HC Deb 26 March 1958 vol 585 cc434-43

3.30 p.m.

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to empower county courts to order on appropriate conditions exchanges of statutory tenancies in cases Where both tenants desire an exchange and a landlord's consent is withheld without sufficient reason; to preserve rent control in such cases and in other cases of exchanges; to enable local authorities to intervene in proceedings relating to exchanges; to amend section seventeen of the Rent Act, 1957, accordingly; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid. The purpose of my proposed Bill is to facilitate the exchange of tenancies of privately rented dwellings, and I should have thought that that purpose would command the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We appreciate that, to achieve it, it will be necessary to amend Section 17 of the Rent Act, but I would point out that whether or not the Rent Act had been passed the housing situation in many parts of the country would have demanded such action as we now propose.

The housing difficulties we want to deal with arise when landlords refuse to allow tenants to exchange houses. We all know why exchanges of tenancies are asked for, Hon. Members on both sides of the House must have had experience of cases where tenancy exchanges should be allowed—where an old couple, whose family has grown up and gone to live in their own homes, find that the house they live in is much too large for their circumstances and, at the same time, a young couple who went into a small house at the time of their marriage now have a growing family and find that the house is too small for them. I am sure that, as these cases came to them, many hon. Members must have wished that they could act as exchange brokers, so to speak, and make the exchanges, so that the people concerned could get into houses suited to their circumstances.

Hon. Members will know that the only obstacle to these exchanges of privately rented dwellings is the attitude of the landlords themselves, who, in most cases, quite unreasonably oppose exchanges which are socially desirable. I hasten to point out that not all landlords do this. I speak only from my experience in Sheffield, and I say at once that there are good private landlords in that city who not only agree to exchanges wherever they can within their own properties but work with the city council to extend the area in which tenancy exchanges can take place. Indeed, the purpose of the proposed Bill is to bring the general practice in this matter up to the standards of the best landlords. It is the bad landlord and the not so good one with whom we are trying to deal.

I want to support my case by giving an example of what I have in mind. It concerns a young couple in my constituency who, when they were married, just after the war, went into a small two-up and two-down cottage, which was rather decrepit but was the only dwelling they could get at the time. They painted, decorated and furnished it, and made it into a very satisfactory home. They now have two children— one, unfortunately, a polio case—and the home is too small for them. It would, however, be ideal for an old married couple, such as two old-age pensioners.

The tenants of this house found two such old-age pensioners who were willing to exchange a larger house for theirs, and they went to their landlord, but he refused permission for the exchange. He was quite callous and frank about it. He did not object to the incoming tenants, but he said that the tenants who were already in were ideal; they had improved his property, and he was going to stick to them, or make them stick to him, for as long as he could. He admitted that if they had been bad tenants he would have agreed to an exchange right away.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would condemn that behaviour, but in present circumstances there is nothing that we can do about it. If a landlord wants to prevent an exchange he can do so. The purpose of the Bill is to remove the landlord's unreasonable veto to exchanges. We are not saying that all exchanges must be approved out of hand; there must be safeguards for the reasonable landlord. If the landlord wants a home for himself when the house becomes vacant he should be able to make out his case, and if he objects to the prospective tenants who are arranging to come in, and he has good grounds for doing so, the court should uphold his objection.

We believe that there is nothing unreasonable in the Bill that we bring before the House; nothing in it to compel tenants to exchange. It is designed to facilitate voluntary exchanges, and only voluntary exchanges. We do not want landlords to exploit the present situation. In some cases, when exchanges are permitted to take place, we know that they are trying to lay down conditions which we believe are far too severe upon the tenants. We say, therefore, that we should make it quite clear that tenancy exchanges cannot remove houses from the control now laid down in the Act.

What we have in mind is an extension of the system that works so well in the City of Sheffield. There, we have about 40.000 council houses within the area, and about 2,000 voluntary exchanges of tenancies take place every year. They are helped by a special department of the corporation's housing department, and that department has persuaded some private landlords to join in the general scheme, so that tenants wishing to exchange can go to the housing department even when they are living in private houses. They are then given a list of houses whose tenants are willing to make exchanges. In this way, the corporation is able to help them considerably.

I pay tribute again to the private landlords who have joined in this scheme. The social spirit that they have displayed has undoubtedly helped to prevent much hardship and distress which might otherwise have occurred. From our experience of this limited exchange scheme we have estimated that if all the privately rented houses in Sheffield were thrown in with the council houses, and free exchanges of tenancies were generally permitted, we should be able to solve more than half the accommodation problems of Sheffield. That is what we want to achieve.

The landlords would not lose anything, they would get tenants in; their houses would be occupied, and they would receive the controlled rents. Before the corporation's housing department was allowed to negotiate exchanges it would have to give guarantees to private landlords against undesirable tenants, and so on. Such a scheme, which has worked so well in Sheffield with the help of a few private landlords, should commend itself to the whole House.

In seeking support for the Bill I would remind hon. Members opposite that the Rent Act is still something of a gamble. It is based upon assumptions, estimates and forecasts which may not work out. If I were now sitting on those benches—which heaven forbid—I should take out an insurance policy. I would support some such Measure as I am seeking leave to introduce so that obstacles to the free exchange of tenancies could be removed; so that the unreasonable landlord's veto could be removed. As some hon. Members opposite admitted during the debates on the Rent Act, at the end of this year and during next there may not be sufficient housing accommodation to make the Rent Act a practical proposition. If landlords will not permit a widespread exchange of tenancies, the Rent Act may well break down. I am sure that hon. Members opposite do not want to find themselves having to face an enraged electorate because they made had forecasts about the outcome of the Rent Act.

If the Government are not proved right by events, this proposed Bill will help. If they are proved right the Bill will not do any harm, it will just fall into disuse. I am confident that what we require now to deal with the housing situation is a Bill that will prevent unreasonable landlords from putting a veto on tenancy exchanges and so preventing the full use of available housing accommodation in the country.

3.42 p.m.

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) put his case with great moderation but it is, none the less, specious, because, as he says, this exchange system is working very well in many parts of the country.

The hon. Member cited Sheffield in particular. If I at once agree that there are some unreasonable landlords, I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that there are some local authorities not as enlightened as the Sheffield local authority. The hon. Gentleman, by his modest Measure, is seeking to introduce a very large principle; no less than that, for the first time other than by requisitioning, a landlord shall he required to accept a particular tenant and without any compensating benefit to the landlord—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If the hon. Gentleman denies this, he should follow the consequences of his own proposal.

A tenant suggests to his landlord that an exchange should take place with another particular tenant. If the landlord refuses, his tenant can take him to the county court. If the landlord's refusal is held to be unreasonable, he has to accept the nominated tenant. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is wrong with that?"] I will explain what is wrong with it.

We all want exchanges, and we all want the maximum number of houses to let, but I maintain that this proposal would discourage both those things. It would discourage the voluntary exchange system, which, the hon. Member admits, is going well on the whole, because landlords would be frightened at the prospect, first, of litigation, and then of a statutorily-controlled new tenancy. It would discourage landlords from building houses to let, because this is one more restriction on the already limited freedom possessed by a person who has a statutory controlled tenant.

There are five situations here. There is the situation where the landlord of the first and the second dwellings involved is the same landlord, a private landlord; there is the situation where the landlord is the same, but a local authority; there is the situation where there are two landlords both private landlords; there is the situation where there are two landlords, both public authorities, and there is the situation where there is one private landlord and one public authority landlord.

Of these five cases the hon. Gentleman provides for protection only in two cases, for exchanges where the landlord is either the same landlord or two private landlords. There is a vast range of tenancies where one or both landlords are local authorities and this proposed Bill makes no provision for the compulsory recourse to the county court in the case of tenants of a local authority who think that the local authority is unreasonably withholding consent to a change of tenancy. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Does the hon. Member for Hillsborough suggest that a local authority tenant is entitled to go to the county court if he thinks that a local authority is unreasonably withholding consent to a change of tenancy?

Mr. Darling

If he wishes to do so.

Sir K. Joseph

Are we to accept that as the official policy of Her Majesty's Opposition? This is very interesting. For the first time local authorities are to be compelled to give their approval to exchanges, if it is shown that to withhold approval would be unreasonable.

Hon. Members opposite profess to be horrified that private landlords should retain the right to approve or to disapprove a change of tenancy. Do they think that there are no local authority tenants who are aggrieved by the refusal of one or more local authorities to permit an exchange? We debated this issue fully during the Committee stage of the Rent Act, and the Government agreed that in cases where one or both landlords agree there shall be voluntary retention of statutory control.

I should like to see an extension where this would be valuable in increasing the number of exchanges. Suppose a landlord owns a large and a small house, both statutorily controlled. The large house is not fully occupied. Suppose he says to the occupant of the large house, "I will give you the statutorily-controlled

tenancy of the small house which I have vacant if you will vacate the large house which is statutorily controlled at present and which you are not fully occupying." That is a procedure which would suit everyone concerned and make more accommodation available.

The proposal advanced by the hon. Gentleman was conceived at a time when everyone regarded the housing situation as frozen. My right hon. Friend has enabled the housing market to be unfrozen, and, as the hon. Member for Hillsborough, himself said, if the Government are right his Bill would fall into disuse. I maintain that this is an unfair proposal which does not specifically provide for local authorities who are the landlords of more than half the tenants of the country. I maintain that this would discourage voluntary exchanges and not help them. It would discourage the owners of statutorily-controlled dwellings, and I therefore ask the House not to accept this Motion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 191, Noes 233.

Division No. 80.] AYES [3.47 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Corbet, Mrs. Freda Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Craddoch, George (Bradford, S) Hastings, S.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Cronin, J. D. Hayman, F. H.
Awbery, S. S. Cullen, Mrs. A. Healey, Denis
Bacon, Miss Alice Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)
Balfour, A. Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Holman, P.
Bence, C. B. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Davies, Harold (Leek) Hoy, J. H.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Benson, Sir George Deer, G. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)
Beswick, Frank Diamond, John Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Bevan, Rt. Hon A. (Ebbw Vale) Dodds, N. N. Hunter, A. E.
Blackburn, F. Donnelly, D. L. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)
Blenkinsop, A. Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Irving, Sydney (Dartford)
Blyton, W. R. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.
Boardman, H. Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Jay, Rt. Hon. D P. T.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Edwards, Rt. Hon. Nets (Caerphilly) Jeger, George (Goole)
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Jeger, Mrs.Lena(Holbn & St.Pncs,S.)
Bowles, F. G. Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Johnson, James (Rugby)
Boyd, T. C. Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech(Wakefield)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Finch, H. J. Jones, David (The Hartlepools)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Fletcher, Eric Jones, Jack (Rotherham)
Burke, W. A. Foot, D. M. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) George, Lady Megan Lloyd(Car'then) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.
Callaghan, L. J. Gibson, C. W. King, Dr. H. M.
Carmichael, J. Greenwood, Anthony Lawson, G. M.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Champion, A. J. Grey, C. F. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)
Chapman, W. D. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Lewis, Arthur
Chetwynd, G. R. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Lindgren, G. S.
Clunie, J. Hale, Leslie Lipton, Marcus
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Logan, D. G.
Colli[...]s, V.J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury) Hannan, W. McAlister, Mrs. Mary
M[...]Cann, J. Pargiter, C. A. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
MacColl, J. E. Parker, J. Stonehouse, John
McGhee, H. G. Parkin, B. T. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
McGovern, J. Paton, John Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)
McInnes, J. Pearson, A. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
McKay, John (Wallsend) Peart, T. F. Swingler, S. T.
McLeavy, Frank Pentland, N. Sylvester, G. O.
MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Prentice, R. E. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Mahon, Simon Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Thornton, E.
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Probert, A. R. Timmons, J.
Mann, Mrs. Jean Proctor, W. T. Tomney, F.
Mason, Roy Randall, H. E. Viant, S. P.
Mellish, R. J. Rankin, John Watkins, T. E.
Messer, Sir F. Redhead, E. C. Weitzman, D.
Mikardo, Ian Reeves, J. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Mitchison, G. R. Reid, William West, D. G.
Monslow, W Robens, Rt. Hon. A. Wheeldon, W. E.
Moody, A. S. Roberts, Albert (Normanton) White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Morrison,Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Willey, Frederick
Mort, D. L. Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Moss, R. Short, E. W. Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Moyle, A. Shurmer, P. L. E. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Silverman, Julius (Aston) Winterbottom, Richard
Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Oliver, G. H. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill) Woof, R. E.
Oram, A. E. Skeffington, A. M. Zilliacus, K.
Oswald, T. Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Owen, W. J. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Paling, Rt. Hon. W.(Dearne Valley) Sparks, J. A. Mr. Mulley and Mr. Darling.
Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Steele, T.
Agnew, Sir Peter Deedes, W. F. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.
Aitken, W. T. Digby, Simon Wingfield Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)
Allan, R A. (Paddington, S.) Dodds-Parker, A. D. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)
Alport, C. J. M. Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M[...]A. Hill, John (S. Norfolk)
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Drayson, G. B. Hirst, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, John du Cann, E. D. L. Hope, Lord John
Armstrong, C. W. Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Hornby, R. P.
Atkins, H. E. Duncan, Sir James Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Duthie, W. S. Horobin, Sir Ian
Baldwin, A. E. Eden, J, B. (Bournemouth, West) Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence
Balniel, Lord Elliott,R.W.(Ne'castle uponTyne.N.) Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)
Barber, Anthony Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)
Barlow, Sir John Errington, Sir Eric Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.
Barter, John Erroll, F. J. Hulbert, Sir Norman
Baxter, Sir Beverley Farey-Jones, F. W. Hurd, A. R.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Fell, A. Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark(E'b'gh, W.)
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Finlay, Graeme Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald Fisher, Nigel Hyde, Montgomery
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Fletcher-Cooke, C. Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry
Bidgood, J. C. Foster, John Iremonger, T. L.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)
Bishop, F. P. Freeth, Denzil Jennings, J. c. (Burton)
Black, C. W. Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)
Body, R. F. Gammans, Lady Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Garner-Evans, E. H. Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Braithwaite, Sir Albert(Harrow, W.) George, J. C. (Pollok) Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)
Brooman-White, R. C. Gibson-Watt, D. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Glover, D. Kaberry, D.
Bryan, P. Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Kerby, Capt. H. B.
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Goodhart, Philip Kerr, Sir Hamilton
Butler, Rt. Hn.R.A.(Saffron Walden) Gower, H. R. Kimball, M.
Campbell, Sir David Graham, Sir Fergus Kirk, P. M.
Channon, Sir Henry Grant, W. (Woodside) Lambton, Viscount
Chichester-Clark, R. Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Lancaster, Col. C. G.
Clarke, Brig. Terence(Portsmth, W.) Green, A. Leavey, J. A.
Cole, Norman Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Leburn, W. G.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Cooke, Robert Hall, John (Wycombe) Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)
Cooper, A. E. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Harris, Reader (Heston) Lins[...]ead, Sir H. N.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Longden, Gilbert
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Crowder, Petre(Ruislip—Northwood) Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) McAdden, S. J.
Cunningham, Knox Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Macdonald, Sir Peter
Currie, G. B. H. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. McKibbin, Alan
Davidson, Viscountess Henderson, John (Cathcart) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Hesketh, R. F. MacIean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)
McLean, Neil (Inverness) Page, R. G. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Partridge, E. Storey, S.
Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold(Bromley) Peel, W. J. Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Pike, Miss Mervyn Studholme, Sir Henry
Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Pitman, I. J. Summers, Sir Spencer
Maddan, Martin Pitt, Miss E. M. Teeling, W.
Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Powell, J. Enoch Temple, John M.
Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Price, David (Eastleigh) Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Profumo, J. D. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Markham, Major Sir Frank Rawlinson, Peter Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Marlowe, A. A. H. Redmayne, M. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Marshall, Douglas Remnant, Hon. P. Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Mawby, R. L. Renton, D. L. M. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S, L. C. Ridsdale, J. E. Tweedsmuir, Lady
Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley) Vane, W. M. F.
Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh Robertson, Sir David Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Moore, Sir Thomas Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks) Vickers, Miss Joan
Morrison, John (Salisbury) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Russell, R. S. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Nabarro, G. D. N. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R. Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Nairn, D. L. S. Sharples, R. C. Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Neave, Airey Shepherd, William Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Nicholls, Harmar Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Nicolson,N.(B'n'm'th,E. & Chr'ch) Smithers, Peter (Winchester) Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Noble, Comdr. Rt, Hon. Allan Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Nugent, G. R. H. Spearman, Sir Alexander Wood, Hon. R.
Oakshott, H. D. Speir, R. M. Woollam, John Victor
Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P.(Kens'gt'n, S.)
Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian(Hendon,N.) Stevens, Geoffrey Mr. Gresham Cooke and
Osborne, C. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.) Sir Keith Joseph.