HC Deb 04 March 1958 vol 583 cc971-3

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs if he is aware that some landlords are backdating draft leases at increased rents to 6th July, 1957; and whether he will take powers to prevent this.

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

I will, with permission, reply to Question No. 82. 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 also to leases of longer than the minimum period of three years.

Mrs. Jeger

I thank the Minister for his helpful courtesy in making this reply. To save elderly and indigent people the trouble of going to the courts, will he confirm that they are acting in accordance with the law if they refuse to pay any arrears of rent going back to 6th July, 1957, at the request of their landlords?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Lady will recognise that I have no authority to interpret the law, but, certainly upon the advice that I have received, a lease which purports to commence retrospectively to July, 1957, or any other day since the Rent Act came into force, is not enforceable as a contract that will break the standstill period. Consequently, if a lease of that kind is signed, according to my advice no additional rent under it will become payable before 6th October, 1958, although the lease will, if it is in order in other respects, persist after that date, for the benefit of the tenant.

Mr. Gibson

Would the Minister's Department's advice in this matter apply in the case where a tenant already has a lease which runs out in July of this year and where the landlord is insisting upon a new lease, at an increased rent, backdated to begin in November last year? According to the Minister's advice, would that be an illegal procedure? I ask this because this sort of case is already cropping up in my constituency.

Mr. Brooke

I am sure that the hon. Member will not ask me to pursue this subject in further detail. It is a matter of legal interpretation. I have given the House and the country the advice which is available to me, and I feel sure that solicitors and others who are handling these matters will give careful attention to what I have said today.

Mr. MacDermot

It is with some hesitation that I cross swords with the Minister's legal advisers upon this exceedingly complicated question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] It is sometimes necessary to preface a question with an introductory remark; indeed, it is sometimes even courteous to do so.

Mr. Speaker

At Question Time supplementary questions should be couched in interrogative form.

Mr. MacDermot

Mine is intended to be, Mr. Speaker.

The question that I wish to ask is whether the Minister can explain to the House the reason why his advisers take the view that in the case where an agreement is expressed to be for more than three years—say, for four years or seven years—it would not satisfy the requirements of paragraph 4 of the Schedule even where it purports to commence before the date of making the agreement?

Mr. Brooke

I can only say that my advisers so advise me on their reading of the provisions of the Statute. This is a matter which, in the last resort—as the hon. Members knows—can be determined only by the courts.

Mr. Paget

On a point of order. Ministers advise us as to what they believe will be the legal effect of Bills which they are introducing, but when a Bill has become a Statute is there any precedent for a Minister offering gratuitous advice to the public—and perhaps to the courts—as to these difficult points? Is not this a highly undesirable precedent? If the courts disagree with the Minister, will it not be very awkward?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that there is anything in that point of order. The Minister has given the House the benefit of such advice as he has received on what appears to be a complicated matter. He himself said—which is clearly true—that he has no power to interpret the Act. That must be for the courts, and the courts will pay no attention to anything that any hon. or right hon. Member says about the law.

Mr. Paget

Is it not highly undesirable that there should be this sort of alternative and unofficial interpretation of statutes?

Mr. Speaker

It is not for me to express any opinion as to the wisdom of that; it is a matter of opinion. There is no breach of order in it, as such.

Mr. Awbery

In view of the many difficulties which will arise out of the Rent Act, can the Minister make provision to give legal aid to tenants who will suffer as a result of the passing of that Act?

Mr. Speaker

That is wide of the Question which has been asked and answered.

Mr. Lipton

Do not all these subsequent explanations only tend to confuse the issue even more, and create a situation where the muddle is becoming more and more obvious every day?

Mr. Brooke

I endeavoured to show courtesy by answering, at the end of Questions, a Parliamentary Question put to me. If, upon these occasions, such a Question is pursued by supplementaries of that character, I shall feel deterred from answering them.

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