they shall pay in rent and rates £4 a week, leaving a bare £2 10s. a week for them both to live on, which, of course, is physically impossible. Although they are anxious to conclude a tenancy agreement with the landlord, obviously the rent to them is a very unreasonable amount, because they just cannot afford to pay it.

The right hon. Gentleman will probably say that these two old age-pensioners can go to the National Assistance Board and ask for some money. Many people do not like doing that, and these two old-age pensioners do not like doing it; they still think that the taint of the Poor Law remains in the Assistance Board administration. Even so, if they did go to the Assistance Board, the Board would not be in a position to advance them very much—only a few shillings—towards the increased cost of the rent which they would have to bear. That is a case, I think, where one could say that, if the tenant refuses the tenancy, the court may hold that it is either a reasonable refusal or an unreasonable refusal.

If a case like this came to court, and the landlord asked for possession of the house, I am in some difficulty to know what view the court would take of the words "unreasonably refused". Would the court take into consideration the amount of rent demanded by the landlord and the income of the tenant? Would the court make up its mind and say whether it thought that amount of rent which the landlord was asking in relation to the income was reasonable, or would it say that it thought that the amount of rent was unreasonable and, therefore, refuse to give an order for possession?

We can argue about the length of leases and other abnormal circumstances that may arise in connection with the whole case itself, but the question of rent is an important one. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman could throw a little light on that aspect of the case, because it is one of the most important factors upon which the court will be called upon to say something. If the Minister can enlighten the House on this matter, I am sure that he would be doing a service to us.

Sir Roland Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)

There is one point which I should like the Minister to answer. He said that those who made agreements in which the rents were excessive acted unwisely and would be completely outside the Clause because it was up to them to take proper advice before making the agreements, such as a lawyer's advice or a house agent's advice when considering the terms of the agreement. He said that such people had been foolish.

I should like to remind the Minister that some agreements have been made out of fear, and that there is no question about lack of wisdom. It was fear of being thrown out which has made them enter into such agreements. I should like to know how these people stand.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I am very glad that the hon. Member for Hallam (Sir R. Jennings) spoke as he did, because this is the basis of the whole question with which we are dealing. I wonder whether the Minister would tell us what opportunities the tenant really has to decide whether the offer that is made to him is reasonable or not. It is a dangerous thing to allow a matter of that sort to rankle in the mind of the tenant. If the tenant knows that eventually he has to go before a court, he will be frightened of the fact that the judge may take an entirely different view from his own. It is far from easy for a tenant to decide for himself what is reasonable.

I have a suggestion to make to the Minister. I ask him whether, in view of the difficulty of this situation, he would be prepared, under the provisions that prevail under the Rent Acts at present, to authorise local authorities to advise tenants on these matters, as they are entitled to advise on other matters pertaining to the Rent Acts. If he were to do that, I think that it would solve the problem for many a tenant who would be placed in that state of mind, which might prevent him from exercising reasonable precautions if a landlord asked for an exorbitant rent.

It would at least have this effect—and no doubt the Minister will agree. The official of the local authority would give advice as to whether the amount of rent or the other conditions pertaining to the new tenancy were reasonable. He would be objective and impartial. If a case of that kind came before a court, I believe that the judge would consider it to be reasonable if the tenant had refused to accept terms in excess of those on which he had been advised. I think that the tenant in that case would be entitled to plead that he had been to the local authority and seen an objective person, and that he had been advised that the rental or other terms were not reasonable. I do not think that any county court judge, or any judge at all, would then be in a position to say that the man had unreasonably refused.

This is a very important matter. It is no good talking about sending a man to an agent or a lawyer, because it then becomes a matter of opinion which can be decided later on. If a man goes to an agent, the agent is his agent and he asks for the advice of that individual. The landlord might have another agent who would say that that advice was entirely wrong, and it would then be for the judge to decide. I do not think that in those circumstances the judge could definitely say that the man had not unreasonably refused.

A judge might say that the tenant did the only thing that he could do. He went to a professional man, an agent or a lawyer, who advised a certain course and, therefore, he did not unreasonably refuse. I think that to make the matter perfectly clear the Minister should assure the House that he will issue some kind of instruction enabling a local authority official, whoever he may be in a particular district, to give advice as to whether an agreement is unreasonable or not. In those circumstances, I feel that both the landlord and the tenant would be properly covered.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

While understanding the apprehensions which have been expressed by hon. Members on the benches opposite and by my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam (Sir R. Jennings), I think that in cases like this the matter is so closely connected with the particular case which will be heard that such a method as the Opposition envisage is not capable of easy definition. For example, if a county court judge is considering a case in which the tenant happens to be a highly paid executive, it might be unreasonable for that person to refuse an offer of a tenancy, but in such a case as was mentioned by one hon. Gentleman opposite, where there were two ladies with very slender means, I suggest respectfully that any county court judge would take a different view.

Mr. Janner

The hon. Gentleman is an experienced solicitor of considerable repute in his own constituency. May I ask him, therefore, if it is not a fact that the judge, as a practising lawyer, knows very well that the opinion might well be contested by another solicitor, and it would then be for the judge to decide what was reasonable and what was not. I want to know from the Minister what will be regarded as advice which would be held not to be something which the tenant could disregard. I believe that would meet the situation.

Mr. Gower

I do not dissent from the hon. Gentleman's general theme, but my point is that such a matter is not capable of definition by the Minister, because in my respectful submission "reasonable" has to be determined by the court considering a specific case. Indeed I think the House will recognise that the term "reasonable" has been established and applied over many years in courts at all levels.

When the hon. Gentleman intervened I was suggesting, I think moderately, that any judge would be able to determine on the facts before him whether the refusal was reasonable or not in a particular case. For example, in the case I gave he might have before him a person of considerable means who has been living in a house for a long time and who has refused the offer of the owner. That refusal would be unreasonable. On the other hand, the judge, with all his wealth of experience, having before him a different case, in which the tenant happens to be a person of very slender means, would most certainly not deem a refusal to be unreasonable. No doubt the judge would say that these people could not accept the offer. In that sense I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to say, on the legal advice available to him, that my interpretation is correct.

Mr. H. Brooke

If I may burden the House once again, I would like to reply to the five hon. Members who have now contributed further to this debate.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam (Sir R. Jennings) I must repeat that if somebody has entered into an unwise agreement without having taken any expert advice, it is not possible now to remedy that situation. My hon. Friend said it was done through fear. Nevertheless, I feel sure that if the agreement really was unreasonable, and the tenant had sought responsible advice, the advice he would have received would have been not to sign. Seeing that at the time when this Bill was introduced there were more than six months before any notice to quit could take effect, there was ample time either to continue the negotiations in order to seek a better agreement or to find somewhere else to live rather than for a tenant to commit himself to an unwise agreement.

I do not think that the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) was made in one of his better moments. I am sure he appreciates, as a lawyer himself, that a local authority has no power to give advice. A local authority can tender information, but all of us who have to deal with these matters are careful, and we are quickly corrected if we slip up, as I did once, in failing to make the distinction between the information that can be sought and obtained from a local authority office or town hall and the alvice which can be secured from a citizens' advice bureau or from a professional adviser.

Mr. Janner

With the greatest respect, that sounds right, but it is not right. What happens is that the local authority official is asked what this Act means and although he says what it is, at the same time he is bound to tell the individual what it means. Otherwise, what is the use of him? What it is the man can read in the Act, but what it means is advice as to what it means and not merely a matter of opinion. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to extend that.

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman says that what this Act means anyone can read in the Act. No doubt a lawyer like himself can do so, but the majority of us ordinary people, including the majority of the tenants and landlords affected, are not able to see on the face of an Act of Parliament precisely what it means. That is the kind of situation where the information office of a local authority may give assistance. It would be quite outside the scope of local authority work for the local authority to essay to give a figure as to what would be a reasonable rent of any decontrolled property in its area, with the suggestion borne along with it that this opinion or certificate given by the local authority should carry weight with the court.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) was much nearer the mark when he said that each of these matters must be examined in the circumstances of the individual case and with regard to the position of the occupier as well as the condition of the property.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), I invite his attention to subsection (3) of this Clause where it states that in considering whether this condition, among others, is fulfilled … regard shall be had, among other things, to the means of the occupier, to his age, and to any disability to which he may be subject. Therefore, if a man with an income of £6 a week receives the offer of a tenancy at £4 a week, I think that the tenant need have no fear that this would be regarded as unreasonable having regard to his means.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. J. Silverman) was suspicious that the Government might be withdrawing something in the reference to part of the premises. Let me make it clear that my approach to this entire subsection has not been in terms of concessions or withdrawals. That is not the atmosphere in which I look at this Amendment. The Government are simply determined to get this Bill as well and as precisely drafted as possible, so as to minimise the risk of uncertainty or difficulty when cases come into court under it.

This Amendment by no means states that any offer of a part of the premises is to be taken as a reasonable offer. What it says is that the landlord can propose the grant of a new tenancy of part of the premises, being a tenancy for a term of not less than three years and so forth. Then, if he does that, and if the tenant refuses or fails to accept the offer, then it will be for the tenant to prove that he refused or failed to accept it unreasonably.

In making that case, obviously he will wish to adduce his arguments that the diminished part of the whole premises will not give him the accommodation which he needs, that there will not be enough room for his children, or whatever it may be. He will have just as much opportunity to argue that he has acted reasonably in refusing or failing to accept the offer as if it had been an offer of the whole premises.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. J. Silverman

The Minister does not understand the point I put, which concerns the dilemma of the tenant who is offered such an agreement. If he guesses wrong at the time, it is not something which is put right when he comes to court. If he guesses wrong at the time, he loses any possibility of remedy. Therefore, in the circumstances, tenants might be persuaded to accept an offer which is quite unreasonable because they were afraid of the consequences if the court happened to go one way or the other.

Mr. Brooke

What the hon. Gentleman is saying now applies whether it is an offer of part of the accommodation or the whole accommodation. We must proceed all the way through on the supposition that the county courts are reasonable places where justice is done in a sensible way. Both landlord and tenant must make their own judgments before-hand; they must decide whether or not they are acting reasonably and they will, as I propose to say later, if they are wise, acquaint themselves with the terms of the Bill.

It is not possible—I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, on reconsideration—to go further and afford signposts at every point as to precisely what the court will consider reasonable or unreasonable in every conceivable circumstance. What we are doing here is to seek to limit somewhat the field of possible argument.

I must say to the House, in all seriousness, that, if the Amendment is accepted, not only will there be, in my judgment, an improvement on the subsection as it stands, but also much clearer guidance will be given to the court and to both the landlord and the occupier concerned as to what each should do.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I listened with interest to the latter part of the debate, and I should now like to ask the Solicitor-General for Scotland, whom I see present, a question concerning the interpretation of the Amendment in Scotland.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government has told us that, when part of the accommodation is offered, the court will determine whether, in refusing the offer made, a man was right or wrong in terms of reasonableness. We ought to know what are some of the things which the court can take into consideration. Some of them are mentioned.

Glasgow has a rate of overcrowding much higher than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. How would this provision be interpreted there? Let us suppose that a tenant said that he was not offered sufficient accommodation for himself and his family. How will the court determine the matter? Will it be done simply on the merits of the case divorced from other considerations, or will the court have in mind the fact that Glasgow is very overcrowded and will it, therefore, look upon a refusal of a state of overcrowding as quite unreasonable? We ought to know about these things. Such an event is quite likely in Scotland, particularly in Glasgow.

We ought to have the guidance of the Solicitor-General on this occasion. I do not like United Kingdom Bills on these matters; I prefer to see Scotland dealt with separately, but, this being a United Kingdom Bill, I feel that we should have the advice of the right hon. and learned Gentleman about it.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. William Grant)

If I may detain the House for a moment or two, I should tell the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Mr. Willis) that a question very similar to his was answered by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Willis

Very unsatisfactorily.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard it. I thought that it was a most satisfactory answer. The court will take into account the whole circumstances of any particular case, and it is quite impossible, without knowing the facts of any particular case, to say what circumstances will be taken into account.

The word "reasonable" has been used many times in statutes passed when this side have been in power and when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have been in power. Without knowing the facts of a particular case, it is quite impossible to say what is reasonable in the circumstances. We know about cases where one considers the man on the Clapham bus, or the man somewhere else, as happened in a more recent case.

Mr. Mitchison

Or the man on the Auchenshuggle tram.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

No doubt there are certain similarities, although one goes faster than the other.

Certainly, the court would not say, because certain people in Glasgow were living three or four in a room, that a tenant who has been accustomed to living with his family of, say, a couple of children, in a flat of three or four rooms should, therefore, go into a single room. The tenant's circumstances will be considered, his age, his family and the like, together with the circumstances in which he has been living in the past.

Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill, put and negatived.

Question proposed, That the proposed words be there inserted in the Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 4, to leave out "or requiring" and to insert: including, as such a premium (for the removal of doubt)". I say at once that, although this appears to be a rather mysterious Amendment, it is moved with a quite serious intention. The right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, as drafted, refers to two separate things, as I read it. One is the granting of a tenancy at a premium, and the other is the requiring of what I will call, for short, back-dated rent. I mean by that rent payable or claimed in respect of some period before the making of the proposal in this case or perhaps, in other cases, the making of a definite agreement. The effect of doing that, as I see it, is to indicate that these two things are not the same and to do it in a Measure which will deal with matters arising out of the Rent Act and with very similar material. Accordingly, if a misunderstanding is introduced in these matters by the Amendment, that misunderstanding may well be applied when we are considering the Rent Act itself.

The right hon. Gentleman has just been speaking about signposts. What I have to charge him with in this case is turning the signpost round the wrong way. That, he will know, is a very serious offence, even when committed by the young. I am sure he himself would not wish to send those who desire to go to Leeds to Bradford by mistake. That kind of thing leads to a lot of trouble in Yorkshire.

Let me make my point quite clear. I will start with what the right hon. Gentleman said just now in talking about his Amendment. His advice was that if back-dated rent was claimed, that claim or, as I understand it, even the acceptance of that claim, did not make the resulting agreement illegal. To use his own words, it did not make it invalid. The first thing I want to get perfectly clear is that, of course, if that premium had been demanded in circumstances in which a premium was illegal and to ask it a punishable offence, quite obviously the proposal itself would have been illegal and any resulting agreement, I should have thought, would be invalid, unless in some way or another one could separate that part of it.

Now I consider the nature of this back-dated rent. What has happened, as I understand it, in these cases is this. On a date stipulated in the Rent Act the premises became decontrolled, and if nothing else had been said or done about it then, subject, of course, to another agreement, the tenant had no right to stay there any longer. I say, of course, subject to another agreement. Accordingly, if no provision had been made in the Rent Act, and there was an existing agreement, notice could have been given to terminate it on the day of decontrol and the tenant would have had to get out. It was to provide for that day that the tenant was given a special right under the Rent Act to stay on for a number of months, a number of months beginning with the period of de-control and ending, as the matter now stands, on a date in October. Until some other agreement was reached between the landlord and the tenant it was by virtue of that statutory provision and not otherwise that the tenant was there at all.

The statutory provision further laid down that the tenant should hold on the same rent, if we like so to call it, which he had been paying before decontrol. There were also the same terms, but what I am on at the moment is rent. Consequently, up to the date when some other agreement was reached the only rent payable by the tenant was rent at the same rate as that prevailing before decontrol; and the tenant's only right to stay there, and the landlord's only right to collect that rent, arose from the provisions of the Rent Act itself. That was bound to be the position until some other agreement was made.

What we are considering is another agreement, and the other agreement in the case we are considering will provide for a tenancy, let us say, of less than 21 years, but, subject to that, it does not matter a bit whether it is for three, seven or nine years, or anything one likes. Another tenancy is agreed upon and the landlord in connection with that asks for a sum of money to be paid which is not rent as from the date of that agreement but is called rent from the date before that agreement. That is the back-dated rent we have in mind. That is not rent. It cannot be rent until the agreement is made.

There is not the least doubt what the rent was, and it was the pre-decontrol rent, the same rent. Consequently, what in fact the landlord is getting is a sum of money which, call it what we like, represents something additional to the rent to which he was entitled up to the date of the agreement, something additional, of course, to the rent to which he was entitled after the date of the agreement, which we may presume to be at a higher rate, but that does not matter.

5.15 p.m.

Is that, or is it not, a premium? When we look to see what a premium is, we find in the Minister's Amendments to this Bill that he repeats the definition of a premium in the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949, just exactly the same words, and it includes among other things any fine or other like sum and any other pecuniary consideration in addition to rent. Of course, this is not rent, this so-called rent we are considering, this back-dated rent, because it relates to no period at all. It is simply claimed in addition to rent. If ever there was any other pecuniary consideration this is what this seems to me to be.

If it is a premium it need not be called a premium. This definition of a premium is by no means new. We have had it in the 1949 Act. There have been numerous deciding cases under it. It is obvious from the language of the definition itself that there is no need to call it a premium; but, in substance, that is exactly what it is.

It follows from that that by virtue of Section 13 of the Rent Act, which applies the 1949 Act, the Minister is doing something which is illegal and which, as I understand it, is punishable on conviction by a fine. The law provides that the offence shall be requiring a premium and "requiring", as I understand it there, means no more than asking. Accordingly, as I understand the position, every landlord who asks or has asked for rent additional to the pre-decontrol rent and payable in respect of the period before the proposed agreement is finally concluded—I mean concluded in its terms, not necessarily in its formal expression—has been and is committing an offence and is making an illegal agreement, as I understand it.

I cannot agree with the advice which the right hon. Gentleman appears to have received that an agreement made in contravention of the law can be a valid agreement, and I therefore cannot agree with the conclusion which he draws as to the very limited effect of this business of back dating.

Let us just see where we are getting to. If in law this is the position, we have had a number of illegal and punishable agreements, invalid agreements, and there will be rights of recovery attaching to them, and there will be questions of proceedings to be taken. I very much regret that, though no doubt we shall be infallibly informed as to the law of Scotland, on an Amendment of this sort, which I should have thought quite clearly raises questions worthy of consideration, at any rate, under the law of England, there is no Law Officer of the Crown here; the more so when in Committee we did have the very valuable and useful attendance of the Solicitor-General.

I put the question which I have put to the Minister, and if the right hon. and learned Solicitor-General for Scotland would like to expound the Scottish law, of course we shall listen with interest, hoping—but without complete confidence—that it is necessarily the same in England. Invalid and illegal agreements are tricky things, at any rate in this country, but perhaps I ought to say no more about them in relation to Scotland. Perhaps the Romans did so much damage in this way, that Scots law is better capable of dealing with it than English law. I do not know. I should like an answer.

To make my point absolutely clear, may I say that the Clause, as drafted, assumes that requiring a premium and requiring back-dated rent are two different things. If the Clause is allowed to go through in that form, it will add weight to what I believe is the erroneous conclusion to which the right hon. Gentleman has already given some apparent support. Therefore, I suggest that the form of words in the Amendment, which, of course, applies only to this Bill, will avoid a disjunction between premiums and back-dated rent, and will treat back-dated rent as I believe it ought to be treated—as a premium.

In the absence of a Law Officer of the Crown, the right hon. Gentleman may get out of this by saying, "I am merely an innocent Minister. This is what I have been advised. I cannot tell the effect of it. This is the form of words that I have been told I should adopt." I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will do that. If he does, I say to him, as a Minister, that, apart from the precise language of this Amendment—I hope I am not getting out of order in saying this, I do not think I am—it is, in the ordinary understanding of people and on an ordinary moral view of the matter, just the same as demanding a premium if a landlord mulcts the tenant of a lot of additional money which is called rent from some period in the past. To the ordinary mind at any rate, whatever the strict legal position may be, the two things are equally reprehensible. If premiums are wrong, then back-dated rent is wrong, and there has been an enormous amount of this going on, so far as I can judge.

I was distressed to hear from an hon. Member, perhaps it was an hon. Member on this side of the House, that there were solicitors who said that this sort of thing was all right. Even if it is all right in law, it is much too close to the wind, if premiums are illegal, to let in this kind of thing and say the result is a valid agreement—and that is what the right hon. Gentleman is saying to us. He is saying that he has been advised that it does not affect the validity of the agreement. I cannot accept that, I earnestly hope, therefore, that we shall have from the right hon. Gentleman a full acceptance of his responsibility; a hasty summoning of a Law Officer of the Crown, and a pronouncement, preferably in chorus from the two of them, that agreements including back-dated rent are not only rather dirty work—because I think they are—but are also illegal; that this exposes landlords who ask for back-dated rent to prosecution, and that they must be stopped.

When the right hon. Gentleman says, "You must get professional advice about these things", I would remind him that a citizens' advice bureau is not quite as infallible as the Law Officer whose absence from this Chamber today we deplore. That is one possibility of advice. The other is that professional advice is not always infallible, as I think we gathered from what was said today about the previous Amendment; and that, moreover, it costs something. That is the real difficulty about it.

I very much regret that the provisions of that Section of the Legal Aid and Advice Act that would enable free advice to be given is not to be made available to the public until too late a date for the purposes of the Rent Act. We asked for it at a very early stage in the discussions on the Rent Act. I must not go too far on this subject or I shall be ruled out of order, but it has a connection with this Bill. It is quite clear that under the provisions of that Act legal advice would have been very useful indeed, had it been possible for the Government to make up their mind earlier and bring it in in time for these purposes.

Mrs. L. Jeger

I beg to second the Amendment.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) moved the Amendment with his usual professional and human acumen and there is little that needs to be added to what he has said. As a layman, may I say that by this Amendment we seek to establish that back-dating of rent demands constitutes a premium; that a premium is illegal and therefore that back-dating is illegal. It may be thought that the Minister came a little way to meet our objections about back-dating in his statement on 4th March. But he went out of his way then to say that, though such agreements would not be broken for standstill purposes under the Rent Act, in other respects they were valid. Surely that means that landlords making such demands, although they may trip up regarding the provisions of the Rent Act, are not exposed, as they should be, to the penalties of the law which attach to people who make outright demands for premiums as a condition for granting leases.

I assure the Minister that this is a widespread practice, and if he accepts the Amendment he will be helping a large number of people. As his own Amendment stands—many kind and welcoming words have been said about it today—by using the word "or" it differentiates between premiums and the demand for increased rent prior to the making of the proposal. Surely that differentiation gives an opportunity for unscrupulous people to exploit the position. Earlier the Minister was uncharitable to some people who have signed agreements which he described as unwise. Not all people who have signed the kind of agreements we are dealing with in this Amendment were unwise. Many of them sought professional advice even when they could not afford it; and, following that advice, agreements were signed.

What is the use of a solicitor telling a client that a demand for rent is outrageous, that back-dating is outrageous, but that if the tenant does not sign, the landlord can probably find another tenant who will sign, because the pressure for accommodation in places like Central London is so very high? I wish to clarify the position by mentioning the kind of case which in our view makes it so urgent that the Minister should accept the Amendment.

5.30 p.m.

An elderly gentleman of 75, taking the Minister's advice, contacted his solicitor. He was sent a draft agreement on 1st November, 1957. The agreement made severe demands and contained penal conditions. His solicitor, who said that the matter was difficult, took so long in arguing with the landlord's solicitor that the lease was not presented for the gentleman's signature until 1st March, 1958, when the tenant signed because, in his own words, he "could not stand the worry any longer," So from 1st March he accepted the increase of rent.

He has since heard from his solicitor—I emphasise this because the Minister appears to think that all tenants, however poor, should have a solicitor—who represented that the landlord now wanted the agreement to stand as from 29th September, 1957. I have said that the tenant received the draft agreement in November. The Minister will no doubt appreciate that his Amendment, together with his statement on 4th March, makes it clear that this is an improper demand and that the tenant would be right in refusing it. That would be my advice, but I would be prepared to go further and say that the landlord has committed an offence which should be as indictable as asking for money in a lump sum, but because we have not differentiated between the outright premium and a premium in the guise of back-dated rent, none of the landlords who do this thing can be held liable in a case such as I have described.

I commend the Amendment, because it applies not only to individual tenants but embodies a point of principle. We should have from the Minister a clarification of the vexed question of how to put a stop to the practices of which we complain. We have had much lip-service in this House against premiums, which have been deplored on both sides of the House and by responsible property owners, as well as by tenants. I am absolutely convinced that if the Minister accepted the Amendment it would in no way harm the Bill, and it would command assent in the House and the country.

Mr. Gower

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) suggested that the later words of the Minister's Amendment were redundant and unnecessary, and a form of circumlocution. I think I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has said that the best legal advice had been taken, which was that such payments did not constitute a premium, but I feel it is necessary for my right hon. Friend to get further advice.

It seems to me that this question will be decided ultimately in a court of law. I have an uneasy feeling that if criminal proceedings were brought against a person who had asked for such a payment and the case went to the Court of Appeal, the court might say that those payments were in fact a premium. I cannot see that they can be called rent. I cannot understand how they could be rent. As the hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out, the maximum rent permitted under the Rent Act is that which prevailed before the new proposal. Anything that is asked for or is accepted afterwards is bound to be something other than the permitted rent.

In the circumstances, I have an uneasy feeling that these payments answer the definition which was quoted by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering of "premium", as understood in a number of Acts of Parliament in recent years.

Mr. Mitchison

It comes out of Section 18 of the 1949 Act and occurs elsewhere in the statutes.

Mr. Gower

I really meant to say that. I hope that my right hon. Friend gets fresh legal advice on this point. Although he has had the best legal advice available to him, I respectfully suggest that the matter will be established officially only on appeal from a prosecution. It would be unfortunate if this matter were not clearly defined now.

Mr. H. Brooke

I hope the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger) will forgive me if I do not attempt to pronounce on the individual case she has cited. I must say, on the information which she has given, that if the agreement was signed on 1st March it sounds to me as though it is a lease purporting to commence on a date before its terms were actually agreed upon and before the date of my announcement. In that case it could not have the effect of breaking the standstill agreement and the landlord could not recover any increase of rent before 6th October this year. No doubt the particular case will be pursued elsewhere by the hon. Lady or by the tenant concerned.

My business now is to reply to the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) to my Amendment. I am afraid I have to tell him quite simply that his Amendment is purposeless. Its ostensible purpose is to have some modification of the working of Clause 3 (1, a) but in fact it would have no effect upon it at all. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) was on to that particular point or on another one. If the Amendment were made, it would make no difference whatever to the test which we are seeking to include as the first test in Clause 3. The real intention of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment is, I believe—

Mr. Mitchison

I am not certain. At first sight one is inclined to say "Yes" to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I doubt it. If the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's language is to treat back-dated rent not as a premium but as something else, although the premium is undoubtedly illegal, then the back-dated rent, although there may be other objections to it, is not illegal. That may be a very material point when we are considering what is reasonable and what is unreasonable.

Mr. Brooke

We are defining here the kind of offer which will not count before a court. At a later stage the court will have to examine whether the offers which count have been reasonable or unreasonable. The main intention of the Opposition's Amendment, as I understand it and as it was confirmed to me in the debate, is to try to use this passage in Clause 3 as a means of declaring that rent which the landlord is not entitled to recover under a back-dated lease is not rent but a premium, and that a landlord who is calling for such a payment is committing some offence under the premium provisions which, the House will remember, are applied under the 1949 Act to decontrolled tenancies for a period of three years, by Section 13 of the Rent Act. I must say to the hon. and learned Member that it really is not possible to amend the provisions of the 1949 Act and declare something to be a premium and extend the scope of a penal provision by a kind of side wind in this way.

Mr. Mitchison

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but I think he has misunderstood what we are doing. We are suggesting that the language of his Amendments amounts to a misdirection. We are not trying to enlarge the provisions of the 1949 Act, because that Act never contemplated either the Rent Act or this Measure. We are considering a set of circumstances which have arisen by reason of provisions in the Rent Act itself.

Mr. Brooke

What the hon. and learned Member is seeking to establish, I think, is that payment of back-dated rent under a new tenancy is not rent but a premium.

Mr. Mitchison

An illegal premium.

Mr. Brooke

To that I must say the the answer is no—back-dated rent under a new tenancy is not a premium.

Mr. Mitchison

A second rent?

Mr. Brooke

This is a complicated matter. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will allow me a minute or two to complete my argument. The kind of payment which is in question is irrecoverable by the landlord and the tenant can get it back if he has paid it—for instance, by a reduction from rent by invoking subsection (1) of Section 14 of the Rent Act, 1920. That subsection enables a tenant to get back overpayments of rent and is applied for the purposes of the Rent Act, 1957, by paragraph 1 of the Sixth Schedule to that Act. That is the position. That is the remedy for a tenant who has overpaid rent to which the landlord was not entitled.

There is no question that rent overpaid, to which the landlord is not entitled under the Rent Acts, is not a premium. The hon. and learned Member referred forward to the further Amendment on the Paper to Clause 5, in which we repeat the phrase saying that a premium includes any fine or like sum or any other pecuniary consideration in addition to rent. This cannot be "in addition to rent" when it has been asked for as rent. We cannot treat the same sum of money in two different ways in the same context. I perfectly appreciate what the hon. Lady desires, as I know from cases she has brought from her constituency. It is to establish by an Amendment to this Measure that a landlord who has sought to back-date an increase of rent has been guilty of a criminal act and may be treated as though he has been seeking an illegal premium.

It is certainly not the intention of the Government to re-interpret the 1949 Act in this Bill. The position as to these back-dated rents has been quite clearly stated—as clearly as I am capable—in this House. There is nothing whatever that can commend to a landlord this idea of back dating a rent. Certainly if the advice I have received is correct he can only lose by trying it on. There is no inducement whatever to him to do it. My Amendment is drafted as it is—I say this in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Barry—in order to make sure that the proper distinction is made between a tenancy to be granted at a premium and a tenancy requiring the payment of increased rent in respect of any period before the date on which the proposal was made.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

If the back-dated rent, in the Minister's own words, is not a legal demand and therefore is an illegal demand, can it properly be called rent? Is not it some other monetary consideration?

Mr. Brooke

No, it must be called rent. It is asked for as rent. It is sought as rent and the law enables the tenant to get it back as an overpayment of rent. There is no dubiety about the matter at all. Nor is there any inducement whatever in the law to a landlord to try to obtain money in this way. If he does so, according to the best advice available to me, he is bound to lose by his action. In that case, I can only go back to the beginning of my speech and say that this Amendment to the Amendment is in fact purposeless.

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Lewisham, North)

As I understand the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, there is no harm done here because, if the landlord recovers so-called back rent in this way, the tenant can get it back under the provisions of the 1920 Act. That surely applies only in respect of a period in which the property is subject to control under the 1920 Act. That protection will cease for all properties we are considering here on 6th October, this year. So, for any agreement entered into after 6th October, any demand for so-called back-dated rent beyond 6th October cannot be recovered under the provisions of the 1920 Act.

Mr. Brooke

I think the hon. Member will find that if any such agreement has been entered into which back-dates the increased rent to a date before the agreement was actually made, that increased rent is irrecoverable from the first period when it was paid up to 6th October, 1958.

Mr. MacDermot

Only then but not after.

Mr. Page

I am profoundly disturbed by what my right hon. Friend has said, that back-dated rent is not a premium. I feel there must be some misunderstanding about this. There must be occasions when it is proper to claim rent for a period before the date of a signed agreement. There can, of course, be a verbal agreement for a three years' lease. The landlord and the tenant, the owner and the occupier, may have come to a verbal agreement two or three months ago. It may have taken that time for the agreement to be drawn up by their respective legal advisers.

Then it would be permissible to date the rent back to the time of the verbal agreement, but if it goes back beyond that date it can only be something additional to the permitted rent under the Rent Acts. I am now talking only about the period before 6th October next. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) raised another point when talking about the period after 6th October, but in the period up to 6th October if a claim is made to anything more than the permitted rent under the Rent Act, it must be an additional sum of money—additional to rent, whatever it may be called—and come within the definition of premiums, both in Section 8 of the 1949 Act and the definition in this Bill.

An owner demanding money of this sort may call it anything he likes. He may call it key money, pin money, a premium or whatever he likes, but nevertheless, it is an additional sum to the rent he is permitted to charge while the Rent Act is in operation. Therefore, if he is back-dating to a date before a verbal agreement, which is then embodied in a written agreement, I do not see how it can be anything else than a premium.

This debate on the Amendment to my right hon. Friend's Amendment seems to me only to stress the point which I endeavoured to make earlier that the House would be in error in allowing the latter part of my right hon. Friend's Amendment to go through as it stands. I am not happy that the Opposition Amendment would put it right. I only hope that this matter might be looked at again and that all mention of premium and back-dated rent in the Clause should be left out. If an explanatory provision is required on premiums and back-dated rent, it could be included as a separate Clause. In that way, it could be drawn to the attention of the owners and occupiers and those who advise them and the matter made clear. I feel, however, that to include it in subsection (1) will cause the greatest possible confusion.

Mr. Mitchison

I regard the Minister's reply as quite unsatisfactory. He has appreciated the main point that we desired to raise by the Amendment. I cannot accept the proposition that a payment must be rent because one calls it rent and, therefore, it cannot be a premium. It was to that somewhat remarkable proposition that the right hon. Gentleman appeared to commit himself. If there is even this doubt about the matter, I should have thought that the better plan was not to leave it to the uncertainties and the expense of litigation, but to make the matter clear, as the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has suggested, if need be, in a separate Clause. I regret the form in which the question has arisen today, but as I see it, having regard to the right hon. Gentleman's contentions and the opinion that he has accepted, and having regard to the regrettable absence of the English Law Officers, I can only advise my hon. Friends to divide on the Amendment.

Mr. MacDermot rose

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I think the hon. Member has already spoken.

Mr. MacDermot

I only made an intervention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by asking the Minister to clarify a point before he sat down. It certainly was not intended to be a speech. If I may have leave to address the House a second time, in case my first intervention was thought to have taken the form of a speech, I should like to make two points, one of form and one of substance. The Minister has not faced up to either point. The one of form is the question whether there is any real doubt as to the definition of "premium" in the 1949 Act. The Minister has been advised by his legal advisers that there is not. I assure him that among many legal authorities there is real doubt on this point. I know this personally, because when we were considering earlier the effect of one of the provisions in the 1957 Act, together with some of my friends I had occasion to consult the leading authorities at the Bar on the law of landlord and tenant on this very point and was unable to get any firm and definite opinion expressed. There is real doubt about this point. If the Minister feels that this is not the right place to clear it up, surely it is a matter on which the House should take the opportunity of expressing its view and not leave it to the hazards of litigation.

As I understand it, there is general agreement on both sides of the House that this is a highly undesirable practice. Does the Minister agree with that? He would appear to do so, because he urges people that they need not worry if they enter into agreements providing for this back-payment of rent, because they can then recover it. The right hon. Gentleman now admits, I understand, that that is valid only up to 6th October this year. If he and the Government agree, apparently, with the whole of the rest of the House that it is undesirable, will he not take the opportunity to make the necessary Amendment to the Bill at a later stage to clear up the point of doubt?

The real question, surely, goes further than that. Let us suppose that the proposal which is being considered in the Minister's Amendment is not rejected but is accepted by the tenant. Suppose that the tenant agrees to pay back rent and suppose that we are concerned here with an agreement which is made, say, next Christmas and is dated back to 6th October this year. Does the Minister think it right that the landlord in those circumstances should be able to recover a so-called back rent and get what to everyone else appears to be a premium in that way?

If the Minister does not think it right, the wording that he has chosen for his Amendment will ensure that whatever doubt there may have been before in interpreting the Bill the courts are bound to treat that as not being a premium, because it is clearly distinguished on this wording from a premium for the purposes of the Bill. The position, therefore, will be worse than it was before. Far from any doubt which might have existed being cleared up, the Minister is favouring the landlord in trying to extort this kind of back payment from the tenant to 6th October this year. I urge the Minister to look at the position again. If he persists in his obstinacy, he will be leading to a result which I doubt whether even he wishes to bring about.

Mr. Willis

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) suggested that the Scottish interpretation of the position might be rather different from the interpretation in England. I wonder whether we could have the advice of the Solicitor-General for Scotland on this matter. We are entitled to this, because a question was raised about it and the right hon. and learned Gentleman made no effort to reply to it.

Secondly, I should like to know whether the same confusion and shoddiness of thought concerning this matter applies in Scotland as it does in England. If so, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will at least look at it. It is not good enough to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister to look at it for us. We want the Department of the Solicitor-General for Scotland to look at it. Can we have a word or two from him about this matter?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I will reply as briefly as I can to the points raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). As I understand the law, it is no different on this point in Scotland from what it is in England, but not being an expert on English law I cannot speak with 100 per cent. confidence.

As I understand it, the law is that there is a difference between a premium and an overcharge of rent. It has been stated by an eminent English judge—I think, Mr. Justice Slade—that there is nothing unlawful in letting controlled premises at a rent in excess of the legally recoverable rent. A landlord simply cannot recover the excess and, if he accepts the excess, he may be called upon to refund it. That is the case where an excess rent is charged, as in the case of a rent which is back-dated at a sum in excess of the rent which was legally payable.

Mr. Mitchison

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will, I am sure, realise that there is all the difference in the world between an excessive rent payable from week to week and an agreement which provides for what is called rent backwards, as it were, which results in that case in a lump sum payment being then and there payable by the tenant to the landlord on the entirely false assumption that there was an underpayment of rent in the past.

6.0 p.m.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

In these cases, the rent, in fact, may be payable in a lump sum—it depends on the circumstances. The rent, as happens in Scotland, may be paid six-monthly in arrears—and I have come across cases where the rent is back dated, or attempted to be back dated for four months—and the increased rent would merely be payable at the due legal date. I can see no difference in law whether the rent is paid in arrear or in advance.

The position in regard to rent that is charged excessively—an excessive rent—is that the excess is recoverable, but there is no criminal offence in the landlord accepting that excessive rent. The case of premium is different, because not only is it possible for the tenant to recover the premium he has paid, but it is also a criminal offence for the landlord to require it or to receive it. If the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) were accepted, for the first time, it would be a criminal offence for landlord to accept or demand an excessive rent, as against the case where what is demanded is an excessive premium, and I would suggest that the two matters are entirely different.

Mr. Janner

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman really saying that if a person demands a sum of money knowing it to be not in accordance with the amount of rent which he is entitled to charge, he is entitled in those circumstances to call it rent; and that if he does—even though it might not be possible to get it in court, or even though it might be possible for it to be recovered by the tenant—all he has to do is to call the premium a rent and consequently he will be free from any penalty? That is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

No, with respect, that is not quite what I say. One can, of course, look at the

true nature of the transaction, but if one is faced with a rent at £x a month then, on the face of it, it is rental and, as I have said, the law, since 1920, at any rate, has been that if an excessive rent is charged that is not a premium and it is not a criminal offence.

Question put, That "or requiring" stand part of the proposed Amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 215, Noes 163.

Division No. 163.] AYES [6.3 p.m.
Agnew, Sir Peter Gibson-Watt, D. Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)
Aitken, W. T. Glyn, Col. Richard H. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Alport, C. J. M. Goodhart, Philip Maddan, Martin
Arbuthnot, John Gough, C. F. H. Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Armstrong, G. W. Gower, H. R. Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)
Ashton, H. Grant, W. (Woodside) Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Atkins, H. E. Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Marlowe, A. A. H.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Grimond, J. Marshall, Douglas
Baldwin, A. E. Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Mathew, R.
Barber, Anthony Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.
Barter, John Gurden, Harold Mawby, R. L.
Batsford, Brian Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Harris, Reader (Heston) Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Bennett, Dr. Reginald Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Nabarro, G. D. N.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Nairn, D. L. S.
Bidgood, J. C. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Henderson-Stewart, Sir James Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Noble, M. A. C. (Argyll)
Bishop, F. P. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Nugent, G. R. H.
Black, C. W. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Body, R. F. Hirst, Geoffrey Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Bonham Carter, Mark Holland-Martin, C. J. Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Hornby, R. P. Osborne, C.
Boyle, Sir Edward Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Braine, B. R. Horobin, Sir Ian Peyton, J. W. W.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Howard, John (Test) Pitman, I. J.
Brooman-White, R. C. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Pitt, Miss E. M.
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.) Pott, H. P.
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Hyde, Montgomery Powell, J. Enoch
Burden, F. F. A. Iremonger, T. L. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Profumo, J. D.
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Ramsden, J. E.
Campbell, Sir David Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Rawlinson, Peter
Cary, Sir Robert Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Redmayne, M.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Cole, Norman Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Renton, D. L. M.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green) Ridsdale, J. E.
Cooper, A. E. Joseph, Sir Keith Rippon, A. G. F.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Keegan, D. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Kerby, Capt. H. B. Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Kerr, Sir Hamilton Roper, Sir Harold
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Kershaw, J. A. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Cunningham, Knox Kirk, P. M. Russell, R. S.
Currie, G. B. H. Leather, E. H. C. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Dance, J. C. G. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Sharples, R. C.
Deedes, W. F. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Shepherd, William
Digby, Simon Wingfield Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Linstead, Sir H. N. Spearman, Sir Alexander
Drayson, G. B. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Speir, R. M.
du Cann, E. D. L. Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
Elliott, H. W. (Ne'castle upon Tyne, N.) Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Stevens, Geoffrey
Fell, A. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick) Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Finlay, Graeme Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Fisher, Nigel McAdden, S. J. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Foster, John Macdonald, Sir Peter Storey, S.
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) McKibbin, Alan Studholme, Sir Henry
Freeth, Denzil Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Gammans, Lady Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley) Temple, John M.
Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Thompson, Kenneth (Walton) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.) Wall, Patrick Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P. Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester) Wood, Hon. R.
Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold Woollam, John Victor
Tilney, John (Wavertree) Webbe, Sir H. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H. Webster, David
Vane, W. M. F. Whitelaw, W. S. I. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Vickers, Miss Joan Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.) Mr. Oakshott and
Mr. Chichester-Clark.
Ainsley, J. W. Herbison, Miss M. Popplewell, E.
Albu, A. H. Holman, P. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Houghton, Douglas Probert, A. R.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Proctor, W. T.
Allen, Scholefield (Crcwe) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Bacon, Miss Alice Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Randall, H. E.
Balfour, A. Hunter, A. E. Redhead, E. C.
Benson, Sir George Hynd, H. (Accrington) Reid, William
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Reynolds, G. W.
Blackburn, F. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Rhodes, H.
Blenkinsop, A. Janner, B. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Blyton, W. R. Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Bowles, F. G. Johnson, James (Rugby) Royle, C.
Boyd, T. C. Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Brockway, A. F. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Skeffington, A. M.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) King, Dr. H. M. Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Lawson, G. M. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Sorensen, R. W.
Champion, A. J. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Chapman, W. D. Sparks, J. A.
Chetwynd, G. R. Lindgren, G. S. Spriggs, Leslie
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) Logan, D. G. Steele, T.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) McCann, J. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Cronin, J. D. MacColl, J. E. Stonehouse, John
Crossman, R. H. S. MacDermot, Niall Stones, W. (Consett)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. McGhee, H. G. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) McInnes, J. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
de Freitas, Geoffrey McLeavy, Frank Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Delargy, H. J. Mahon, Simon Sylvester, G. O.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.) Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Tomney, F.
Messer, Sir F. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W) Mikardo, Ian Viant, S. P.
Fernyhough, E. Mitchison, G. R. Warbey, W. N.
Finch, H. J. Monslow, W. Weitzman, D.
Fitch, E. A. Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.) Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Moss, R. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Moyle, A. West, D. G.
Greenwood, Anthony Mulley, F. W. Wheeldon, W. E.
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Orbach, M. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Grey, C. F. Oswald, T. Willey, Frederick
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Owen, W. J. Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Padley, W. E. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Hale, Leslie Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Woof, R. E.
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Hamilton, W. W. Parker, J. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Hannan, W. Parkin, B. T. Zilliacus, K.
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Paton, John
Hastings, S. Pearson, A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Healey, Denis Pentland, N. Mr. Simmons and Mr. Deer.
Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Plummer, Sir Leslie

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.

Mr. Bevins

I beg to move, in page 4, line 31, to leave out from "he" to "to" in line 32 and to insert: has failed, after making such efforts as were reasonable in the circumstances,". This Amendment concerns subsection (1, b), which lays down the second test which the occupier has to satisfy—that he has tried to obtain other appropriate accommodation and has not been able to do so. In the Bill as it stands, the wording provides that the occupier must satisfy the court that he is unable, after taking all reasonable steps for that purpose, to obtain other appropriate accommodation.

The House will remember that on Second Reading, and also, I think, in the Standing Committee, some concern was expressed whether this wording did not put too great a responsibility upon the occupier. It was felt by some hon. Members that the wording might allow the occupier to be faulted if it could be shown that any particular step, which, in itself, was reasonable, had not been taken; if, for example, the occupier had omitted to seek the help or guidance of a particular estate agent.

My right hon. Friend gave an undertaking to look at this matter again. This Amendment now makes it clear that the tenant or occupier will satisfy the second test in Clause 3 if he can show that he has failed to obtain other appropriate accommodation, after making such efforts as were reasonable in the circumstances. That has to be considered against the background of subsection (3), which, as the House knows, provides that in considering whether this condition, amongst others, has been fulfilled, regard shall be had to the age and means of the occupier and any disability from which he may suffer.

I think the House will agree that this is a much looser form of definition than we had in the Bill at an earlier stage. It is more favourable to the occupier than the previous definition, and I therefore commend it to the House.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. J. Silverman

We on this side of the House certainly welcome the concession made by this Amendment in response to the arguments we put forward in the Committee. This is a considerable advance and is an intelligent way of dealing with the matter. Obviously, to expect a man to go round all the estate agents of Birmingham, for instance, searching for a rented property would be sheer futility. In those circumstances, I think that the proposed words are a reasonable way of dealing with the matter. We certainly accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. H. Brooke

I beg to move, in page 4, line 34, to leave out from "that" to "and" in line 41, and to insert: all rent due in respect of the period from the date referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of section one of this Act (or, in so far as the amount of the rent payable in respect of that period has not been determined a reasonable sum in respect of that rent) has been paid or tendered to the owner". This Amendment is a rewording of subsection (1, c), which incurred some criticism in Committee. The Government sought to meet that criticism by putting down this Amendment, and there is a further Amendment to which we shall come later, the second Amendment in page 5, line 48, to insert the new subsection (5).

This Amendment is mainly drafting. It tightens up and shortens the wording of the previous text. It also takes out the awkward reference to the rent due "down to the date of hearing." The presence of those words in the Bill might give the impression that the occupier would have to pay rent for the period between the last rent day and the actual date of the hearing—presumably calculated pro rata on the amount due for a normal rental period—in cases where these dates did not coincide. By omitting these words, it is now made clear, by the Amendment, that the occupier need have paid only what was due up to and including the last rent day.

The Amendment further removes the implication in the former wording that rent could be due even though the amount of such rent had not been ascertained. I think that perhaps the more important questions arise on the second Amendment, and that this is really a drafting one.

Mr. Mitchison

As the right hon. Gentleman has said, this Amendment, by itself, is little more than a drafting Amendment. It removes a provision which, though of a minor character, was so apparently harsh in its nature that we took strong objection to it—the provision, apparently, that with an ordinary weekly tenancy, if the case happened to be heard on a Wednesday, somebody should sit down and work out a reasonable sum for the amount due from the previous Saturday. That was a bit stingy, to put it mildly.

Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill, put and negatived.

Question proposed, That the proposed words be there inserted in the Bill.

Mr. MacDermot

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, at the end to add: or that his failure to pay or tender any such rent has not been due to his wilful default or culpable neglect". I hope that I may be allowed to refer briefly to the later Government Amendment to which the Minister referred, as both this and that Amendment deal with the same point, and it is difficult to discuss the matter intelligently without comparing the respective merits of the two Amendments.

The point with which both Amendments seek to deal is this. Under the Bill as it stands and under the proposed Government Amendment, one of the qualifying provisions which the occupier will have to satisfy the court about before he can get any relief under the Bill is to show that he has paid or tendered all rent which is due up to the time of the hearing of the application. It was pointed out that, as experience has shown, there will quite frequently be cases where a person may fall temporarily into arrears of rent through no fault of his own. It may happen through sickness or temporary redundancy in employment. There are many factors which can lead a person into temporary financial difficulties so that he falls into arrears with his rent. Clearly, if this circumstance should happen to prevail at the time of the hearing it would be most unjust that the applicant should be debarred from any relief.

It is for that purpose, amongst others, that the Government are proposing to introduce later the Amendment to which the Minister has referred. The way in which that Amendment proposes to deal with the situation is to give an unfettered discretion to the court, if it thinks fit, to grant a suspension of execution notwithstanding that there are arrears of rent, but subject to the proviso that any arrears of rent must be paid within 28 days.

The Amendment which I am now moving approaches the matter rather differently and proposes that if the applicant—that is the tenant, the occupier, to use the strict term—is able to satisfy the court that his failure to pay or tender any such rent has not been due to any wilful default or culpable neglect on his part, then, not as a matter of discretion on the part of the judge, but as a matter of right, he will have satisfied the conditions relating to the payment of rent. We feel that if he can establish these things he ought as of right to be able to make his application.

Secondly, we do not think it right to limit the discretion of the judge in a matter of this kind by compelling him to order payment of the arrears within 28 days. Those who have experience of this kind of case know that there are times when, again without any culpable neglect or wilful default, a person can get into arrears in circumstances where it will not be practicable for him to pay off the arrears within a certain period, bearing in mind that he is still going to have his liability for the current rent to pay.

That is a further reason why we suggest that this Amendment is preferable to the Government Amendment, to meet what I think everybody agrees is a problem that has got to be met.

Mr. Janner

I beg to second the Amendment.

One of the main reasons, apart from the cogent reasons expressed by my hon. Friend, for accepting this Amendment is the fact that most people do not know what the tender of rent really means. The average person believes that the landlord has got to call for the rent and that, if the rent is there for the landlord, that is the end of the matter. As the position stands, everybody engaged in the law knows that that is not sufficient for the purpose of tender. Consequently, as the position stands at present, a person might put the rent aside for some time, might find himself in a very awkward position financially for a period, might take—and very often does; this is a practical point—a part of the rent for the purpose of meeting current expenses, but, nevertheless, has a part of the rent still left for the landlord to call for.

It is important, in a case of that sort, that it should not be within the discretion of the court; and it certainly should not be a matter for the court to have to order a person to pay the arrears within 28 days. What we are asking for is very much more reasonable. There has been no guilt on the part of the person who has not paid the rent. He has either not been in a position to pay it, or some other circumstance has arisen whereby he has been unable to comply, or he may have failed because he did not know the legal position relating to the tender of rent.

I know of people—I am sure that many other lawyers here know them—who have to send their rent by post after it has been collected year after year by the landlord personally. The landlord suddenly decides that he will make difficulties for the tenant. Many tenants do not know the legal position and they do not take advice; they are merely told that they have to send the rent by post, and it is very awkward for them.

We must take these matters into consideration. The Minister will, no doubt, recollect that matters as they stand enable the court from time to time to reconsider the question of execution. The court can vary an order. An order against a tenant for the payment of a certain sum of the arrears week by week or month by month may be varied by the court. It would be unreasonable for an opportunity of that sort to be taken from the tenant, and I am sure the Minister would not want it done. If he does not want it done he should accept this Amendment, which is reasonable. It is proper that unless a tenant has been guilty of withholding the rent intentionally for an untoward reason he should be protected.

Mr. H. Brooke

As has been indicated, the subsection which is sought to be amended is one to which some attention was given in Committee, and the Government have already shown their anxiety to review the wording by the main Amendment which I moved a few minutes ago. I remember saying in Committee that I would undertake to examine everything that had been said on both sides of the Committee on that point.

On the question whether somebody has made an innocent mistake or a slip-up, though I did not promise to introduce any words which would make allowances for temporary difficulties, in fact we have been better than our word. We have gone beyond making provision for the simple case of an innocent mistake such as has been instanced. I think the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) had some special cases in mind, perhaps where the occupier did not have the precise amount in coin, or the landlord refused a cheque, or something like that.

After consideration, we decided that much the wisest way of dealing with this matter was not to leave it as it stood, not to rely on the probability that, in such a case, the county court judge would adjourn the hearing, or, perhaps, permit the rent to be paid correctly in court; but rather to introduce the Amendment, in page 5, line 48, which would give the county court judge discretion to permit a period of up to twenty-eight days during which the correct rent could be paid. It seemed to us that that would meet all the genuine types of difficult case which were referred to in Committee. It completely covers cases where there is some innocent mistake, where the occupier has not got the right amount of money with him, has left it behind, or something like that. It covers the case of a man who happens to be out of work that week and cannot conveniently find the rent. It gives the county court judge discretion to allow twenty-eight days for the payment of the correct amount.

6.30 p.m.

The Amendment now proposed by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) goes a good deal further. It really says, in effect, that if the failure to pay the rent has not been due to wilful default or culpable neglect, it does not really matter when the rent is paid at all. We certainly could not accept that sort of view. It really would be quite inconsistent with the whole principle of the Bill if the Bill were to allow an occupier to have the benefit of its provisions if he failed to pay the rent due even within twenty-eight days of the matter coming before the court.

Those are the reasons why I cannot advise the House to accept the hon. Gentleman's Amendment. I trust that he will take it from me that we, for our part, have made a genuine effort to meet what seemed to us to be the substantial points raised in Committee. I am grateful for the spirit in which the main Amendment which he is now seeking to amend has been received.

Mr. J. Silverman

Whilst the Minister's Amendment is a concession, it does not, in our opinion, go far enough. We can conceive of all sorts of cases in which the four weeks' grace will not do. We are here dealing with people, many of whom are of modest means. There may be temporary illness or unemployment. There may be some mistake on account of which a few weeks' rent is owing. Why should the period be rigidly tied to four weeks, with the result that, perhaps, if the tenant can find the money in five or six weeks he will not be able to have the exemption? It appears to be quite unreasonable.

Already, in subsection (5, b), the court retains its power, which it has under the principal Acts, to evict for non-payment of rent. That is entirely a matter of discretion for the court. We thought that that was sufficient to deal with the case of non-payment of rent, because the court already has power, if there is some rent owing, to exercise that discretion. If it decides, in the circumstances, that it is unreasonable that the rent should be owing, it can make an order for possession. It is not true to say that, if a tenant simply proves a lack of culpability, the court cannot make an order. The court can still make an order under subsection (5, b), if, in its discretion, it deems it right so to do.

We feel that it would be reasonable for the Minister to accept the Amendment to his Amendment, with the result that the additional powers given under this Bill would be used only in the case of culpability or neglect on the part of the occupier. If there is a lot of rent owing, and the court thinks that the tenant ought not to remain in possession on that account, it can exercise its discretion. We feel that that is enough to cover any cases beyond any question of culpability or neglect.

Mr. Mitchison

What the right hon. Gentleman undertook in Committee to do was to cover cases of innocent mistake or what he called "slipping up". At that time, there was no question of a limit of twenty-eight days. He was just to look at the matter. What he is refusing now to do is to cover everything up to the point of culpable neglect or wilful default, and, in return, to give a discretion to the court up to twenty-eight days.

If this were a case simply of the right to recover rent, if it were even a question of forfeiting leases or something of that sort, I am bound to say that I should look at it rather differently. However, we are considering here the case of an occupier who can show, roughly speaking, that he cannot find anywhere else to go, that he has not refused any reasonable proposal made by the landlord, and that it would be a greater hardship on him to be turned out than it would be on the owner if he were to stay for the time being.

All we are considering, therefore, is temporary relief for a matter of months in cases of hardship, where people are to be turned out with nowhere else to go. In these circumstances, I feel that the non-payment of rent, unless it is a wilful non-payment, really falls into a different category. It becomes, comparatively speaking, a matter of minor importance. I feel, therefore, that the Minister's proposal—we have not come to it yet, of course, and cannot consider it in detail—does not go far enough. There is nothing wrong with what is proposed here. There will not be any substantial injustice on landlords from extending the provision as to slipping up and innocent mistake a little further, as is proposed now. I, therefore, would advise my hon. Friends to support the Amendment and, if necessary, carry it to a Division.

Mr. Page

I understand, from the speeches which have been made, Mr. Speaker, that you are permitting us to refer to the second Amendment in page 5, line 48. The main Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend and the Amendment to it which the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) can be considered with it.

These Amendments arose, as I understand, from the debate in Committee, when it was pointed out that the word "tender" had a narrow technical, legal meaning, and that it would be hard and even harsh to require a tenant to carry out the formalities of legal tender before he could ask for relief under the Section. I do not propose to go into the details of that again, but, as I understand it, that is the case that my right hon. Friend wants to meet in his Amendment and which would be defeated if the Amendment to the Amendment were accepted.

This proposal goes much too far into the general law of landlord and tenant. The Amendment to the Amendment proposes to make a substantial alteration in the general law. It asks that the landlord shall permit or the court shall force upon the landlord a tenant who is in arrear, even in substantial arrear, with his rent. There may be many occasions less than wilful default or culpable neglect when a tenant shall not be permitted to continue in occupation without paying his rent.

Mr. J. Silverman

Surely, as I pointed out, the court in those cases already has power under subsection (5, b) of the Rent Act to deal with the matter.

Mr. Page

Yes. That is what I was endeavouring to say. There are sufficient powers for the court to deal with the proper case without introducing an entirely new principle to the effect that the tenant, unless he is culpably neglectful or wilfully in default, can remain in occupation with his rent in arrears. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist the Amendment to the Amendment.

Mr. Weitzman

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) seems to have misconceived the position entirely. He started by saying that this was a concession to something that he had said about tender. As I understood, this was a concession to a number of points which were raised in Committee dealing with innocent mistakes, and so on, which go further than the point about tender.

I do not see the objection to the Amendment. If the hon. Member for Crosby looks again at subsection (5, b) he will find that in the case of nonpayment of rent by the occupier it is open to the court at any time to say that the occupier will not be allowed to remain there. Therefore, that power exists in the court all the time, and to suggest that, because a tenant has not paid the rent and continues not to pay the rent, the owner is thereby deprived of the opportunity of getting possession of the premises is entirely wrong.

It is true that the Minister has gone a long way regarding a number of concessions, but one has to remember that before the occupier can successfully resist the application made by the owner for possession he has to satisfy the conditions set out in paragraphs (a), (b) and (d) of subsection (1). Under paragraph (c), if a person is unable to pay or tender the rent because of unfortunate circumstances and he shows, the onus being upon him, that the failure is due to no wilful default or culpable neglect on his part, the court shall have regard to it.

The Minister, in introducing the Bill, said that it was to deal specifically with cases of hardship and where there is clearly a case of hardship it is right to ask the Minister to go a little further and accept the Amendment.

Mr. A. Evans

I am surprised that the Minister has not agreed to accept the Amendment. I am sure he will agree that this does not involve a new principle, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). We are not dealing with a departure from existing practice, but with what discretion the court shall have in difficult cases.

Throughout the Bill the Minister has placed upon the court the interpretation of what is reasonable and just in any given circumstance. We ask, by the Amendment, that he should give the power of interpretation to the court in difficult borderline cases where the tenant or occupier is in real difficulty in paying the rent. We are dealing with cases in which there have been increases of rent. The rent has been increased in most cases to twice the gross value, which means that the occupier has to find additional rent. That will present a difficulty for many occupiers.

It may be that in many cases the increased rent which the occupier will have to pay will be partly paid by sub-tenants. The need to arrange with those subtenants what their proportion of the increased rent shall be will necessarily take some time. Again, time is needed in the case of people who are on National Assistance and who have to inform the Board as to their liability for increased rent. It seems to me that on the whole, apart from being a matter of principle, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Crosby, it is a matter of discretion of the court, and, remembering the discretion which the Minister has given the court in questions of what is reasonable and unreasonable in the Bill, one would have thought that this further discretion to the court would have been in line with the general practice that the Minister has embodied in the Bill.

Question put, That those words be there added to the proposed Amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 181, Noes 214.

Division No. 164.] AYES [6.47 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Hamilton, W. W. Parkin, B. T.
Albu, A. H. Hannan, W. Paton, John
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Pearson, A.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Hastings, S. Pentland, N.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Healey, Denis Plummer, Sir Leslie
Awbery, S. S. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Popplewell, E.
Bacon, Miss Alice Herbison, Miss M. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Balfour, A. Holman, P. Probert, A. R.
Benson, Sir George Houghton, Douglas Proctor, W. T.
Beswick, Frank Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Howell, Denis (All Saints) Randall, H. E.
Blackburn, F. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Redhead, E. C.
Blenkinsop, A. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Reid, William
Blyton, W. R. Hunter, A. E. Reynolds, G. W.
Boardman, H. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Rhodes, H.
Bonham Carter, Mark Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Janner, B. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Royle, C.
Bowles, F. G. Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Boyd, T. C. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson, James (Rugby) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Brockway, A. F. Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Skeffington, A. M.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Burton, Miss F. E. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Sorensen, R. W.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Castle, Mrs. B. A. King, Dr. H. M. Sparks, J. A.
Champion, A. J. Lawson, G. M. Spriggs, Leslie
Chapman, W. D. Ledger, R. J. Steele, T.
Chetwynd, G. R. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Coldrick, W. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Stonehouse, John
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Stones, W. (Consett)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Lindgren, G. S. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhali)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Logan, D. G. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Cronin, J. D. McCann, J. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Crossman, R. H. S. MacColl, J. E. Sylvester, G. O.
Cullen, Mrs. A. MacDermot, Niall Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. McGhee, H. G. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) McInnes, J. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
de Freitas, Geoffrey McLeavy, Frank Tomney, F.
Delargy, H. J. Mahon, Simon Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Diamond, John Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Viant, S. P.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Warbey, W. N.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Messer, Sir F. Weitzman, D.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Mikarde, Ian Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Mitchison, G. R. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Fernyhough, E. Monslow, W. West, D. G.
Finch, H. J. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Wheeldon, W. E.
Fitch, E. A. Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.) White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Fletcher, Eric Mort, D. L. Willey, Frederick
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Moss, R. Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Gibson, C. W. Moyle, A. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Orbach, M. Winterbottom, Richard
Greenwood, Anthony Oswald, T. Woof, R. E.
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Owen, W. J. Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Grey, C. F. Padley, W. E. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Zilliacus, K.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Grimond, J. Pargiter, G. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Hale, Leslie Parker, J. Mr. Simmons and Mr. Deer.
Agnew, Sir Peter Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Butcher, Sir Herbert
Aitken, W. T. Bidgood, J. C. Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)
Alport, C. J. M. Biggs-Davison, J. A. Campbell, Sir David
Arbuthnot, John Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Cary, Sir Robert
Armstrong, C. W. Bishop, F. P. Chichester-Clark, R.
Ashton, H. Black, C. W. Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)
Atkins, H. E. Body, R. F. Cole, Norman
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Conant, Maj. Sir Roger
Baldwin, A. E. Boyle, Sir Edward Cooper, A. E.
Balniel, Lord Braine, B. R. Corfield, Capt. F. V.
Barber, Anthony Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)
Barter, John Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.
Batsford, Brian Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)
Baxter, Sir Beverley Brooman-White, R. C. Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Cunningham, Knox
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Currie, G. B. H.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald Burden, F. F. A. Dance, J. C. G.
Deedes, W. F. Keegan, D. Powell, J. Enoch
Digby, Simon Wingfield Kerby, Capt. H. B. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Kerr, Sir Hamilton Ramsden, J. E.
Drayson, G. B. Kershaw, J. A. Rawlinson, Peter
du Cann, E. D. L. Kirk, P. M. Redmayne, M.
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Langford-Holt, J. A. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Fell, A. Leather, E. H. C. Renton, D. L. M.
Finlay, Graeme Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Ridsdale, J. E.
Fisher, Nigel Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Rippon, A. G. F.
Foster, John Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Robertson, Sir David
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Linstead, Sir H. N. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Freeth, Denzil Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Gammans, Lady Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Garner-Evans, E. H. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Russell, R. S.
George, J. C. (Pollok) Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick) Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.
Glover, D. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Glyn, Col. Richard H. McAdden, S. J. Sharples, R. C.
Goodhart, Philip Macdonald, Sir Peter Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Gower, H. R. McKibbin, Alan Spearman, Sir Alexander
Grant, W. (Woodside) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Speir, R. M.
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley) Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Macpherson, Niall (Dumtries) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Gurden, Harold Maddan, Martin Storey, S.
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Studholme, Sir Henry
Harris, Reader (Heston) Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Temple, John M.
Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Markham, Major Sir Frank Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Marlowe, A. A. H. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Marshall, Douglas Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)
Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Mathew, R. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Henderson-Stewart, Sir James Maudling, Rt. Hon. R. Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Hesketh, R. F. Mawby, R. L. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh Vane, W. M. F.
Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Morrison, John (Salisbury) Vickers, Miss Joan
Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Hirst, Geoffrey Nabarro, G. D. N. Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek
Holland-Martin, C. J. Nairn, D. L. S. Wall, Patrick
Hornby, R. P. Neave, Airey Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham) Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Horobin, Sir Ian Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch) Webbe, Sir H.
Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Noble, M. A. C. (Argyll) Webster, David
Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Nugent, G. R. H. Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Howard, John (Test) Oakshott, H. D. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Hughes-Young, M. H. C. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.) Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Hyde, Montgomery Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Wood, Hon. R.
Iremonger, T. L. Osborne, C. Woollam, John Victor
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Page, R. G. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Peyton, J. W. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Pickthorn, K. W. M. Sir Gerald Wills and
Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green) Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Mr. Gibson-Watt.
Joseph, Sir Keith Pitt, Miss E. M.

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, in page 5, line 11, to leave out from "owner" to "the" in line 14 and to insert: and not exceeding annually by more than half the 1956 gross value of the dwelling-house".

Mr. Speaker

If it is agreeable to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), I suggest we might also take the Amendment in page 5, line 16, at the end to insert: or, if no such demand has been made or if the court is satisfied that the rate so demanded would impose an undue burden on the applicant (having regard to his means, his age, any disability to which he may be subject and any other special circumstances), such rate as appears to the court to be reasonable".

Mr. Mitchison

Perhaps I might summarise the effect of these Amendments. They contemplate, in the first place, that there is a demand by the owner for a rent not exceeding two and a half times the 1956 gross value. If there is no such demand, they contemplate in the second place a reasonable rate, and in any event they allow for a reasonable rate if the rent demanded, being within those limits, puts an undue burden on the occupier.

As we see it, they raise a substantial point. The provisions of the Bill, which have not been altered in this respect, are that the court is bound to suspend, if it suspends at all, at a rent demanded by the owner and can award a lesser rent only if the occupier simply cannot afford to pay the rent demanded. Except in cases of inability to pay, and inability having regard not only to the occupier himself but also to any member of the family who might reasonably be expected to contribute, the Bill leaves it entirely to the owner what the rent will be during the period of suspension. We think that that is altogether too harsh.

7.0 p.m.

In discussions on the Bill, I think on Second Reading and certainly in Committee, it was quite clear that the view that this is too harsh for a temporary suspension in cases of hardship has appealed not only to us on this side of the House but to some hon. Members opposite. I feel certain that an ordinary, reasonable person, looking at the provisions of the Bill, would have the same instinctive feeling about these proposals. We must remember that we are now dealing with people who have shown to the satisfaction of the county court that they have nowhere else to go, that they have not refused a reasonable bargain with the landlord, that they have paid their rent up to date, and that the greater hardship will be caused to them if they are turned out than to anyone if they are not turned out. They have discharged that still rather heavy burden of proof.

They are the real hardship cases, and I think that from time to time the Minister admits that. When we come to deal with them, I suggest that we cannot do it on a mere landlord's demand basis, because they must have come to the court through the landlord insisting on not making a reasonable offer to a hardship case. They are, therefore, not only hardship cases but hardship cases whom the landlord has treated harshly and unreasonably, and it is then left to the same landlord who has failed to make any reasonable offer to them to fix the rent at which the suspension is to go on. This is not a question of a free market in any ordinary sense of the word.

A great majority are bound to be dwellings which the landlord urgently wants to sell. He is a bit oblivious and careless about the human side of the matter and will be only too glad to seize the opportunity of demanding an unreasonable rent having regard merely to the market conditions. He will ask the maximum that the tenant can afford to pay, when in fact what he wants is to get the tenant out and sell the house. There will be a great many of these cases in comparison with the numbers affected by the Bill as a whole. Whatever else can be right, it surely cannot be right to leave the landlord's demand in the position in which it is at present.

We come from that to the right hon. Gentleman's exhortations to landlords. There have been several chapters, and there have been defences of this position from time to time in the House. Ever since the right hon. Gentleman told his own constituents that what he expected was rents of decontrolled houses at about 2½ times to three times the gross rateable value, he has kept to those figures. I am bound to say that that is my own information too. I first thought that perhaps we might leave it at three times; and there was an Amendment, which is no longer on the Notice Paper, to that effect. Then I received rather fuller information. Frankly, on considering the type of case with which we have to deal and the type of provision that was being made in the Bill for these cases, I came to the conclusion that 2½ times rather than three times tallied better with the actual conditions in London. I concluded that it was a reasonable figure to take, having regard to the provisions made of a temporary character for hardship cases.

The Minister will remember that in Committee we asked for rather more than this. We still think that it would have been better to have continued with double the 1956 gross value, which is the rate which prevails between decontrol and appearance in the county court. That has been rejected, and I shall not go back to it. I merely say that 2½ times is surely sufficient in the circumstances. This is not a case of fixing the rent for these dwellings for any definite period. It is at the most for periods amounting altogether to three years. In many cases the period will be considerably shorter, and the first of the periods cannot, in any case, exceed nine months.

So much for the reasonableness of the demand and the proposition that I put to the House that this is not a case where it can be left to the landlord, considering the circumstances in which the occupier must have come to the court and which he must have proved before we reached this stage at all.

The next question is what would happen if the landlord simply declined to play. There have been a great many cases of landlords simply declining to play. Although there have been refusals to play only at the early stages of the proceedings, we know that there are such things as obstinate landlords who want to sell the house and who refuse to have any dealings with the tenant. It may be that in such cases the landlord will flatly decline to make any offer, or any reasonable one of the character that I have indicated.

We suggest that those cases must be left to the court. I believe that an Amendment to that effect, without any reference to 2½ times the 1956 value, was put on the Notice Paper in Committee by an hon. Member opposite and was actually moved by one of my hon. Friends. I appeal to the hon. Members opposite who believe, as I do, in the powers of the court to fix a reasonable rent in cases of this sort, to bear that in mind and consider whether it is not really better in this type of case that the court should do it rather than it should be left to the landlord.

Lastly, we come to the question of the man who cannot afford to pay. We on this side of the House say that here the provisions of the Bill are in themselves on the fierce side. It has to be shown that the rent demanded would be beyond the means of the occupier. The references to age, disability and so on do not apply here, but the means are to include not only the occupier's means but those of other people in the household who can reasonably contribute.

That means that, on the language of the Bill, the landlord can go up to the very limit. Some of these houses are better than others. They include some reasonably large places, with rateable values of over £40 in London, which will cover quite a lot. There will be cases where the landlord could obtain an utterly unreasonable rent, from a market point of view, by finding an occupier whom he knew to be tolerably well off, refusing to deal with him in any way, and squeezing him to the utmost limit of his salary or his earnings.

That cannot be right. We must have regard not merely to what the occupier can, on a sort of National Assistance Board basis, possibly pay, but as to what it is reasonable on the whole for any occupier to have to pay. That is to say, we must have regard to the other obliga- tions, in the general sense of the word, of the occupier and to the possibility that, poor man, he may wish and, indeed, be entitled to spend a little money in some other way than in satisfying the somewhat over greedy landlord. It reads almost like a starvation basis in the Bill; it could be interpreted that way. While I feel certain that nobody would want occupiers to live continuously on caviare and champagne at the expense of the landlord, equally we do not want occupiers to be driven to a starvation diet in order to meet the demands up to the full of what they can possibly afford.

That is the way that it reads at present. Therefore, we come back to the kind of question that is raised by using the word "reasonable", and simply leaving it to the court to decide, as in fact we do, because the court would have to interpret it, what is an undue burden on the applicant. When we are considering the undue burden, it is obvious that we must consider the occupier's means, age and any disability and also consider any other special circumstances. I leave it to my hon. Friends to develop this matter.

I merely take one particular case. We may get decontrolled premises, and this question arising, with quite a number of controlled sub-tenancies remaining in them. That, as I see it, is possible under the Rent Act. If that is so, then clearly those will be special circumstances and, indeed, special circumstances would include sub-tenancies generally. Hon. Members will be easily able to think of other cases of special circumstances. For instance, illness in the family, although not actually illness of the occupier himself, and many others upon which we can each exercise our own ingenuity.

To sum up, I say that this part of the Bill, upon which the right hon. Gentleman has made no concession, really is too harsh altogether, when we remember with what it is dealing. This is a question of temporary provisions for real hardship. The cases will be in court only if it is all that, and also if the landlord has failed to make reasonable provision by agreement. In these circumstances, it must be wrong to leave the rent to the landlord, subject only to what reads like a rather rigorous means test.

Therefore, what we suggest is a much more reasonable alternative: a limit to the landlord's demands assessed to the best of our ability on what we know of the market and what the right hon. Gentleman has told us of it. If that cannot be enforced, then leave it to the court, leave it to have regard to the position of the occupier, and see that he is not made to bear more than a due burden. That is surely a rather more reasonable way of doing it than treating him as some kind of defaulter and putting a stiff family means test upon him.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Weitzman

I should like very strongly to support the Amendment. I must say that I am extremely disappointed with the attitude of the Minister on this question. When I read a number of the Amendments which he himself had chosen to put down, and which disclosed that he had given careful thought to a number of the criticisms which we made in Committee, I hoped that when he looked at this he would have recognised that if ever there was a monstrous injustice it is the one done in this particular Clause. Unless it is amended, I suggest that it is one which will be clear to anyone who reads it reasonably, and tries to weigh up its consequences, as being a monstrous, unjust and unfair provision.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has said, we are considering cases of hardship. The Minister again and again has referred to the Bill as one dealing with cases of hardship. We are trying to relieve the hardship of elderly people, many of whom have limited means and who are unable to find other accommodation. The landlord seeks possession. Then the occupier has to come within the provisions of paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) which are not alternative but cumulative. The occupier has to come within all those four provisions before the court will say, "Yes, you may remain here for a limited period." Having said that, there then arises the problem of what rent a person suffering hardship, a person who has satisfied all these four provisions, has to pay.

We have a harsh provision inserted, not that the rent should be twice the gross value, three times the gross value, or any fixed amount, but anything that the landlord agrees to demand, any sum whatever, any fantastic sum one likes to think of. The landlord has the right to say to the tenant, "You pay that sum or you will not be allowed to remain here any longer." The only alternative is the one provided in subsection (2), of a means test. Unless the tenant can say to the judge, "I cannot pay. You must examine my means. Have a roving cross-examination of what I and the members of my family earn. I have to pay anything that the landlord demands."

I suggested in Committee, and I repeat it again, that if ever there was a case of duress in regard to an occupier, the Minister is applying it, allowing the owner to exercise duress as against the occupier. Is that right? Have we ever had a provision in any other Act of Parliament which allows this sort of thing to be done? I should have thought that simply to state it would be to show the gross injustice of this. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has sought to justify it by saying, "Well, it is the owner's property and he has the right to demand what he likes." We ought to remember that this is for a temporary period. It is a case of persons in difficult circumstances, of limited means, unable to get other premises, who have been there probably for many years and have regarded them as their home. Yet we have this provision, "Demand any rent you like unless the tenant can prove to the satisfaction of the judge that he cannot afford to pay it."

I respectfully suggest to the Minister that if he is really trying to deal with injustices he should examine this again and look at these two Amendments which, at any rate, have this effect. With great respect to my hon. and learned Friend, I think that he has erred on the generous side in suggesting two and a half times the gross value. Let us be generous to the landlord, but fix the amount. After all, the Government themselves have recognised the figure of twice the gross value as being the proper amount the tenant ought to pay until the claim for possession is heard by the county court judge. Is it too much to say that after this time a definite amount should be fixed, two and a half times the gross value? If the landlord will not "play" then, unfortunately we shall have to come down to the criterion of an examination of the person's means.

The second Amendment reads: … having regard to his means, his age, any disability to which he may be subject and any other special circumstances … It is to "other special circumstances" that I want to refer and mention one type of case. I have come across it again and again in my own constituency and it is one which I had hoped would be remedied a long time ago, but this has not been done.

As a result of the provisions of the Rent Act, 1957, this kind of case occurs. A tenant in occupation of premises with a rateable value of over £40 many years ago sublet part of his rooms. It may be that he brought in his married son and daughter-in-law and their family to live with him as sub-tenants and he and his wife occupied perhaps two rooms. As the rateable value of the whole house is £42, as a house it is decontrolled, and the following extraordinary position is occurring again and again.

The sub-tenant, the son and his wife and the children, may remain in their part of the house as controlled tenants and their rent can only be raised within the limit allowed by the provisions of the Rent Act, 1957. The father and mother—the father being the tenant of the whole house—are deemed to be the tenants of a house of a rateable value of £42 and are decontrolled tenants. Therefore, the father and mother must go out unless they can bring themselves within the provisions of the Bill and obtain a limited period of security within its provisions.

I notice that the Minister shakes his head. I hope it is not in disapproval of what I have been saying, because I raised this point on the Third Reading of the Rent Act and the right hon. Gentleman took the trouble to disagree with me one day and then to agree with me the next.

Mr. H. Brooke

I was not intending to shake my head.

Mr. Weitzman

Then I am happy to see that the right hon. Gentleman is in agreement with me on what is clearly a most unfortunate case. What will happen to the tenant of the whole house nominally, but actually the occupier of two rooms? His son, daughter-in-law and family, whom he has kindly allowed to be there as tenants, are allowed to stay on, whereas the father will have to go out except for the limited protection given by the Bill. That ought to be one of the special circumstances taken into account under the words of the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend.

I press the Minister most earnestly to consider this matter. I beg him to look again at subsection (2). I suggest that if he does so he will find that it would result in real hardship and injustice. If the Minister does not want to allow injustice to continue, the only possible thing to do is to accept these two Amendments and thus to some extent remedy the effect of the subsection.

Mr. Willis

I rise to support the Amendment in case the Scottish Office thinks that Scottish Members are not interested, inasmuch as we have not put down any Amendment on this subject. The first Amendment is in purely English terms and it is ominous that the Government have not seen fit to put one down in Scottish terms. Had that been done, we might have had an indication that the Government were prepared to accept the two Amendments, but it does not look as though they will receive much favour from the Government. I am rather surprised that the Scottish Office has not itself decided to do something about this matter. One of the difficulties about Scottish legislation being mixed with English legislation is that it invariably results in bad legislation. In the Scottish Grand Committee we have two lawyers considering these matters, and we invariably get a much more commonsense approach, and, if I may say so, a much more just approach to them.

There can be no doubt that this subsection is most unjust as regards the rent that can be charged by the owner, because the sky is the limit. It seems unfair that when a man is in a position where the court agrees that to make him get out of the house would be to cause him hardship, his hardship can be exploited to the extent that the owner can charge any rent he likes in accordance with the man's income. There cannot be any justification for that.

My hon. and learned Friend referred to the argument of the Minister that the property belongs to the owner, who is entitled to get what rent he can from it. That argument does not apply. It would be a bad argument in any case but, in the light of subsection (1, d) the argument does not apply because, after having satisfied all the conditions, that subsection reads: … having regard to all the circumstances of the case greater hardship would be caused by making an order far possession … Subsection (2) permits—in fact, encourages—the exploitation of hardship on the part of individuals seeking relief from hardship. There is no doubt that this is the worst Clause in the Bill and the Government ought to look at it again. If England acts foolishly, I would like to see the Scottish Ministers deciding that we will not do so. Perhaps we can have a word from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, of whom we have not seen much during this debate so far. If he cannot help us, perhaps we could have once again the advice of the Solicitor-General for Scotland?

Both the Joint Under-Secretary and the Solicitor-General for Scotland seem to disagree with me, but this is a United Kingdom Bill and this matter concerns Scotland as well as England. Why should we always have to receive replies from English Ministers? It is wrong. Something should be said by Scottish Ministers about this matter. It is not good enough for them to sit back and let the right hon. Gentleman talk his head off about things that are happening in Scotland.

Mr. J. N. Browne

The hon. Gentleman is speaking to an Amendment that does not apply to Scotland. He cannot expect a Scottish Minister to reply to what must be a purely English argument.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman is half wrong, as he usually is. The first Amendment is not couched in Scottish terms but the second one would apply to Scotland. Certainly, if the first Amendment were accepted, the hon. Gentleman would have to put down a fresh Amendment to subsection (2) of the Clause to adapt it to the needs of Scotland. Therefore, this matter concerns Scotland. The case was supported by Scottish Members in the Committee, as the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows. He cannot escape his responsibilities so easily. I am surprised that he and his colleagues tolerated this proposal for a moment on behalf of the people of Scotland, and I hope that he will do something about it.

The case made out is very forceful. This is a bad part, the weakest part, of the Bill because it encourages exploitation of hardship. That is bad. The House ought to amend the Bill to prevent that exploitation.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

I hoped that we might have a contribution from the Government side of the House. This is a matter on which all hon. Members have had experience in their constituencies. Cases have been brought to my attention not only in London but in other cities, some concerning old people and one relating to an old widow.

In other examples there are old, retired people who are in the very position contemplated in the Amendments. They are hoping to be able to rely upon these provisions of the Bill for a stay of execution and they believe they can meet the rather tough provisions in the early part of the Clause. These people are in difficulty because, by reason of age, they cannot get financial assistance to obtain another house. They naturally thought that if they managed to satisfy the conditions provided in the early part of the Clause they would at least have hope of a stay of execution for three months or nine months, as provided by the Bill.

These people face the problem of having to pay harsh increases of rent demanded by the landlord. When hon. Members are considering these modest Amendments they should have in mind the people concerned. I remember when we were discussing problems of compensation arising out of our nationalisation Bills some years ago, Conservative Members, then in Opposition, used to raise the question of the widows who apparently owned many of the gas and other shares concerned. It was quite remarkable. From their detailed knowledge of the affairs of these people, Government supporters might this evening continue their efforts in standing up for widows, and explain how the provisions of the Bill will affect them. We have not yet had that kind of comment from Government benches in this debate. Therefore, one must feel that there was something hypocritical about the support of the widow in those old days.

However that may be, now that the Minister has opened the door, although only by a very narrow chink, a case can fairly be made for justice in this matter so as to avoid the necessity for harsh treatment. These people have suffered very considerably already, as we who have met them know. Many women have been worried about what is to happen to them in October. Surely that is enough misery to inflict upon them without this extra trouble of high charges by unscrupulous landlords. Why should not an older person whose case comes within the earlier part of the Clause be given an opportunity to get this modest period of protection on a reasonable rental basis?

I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the broad principle of the Amendment. Otherwise he will vitiate to a great extent the value of the minor concessions that he has made. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will seize this opportunity to make clear that he wishes to do justice to these people.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)

I hope that the Minister has carefully studied the arguments used in Committee on a similar point to the one we are now discussing. As he has not put an Amendment down, I take it he is unable to agree with the arguments that we have used.

I wonder whether he appreciates that the essence of the matter is that it is a temporary arrangement. That being so, there is a natural tendency for a landlord who can fix his own rents to take advantage of the fact that it is only on a temporary basis and to say to himself, "The tenants have only six months. I will get the most I can out of them."

Many of these properties are in a shocking condition. The landlord intends to get the tenant out and to sell, but he realises that the more he can make in a short period the greater will be the advantage to himself. He wants to get his money while he can. That is a very important aspect of the matter. There is very often a history in these cases of the landlord being most unjust, and trying to get every penny he can out of the property, which is the reason why the property is in bad repair. Often the landlord will ask for most unreasonable rents and the tenants will have to strain all their resources to pay.

I tried in Committee to make this point, but I do not know whether the Minister appreciated it. Many occupiers are using all their resources to find other accommodation. The occupier or the family living with him—they are included in his resources available for paying the rent—will be straining all their capital resources to find the deposit on a house somewhere else when the temporary period comes to an end, but the rent which the landlord asks meanwhile may put a strain on those resources. If so, they will have to pay to the landlord money which they were saving to provide themselves with alternative accommodation. I hope that the Minister will look at this matter, which is of very great importance.

I see great despair among some of these occupiers. They will have brought themselves to the point of going to court, with all the worry, hardship and difficulty involved, and they face legal costs from solicitors. They may have had the county court judge ruling in their favour, but they find that they have ultimately to pay an exorbitant rent on top of all those other costs. If the Minister thinks that by putting them in that position he is helping them I assure him that they will not think so when they are faced with the greatly increased rents which, under the terms of the Bill without the Amendment, the landlord will be able to demand.

I therefore ask the Minister to look at this matter again and see whether he can find a formula which will fix fairly the rental for the tenancy and not leave it to the landlord's discretion.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

I was hoping that by this time the Minister would have told us how he stands in relation to these two Amendments. As I understood the Minister, the whole purpose of this Bill was to ease the situation which his Rent Act created for a large number of people in large towns and cities.

He has publicly said he thinks this Measure will ease the situation. The poor tenant who has reached the stage where he is unable to agree to a new rent because he has not the money to pay it and nevertheless cannot buy a house or find another place to rent—there are many thousands of those in London and other large cities—having satisfied the court that he has done all the things laid down in this Bill, may find that he can get an order for suspension, but only at a rent demanded by the owner. Apparently, the court has no power to grant a suspension on other grounds than on the rent demanded by the owner. That makes absolute non-sense of all the things said about the reasons for introducing this Bill.

All we are trying to do in these Amendments is to soften the blow a little for these people. We are still getting instances of difficulties arising for this kind of tenant. Only last week I had the case of an old couple living in a house which is decontrolled and where the owner has refused so far to give them a three years' agreement at any rent at all. He has refused to discuss the possibility of a new agreed rent for the next three years. As far as I can see, those two people will either go out or use the terms of this Measure to ask for a suspension. If they get a suspension, they will have to pay a rent demanded by the owner, whether it is a fair one or not.

We think there ought to be some limit to the amount of rent the owner can demand. Surely it is the purpose of legislation to remove injustices, not to create them. It seems that in a rather mild attempt to meet some of the criticisms made, not only by hon. Members on this side of the House but by a large number opposite—whom I am sorry to see are absent at the moment—to meet those criticisms and fears, particularly fears of loss of votes, the Minister has introduced this Bill. He has done so in such a way that it does not meet the situation in any degree. In fact, it gives to the unfair and grasping landlord the legal right to demand and get a rent, even in the period when the notice to quit is suspended, whether the tenant can afford that rent or not.

That seems so patently unfair that any Minister or Government with a desire to be fair to ordinary people ought to be willing to accept the Amendments we have put forward. We think that extremely favourable; two and a half times the gross rateable value is in many cases far to much rent to be asked for some of the houses covered by the provisions of this Clause. I therefore ask the Minister to be sympathetic and either to accept the Amendments, or, if he cannot accept the wording, to accept the spirit and redraft the provisions in such a way as to give the same result and to be of assistance to a large number of tenants, many of whom are elderly, who will be hit by this Bill.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. H. Brooke

Some hon. Members have said that they would like to hear the view of the Government on these Amendments, so I hope this will be an appropriate moment for me to reply. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) that the essence of this matter is that it is a temporary arrangement. In a certain amount of the debate we had on this part of the Clause hon. Members failed, in my view, to recognise that. We are not seeking to fix a rent for all time. The object here is to arrive at an ad hoc rent that will run during the temporary period of suspension.

The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) obviously has not read the Bill. I should have thought, after serving on the Standing Committee and listening to these proceedings, he would have acquainted himself with lines 11 to 14 on page 5, which completely rebut his statement that the court has no power to grant suspension except on a rent demanded by the owner. We can dismiss that part of the argument and concentrate on the Bill as it stands and on the words of the Amendment.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) alleged that this subsection, if it stood unchanged, would vitiate the purpose of the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to avoid hardship. The Bill is drafted so as to avoid hardship. No further amendment to this subsection is required for that purpose, but the Opposition Amendment is designed to reimpose control.

Mr. Blenkinsop

My whole point was that in effect this provision, although I grant there is provision in regard to seeking redress from the court, does impose a very real hardship upon the class of tenant to whom we have been referring.

Mr. Brooke

Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to develop my argument. My main objection is an objection of principle which I stated in Standing Committee on, I think, the fifth day of our sittings, when I pointed out that these are decontrolled dwellings and the appropriate rent for a decontrolled dwelling is the rent it will fetch in the open market. Therefore, to impose a rent limit of two-and-a-half or three times, or any other multiplier of the gross value, on what the landlord may ask is in effect reimposing control.

If the occupier cannot afford what the owner asks, the rent ought to be reduced, and the Bill as drafted looks after that. If, on the other hand, the owner is asking a high rent but the occupier can afford to pay that high rent, there is no reason whatever why the rent should be fixed at the lower figure because, ex hypothesi, there is no hardship. The Bill is intended to deal with hardship. If the occupier can afford the rent there cannot be any hardship. If he cannot afford the rent, he has opportunity to prove that to the satisfaction of the court.

If the owner is asking more than the reasonable market rent for the premises the occupier who can afford to pay that high rent which the owner is asking is the sort of person likely to be in a position to go elsewhere and get better value for his money. All the experience of those who have had anything to do with the working of the Rent Act goes to show that it is not the people who are relatively well off who will be in difficulty, but those who genuinely, through lack of means, may not be able to afford to pay the rent for the accommodation they can find in the market.

The Government have recognised throughout that there must be some power to the court to reduce the rent which the owner asks if the occupier genuinely cannot afford to pay it. There is, however, no need or justification for the second of these Amendments. It goes much too far. The Bill as it stands is satisfactorily drafted to safeguard against hardship.

One thing that the second Amendment does is to remove the lower limit of the rent which the occupier has been paying in the interim period before the court hearing. If the occupier has already been paying this rent, why on earth should it now be reduced to a lower figure? Moreover, if it were reduced to a lower figure, the result would be that that occupier would be put in a more favourable position than a tenant of a house or flat that is still controlled. There seems to be no justification for that either, particularly as this tenant or occupier will have had the benefit of continuing with no increase of rent for the fifteen months during which the tenants of controlled dwellings may well have been paying a higher rent.

The second Amendment, however, goes further than that and seeks to bring into account factors other than the occupier's means. It seeks to bring into account the occupier's age and disability. Surely, the issue here is not whether the occupier has a case on grounds of age or disability for staying where he is. That is a matter which has already been decided. It will already have been before the court and the court, having taken all these circumstances into account, will have decided to grant a suspension of the order for possession.

It is accepted that there should be an order for suspension. The only thing which is in question here is what the amount of the rent should be. Surely, in relation to what the rent should be, the only consideration that can be relevant is the means of the occupier and not his age or his disability or anything of that kind.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Surely, it is the question of means in relation to age. The point which has been put by several of my hon. Friends is that the old lady, the widow and the old people inevitably are prevented because of their age from getting loans from building societies. Therefore, it is not simply a question of penury. It is a question of what their position will be in future if this kind of unconscionable writ is imposed upon them.

Mr. Brooke

I do not think it is that at all. The truth is that the county court judge has it indicated to him what he should take into account, and in this case he has to take into account the means of the occupier. He must take all the circumstances into account. He must take into account the occupier's commitments, and he will have to decide whether they are reasonable. The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green spoke of a particular type of commitment, saving to buy a house. There may be a whole range of possible commitments, some of which are inevitable and some of which are entirely optional. It must be left to the county court judge to decide in relation to those commitments what should and what should not be taken into account in arriving at the ability of the occupier to pay the rent that is asked.

The use of discretion by county court judges is normally highly regarded and valued, both in this House and elsewhere. Nobody could suggest that what we are asking the county court judge to do is to perform an unreasonable task. What the Bill as it stands will do is to enable the county court judge to reduce the rent in case of hardship. It is to prevent hardship that the Bill has been introduced and there is no need for any further Amendment here.

Mr. Janner

I ought to have expected that reply from the Minister. It is consistent with the kind of thing he has been trying to do, it is illogical, it is contrary to the interests of the community as a whole, and it is obvious that the Bill, which is supposed to be a remedy for hardship, is nothing more nor less than a smokescreen to hide the iniquities of the original Act. That is an understatement.

What does the Minister mean by refusing to accept an Amendment which is in line with his theory of what he describes as a proper basis for calculating a reasonable rent? If it is true that the assessment of a reasonable rent is a multiple of the gross value of a house which is below £40 rateable value, it is obviously true in respect of a house with a rateable value of £40 0s. 1d. in the same district.

When we ask the Minister to be consistent, he says that we are asking for what is impossible. He says that there are plenty of houses about and there is no need to worry. In nine months' time, even those people who have not been able so far to find accommodation who can comply with all the harsh conditions in the earlier part of the Clause, are to be turned out of their homes. Meanwhile, however, the Minister does not have it in his heart to say that what is reasonable for others shall be considered reasonable for them. It is a cruel thing against those who ought to be protected.

What will the Minister do if he finds that in six months' time he has to introduce another Bill—it is quite possible he will have to do so—to comply with the difficulties that are occurring? What will he say then? Will he say that it does not matter what rent has been charged? What he is saying is that because an excessive rental has been charged before it is not fair to those who have been so overcharged that they should be charged reasonable rentals. Therefore, the person who has been allowed to stay for a period of nine months will have to pay a rental which is unreasonable.

The Minister should think very carefully again about what he is endeavouring to do. The case mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), for example, is one of which he should take careful note. What does he mean by a means test? He says that all he is concerned about is whether a person can at this stage afford to pay. What does he mean? How is a county court judge to arrive at a decision on that? Is he to take into consideration the fact, for example, that a person has been saving all his life so that he may be able to provide for his old age and has put that money aside, believing that no Conservative Government would come into power and that he would be protected by a Labour Government in the retention of his home, and has made the provision on that understanding? Will that be taken into consideration by the judge? How can he take it into consideration?

The Minister says that it cannot be taken into consideration and that all that the judge will want to know is whether that person can today afford to pay. It is no good saying that when the judge is called upon to decide the means of a person he will take all these other matters into consideration. All I am concerned about is precisely what the Minister was asked, namely, whether the term is to be interpreted as meaning what a man can afford to pay today? That is what the means test is; it does not take into consideration what is to happen to that individual in the years to come or what provision he has made for the future.

8.0 p.m.

All that has been said this afternoon about the widow is perfectly correct. The very kind of thing that the Tories, year after year, have been pretending to be concerned over is precisely what they are now attacking. They are not giving the widow a chance, nor are they giving a chance to the individual for whom they profess to have such high regard; the individual who has bargained on the fact that the Rent Acts will continue and has planned his life and economic position in the belief that that type of justice would prevail. Is it fair that people should be turned out within nine months, and even during that nine months be tormented? What nonsense. I ask the Minister not only to concede what we ask but to say that he will endeavour to reduce even that amount of rent to be charged.

Let me put to the right hon. Gentleman another inconsistency. He says, "Oh, no, it does not matter about the rest of the Act—that does not matter at all." Nevertheless, when he refers, in the same Clause, to increases or reductions he at once goes back to the wording of the 1957 Act—it is reasonable to raise rents if the rates are raised; it is reasonable to reduce them if the rates are reduced, but it is not reasonable to accept for these houses the standard he set as the basis of a reasonable rental to charge in respect of the other houses.

What is the judge to rely on? He knows all that—he knows it very well. He will say that if the Minister had intended to define what is a reasonable rental the Act would have said so. But the Minister has not said so. Therefore, the judge must assess the rental according to the immediate means of the individual concerned.

I hope that the Minister will think again. The country is disgusted with his 1957 Rent Act, and he has been forced into producing an amending Measure. He has produced something worth practically nothing to the country, and when we ask that the tenant shall be protected to some extent, even for the short period of nine months, he is niggardly about it and refuses to make any reasonable concession. I think that we should press this matter to a Division. In any case, I hope that the Minister will consider this matter further very carefully.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

On this matter the one thing that we do not want is emotion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—although the people who may be concerned with it may themselves feel emotional about it. I have taken a very keen interest in this Bill, and in the Act that preceded it. Unfortunately, I was unable, through indisposition, to be present during the Second Reading debate and I was not appointed to the Standing Committee. Nevertheless, I have made a considerable number of representations to the Minister on this Bill.

It really is fanciful to suppose that it does not raise one or two great difficulties of principle. The principle behind these two Amendments which the Minister is trying to save is the principle of decontrol, or liberty of property. That is what he is trying to save. I appreciate that the Opposition do not agree with what he is saying in that respect. I, on the other hand, respect that principle and I very definitely respect the views by which he is upholding and trying to maintain that principle while, nonetheless, seeking to get an amending Act.

Unfortunately, in doing so, he has raised a conflict and a dilemma in that he is in conflict with another great principle—the liberty of the subject. He has, unfortunately, had to do it at present by the introduction of a means test. It is the first of this type of means test that this country has ever known because, whereas we have always had means tests where a particular subject requires State assistance, that is to say, the National Assistance Board or something like that, never before in our history has there been suggested a means test as between one individual and another.

Here, in fact, the landlord seeks to impose a means test upon the tenant, because, under the terms of this Clause—and as it would be under the terms of this very Amendment—it becomes necessary for the landlord to try to ascertain the means of the tenant. Here we have a very dangerous principle, and I entirely agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) who said that what we must try to do was to find a fair formula. I have not the least doubt that my right hon. Friend the Minister is trying, and has tried, to find a fair formula.

If he retains Clause 2, which was one way of doing it, then, of course, he merely retains his decontrolled houses in control for the further period of nine or twelve months. I read in detail the arguments that he advanced in Standing Committee about that matter. I appreciate those arguments, although, on balance, I think that that would have been, perhaps, the better course to take, but what I must turn to is a totally different matter which, I believe, is the solution. The solution is partly contained in the second Amendment—that part that deals with giving the court power to try to lay down reasonable terms and conditions; that is to say, giving the court greater discretion in this temporary matter.

My right hon. Friend has just said, and has said before, that what he wants to do—and rightly, in this case—is to try to get an ad hoc rent for the temporary period of suspension. The real problem is how to get it. My right hon. Friend has said that he is concerned with hardship. I agree with him, but he has shown himself concerned with only one aspect of hardship, and that is, means. That is not the only aspect of hardship. One may have a great deal of money but still be unable to find a suitable place elsewhere. One may be in bed with a heart attack. One may have plenty of money but not be able to leave because of health and other reasons.

I am quite confident that the county court judges will not like this particular Clauses unamended. Unfortunately, there is no duty imposed, nor any "Lis" which a county court judge normally has to decide. In this case, the county court judge is relegated purely to being a National Assistance Board officer, and nothing else. All that he is asked to do is to determine the means of the occupier. In arriving at his decision, he must take into account the means of that occupier, but he is not concerned with what rent is demanded by the landlord.

Unfortunately, there are some landlords who want to create a particular type of hardship and they seek to create it. I speak of this of my own experience of these decisions over many years. There are some landlords who, quite understandably perhaps, detest their tenants and want to get rid of them out of spite. They may, of course, be right. The tenant may be a very bad tenant. On the other hand, the landlord may be a very bad landlord. In these cases of spite—and there are quite a number of them, particularly where the landlord has been taken to the Rent Tribunal—we may find a genuine cause of hardship.

Under the terms of this Clause, if I were advising the landlord, I would advise him to ask a rent so excessive that the tenant would not want to pay it, but not quite so excessive that the tenant could not afford to pay it. This is the sort of conversation that would ensue. First of all, the landlord would say to the tenant, "I will charge you £5 a week rent." The tenant would say, "Don't be ridiculous; that wholly excessive." The landlord would say, "Well, maybe it is, but you are earning £20 a week, and you can afford to pay £5." The tenant then refuses to pay. When it goes to court, the county court judge has to say, with the greatest regret "The rent demanded is not for me to decide. The sole question is the means of the tenant."

Where have we got to? We have the two principles of the liberty of property and the liberty of the individual, and there is the right of the individual not to disclose his means to a landlord or anyone else—not even to the county court judge; but he must do that if he wants to fight his case.

This Amendment will not do, because it also asks for an investigation into the means of the tenant, and I am no longer attracted—although I was earlier and, indeed, I have written to the Minister about it—to the formula by which we multiply the gross rateable value. Therefore, how can we reconcile these two conflicting principles? One is the Government's desire to carry out decontrol, and the other is not to have a means test. This has cost this party a great many votes in the past, and I have little doubt that it will be used by the Opposition in the future, and that is one of my reasons for anxiety. As I have said before, my constituency is entirely unaffected in this matter, but this is one of the real difficulties in the Rent Act.

Having given the matter the most careful thought I can, I believe that the right way to handle this is to give a wider discretion to the courts than is at present contained in the Amendment. I do not think that this Amendment will do. I am afraid that the Amendment which I put down on the Notice Paper was not called, and was never discussed in the Committee. I do not say that it was a very good one, either. I invite the Minister, who has had a very long and arduous time and has shown immense patience, and who must by now be heartily tired of the innumerable arguments he has heard and absolutely "fed to the teeth" with everybody hitting at him month after month over these Amendments, to try to get this one problem solved.

My right hon. Friend will not be able to do it here, but in another place, but if he can do it, he will have shown that he can not only introduce an amending Bill to improve his previous Act, but can do it to the satisfaction of this tiny remaining minority, for he knows now—no one else knows better—that two cases in any one constituency in which old people are thrown out in circumstances which are unjust are sufficient to cause far more trouble than almost anything else.

Mr. H. Butler

The Minister went to some length to suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) had not read the Bill, and then said that there was a second step—that he would have his means examined. The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) talked about the iniquitous means test, but the hon. Gentleman himself skated very cleverly over the fact that this is not only a means test on the occupier but a means test on the family. Conservative hon. Members now sitting on the opposite benches, few as they are, will have to face the fact that it was a long time ago that the family means test was introduced by a Conservative Government, and that, during that time, the people who were suffering under that means test in 1930 and 1931 have forgotten a lot of it.

The Conservative Party, in its desire, as hon. Members opposite say, to assist these poor people, who will suffer as a consequence of the 1957 Rent Act, say—and the Minister has said it—that it will deal only with elderly people, with people who are sick and with those of limited means. These people of limited means, after they have gone through all the inquisitions and appearing in the county court, after having been given some measure of protection for a period, are faced either with paying what the landlord demands or having their means examined, and not only their own means but the means of their sons, their daughters, and those of their sons-in-law, if they happen to be living with them. The whole of their affairs are to be exposed to public gaze, if necessary, in order that they shall pay the landlord's exorbitant rent or secure a small reduction.

8.15 p.m.

All I want to say about this matter is that the Conservative Party now has to face the fact that, after a long period of years, the great solution and the great help which that party will give to these poor people who will suffer as a consequence of the 1957 Rent Act is that they now impose on them this means test. Those in Bournemouth, whose pictures have been published and who are to be evicted—and the whole story has appeared in the national Press—and all those who will suffer as a consequence of the 1957 Rent Act, now find that the easement they are to get from the Conservative Party is that the whole of the family's income will be dragged into the inquisition in order that the landlords can have increases of rent. That is what I leave to the Conservative Party.

Mr. Mitchison

I regard the adherence of the Government and the right hon. Gentleman to the provisions of this subsection as, in political terms, an act of ruthless brutality and quite incredible obscurantism, and I mean exactly what I say. I see the right hon. Gentleman looking at me. That is what I mean. Let me explain to him.

What we are dealing with here are landlords and tenants unable to come to any agreement with one another. We are dealing with cases which will mostly occur in the middle of overcrowded towns, cases of tenants, call them occupiers, if we like, who cannot find anywhere else to go and suffer great hardship. We are dealing with people who have done nothing wrong, who have hitherto supposed that they were entitled to live in the place where they may have lived for very many years. The practical question we are considering about them is on what terms are they to be allowed, for a short period, for a matter of months, not to be turned out into the street. That is the question we are actually considering.

What we are told about this question of the amount they are to pay is that sacred ideology prevents us from making them pay any other rent than that which the landlord demands, subject to the fact that the lemon can only be squeezed up to the amount of juice in it, and if they have no more juice, they will not be able to pay any more than the family's means will enable them to pay. How any reasonable person or any person imbued with ordinary human sentiments and feelings can get up in this House and say that that sort of thing is right or that it ought to be enacted by any Tory Government or any other Government, absolutely passes my comprehension.

We can make a sort of guess about what is right, and we have heard a lot about the views of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees Davies), views which, I would remind him, were in fact discussed and voted upon in the Committee. The Amendment which he and his friends, as he said, had put down was not moved by any of his hon. Friends, but it was moved by me, it was voted on in the Committee and turned down by the Government. We have heard a lot about what we can do and cannot do.

Whatever we put in this Bill, after all the suggestions we have had, including the suggestion in this Amendment, cannot possibly but be better than what there is in the Bill now. It is better to have the two and a half times the gross value and have a reasonable rent fixed by the county court; it is better to let it depend on some reasonable estimate of what is the rent which a man must pay. The one thing that is wrong and is quite indefensible in the circumstances of these hardship cases, when the landlord is obviously trying to kick out the tenant and sell, is to leave it to the landlord to fix the rent and tell the county court judge: "This has nothing to do with you; this is what the Tory Government, in its wisdom, has decided is to be justice for the ordinary tenant." No one except a Tory can possibly support the proposals in the Bill, and we shall, of course, divide in favour of these Amendments, not because they are infallible, not because they are the last word, but because they are infinitely better than what appears in this scandalous subsection.

Mr. H. Brooke

I think that emotion may be getting the better of some people again, so let us be quite clear what we are doing.

Mr. Mitchison

There is no harm in having some feelings occasionally and remembering that what we are talking about is turning people out into the street.

Mr. Brooke

It is always best if we temper our feelings with common sense.

If a landlord is asking for a rent beyond the occupier's means, this Clause as it stands will give the county court the opportunity to scale it down. That seems to be a perfectly reasonable proposition to ask the House to accept. The matter has been complicated by arguments about family means tests and the like.

Mr. Willis

That is what it is.

Mr. Brooke

What the Opposition are now saying is that although it is common sense that if the family is looking for somewhere else to live the resources of the family as a whole would be taken into account by the family in deciding whether it could afford the rent, nevertheless that should not happen, so the Opposition say, if it is a question of the family staying on for a time in a rented dwelling which the landlord no longer wants to let to the family. But in that case, the Opposition say, only the means of the former tenant, who may not be the breadwinner at all, should be reckoned when it is a question of the county court seeking to decide what rent it is reasonable for the family to pay. That proposition put forward by the Opposition is not in accord with common sense, and that is why I invite the House to reject it.

Mr. McInnes

During the Committee stage we endeavoured to get a definition, particularly in Scottish law, of what was implied by the words: … members of the family … residing with him. In fact, we used the example of a member of the family actually residing with the occupier who during the week was working away, perhaps 100 miles away, although he would probably be included as a member of the family.

I must protest at the fact that no effort has been made by the representatives of the Scottish Office to speak on this Clause. We have sat patiently waiting, and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) made a valuable contribution which the Minister of Housing and Local Government has completely ignored. The Scottish people are also involved in this Bill; yet we have noticed how slavishly the Scottish Ministers follow—I nearly said Judas Iscariot—the Minister of Housing and Local Government and accept every dot and comma of his remarks as being the final and conclusive argument. I appeal to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and the Solicitor-General for Scotland to get off their knees, to show some courage and to give us their exposition of the situation so far as Scotland is affected.

Mr. J. N. Browne

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) and his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) keep on wanting someone to say something from the Scottish Office. It is all right for someone to say something for Scotland if there is a particular Scottish point. In the matter that we are now discussing there is no particular Scottish point. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government stated in clear and

very concise terms in his closing sentences the difference between the two sides of the House, and we in Scotland agree entirly with what he says. We want to preserve the conditions of decontrol and we want to do all we can to prevent hardship to those people whom the courts decide are entitled to stay on for a short period. There is no particular Scottish point at all, and we are fully behind the Government.

Mr. Willis

It is not good enough for a Scottish Minister to say "We speak only if there is a particular Scottish point." On United Kingdom legislation Scottish Ministers are just as responsible as any other Minister and should take the responsibility of doing some of the speaking.

Mr. Browne

It is for the Government to decide which Minister shall speak on which subject, and that is a matter which remains in the hands of the Government and of my right hon. Friend who is in charge of the Bill.

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

The House divided: Ayes 213, Noes 177.

Division No. 165.] AYES [8.25 p.m.
Agnew, Sir Peter Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Gurden, Harold
Aitken, W. T. Cooper, A. E. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)
Alport, C. J. M. Corfield, Capt. F. V. Harris, Reader (Heston)
Arbuthnot, John Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)
Armstrong, C. W. Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)
Ashton, H. Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)
Atkins, H. E.
Baldwin, Sir Archer Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Balniel, Lord Cunningham, Knox Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.
Barber, Anthony Currie, G. B. H. Henderson-Stewart, Sir James
Barter, John Dance, J. C. G. Hesketh, R. F.
Batsford, Brian Deedes, W. F. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Digby, Simon Wingfield Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Doughty, C. J. A. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Drayson, G. B. Hirst, Geoffrey
Bennett, Dr. Reginald du Cann, E. D. L. Holt, A. F.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Hornby, R. P.
Bidgood, J. C. Farey-Jones, F. W. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.
Bishop, F. P. Finlay, Graeme Horobin, Sir Ian
Black, C. W. Fisher, Nigel Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence
Body, R. F. Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)
Boothby, Sir Robert Gammans, Lady Howard, John (Test)
Bossom, Sir Alfred Garner-Evans, E. H. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. George, J. C. (Pollok) Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)
Boyle, Sir Edward Gibson-Watt, D. Hyde, Montgomery
Braine, B. R. Glover, D. Iremonger, T. L.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Glyn, Col. Richard H. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Godber, J. B. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)
Brooman-White, R. C. Goodhart, Philip Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Gower, H. R. Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Burden, F. F. A. Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside) Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Joseph, Sir Keith
Campbell, Sir David Green, A. Keegan, D.
Carr, Robert Grimond, J. Kerby, Capt. H. B.
Cary, Sir Robert Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Kerr, Sir Hamilton
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Kershaw, J. A.
Cole, Norman Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Kimball, M.
Kirk, P. M. Noble, M. A. C. (Argyll) Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Langford-Holt, J. A. Nugent, G. R. H. Steward, Harold (Stookport, S.)
Leather, E. H. C. Oakshott, H. D. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Storey, S.
Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Linstead, Sir H. N. Osborne, C. Temple, John M.
Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Page, R. G. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick) Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Peel, W. J. Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)
Macdonald, Sir Peter Peyton, J. W. W. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
McKibbin, Alan Pickthorn, K. W. M. Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Pitman, I. J. Turner, H. F. L.
Pitt, Miss E. M. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Powell, J. Enoch Tweedsmuir, Lady
Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley) Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.) Vane, W. M. F.
Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Ramsden, J. E. Vickers, Miss Joan
Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Rawlinson, Peter Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Maddan, Martin Redmayne, M. Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek
Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Rees-Davies, W. R. Wall, Patrick
Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Renton, D. L. M. Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Ridsdale, J. E. Webbe, Sir H.
Markham, Major Sir Frank Rippon, A. G. F. Webster, David
Marlowe, A. A. H. Robertson, Sir David Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Marshall, Douglas Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Mathew, R. Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Mawby, R. L. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Russell, R. S. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh Sandys, Rt. Hon. D. Wood, Hon. R.
Morrison, John (Salisbury) Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R. Woollam, John Victor
Nabarro, G. D. N. Sharples, R. C. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Nairn, D. L. S. Shepherd, William
Neave, Airey Smithers, Peter (Winchester) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham) Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood) Mr. Hughes-Young and
Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch) Spearman, Sit Alexander Mr. Chichester-Clark.
Ainsley, J. W. Fernyhough, E. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)
Albu, A. H. Finch, H. J. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Fitch, E. A. Lindgren, G. S.
Awbery, S. S. Fletcher, Eric Logan, D. G.
Bacon, Miss Alice Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. McCann, J.
Benson, Sir George Gibson, C. W. MacColl, J. E.
Beswick, Frank Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. MacDermot, Niall
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. McGhee, H. G.
Blackburn, F. Grey, C. F. McInnes, J.
Blenkinsop, A. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) McLeavy, Frank
Blyton, W. R. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Mahon, Simon
Boardman, H. Hale, Leslie Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Hamilton, W. W. Messer, Sir F.
Bowles, F. G. Hannan, W. Mikardo, Ian
Boyd, T. C. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Mitchison, G. R.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Hastings, S. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Brockway, A. F. Hayman, F. H. Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Healey, Denis Mort, D. L.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Herbison, Miss M. Moss, R.
Burton, Miss F. E. Holman, P. Moyle, A.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Houghton, Douglas Oram, A. E.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Orbach, M.
Callaghan, L. J. Howell, Denis (All Saints) Owen, W. J.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Padley, W. E.
Champion, A. J. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Chapman, W. D. Hunter, A. E. Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Chetwynd, G. R. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Pargiter, G. A.
Coldrick, W. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Parker, J.
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) Parkin, B. T.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Paton, John
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Pearson, A.
Cronin, J. D. Janner, B. Pentland, N.
Crossman, R. H. S. Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.) Plummer, Sir Leslie
Cullen, Mrs. A. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Popplewell, E.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Johnson, James (Rugby) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Probert, A. R.
Deer, G. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Proctor, W. T.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Delargy, H. J. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Randall, H. E.
Diamond, John Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Redhead, E. C.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Reid, William
Dye, S. King, Dr. H. M. Rhodes, H.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Lawson, G. M. Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Ledger, R. J. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Lee, Frederick (Newton) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Weitzman, D.
Royle, C. Stonehouse, John Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Shurmer, P. L. E. Stones, W. (Consett) West, D. G.
Silverman, Julius (Aston) Strachey, Rt. Hon. J. Wheeldon, W. E.
Skeffington, A. M. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.) Willey, Frederick
Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.) Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E. Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Slater, J. (Sedgefield) Sylvester, G. O. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Winterbottom, Richard
Snow, J. W. Taylor, John (West Lothian) Woof, R. E.
Sorensen, R. W. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Tomney, F. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Sparks, J. A. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn Zilliacus, K.
Spriggs, Leslie Viant, S. P.
Steele, T. Warbey, W. N. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Simmons and Mr. Wilkins.
Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, in page 5, line 25, to leave out "paragraph (a) or paragraph (b)" and to insert: paragraphs (a), (b) and (d)". The Bill already provides that when we are considering questions under paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) of subsection (1) that is to say, questions relating to an agreement with the landlord and obtaining other accommodation, the occupier's means, age, and any disability from which he may suffer should be taken into account.

The object of the Amendment is to provide that there shall be similar consideration when the question of greater hardship is being considered. Previously, greater hardship has always been used in rather different and more limited circumstances from those which govern it in this Bill. So far as the landlord is concerned, greater hardship will often be a financial matter. In some cases, such as those covering company landlords, it is practically bound to be a financial matter.

When we deal with the hardship of the occupier, what are we entitled to consider? If the subsection is left as it is without the Amendment, it seems that there is great force in the argument—and I would regard it as correct that having mentioned the questions of means, age, and disability in relation to two of the conditions to be fulfilled, they cannot, in those circumstances, be considered in relation to a fourth condition; and although that fourth condition expressly refers to all the circumstances of the case, if we had intended those circumstances to include questions of means, age and disability, we would have included them in the paragraphs in question and we would not so pointedly have omitted that particular paragraph. At any rate, if it is the intention of the Government, as I daresay it is, that those matters should be considered when dealing with greater hardship, no possible harm can be done by saying so. But, if I am right in my doubt or suggestion, a great deal of harm can result from omitting to say so.

Therefore, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether the Government intend that consideration should be given to means, age and disability in dealing with greater hardship. If no possible harm can be done by the Amendment, and if I am right, a great deal of good can result. It is not a sufficient answer to say that all the circumstances of the case would necessarily cover it, anyhow.

Mr. Bevins

As the hon. and learned learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said, Clause 3 (3) provides that in considering whether the first two conditions of the Clause have been fulfilled, regard must be had, among other things, to the means of the occupier, to his age and to any disability to which he may be subject. The Amendment means that these three factors should also be taken into account when considering paragraph (d), which refers to "the case of greater hardship." As the hon. and learned Member said, the wording of that paragraph is that having regard to all the circumstances of the case greater hardship would be caused by making an order for possession than not making one. I am advised that the words "all the circumstances" clearly include the means, the age and any disability of the occupier. I do not think that there is any possible dubiety on that point.

My right hon. Friend has looked at the terms of the Amendment. Frankly, we find it difficult to find any reason for singling out these three factors, unless it is the hon. and learned Member's objective to give them greater weight in the case of the occupier than in the case of the owner. I am sure from what he said that that intention is not in his mind.

I am assured that the existing provision in the Bill is based on the greater hardship provision in the Rent Acts, which, I understand, do not refer specifically to these factors but merely to "all the circumstances of the case." The hon. and learned Member said that if that were to be the Government's answer there would be no harm in accepting the Amendment, but if we were always to proceed on that basis we should be cluttering up public Bills with all sorts of unnecessary phraseology. I hope that it will suffice if I reiterate my assurance that the words in paragraph (d) are sufficient for his purpose.

Mr. Mitchison

That is most unsatisfactory. We have had statements from the Government this evening about what they conceive to be the construction of their own Bill but which do not appeal to me in the least. On the other hand, this is a small point and the hour is getting late, and it is only obduracy which prevents the Government from accepting an Amendment which, on one view of the matter, may do some good and on any view of the matter could not possibly do any harm. There are limits to the visitations which one can inflict on Tory obduracy. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Bevins

I beg to move, in page 5, line 28, at the end to insert: and (without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provision) in considering whether a refusal or failure to accept any such proposal as is referred to in the said paragraph (a) was reasonable, regard shall be had in particular to the terms of that proposal relating to repairs, improvements or maintenance. We come to the question of repairing leases, to which my right hon. Friend has given a good deal of thought since our proceedings in Committee. The purpose of the Amendment is to direct the court's attention, in considering whether the occupier has unreasonably refused the offer of a new tenancy, to the terms of the offer in so far as they include repairs, improvements or maintenance.

The Amendment says this element is to be considered. It does not go as far as to say that the occupier would have acted reasonably in refusing any offer which imposed upon him any liability in these respects over and above that to which he was previously liable. I think we must look at the terms of the tenancy as a whole, and in certain cases it may well be that a relatively low rent might offset some increase in the repairing liabilities.

8.45 p.m.

This matter has been ventilated on several occasions by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. Only towards the end of last month my right hon. Friend made a speech in the country in which he deplored the increasing tendency of landlords to seek to make tenants under short leases responsible for all repairs, short of major structural repairs, and in some cases for repairs without any qualification at all. My right hon. Friend takes the view that, while conditions of that kind might be fair and reasonable as applied to long leases, they are much too burdensome where the lease is for a relatively short period of three years or so, particularly where the property has been neglected.

My right hon. Friend feels that the Amendment, which directs the court to consider this element in the terms of that lease, goes as far as we ought to go. I commend its terms to the House.

Mr. Mitchison

I am not quite clear what the hon. Gentleman is addressing himself to. I hope that I have got it right. Is he referring to the tenancy of the premises mentioned in paragraph (a) or to some other matter? If I can assume that he is referring to the tenancy of the premises, that is, the tenancy of three years or more, we can deal with the Amendment on that footing.

My first comment on the Amendment is that it really is quite remarkable that in a Bill which proposes to deal with hardship the Government have brought in a provision, no matter what it is, about the rents to be imposed, without saying anything about repairs and other conditions in the agreement. Apparently it was only about a month ago, as far as I can gather from the hon. Gentleman's speech, that it occurred to the Minister that, after all, there was some connection between rent and repairs, a matter which I should have thought might have occurred to him and his Ministry rather earlier.

When the Bill first appeared, there was a provision, which we have been discussing and which I regard as unnecessarily stringent, about the rent to be imposed on the tenant and not one word about the repairs. And nothing appears to have been done about it until the Committee stage. Bearing in mind what has been going on in London, this is extraordinary. I shall not develop the matter, because we are about to discuss an Amendment to the Amendment, and no doubt the mover of that Amendment will have something to say about it.

I am convinced that far more hardship is being imposed upon prospective tenants at present by landlords in negotiating leases, whether for three years or for a longer period, under the head of repairs, than is imposed under the head of rents. In far too many cases of hardship, I believe in the majority of cases, what the landlord does is to ask a reasonable rent and to put upon the tenant a heavy and usually a complete liability for repairs. The trouble is that the liability imposed is not merely to keep the dwelling in the state at which it was at the moment of the agreement but also to make up for the landlord's own omissions in the past; and the tenant, at his own expense, has to get the building into a reasonable condition.

I shall not say any more about that now, but I may have something further to say at a later stage. Obviously, this should have been considered before, and, so far as this Amendment goes, it is an attempt to consider it. For that reason, and within those limitations, we welcome it, belated as it is, but we have some comments to make on an Amendment which is to be moved to this Amendment quite shortly.

Mr. Page

I want to express my gratitude from this side of the House to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister for bringing in this Amendment at this stage. It arises from discussion in Committee about what I had no hesitation in calling the scandal of the full repairing clause in a three-year lease at a full rack rent.

There is no doubt that in many cases landlords' agents have been submitting draft leases and sometimes leases in engrossed form ready for signature—hoping that the tenant would sign without reading it—containing a Clause, which, previously, one would never have dreamed of having in a three-year lease. It is true that in a fourteen-year lease, one may expect to do the external repairs and, perhaps, structural repairs, although I would say that structural repairs are more usual when it is a twenty-one-year lease. In a three-year lease, to find, as we have found lately, an effort sometimes to insert a full structural repairing covenant is most objectionable. I am glad that attention has been called to this and that the Amendment draws the particular attention of the courts to it.

I think that it is possible, as the Bill stood before, that the court would have given attention to this as being a matter for consideration as to whether the tenant was acting reasonably or unreasonably in refusing the lease put before him. I think that the court could have taken that into consideration, but it is as well that particular attention should be called to it.

Mr. A. Evans

It is surprising that as time has gone by, and the effects of the Rent Act have become more revealing, the Government Front Bench and Government supporters have realised some of the appalling injustices which have been arising under the terms of the Rent Act.

I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has left the Chamber. Perhaps he remembers that he told the country that landlords would be reasonable and is now unwilling to meet hon. Members on this particular argument. It is revealing that the Government and their supporters have, at this late hour, apparently become aware of at least one major type of injustice which has arisen in thousands of cases where agreements have been signed under threat of eviction.

I emphasise what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said, that this Amendment, in the name of the Minister, reveals the fact that his own Act has resulted in many injustices being forced upon defenceless tenants. It is necessary to say that, remembering all the speeches in support of the landlord which were made from the Government benches. It is necessary to emphasise that we recognise this sign of awareness on the Government benches. Although it is too late to undo much of the harm which has been done, this is at least a move in the right direction.

Mr. Page

Surely the hon. Gentleman does not suggest that unreasonable landlords result from the Rent Act. There are unreasonable tenants as well. It is these sort of loopholes which both sides of the House want to close.

Mr. Evans

I hesitate to delay the work of the House, but I must say to the hon. Member that the injustice which this Amendment is aimed at arises directly from the Rent Act which was passed by his right hon. and hon. Friends.

Question proposed, That those words be there inserted in the Bill.

Mr. J. Silverman

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, at the end to add: and the occupier shall be deemed to have acted reasonably in refusing or failing to accept the proposal, if those terms would have imposed on him a liability in respect of those matters not incumbent on him before decontrol". This Amendment deals with the same subject matter which has just been discussed. Much has already been said about these extremely onerous repair clauses which have been imposed upon tenants. I can say from my own experience, which I believe has been the experience of many other hon. Members, that this is not an exceptional imposition by just a few landlords. This repair clause has been widely inserted into draft leases in all parts of the country by a large number of landlords, it may be the majority.

It has been my experience in Birmingham, and I hear that hon. Members have had the same experience in London, that it is common in these leases to have a rent of two-and-a-half times the gross value plus a full repairing lease. As the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has said rightly, there is no doubt that the most onerous part of such an agreement is not so much the rent as the repair clause.

The trouble is that many people, under the duress of the threat of eviction, have already signed those leases and nothing can be done to help them. It is no use the Minister saying today, "Oh well, they have been unwise, they ought to have gone to a solicitor." Before this Bill was brought forward, and it took some time for the Minister to do this, the tenant was between the devil and the deep blue sea: either to sign a lease with its unconscionable repair clause or to expect to be evicted in October. Under those circumstances, many tenants have already signed those leases, they are bound by them, and this Bill does nothing to help them.

As regards the rest, this Amendment goes further. We say that the Amendment moved by the Minister does not go far enough. All it does is to say that the county court shall have regard to these matters. In short, it does not impose any duty upon the county court which it does not have already, it does not give any discretion to the county court which it does not already possess. All it does is to direct the attention of the county court to this serious problem. That is something, but it is not very much and it does not help to meet the dilemma of the tenant who is faced with the decision whether to sign an agreement or not to sign an agreement.

It is all very well our saying that the county court will exercise its discretion reasonably. In the majority of cases it does, but the tenant has to decide beforehand, does he sign the agreement or does he not? If he does not sign the agreement, he is faced with the prospect that he cannot go the county court and say, "I have signed the agreement now." If he does not sign the agreement then he has taken the gamble and he loses the benefit of the Bill.

9.0 p.m.

We say that that is wrong. It is perfectly reasonable to insert words in the Bill to enable the tenant to say, when such a proposal is made to him, "You are seeking to impose repairing or other obligations on me, apart from the rent, which were not in my previous agreement at all. In the circumstances, I claim the right not to sign the contract". That is all that the Amendment proposes. It is a reasonable proposal that the Minister ought to accept for dealing with unconscionable repair clauses. It would give the tenant a protection that at present he has not got. All that the county court judge can do is to look at the matter.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)

I beg to second the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.

Mr. Bevins

The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. J. Silverman) complained that the Amendment which I moved on behalf of my right hon. Friend did not go far enough to do justice to tenants in this matter. I know that he will not take offence if I say that the Amendment which he has moved to our Amendment goes much too far. I will briefly explain why.

The Opposition Amendment would automatically allow the occupier to pass the first test under Clause 3 if the terms offered by the owner for a new tenancy included the acceptance by the tenant of any obligation for repairs, improvements or maintenance which the tenant has not to bear under the previous tenancy. That is the aim of the Amendment. The wording is: … the occupier shall be deemed to have acted reasonably in refusing or failing to accept the proposal, if those terms would have imposed on him a liability in respect of those matters not incumbent on him before decontrol". In the first place, it allows no discretion to the court, which is tied up very tightly indeed by the wording. It is only reasonable that we should look at the new terms of tenancy as a whole and not merely at the repairing liabilities. One ought to have regard to the rent which is being charged. I know it has been said by hon. Members opposite, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), that there are cases where stiff increases in rent have been asked for and the landlords have also imposed full repairing liabilities on the tenants. It is none the less conceivable that there may be cases where heavy repairing liabilities are fastened on tenants by landlords and those increased liabilities are to some extent counterbalanced by relatively low rents, on account of the increased repairing liabilities. If this Amendment were accepted in its present form in a case of that sort that would clearly lead to injustice.

Mr. Mitchison

Surely with a three years' lease it is not unreasonable for the tenant to refuse that sort of proposition of heavy repairing liabilities, even with a lower rent?

Mr. Bevins

That is a point to which I was coming. There are so many variations in circumstances. It might well be that the repairing liability which the landlord was seeking to fasten on the tenant would not in fact be a heavy liability at all. For example, there might be a case where until this point was reached there had been no repairing liability of any kind, either internal or external, on the tenant, but the landlord might say, "I require an increased rent" of so much, "but I also require you to be responsible for internal decorative repairs." In those circumstances that might be an eminently reasonable proposition.

As the whole House knows, many local authorities are at present expecting and asking tenants of local authority houses to accept that responsibility. The wording of the Amendment to the Amendment is very much too tight in that it makes no allowance for the variations which might be suggested by landlords as to repairing responsibilities. My right hon. Friend has given a great deal of thought to this matter. By suggesting the form of words embodied in his Amendment whereby the court is directed to have regard to the demands of the landlord in this respect we are going far enough. I hope the hon. Member for Aston and his hon. Friends will be disinclined to press the Amendment.

Mr. A. Evans

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether in the knowledge of his Department, or his personal knowledge, there is a single case where the agreement has been offered by the landlord and the rent has been lowered? The hon. Gentleman spoke of a low rent to be counterbalanced by repairs. Can he cite one case where the rent has been lower than the present gross value?

Mr. Bevins

Perhaps I did not express myself clearly. I was saying that there were cases where, although the repairing liabilities the landlord suggested the tenant should accept would be increased, nevertheless there might be an offset from the point of view of rent. I did not refer to twice gross value at all.

Mr. McInnes

The Parliamentary Secretary said that we ought to have regard to the heavy and ever-increasing repairs liability which falls on the owner. In essence, that was the effect of his contribution. Because of the peculiar situation in relation to Scotland, I make no apology for speaking on this matter. I do not think the Scottish Ministers can sit silent any longer and escape the odium of this Bill by leaving it all to the English Ministers to face.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland is aware that in 1954 we passed the Housing (Repairs and Rents) (Scotland) Act. That Act provided that owners of property who were prepared to carry out repairs would receive a 40 per cent. increase in rentals. After they had got the 40 per cent. increase in rentals because they undertook to carry out repairs, landlords had that increased to 50 per cent. under the Rent Act, or alternatively the house became decontrolled. Under the decontrol process the landlord seeks to engage on a new tenancy arrangement with the occupier. The occupier of the house, having had his rent increased by 40 per cent. under the 1954 Act, is now faced with a rental increase of 200 per cent. to 250 per cent. On top of that, the occupier is further faced with the responsibility of having to carry out all repairs.

I need not remind the House of the type of structure that we have in Scotland, that terrible mass of festering slums, three, four and five storeys high, which are a blot on our cities. Some of the elements of repairs which become the responsibility of the occupiers are the restating of the roof or the repairing of the chimney head in a four or five-storey tenement type of property, which becomes an expensive repair liability.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland is conscious of these conditions existing in Scotland. Does he not agree that the Amendment in the name of my hon. and learned Friend and others of my hon. Friends would adequately meet the situation that exists in Scotland and provide ample and adequate safeguards? I do not agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that the Amendment goes far beyond what is reasonable. I regard it as very reasonable, but I should like to get the concurrence of the Solicitor-General for Scotland in its reasonableness.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) will certainly not get my concurrence on the reasonableness of the Amendment which has just been moved. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has said and for the reasons he gave. The Amend- ment would certainly cover the case of chimney heads and the reslating of roofs, which the hon. Member has mentioned, but that would equally be covered by the Amendment which has been moved in the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister.

As the hon. Member knows, I have had a considerable experience of Rent Act cases, and I have found very few in which the landlords have tried to place on the tenants liability for major structural repairs of the type to which he referred. That is my experience.

Mr. McInnes

In Edinburgh?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

In Glasgow, in the constituency which I have the honour to represent. Certainly, in cases where these major repairing obligations are attempted to be placed on the tenant, the court would consider that while deciding the reasonableness or otherwise of the tenant in refusing the offer of a tenancy.

The normal lease which I have encountered deals with the question of internal decorating repairs. The effect of the Amendment to my right hon. Friend's Amendment is, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, certainly in a case where the tenant hitherto has not been responsible for any repairs, internal or external, that he would pass the first leg of what I might call the qualifying round merely because the landlord, in accordance with what is normal practice, in the case both of local authority and of privately-owned houses, had said, "In future, you will be responsible for internal decorating repairs." That is why I say that in Scotland, as in England, the Amendment to the Amendment goes much too far.

Mr. Willis

Surely, the Solicitor-General for Scotland has missed the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes). He has not answered the question posed to him by my hon. Friend that in many cases today, under the 1954 Act and the Rent Act, the landlord is already receiving an increase of 50 per cent. precisely to meet the cost of repairs. The Government at that time said that they thought it reasonable for the landlord to get this increase to meet the cost of the repairs. Why should the right hon. and learned Gentleman now pass the repairs on to the tenant?

9.15 p.m.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am not passing them on to the tenant. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is normal practice for the landlord to be responsible for the major structural repairs and for the tenant to be responsible for the internal decorative repairs. It was in order to meet the repairs for which the landlord was responsible that the increases were made, and, under the 1954 Act, it was only if he did spend the money on those repairs that he was entitled to the increases.

Mr. Mitchison

This is an important matter, but not a very complicated one. We are not seeking to deal with the liability for repairs either in the period between decontrol and the application to the court, or in the period that may follow on a suspension of execution under this Clause, or, of course, in any agreed lease between the parties. The parties can agree anything they choose. There is nothing whatever about that in this Amendment. What we are considering is whether it is to be taken as reasonable that an occupier, in the circumstances here contemplated, may refuse to accept any greater liability for repairs than he had before control, and that, probably, is a liability that he had had for many years—I do not say always, but in a great many cases. That is all that we are considering.

Let us, for a minute, consider what the circumstances are. The relevance of all this is whether a tenant can prove a number of conditions amounting to hardship. This is only one of them. If he fails on any of the others, this does not matter, so we are entitled to assume that he is a tenant who cannot find anywhere else to go; that he is a tenant who has paid his rent, and that he is a tenant who would suffer greater hardship if turned out than anyone else would suffer if he were not. We are entitled to assume all that.

We then have to ask: is it or is it not reasonable that, in those circumstances, he should refuse? This is for a short period. As I understand it, in the vast majority of cases it is for short leases—proposals for three years or so—and I can find nothing unreasonable whatever in saying that the man could properly refuse this and should be deemed to have acted reasonably—or, perhaps, not unreasonably, which comes to the same thing—when he does so.

Unless we give the courts some indication of this sort of thing we shall put them into a difficult and complicated position about the matter of repairs. Further, we shall put the tenant in a difficult and complicated position, and that is what is really important. Perhaps I should call him the occupier, though he is the tenant. He is not told beforehand what he may safely refuse. He is told only that regard shall be had to these matters. Of course, if he gets good, technical, legal, experienced advice it will help him a lot, but he may not be able to pay for it, and he may omit to get it, and he is a hardship case entitled to our protection.

I therefore say that in this Clause the law should be laid down in such terms that the tenant knows, in this rather complicated matter of repairs, just what he can and what he cannot safely refuse, and there is the more force in that when one considers the large number of cases in which highly unreasonable and oppressive agreements have been put forward.

I would not support this for a minute in some permanent Act to regulate the relations of landlord and tenant, but in what we are dealing with now I consider it a very proper provision for the occupier's protection, and I hope that we shall get a decision on it as soon as may be.

Mr. Page

In this case, right hon. and hon. Members opposite have allowed their enthusiasm for political praise from the tenants to run away with them. I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) putting forward such an impracticable proposition as is contained in this Amendment. He knows perfectly well that in many Rent Act tenancies there is no mention on the one side or the other of any liability for repairs. He knows that in the case of weekly tenancies that have gone on for years the tenants probably do the interior repairs and the landlords do the exterior repairs, but that there is no liability on either of them to do either.

Mr. Mitchison

As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned me, may I say that of course I know that, but I also know that for many years it has been the law that the burden on the tenant should not be increased. It has been common practice, and the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) knows that; that is what the tenants are accustomed to.

Mr. Page

The burden on the tenant is accepted as being increased under the Rent Act, both as regards rent and as regards his general liability as an occupier. What I was complaining about in this Amendment was that it requires the existing liability of the tenant for repairs to remain exactly the same. In fact, in 99 out of 100 cases there is no liability on the tenant for repairs at all in the normal weekly Rent Act case. Therefore, if the landlord puts forward a proposal for a perfectly normal tenancy, say a rack rent

tenancy, with the tenant doing interior repairs, he is putting forward a proposal which, according to the Amendment, the tenant would not be unreasonable in refusing and, therefore, would qualify in the first round.

It is a quite impracticable Amendment. The main Amendment here provides all that is necessary for the tenant's protection. It calls the attention of the courts particularly to the question of the repairing covenant and gives the tenant that protection. It would be quite impracticable to try to apply this Amendment to the main Amendment.

Question put, That those words be there added to the proposed Amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 167, Noes 193.

Division No. 166.] AYES [9.22 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Mikardo, Ian
Albu, A. H. Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Mitchison, G. R.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Grey, C. F. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Awbery, S. S. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)
Bacon, Miss Alice Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Mort, D. L.
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Grimond, J. Moss, R.
Benson, Sir George Hale, Leslie Moyle, A.
Beswick, Frank Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Oram, A. E.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Hamilton, W. W. Orbach, M.
Blackburn, F. Hannan, W. Owen, W. J.
Blenkinsop, A. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Padley, W. E.
Blyton, W. R. Hastings, S. Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Boardman, H. Hayman, F. H. Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Healey, Denis Pargiter, G. A.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Herbison, Miss M. Parker, J.
Bowles, F. G. Holman, P. Parkin, B. T.
Boyd, T. C. Holt, A. F. Paton, John
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Houghton, Douglas Pentland, N.
Brockway, A. F. Howell, Denis (All Saints) Popplewell, E.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Probert, A. R.
Burton, Miss F. E. Hunter, A. E. Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hynd, H. (Accrington) Randall, H. E.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Redhead, E. C.
Callaghan, L. J. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Reid, William
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Rhodes, H.
Champion, A. J. Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.) Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Chapman, W. D. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Chetwynd, G. R. Johnson, James (Rugby) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Coldrick, W. Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Royle, C.
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Cronin, J. D. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Skeffington, A. M.
Crossman, R. H. S. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Cullen, Mrs. A. Kenyon, C. Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Davies, Rt. Hon. Clement (Montgomery) King, Dr. H. M. Snow, J. W.
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Lawson, G. M. Soremen, R. W.
Deer, G. Ledger, R. J. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
de Freitas, Geoffrey Lee, Frederick (Newton) Sparks, J. A.
Delargy, H. J. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Spriggs, Leslie
Diamond, John Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Steele, T.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Lindgren, G. S. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Dye S. Logan, D. G. Stonehouse, John
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. McCann, J. Stones, W. (Consett)
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) MacColl, J. E. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) MacDermot, Niall Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Fernyhough, E. McGhee, H. G. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Finch, H. J. McInnes, J. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Fitch, E. A. McLeavy, Frank Tomney, F.
Fletcher, Eric Mahon, Simon Wade, D. W.
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Warbey, W. N.
Gibson, C. W. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Weitzman, D.
Wells, Percy (Faversham) Winterbottom, Richard Zilliacus, K.
Wheeldon, W. E. Woof, R. E.
Wilkins, W. A. Yates, V. (Ladywood) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.) Younger, Rt. Hon. K. Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons.
Agnew, Sir Peter Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Nugent, G. R. H.
Aitken, W. T. Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Oakshott, H. D.
Arbuthnot, John Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Armstrong, C. W. Gurden, Harold Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)
Ashton, H. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Osborne, C.
Atkins, H. E. Harris, Reader (Heston) Page, R. G.
Baldwin, Sir Archer Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Balniel, Lord Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Peel, W. J.
Barber, Anthony Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Barlow, Sir John Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Barter, John Henderson-Stewart, Sir James Pitman, I. J.
Batsford, Brian Hesketh, R. F. Pitt, Miss E. M.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Hill, Rt. Han. Charles (Luton) Powell, J. Enoch
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Rawlinson, Peter
Bennett, Dr. Reginald Hirst, Geoffrey Redmayne, M.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Hornby, R. P. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Bidgood, J. C. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Renton, D. L. M.
Bishop, F. P. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Ridsdale, J. E.
Black, C. W. Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Rippon, A. G. F.
Body, R. F. Howard, John (Test) Robertson, Sir David
Boothby, Sir Robert Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Bossom, Sir Alfred Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Boyle, Sir Edward Iremonger, T. L. Russell, R. S.
Braine, B. R. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt. Col. W. H. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Sharples, R. C.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Shepherd, William
Brooman-White, R. C. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Joseph, Sir Keith Spearman, Sir Alexander
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Keegan, D. Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
Burden, F. F. A. Kerby, Capt. H. B. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Kerr, Sir Hamilton Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Campbell, Sir David Kershaw, J. A. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Carr, Robert Kimball, M. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Cary, Sir Robert Kirk, P. M. Storey, S.
Chichester-Clark, R. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Cole, Norman Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Temple, John M.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Cooper, A. E. Linstead, Sir H. N. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick) Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Macdonald, Sir Peter Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) McKibbin, Alan Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Cunningham, Knox Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Turner, H. F. L.
Currie, G. B. H. McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Deedes, W. F. Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Vane, W. M. F.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Vickers, Miss Joan
Doughty, C. J. A. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Drayson, G. B. Maddan, Martin Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek
du Cann, E. D. L. Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Wall, Patrick
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Farey-Jones, F. W. Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Webbe, Sir H.
Fisher, Nigel Markham, Major Sir Frank Webster, David
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Marlowe, A. A. H. Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Gammans, Lady Marshall, Douglas Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Garner-Evans, E. H. Mathew, R. Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Mawby, R. L. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gibson-Watt, D. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Wood, Hon. R.
Glover, D. Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh Woollam, John Victor
Glyn, Col. Richard H. Nabarro, G. D. N. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Goodhart, Philip Nairn, D. L. S.
Gower, H. R. Neave, Airey TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grant, W. (Woodside) Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham) Colonel J. H. Harrison and
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch) Mr. Finlay.
Green, A. Noble, M. A. C. (Argyll)

proposed words there inserted in the Bill.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Bevins

I beg to move, in page5, line 35, to leave out paragraphs (b) to (d) of For all practical purposes this is a drafting Amendment consequential on the changes which have been effected in Clause 3 (1). As the Bill stands now, as amended, it may well be that the owner of a property would make a fresh offer during the period of a suspension or even make an offer during that period for the first time. Before the court granted an extension of the suspension, it should be satisfied that the occupier had acted reasonably in rejecting such an offer, if made.

Mr. Mitchison

In our view, this Amendment and the Amendments in tine 39 and line 48 which follow clarify what we thought to be the intention of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Bevins

I beg to move, in page 5, line 39, to leave out from "fit" to the end of line 42.

This Amendment and the Amendment in page 5, line 48, are drafting Amendments and arise out of a certain small confusion which crept into the printing of the amended form of the Clause.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 5, line 48, at the end to insert: and where an application is duly made under paragraph (a) of this subsection, the execution of the order shall in any case be treated as suspended while that application is pending".—[Mr. Bevins.]

Mr. H. Brooke

I beg to move, in page 5, line 48, at the end to insert: (5) A suspension of execution under subsection (1) or subsection (4) of this section may, if the court thinks fit, be granted notwithstanding that any such rent or sum as is mentioned in paragraph (c) of the said subsection (1) has not been paid or tendered, but any such suspension shall be granted subject to the payment of the amount outstanding within twenty-eight days. This Amendment has been referred to indirectly at an earlier stage. I doubt whether I need give any further explanation of it.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Bevins

I beg to move, in page 6, line 11, to leave out "was made" and to insert: or a memorandum or note thereof was signed by or on behalf of the owner". As the House knows, Clause 3 (5, a) deals with those cases where an agreement for the sale or lease of a house is in force under which the owner is obliged to give vacant possession after a certain date. It provides that the court shall not suspend the order beyond the date on which the owner is obliged to give vacant possession so long as the agreement was made before 2nd April, 1958, and the premises were wanted for the personal occupation of the purchaser or his immediate family.

Earlier, it was pointed out that the practice of back-dating agreements to the date of an oral agreement might lead to some evasion of the Bill's provisions. For example, there might have been verbal discussions affecting the proposed sale of a house which were never concluded but, by some stretch of imagination by the two parties concerned, it could be converted in their own minds into a verbal agreement which would permit the future signing on a back-dated basis of a back-dated lease with its possible attendant advantages to the parties concerned.

The Amendment does not pretend to overcome the risk of forgery, but it makes clear—and here we are going some way to meet the point made in Standing Committee—that a verbal agreement as such will not do. The agreement must have been signed before 2nd April, 1958, or a note or memorandum to that effect must have been signed by or on behalf of the owner before that date.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I think that it is agreed on this side of the House, at least, that this is a very bad subsection and that it is a great pity that it has not been taken out of the Bill. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary is not meeting the case of the tenant who will now be denied even the opportunity of going to court for a stay of eviction simply because the ownership of the house in which he is living has transferred possibly only a month or two months before the date provided for in the Clause. It seems utterly unreasonable that a tenant in this position should be denied the opportunity of appeal that is open to a tenant where a transfer of ownership has not taken place.

I cannot understand why the Parliamentary Secretary, in moving this modest Amendment, could not have met the major point raised by my hon. Friends in Committee. No doubt we shall have an opportunity to return to this on Third Reading, because I hope that it will still be possible, in another place, for the Government to consider this point seriously. There are people in my own division who cannot make an appeal to a court for a stay of eviction simply because the ownership has passed, which is no fault of theirs. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that he is still prepared to give the matter further consideration in another place.

Mr. Mitchison

I earnestly hope that the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary will answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop). We raised the general point in Committee, and it does not arise on this Clause, but I understand that my hon. Friend is asking about cases where an owner cannot go to court for the reasons that he has given.

Mr. Bevins

My right hon. Friend has nothing to conceal, because the broader aspect of the Clause was fairly fully debated in Standing Committee and on that occasion my right hon. Friend stated clearly why the arguments advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and some of his hon. Friends were not acceptable. The Amendment is very modest and does not pretend to meet the main arguments advanced on the broad issue.

I can assure the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) that we fully appreciate what he has in mind. He would like to see the court try to weigh the balance, as it were, as between the existing occupier and the person who has acquired the house and perhaps intends to use it for his own family. As my right hon. Friend explained with great clarity in Committee, the main reason why we do not feel able to do that is that in many cases the third party would be vacating accommodation which is now required by yet another family. If we relied on Clause 3 (1, d) for this purpose, it might mean bringing a long chain of parties with their own problems before the court. Largely for that reason, I cannot give the hon. Member the assurance for which he asks.

Amendment agreed to.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I beg to move, in page 6, line 27, to leave out from "Scotland" to "omitted" in line 28 and to insert: the proviso to subsection (2), and in subsection (5), the words 'or a memorandum or note thereof' shall be. This follows from the Amendment which has just been accepted. The words "a memorandum or note thereof" in this context have no meaning in Scottish law, where a lease in normal practice is in writing and verbal agreements have no effect. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate to have the words "a memorandum or note" relating to Scotland. That is the purpose of the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)

I beg to move, in page 6, line 28, at the end to insert: (8) Where in proceedings under this section the court suspends the execution of an order for possession the court, without prejudice to its general discretion as to costs, shall in making any order as to costs have regard to the fact that the tenant has succeeded in establishing his right to relief. The purpose of the Amendment is to protect the tenant from finding himself involved in legal costs merely by reason of the fact that he exercised his right to seek the protection which the Act is intended to give him. In order to make clear why a subsection of this kind is in our opinion needed in the Bill, it is necessary for me to establish four propositions, which I think can be clearly made out in the Bill. First, one has to envisage the situation which arises when proceedings take place. In the proceedings contemplated in Clause 3, the owner is on the defensive and in that respect the position is, though not unique, somewhat unusual. The usual procedure when a complaining party comes to court is that the onus of proof is on the plaintiff to establish the case, and certain consequences follow as to costs thereafter. The position here is that it is the tenant, or the defendant, who will have to establish his right to relief under the various subsections of the Clause.

The second proposition is that the landlord must always be the plaintiff, because from the opening words of the Clause it is clear that it is only the landlord who can initiate the proceedings and it is only after the landlord has initiated the proceedings that the tenant may set up his claim for relief under the various headings.

The third and perhaps most important proposition is that in such proceedings the landlord must always succeed. The explanation is that the proceedings take the form of the landlord claiming possession of his property. The only order which the county court judge can make in those proceedings is an order for possession in favour of the landlord, but under the Clause he is entitled to suspend that order for a period stated in the Clause.

9.45 p.m.

The actual form of the order which the court must make is one in favour of the landlord for possession of the property, suspended for a specified time. That, therefore, means that, in accordance with the usual practice, the costs follow the event. It means in the normal case that the landlord would be entitled to an order for costs, which would fall upon the tenant or the defendant.

It is clear that the only way in which the tenant can secure his rights under the Bill is by being taken to the court by the landlord. He is not in a position to initiate proceedings himself. Therefore, on the assumption that I have made, the tenant, however much he establishes his right, must be the losing party and in the normal circumstances the party ordered to pay the costs.

Except for the point that I have been making, it would not be necessary normally to provide for any question of costs. The rule in our courts is that the judge has a general discretion as to costs, but that discretion has to be judicially exercised in accordance with certain principles. Unless his attention is directed, as I seek it to be in my Amendment, in the great majority of cases it would be inevitable that the judge, however sympathetic he might be to the tenant, would be bound to make an order in favour of the landlord as to costs, which would mean that they would fall upon the tenant.

I do not think that the House wants that to happen. We ought to put in the Bill some protection for the tenant to prevent it happening. In litigation it is always desirable that recourse to the courts should be avoided as far as possible, but as the matter stands the landlord will be encouraged to go to court, because he goes to court to get his order for possession. He can, as it were, have a go at the tenant knowing that whatever happens he is bound to get an order for costs in his favour and the tenant will be called upon to pay the costs. If some scheme of the kind that I have envisaged can be inserted into the Bill, the landlord will think twice before he goes to court and a situation will arise in which there will be a more favourable atmosphere for the settlement of the case before it goes to court.

As matters stand, there is nothing to inhibit the landlord from going to court. He is the winner whatever happens, both as to the ultimate result and as to costs, and I should like to see an Amendment inserted to make the landlord think again before going to court. That should be done in common justice, because though the tenant establishes his point he is in danger of having an order for costs made against him.

The purpose of the Amendment is to draw the attention of the county court judge to these circumstances and to bring to his mind that if the tenant establishes his right to relief, he is in fact the person who has gained the verdict, and in those circumstances he would be normally the person entitled to the order for costs. It is not only proper justice for the tenant in these cases but, I hope, it will also discourage litigation in these matters.

I know that at one stage my right hon. Friend was asked to consider whether or not the courts might find themselves overburdened with these cases. I can assure him that, in my experience and belief, if he accepts the Amendment it will go a long way towards preventing the courts being overburdened, and it will ensure that the tenant is not taken to court and compelled to pay the costs, although in effect he has won the day. I hope that my right hon. Friend will think that the case I have made is a reasonable one.

Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I shall not go over the legal arguments put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe), but I would make an appeal to my right hon. Friend to make some statement on this question. The only point which I wish to make on this subject is that those who are most in need of relief are the poorest members of the community. They are, therefore, the people who in fact would hesitate to defend a case in court if they found that the costs were to be given against them.

Therefore, in those circumstances, knowing perfectly well that my right hon. Friend introduced Clause 3 into the Bill in order to protect these very people, it would appear that this Clause might be abortive if those people most in need of relief, so far as extortionate landlords and large rents are concerned, felt that they could not afford to go to court because the costs would be given against them. Although it would be quite impossible and quite wrong to pass any legislation giving instructions to county court judges, or other judges, as to what they should do in their discretion, I feel that my hon. and learned Friend has put forward an Amendment which should have some direct influence in making this Clause work in the way which my right hon. Friend really desires that it should, and it is in that spirit that I second the Amendment.

Mr. Weitzman

We on this side of the House are extremely glad to see the accession of strength on the other side presumably in support of the Amendment. This is a matter which we on this side of the House raised in Committee again and again—the question of costs to the tenant—without receiving any sympathetic response of any shape or kind from the Minister, and therefore we are very glad that hon. Members opposite have moved an Amendment to this effect.

My hon. Friends will certainly support the Amendment. It seems to me to raise a very important point when one remembers that the occupier is driven to court again and again in order to get a stay of execution to enable him to remain in the house. He can get a maximum period of only nine months at one time, and therefore, in a period of three years, he has to go back to the court again and again.

As has been rightly said, the landlord brings the proceedings, and it might well be said by the judge to the tenant, "You as a tenant are coming here as a matter of indulgence. If I allow you to remain in the house, you will have to pay the costs." This Amendment is a good one in that it brings directly to the attention of the judge the question of hardship on the part of the tenant. I hope that every hon. Member on the other side of the House will support the Amendment.

Mr. MacDermot

I rise briefly to support the Amendment and, in doing so, to say that my only concern is whether the Amendment really goes far enough. We must remember that in any case where an order is made under the Act for suspension of execution it means that the landlord is an unreasonable landlord and has been proved to be an unreasonable landlord.

He will have been shown to be one of the landlords who has not heeded the advice and pleas which have come in the last month from the Minister and other members of the Government, asking them to make a reasonable offer to the tenants. It has to be established by the occupier, as a pre-condition of getting a suspension at all, that he has not unreasonably refused any offer made by the landlord, so, to start with, we are dealing with an unreasonable landlord.

Surely, in any such case where the tenant succeeds in getting an order he should have the advantage as to costs which normally goes to a successful plaintiff in an ordinary legal action. The hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe), who moved the Amendment, pointed out that under the ordinary principles of costs, as they prevail in our courts, the tenant will on the form of the proceedings be an unsuccessful defendant whereas in reality and in substance on the real issue that has been tried he will have been the successful party and the real plaintiff, the real person with the complaint, which is that the unreasonable landlord has not been prepared to grant him a reasonable breathing space before enforcing the right of eviction.

My only concern is whether an Amendment is required to make it clear that the courts should be governed by what is the real substance of the matter and that in a case where a suspension order is granted in the normal course costs should automatically be granted to the occupier. In any event, this is better than nothing, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment.

Mr. H. Brooke

I hope I shall be able to give some reassurance to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) because, although I do not advise the House to accept the Amendment, I appreciate the intentions with which it has been moved. The concern of my hon. and learned Friend is to ensure that an occupier is not deterred from contesting a matter in court by the fear that he may have to pay not only his own costs but also those of the owner.

Mr. Marlowe

No, my right hon. Friend misunderstands me. What I am disturbed about is that he has no alternative, by way of establishing his rights, except to go to court at the behest of the landlord.

Mr. Brooke

Let us first clear up this point. My hon. and learned Friend said that the landlord must always be the plaintiff—

Mr. Marlowe


Mr. Brooke

It will be the landlord who initiates the proceedings, if it is the first application, but this Bill also provides in this Clause for further applications by the occupier for a new suspension, and in that case it will not be the owner but the occupier who initiates the proceedings, so my hon. and learned Friend will see that the matter may work both ways. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I said that on the first occasion it was the owner who initiated the proceedings. It would not be right to say that it is the owner who is always the initiator because, as I made clear, the Bill also provides that if one suspension has been granted, the occupier may apply for a further suspension.

Mr. A. Evans

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note that the terms of the Amendment are restricted to the initial application by the landlord for the suspension of the execution and does not deal with the occupier's further application?

Mr. Brooke

I thought that the debate had been a general one. It was suggested that all proceedings in the court could be started by the landlord, and that is not the case.

Mr. Marlowe

I am sorry to interrupt again, but it is clear. I worded the Amendment carefully from the opening words of the Clause which give the county court judge power to suspend the execution of an order. The Amendment begins by saying that where that power is exercised these consequences shall follow.

Mr. Brooke

I would like to examine the matter further for a few minutes. One or two hon. Members who have spoken on this Amendment have done so as though there were two separate processes: first, the court reaching a decision in favour of the owner on the ground that the owner has established his right to an order for possession and then, subsequently, a separate proceeding where the county court considers and reaches a decision on whether the occupier can satisfy the various tests that will entitle him to a suspension.

10.0 p.m.

The fact is that the two are simultaneous. In the normal case the point at issue is not whether the owner is entitled to an order for possession. That will not be contested by the owner. The occupier's concern will be to prove that he has satisfied the four tests in Section 1 and that therefore he is entitled to a suspension of possession.

It is not quite right, therefore, to say that in the normal case the owner will win and therefore will be entitled to costs according to the normal practice. I invite the attention of the House to the fact that in possession actions under the Rent Acts, which are not dissimilar from the kind of action we are considering here, the usual practice of the county courts is to make no order as to costs. It seems not unreasonable to think that this will also be the usual practice of the courts in the cases to which the Bill applies. If no order is made, each side bears its own costs.

The Bill has been carefully drafted and planned so as to make sure that the occupier need not incur serious costs. He need not indeed incur any costs at all if he is not legally represented. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] The arguments that he has to put to the court relate not to points of law but wholly to matters within his own personal knowledge and experience. The Government have resisted Amendments both in Committee and on Report which would have brought in and imported into the tests matters on which expert witnesses would have been required. As the Bill stands, the occupier is able to refer wholly to matters within his own knowledge and experience in order to satisfy the court tests under Clause 3. For that reason legal representation is not essential for the occupier, unless he wishes.

Mr. Weitzman

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. Is he saying that a man must not employ counsel or a solicitor? In the ordinary way he would employ them in a matter so vital to himself and his family. Why not put a provision into the Bill that there should be no legal representation on either side?

Mr. Brooke

I am not saying that the occupier or the owner should not be legally represented, but that the occupier who wishes to conduct his own case should find no difficulty in doing so—[Interruption.]—because he is not required to argue any point of law. The only task put upon him by the Bill is to establish the truth of matters which are within his own personal experience.

Mr. MacDermot

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that there is no point of law to argue on the question whether the tenant had reasonably or unreasonably refused to accept the terms and conditions contained in the draft contract?

Mr. Brooke

The most cogent evidence is what the man himself says. I am perfectly well aware that the Opposition have worked hard to bring into the Bill other matters, such as the market rent of the premises, which would require expert witnesses. The Government have resisted all such Amendments in order to secure that the tests should be as simple as possible and that an occupier if he does not wish to incur the costs of legal representation will find no point at which he is compelled to do so. Not for a moment am I suggesting that there should be any bar to an occupier engaging counsel to help him if he so wishes. All I am saying is that an occupier can conduct his case and can satisfy the court on these four tests by speaking from his personal knowledge and experience.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

has my right hon. Friend been a magistrate and has he ever sat as a chairman of a bench of magistrates?

Mr. Brooke

I have done neither, but there is no need for me to do that in order to speak about the way in which the Bill is drafted.

Dame Irene Ward

It has nothing to do with the drafting.

Mr. Brooke rose

Dame Irene Ward rose

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I hope that the hon. Lady will resume her seat. If the Minister does not give way she must resume her seat.

Dame Irene Ward rose

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Lady has heard what I said and I hope she will obey me.

Mr. Brooke

I must say that the way in which this Bill is drafted and the way in which it becomes an Act should be a matter of great concern to the court, whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) may say. If the occupier does not wish to incur the costs of legal representation there is nothing in this Measure which would compel him or her to do so. Of course he may do so. I have pointed out that it is normal practice for the court in the not dissimilar cases of applications for possession under the Rent Acts to make no order as to costs.

I quite agree that there is the possibility that the court might decide, having regard to the nature of the case and the conduct of the parties, that there ought to be an order as to costs in one direction or another and the order might be one under which the occupier would be required to pay the owner's costs. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, when he makes rules under subsection (1) of Clause 4, intends to consider sympathetically a provision which, while it must preserve the court's discretion for exceptional cases, would normally limit the costs payable by one party to the other to costs assessed under Scale II. [HON. MEMBERS: "How much is that?"] I am going to say how much that is. This will mean an amount in the range from £4 to £7 or £8. That in the normal case will be the limit.

I hope what I have said will have reassured my hon. Friends that an occupier can state his case in court, or be legally represented, without running the risk of having to pay inordinate costs that may have been incurred by a landlord who has sought to employ expensive counsel to act for him. I say in passing that I believe very few cases will actually come into court under this Measure, but it has been the whole purpose of the Government to ensure that any proceeding under it can be carried through without the risk of heavy costs being charged against the occupier who contests his case, or is legally represented in court.

I am quite sure that an Amendment of this kind is unnecessary. Indeed, if my hon. and learned Friend will examine the terms of the Amendment carefully, he will see that in practice it would be likely to make very little difference to the position, but I must advise the House that there is no need for such an Amendment. I have indicated to the House what the intentions of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor are.

Mrs. Butler

Does the Minister realise what an ordeal it is for these occupiers to go to court at all? After the worry and upset that they have had under the Rent Acts, most of them are simply incapable of speaking for themselves in court. Many of them are elderly, most of them are working people. They must have legal aid if their case is to be put fairly.

The Minister has referred to cases under the Rent Act and said that the normal practice is for each party to bear his own costs and he seemed to think that that was perfectly all right. It so happens, however, that only this afternoon I had a letter from one of my constituents involved in such a case. I should like to quote his letter, because it puts into perspective the cost which these people will have to bear, even if they bear only their own costs without having to take on the landlord's costs also.

My constituent had an order for possession brought against him by his landlord on 5th June. This is what his letter says: The judge's verdict was in my favour and no order for possession made made. I am quite satisfied with that, but to obtain this decision I had to employ a solicitor at a fee of 20 guineas, which is not recovered. I am a painter and decorator by trade and have no money apart from my weekly wage, so through no fault of mine this action has cost me roughly a fortnight's wages. The action was brought against me. I had no alternative but to defend myself, at the above costs. In my opinion, this is a grave injustice and if nothing is done about this sort of thing, many more people will suffer the same fate. That is a case under the Rent Act.

Tenants or occupiers appearing under this new Bill when it becomes an Act will also incur their own costs. As the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe), who moved the Amendment, has pointed out, they may have to bear the landlord's costs as well and for working people this is prohibitive. There is here a case which the Minister has not answered. He should withdraw what he has said. If not, the Amendment should be supported.

Dame Irene Ward

I am extremely perturbed at the line that my right hon. Friend has taken. I gather, though it was difficult to hear what he said, that he is not a magistrate, has never sat as a magistrate, has never sat as chairman of a bench of magistrates and, therefore, is quite out of touch with the difficulties facing those who have to adjudicate. I am not for one moment commenting on the people who, for one reason or another, come to court, but from the way that he has talked about proceedings it must be quite obvious that my right hon. Friend is completely unaware of the difficulties that magistrates have in all sorts of cases which come before them when those who appear in court are not legally represented.

I happen to be a magistrate and I happen quite often to sit as the chairman of a very big bench in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Although I do not like to boast, I think that I have some experience and it seems to me that I have a little more experience of what goes on in court than my right hon. Friend. I quote that sort of experience in the hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider his position.

To begin with, however much one tries from the bench to make them feel at ease, people who are not accustomed to going to court are quite often terrified. The atmosphere of a court is very formal. That, of course, is precisely as it should be, because that is considered to be the right way to uphold the dignity of the law. Therefore, if we get people coming to court who have never been there before, it naturally lays a very great strain and a very great burden on them.

10.15 p.m.

My right hon. Friend may be unaware that quite often when one of the parties is represented by a legal adviser and the other is not, it falls on the clerk to the magistrates, or sometimes on the chairman of the bench, or on the other sitting magistrates to try to ascertain the truth, and to seek to induce the party not legally represented really to bring out all the facts. Although I fully agree that our courts of summary jurisdiction are the best in the world, I often have the feeling that it is a very rough-and-ready justice.

I really cannot understand why my right hon. Friend should have any objection to including this provision in the Bill. I must say that I think that it is just lack of knowledge, and real obstinacy on his part. I fully support his view that to a very large extent it is the attitude of the Opposition that has made this Bill necessary. At the same time, I have always held the view that there should be recourse to the courts, and if my right hon. Friend had taken similar advice a little earlier he would not have found himself in his present difficulties.

One can have a reasonably well-off landlord—I can think of one in my own division—who wants to sell all his housing estate, which he has built, simply because he wants to get rid of the property. I can understand that. He is not prepared to enter into any negotiations with any of his tenants. He holds quite a powerful position, and when he goes to court he will naturally engage the very best lawyer he can to state his case, and to defend any case in which he is seeking to obtain an eviction order.

In the area of which I speak we have above the average of retired people; people living on small fixed incomes. They are taken to court, and probably cannot afford to get legal advice. Even if they are in a position to put their points to the court, I have had sufficient experience to know how many points that are valuable to them are not advanced because the people themselves are very often unaware of the arguments that they should use. That is the simple point; that the people themselves are unaware of the arguments that they should put so as to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill.

That, of course, is the difficulty. My right hon. Friend has always resisted a sort of landlord-and-tenant Bill on the grounds that the courts would be swamped. Therefore, if he is right, I am right in assuming that there will be great pressure on the courts, and these busy courts will not have time to try to encourage the small people to produce all the facts that might help them.

My right hon. Friend is saying to the landlords—and not all landlords can afford legal advice, but these are supposed to be the worst landlords who will not enter into tenancy agreements—that those landlords who can afford lawyers are entitled to have them, and that, if they win, or even if the wretched tenant wins the case, they are entitled to have their costs. My right hon. Friend is saying to landlords who can afford lawyers "You can have the lawyers, and we are not going to take any steps to see that you bear your own costs, or, if the tenant wins, that you bear the tenant's costs." But he is saying to the small people, particularly those living on small fixed incomes and those who are unused to putting their own case, "We are not going to do anything to protect you." That is exactly the position, put quite fairly and squarely, and I think it is a most regrettable decision.

All I can do is to reiterate what I have said before, that it is most unfortunate to have a Minister arguing a case who has not had experience of what goes on in the courts. I beg and pray, after what I have said, that my right hon. Friend will reconsider his decision and try to bring that fairness into this piece of legislation which the Tory Party has always so proudly claimed is to be found in its political philosophy.

Mr. Janner

I should like to say to the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) that she need not get worried because of the fact that people happen to be terrified in her court. It is not because of the hon. Lady; it is the court atmosphere itself, and that is generally the position. Apparently, the Minister does not know the first thing about these proceedings, and apparently it has never occurred to him that of all the Acts on the Statute Book the Rent Acts have caused the most controversy on legal points, not only in the lower courts, but in the Court of Appeal and in the highest courts of the country.

This Bill will increase the amount of work that will go to these various courts. This is not a simple matter in which an individual goes into court and can argue his own case. It is a very intricate matter, and if the right hon. Gentleman is not to give the tenant the opportunity of having proper legal assistance, he is not only inflicting the very serious damage which the 1957 Act has already done, but also adds to the troubles of the tenants affected who go before the courts—and I think this is a point which he has overlooked—in that they may not only have to pay in the event of losing the case, but also in the event of winning.

Nobody in the country will understand what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind when he tells people to go into the courts unrepresented against landlords who are legally represented and informs tenants that the only way they can save themselves costs is by attempting to conduct these cases themselves.

Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)

I think somebody on these benches ought to have the opportunity, however unpleasant it is, of supporting the Minister. I think the whole House is agreed that the provisions in my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment are reasonable, and the only point on which I take issue with my right hon. Friend is that it is not necessary. I am bound to say that it is not easy to deal with this point, because I cannot accept the contention made by my right hon. Friend.

The function of lawyers is not really to present legal arguments, but mostly to establish facts and to elicit them by cross-examination. I do not think my right hon. Friend has helped this debate—he has rather confused and distracted people—but there is no doubt whatever that every person involved in cases of this kind would find it an advantage to have a competent lawyer. A lawyer is of use if it is only a question of fact. It is unfortunate that my right hon. Friend said it was only a matter of establishing facts, which the tenant had to give. This is not a question of the facts within the knowledge of the tenant; it is a question of greater hardship. In other words, there would have to be cross-examination of the other side. I ask the House to ignore this reference to lawyers. Nor am I impressed by the analogy to the Rent Acts and the suggestion that both parties should pay their own costs. I ask the House not to be distracted by this partisan feeling.

The real issue is not that of this provision but whether it is really necessary. It is unfortunate when lawyers divide. If our judiciary and county court judges were trying a case in which they knew the issue was whether the tenant should stay, whether he should be given extra time or should go, it would be an exaggeration to suggest that they would say, "We must award costs against you because you won a case which was not in issue at all." If the tenant succeeded in getting a reprieve, my experience is that the tenant would get the costs of the action.

Mr. Marlowe

I believe that I have a right of reply, and I should like to use that right in order to give my right hon. Friend the Minister an opportunity to think again. I realise that it is difficult for him to appreciate the refinements of this argument, but I hope he will be impressed with the weight of argument which has been put forward on this Amendment. There is opportunity for him to reconsider the matter, and if he will indicate that he is prepared to give the matter further consideration in another place I shall be content to accept that assurance from him.

The reply which my right hon. Friend has given so far could hardly be regarded as satisfactory. It was based upon two propositions. He said first that the tenants can talk from their own knowledge and that they do not need anybody to help them. This is a very complicated Measure, and certainly no tenant should be placed in a disadvantage in that respect. If a landlord has legal advice available to him, the tenant should be in the same position. To use the "housemaid's baby" argument is unsatisfactory. My right hon. Friend said that this will be only a matter of small scale costs, but a principle of common justice is involved. If a man should not have to pay the costs, it does not matter whether the costs are large or small. If a man establishes his right to relief, he ought not to pay any costs.

I hope my right hon. Friend will indicate that he is prepared to reconsider the matter. I am remaining on my feet in the anxiety that he will do so. If he will, I will be glad to assist him in any way I can, but I should like some indication from my right hon. Friend that he will give the matter further consideration.

Mr. H. Brooke

Of course, the Government will examine carefully everything that has been said in this debate. I sought to remove a feeling which I detected among some of my hon. Friends who support the Amendment that the necessary costs would be given in favour of the owner if the owner succeeded in establishing his case, which would probably not be in issue at all, that he was entitled to an order for possession at some date.

That will not be the main issue before the court. The real issue will be whether the tenant can establish his right under Clause 3 (1) to a suspension, and if he can do that it seems to me that the court will certainly take all the circumstances into consideration and will regard this not as two separate operations or actions but as one.

10.30 p.m.

That being so I must advise the House that this Amendment does not add anything at all. I have given my hon. Friends the assurance that the Lord Chancellor will sympathetically consider the proposal I indicated to the House. It would

have the effect of limiting the owner's costs which might be payable by the occupier if he were to have costs given against him. I further stated that in the comparable Rent Act cases it is not the custom of the court to make any order as to costs. Not for one moment did I suggest that it would be undesirable or unwise for an occupier to have legal representation. I confined myself to pointing out that the Bill had been carefully shaped so as to ensure that the matters which the occupier would have to prove would be questions which were within his knowledge and experience. We have carefully excluded matters which would necessarily require the bringing into court of expert witnesses and the like.

I will read in HANSARD everything that has been said, but as I see it at the moment, this Amendment is not necessary and would not improve the position.

Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 157, Noes 175.

Division No. 167.] AYES [10.32 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. de Freitas, Geoffrey Johnson, James (Rugby)
Albu, A. H. Delargy, H. J. Jones, David (The Hartlepools)
Allen, Soholefleld (Crewe) Diamond, John Jones, Jack (Rotherham)
Awbery, S. S. Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)
Bacon, Miss Alice Dye, S. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)
Balfour, A. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Kenyon, C.
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) King, Dr. H. M.
Benson, Sir George Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Lawson, G. M.
Beswick, Frank Fernyhough, E. Ledger, R. J.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Finch, H. J. Lee, Miss Jannie (Cannock)
Blackburn, F. Fitch, E. A. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)
Blenkinsop, A. Fletcher, Erin Lindgren, G. S.
Blyton, W. R. Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Logan, D. G.
Boardman, H. Gibson, C. W. McCann, J.
Bonham Carter, Mark Gordan Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. MacColl, J. E.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. MacDermot, Niall
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Grey, C. F. McGhee, H. G.
Bowles, F. G. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) McInnes, J.
Boyd, T. C. Grimond, J. Mahon, Simon
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Hale, Leslie Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Brockway, A. F. Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hamilton, W. W. Mikardo, Ian
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hannan, W. Mitchison, G. R.
Burton, Miss F. E. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hayman, F. H. Moss, R.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Healey, Denis Oram, A. E.
Callaghan, L. J. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Orbach, M.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Herbison, Miss M. Owen, W. J.
Champion, A. J. Holman, P. Padley, W. E.
Chapman, W. D. Holt, A. F. Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Chetwynd, G. R. Houghton, Douglas Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Coldrick, W. Howell, Denis (All Saints) Pargiter, G. A.
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditoh & Flnsbury) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Parker, J.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Parkin, B. T.
Cronin, J. D. Hunter, A. E. Pearson, A.
Crossman, R. H. S. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Pentland, N.
Cullen, Mrs. A. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Popplewell, E.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Davies, Rt. Hon.-Clement (Montgomery) Janner, B. Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.) Probert, A. R.
Deer, G. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Randall, H. E. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Wade, D. W.
Redhead, E. C. Sorensen, R. W. Warbey, W. N.
Reid, William Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Weitzman, D.
Reynolds, G. W. Sparks, J. A. Wheeldon, W. E.
Rhodes, H. Sprigge, Leslie Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Robens, Rt. Hon. A. Steele, T. Winterbottom, Richard
Royle, C. Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Woof, R. E.
Shurmer, P. L. E. Stonehouse, John Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Silverman, Julius (Aston) Stones, W. (Consett) Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Skeffington, A. M. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.) Zilliacus, K.
Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.) Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Slater, J. (Sedgefield) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Simmons and Mr. Wilkins.
Agnew, Sir Peter Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)
Aitken, W. T. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan
Arbuthnot, John Gurden, Harold Nugent, G. R. H.
Armstrong, C. W. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Oakshott, H. D.
Ashton, H. Harris, Reader (Heston) O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim N.)
Atkins, H. E. Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Osborne, C.
Balniel, Lord Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Page, R. G.
Barber, Anthony Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Peel, W. J.
Barlow, Sir John Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Barter, John Hesketh, R. F. Pitman, I. J.
Batsford, Brian Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Pitt, Miss E. M.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Powell, J. Enoch
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hirst, Geoffrey Profumo, J. D.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald Hornby, R. P. Rawlinson, Peter
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Redmayne, M.
Bidgood, J. C. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Rees-Davies, W. R.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Renton, D. L. M.
Bishop, F. P. Howard, John (Test) Ridsdale, J. E.
Body, R. F. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Rippon, A. G. F.
Bossom, Sir Alfred Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Robertson, Sir David
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.) Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Boyle, Sir Edward Hyde, Montgomery Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Braine, B. R. Iremonger, T. L. Russell, R. S.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Brooman-White, R. C. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Sharples, R. C.
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Shepherd, William
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Joseph, Sir Keith Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Burden, F. F. A. Keegan, D. Spearman, Sir Alexander
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Kerby, Capt. H. B. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Campbell, Sir David Kerr, Sir Hamilton Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Carr, Robert Kershaw, J. A. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Chichester-Clark, R. Kimball, M. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Cole, Norman Kirk, P. M. Storey, S.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Temple, John M.
Cooper, A. E. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Linstead, Sir H. N. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Lloyd, Maj. Sir Cuy (Renfrew, E.) Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Cunningham, Knox Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Currie, G. B. H. Macdonald, Sir Peter Turner, H. F. L.
Deedes, W. F. McKibbin, Alan Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Tweedsmuir, Lady
Doughty, C. J. A. McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Vane, W. M. F.
Drayson, G. B. Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.) Vickers, Miss Joan
du Cann, E. D. L. Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley) Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
Emmett, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Macmillan, Maurice (Hallfax) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Finlay, Graeme Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Wall, Patrick
Fisher, Nigel Maddan, Martin Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Webster, David
Gammans, Lady Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Garner-Evans, E. H. Markham, Major Sir Frank Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Marshall, Douglas Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Glover, D. Mathew, R. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Glyn, Col. Richard H. Mawby, R. L. Wood, Hon. R.
Goodhart, Philip Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Woollam, John Victor
Gower, H. R. Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Grant, W. (Woodside) Nabarro, G. D. N. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Nairn, D. L. S. Colonel J. H. Harrison and
Green, A. Neave, Airey Mr. Gibson-Watt.
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)
Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

In view of the Government's very small majority on an important Bill, may I ask the Leader of the House to postpone the Third Reading in order that they can think about it again?

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We have not reached Third Reading yet.