HC Deb 23 March 1962 vol 656 cc777-809

Order for Second Reading read.

2.15 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

At this comparatively late hour on Friday, and because I hope very much that other hon. Members will be good enough to speak on the matter, I propose to be very brief. It is easy to be brief, because this is a simple and modest and, I hope, a non-controversial Bill.

At the outset, I express my thanks to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the advice he has given me and for certain suggested alterations which I have incorporated in the final draft. The object, summarising it very briefly, is to ensure that every tenant has a right to know the identity of his landlord. I hope that, in addition to embodying this main principle, the Bill will go some way towards tidying up the law in regard to this rather vexed question of relationships between landlord and tenant and the giving of information by the landlord, because the law is at present in a state which might almost be described as chaotic.

Hon. Members on opposite sides of the House disagree fundamentally about what is the best method of housing the people of this country, but most hon. Members on both sides will agree at least that housing is, perhaps, the most important of all the social services and that bad housing is a greater menace to health and happy family life than almost any other factor. For this reason, I feel very strongly that anyone who aspires to provide this essential social service in order to make money should not do so anonymously. If he evades his responsibilities, his identity should be known to the tenant whom he may be exploiting and to other people concerned, and, for that matter, to people not directly concerned, the general public.

A landlord should not look upon the ownership of dwelling houses in the same impersonal way as he might look upon other investments, merely as a means to obtain the maximum yield from his invested money. I go so far as to say that I believe that a landlord should to some extent regard himself as being in the same position vis-à-vis his tenant as should a doctor to his patient.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present:

House counted, and, 40 Members being present

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

As I was saying, a landlord should not look upon his relationship with his tenant from a purely commercial point of view but rather from a human point of view. His responsibility should not be entirely shuffled off on to any other person, presumably an agent. By that I do not mean that a landlord ought therefore to be responsible for all the details of repairs and maintenance. Such work is much better carried out by a professional agent. But he should be personally responsible for seeing that his agent or other representative is carrying out that job properly.

We all know that there are good and bad landlords, just as there are good and bad tenants, but there are many landlords who just do not want to be bothered. The main requirement of their agent is that he should provide them with the maximum possible amount of rent and the minimum possible bill for upkeep, repairs and so on. Such landlords might rightly be described as bad landlords, but that does not necessarily mean that they are callous or unkind. I am sure that if many of them appreciated the discomfort and sometimes the squalor of the conditions in which their tenants live they would be only too glad to rectify matters. But what the eye does not see—and at times does not want to see—the heart does not grieve over, and in many cases the tenant is unable to draw the attention of his landlord to the uncomfortable conditions in which he is living because he does not know who he is and cannot find out, for the agent will not tell him.

But that is by no means always the case, and that is where lack of uniformity in the law is to be found. Let is consider the different types of tenant. We have the tenant who has a lease or written agreement. He knows well enough the identity of his landlord for he has it in black and white. The council house tenant knows who his landlord is and can make his complaints and requirements known very easily to his local councillor, who is perhaps the most amenable landlord of all because he is elected by popular vote every three years.

On the other hand, when we come to the private landlord, again the tenant of a controlled tenancy has a full right to know the name and address of his landlord because they have to appear in the rent book. But that is not the case with the tenant of a decontrolled tenancy—and I refer here to the tenancy which has become decontrolled because it has changed hands since the Rent Act, 1957, came into force, or because it is a new tenancy or new letting—is in a different position. These are cases where we get what is often called creeping decontrol, a particularly inapt description. We should substitute the adjective "galloping" for "creeping", because in the four years since the Rent Act came into force there has been an enormous increase in tenancies which have been decontrolled in that way.

In these cases the tenant does not have the right to know the name and address of his landlord but only the identity of the person who is responsible for the repairs, normally the agent. Finally, we come to the case of furnished lettings where the tenant of a controlled or uncontrolled letting does not have the right to know the name of his landlord.

The law is equally chaotic about the penalties. The landlord of a controlled letting who does not supply the information required is subject to a maximum penalty of a fine of £50. The landlord of an uncontrolled letting which is, to use the words of the Act occupied by or suitable for occupation by members of the working classes is subject to a maximum fine of £2. The landlord of a furnished letting is subject to a maximum fine of £10. The penalties are entirely lacking in uniformity and the Bill seeks to regularise the position.

In the three cases I have been describing the landlord is not required to give the same information in each case. In the two latter cases he is not required to give his own name and address. The Bill would require a landlord to give the same information in every case, and the maximum penalty would be the same in every case. In considering what the most suitable maximum penalty would be—and this is dealt with in subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 4—I felt that it would be best to be guided by the Rent Act, 1957, which was the last occasion on which this question was considered. Paragraph 20 of the Sixth Schedule of that Act says that the maximum penalty should be £50, to which it had been raised from £10, and it seemed to me that the best maximum penalty to select would therefore be £50 for all these cases.

As with all housing legislation, there are many other housing Acts bound up with this Bill, and the Schedule lists three repeals which it is suggested should be made. These repeals are all parts of Acts which lay down the uneven penalties which I have been describing and the differing orders to landlords about the information which they have to supply.

I said that I would be brief. I do not want to go into the detail of all these cases and the Acts concerned, but I ought perhaps to say something more about Clause 3, about which I have had several queries. It deals with the question of the landlord when it is a company. The object of the Clause is to deal with all landlords on an entirely equitable basis, wether the landlord be an individual, a one-man company, or a company with a number of directors. The Clause lays down that at the request of the tenant the names of the directors and secretary of the company must be given.

Some people might say that the Clause is unnecessary because such information is available to any tenant if he knows how to get it. All that he has to do is to apply to the Registrar of Companies at Bush House and pay a fee of 1s., after which he will be allowed to go through the Register and get all the information that he wants. This may be all very well for most tenants, but it would be a formidable problem for the more humble and poorer type of tenant whom the Bill is designed to help. It might prove an almost insuperable problem for him if he happened to live in Penzance or Newcastle, because I do not think that this information can be obtained by written application. It can be obtained only on personal application at Bush House. I hasten to add that because that information can be obtained at present by any tenant it is not a point on which I would wish to insist, and I am sure that if the House were prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading this could be dealt with in Committee.

I recognise that many hon. Members may think that the problem with which the Bill proposes to deal could be dealt with as well or perhaps better in other ways. I hope, nevertheless, that hon. Members agree with the principle of the Bill, and that the Bill is capable of successfully implementing that principle. In addition, I hope hon. Members agree that it will bring some order into the present chaotic condition of this aspect of landlord-tenant relationship. If hon. Members do feel that way, which I very much hope they do, I trust that they will allow the Bill to have a Second Reading and go to Committee.

2.33 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I gladly adopt the usual formula and congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) on introducing this Bill. It is a short but proper and necessary Measure.

Clause 5 sets out the three categories to which the Bill applies. They are a dwelling-house to Which the Rent Acts apply; a dwelling-house the rateable value of which does not exceed £40 in London or £30 elsewhere; and a dwelling-house to which the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, applies.

Hon. Members must have had many cases of complaints from constituents about not having rent books, or, if they have them, the particulars being so incomplete that they do not know their landlords. Their rent books give the name of the agent, but every attempt to discover the name of the landlord is unsuccessful. It is only proper that the name of the landlord should be stated, that a rent book should be provided, and that all the particulars should be properly set out therein.

This is a good Measure, and I am glad to support it.

2.34 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I, too, congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) on presenting this Bill. Indeed, I congratulate him on being here at all. It is most courageous of him, because I understand that unfortunately he recently bad a fall. It is most courageous of him to come and present the Bill today.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] My hon. and gallant Friend said that the state of the law was chaotic. That is putting it mildly. My hon. and gallant Friend went on to say that he wished to regularise the position. It is on this aspect that I must criticise him. I believe that the Bill as drafted might make the state of the law even more chaotic.

Perhaps I might deal with one or two points of the law and endeavour to show how the Bill would amend the law and perhaps improve the position, or fail to do so.

Under the Rent Acts at present it is necessary to provide a tenant who is paying a weekly rent with a rent book. This applies to property which is controlled. It is necessary to put into that rent book the name and address of the landlord. It is necessary in fact to put in a lot more particulars than that, and in passing I comment on the fact that in the Schedule to the Bill my hon. and gallant Friend proposes to repeal three Sections of three Acts which oblige a landlord to put a great deal of information into the rent book. My hon. and gallant Friend does not repeat that obligation in the Bill, and I wonder whether the repeals are accidental. I think that they must be.

Lieut-Colonel Cordeaux

Would my hon. Friend go on to say what those omissions are?

Mr. Page

I do not want to delay the House unnecessarily, but I call attention to the fact that under Section 6 of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1938, subsection 1 of which is very like Clause 1 of the Bill, the landlord is under an obligation to provide a rent book when the rent is paid weekly. Coupled with that Section of the 1938 Act are the regulations under the Rent Act, 1957, which set out the forms which are to be in the rent book.

Those forms require not only the name and address of the landlord, but a great deal more information about the conditions of the tenancy, the name of the medical officer of health, the right to serve a notice of disrepair, and what the tenant can do in those cases. If the Bill goes through as it stands, by repealing Section 6 (1) of the Rent Act, 1938, my hon. and gallant Friend would be depriving the tenant of those rights. I am sure that he does not want to do that.

Mr. Weitzman

Cannot that be rectified in Commitee?

Mr. Page

I am endeavouring to discover how far the Bill goes in amending the law and, therefore, whether it is worth while giving it a Second Reading. I support the principle of the Bill, and perhaps I might make a few suggestions to show how I think my hon. and gallant Friend could have dealt with the situation better than he has in the Bill.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but, dealing with the omissions he mentioned, I omitted the name and address of the medical officer of health because it appeared to be unnecessary to include it. Every tenant knows who is his medical officer of health. A tenant can get the other information to which my hon. Friend referred from his local Citizens' Advice Bureau, his Member of Parliament, or from anybody else. Nevertheless, I am willing to accept my hon. Friend's corrections. It may well be that these details should not have been omitted, but, as the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) said, this is something which can be put right in Committee.

Mr. Page

I am very much obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend. I am sure that it would be far better to leave the Rent Acts as they are in so far as this obligation is imposed on the landlord to provide the information. The same applies, of course, to the amendments which, apparently, my hon. and gallant Friend desires to make in his Bill to furnished lettings, because at present there is an obligation on the landlord to provide a rent book to the tenant of a furnished letting which is controlled and to put in it not only his name and address but also the terms and conditions of the tenancy. That, I think, is what my hon. and gallant Friend is repeating in one Clause of his Bill. However, by the Schedule he leaves us in some confusion as to the extent of the obligation which he now desires to place on the landlord.

It is an obligation, according to the Bill, which in the case of rent-controlled property is far less than under the existing law. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend, if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, will at least restore the position under the present Rent Act. The obligation of the landlord to provide his name and address on a rent book in the case of a rent-controlled tenant who pays his rent weekly is an obligation merely, I believe, to give the name and an address. It is generally accepted that the address of an agent is sufficient, and, indeed, under Section 7 of the Rent Restriction Act, 1938, the tenant can always, for the purpose of proceedings, require an agent to provide the full address of the landlord. Therefore, that power exists at present under the law relating to rent-controlled property.

As far as the property to which the Bill is intended to apply is concerned, when I turn to Clause 5 I find my hon. and gallant Friend sets out three categories of property. In the first category he sets out property which is subject to Rent Restriction Acts up to 1939. I am not sure whether he intends this to mean that the position shall be as if the 1939 Rent Act still applied, so that his Bill would cover property brought out of control in 1957. If he does intend that, he does not say so in the Bill. He says "to which those Acts apply" and not "to which those Acts did apply". This is a very major point in the Bill, whether it should apply to property of a rateable value up to £90 or £100, depending whether it is in London or elsewhere.

The second category applies to properties of a rateable value not exceeding £30 in the provinces or £40 in London. My hon. and gallant Friend explained to the House that in this category he was intending to deal with those properties which have come out of control since 1957 by reason of new lettings—what he referred to as the "creeping" or "galloping" decontrol. His third category concerns furnished lettings, which I should have thought were sufficiently covered under the existing law.

I am sure that by setting out those three categories in the Bill my hon. and gallant Friend is only making the issue far more confused than it is at present. It is certainly not clear (to what properties he intends the Bill to refer. Therefore, I return once more to what I said at the beginning of my speech. I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend is regularising what I agree is a chaotic condition. Like many before him, he has tied himself up in the knots of the Rent Acts. I will not say that he has tripped over the obstacles, because that, I think, would be an ungracious thing to say to him on a day like this, but he is perpetuating some of the troubles of the Rent Restriction Acts.

If it is right for a tenant to have the name and address of his landlord, why restrict it to the rent-controlled tenant? Why continue to tie this part of the law to rent control and to all the complications of rent control? It must surely be right for every tenant to know the name and address of his landlord if it is right for the rent-controlled tenant to have that information.

I wish to consider for a few moments whether that information is necessary, whether it is necessary in the Bill to place an obligation on the landlord to provide that information and whether the law does not already provide sufficient remedies to the tenant whether or not that information is given. There may be the case, perhaps, of the tenant who really does not know the name of his landlord at all. There may be no agent concerned and the tenant cannot obtain the name of his landlord. However, I should think that that was an exceptional case, but if such a case did exist I should not think that there was a contract at all. There must be parties to a contract. As I say, I very much doubt whether in that sort of case there would be a contract in existence at all.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I had a case in my constituency of a considerable housing estate which was bought by a gentleman who lived in Wales and who decided that he was not interested and would not do anything. The houses were literally falling down and the tenants did not know who the landlord was and could not get in touch with him. They were houses of fairly recent date—certainly built after the First World War—but they were falling into decay, and the tenants were unable to find out who the landlord was ox to trace him by normal means.

Mr. Page

I should imagine that in such a case the tenants would be paying their rent to someone. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) shakes his head and implies that they were not paying their rent at all. Of course, one comes across cases where the owner is prepared to abandon his property. In those cases, in due course, the tenant would be able to get a squatter's title against the landlord. There are cases where tenants do not know who the landlord is, but surely there can be no contract of tenancy where one party is non-existent.

The usual case, against which my hon. and gallant Friend complains, is the case of—

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that in those cases—and there are a great many of them—there is no contract, is he also saying that the tenant is not under obligation to pay the rent to anyone?

Mr. Page

If the tenant does not know who his landlord is, I should have thought not. Of course, he might perhaps be sued for mesne profits by the owner who eventually turns up, but surely there can be no contract of tenancy if one party to the contract is nameless.

Mr. Hale

Of course, mesne profits are assessed on rateable rent, so surely that is an academic argument, but if the landlord says, "I have come back from the Bahamas; I am sorry about these affairs, I am sorry that the roof is off", what happens?

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman is going into hypothetical cases, but I still contend that if one party is nameless it is very doubtful whether there can be any contract between the two parties at all. I think I am right in saying that that is not the sort of case which my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind. He has in mind the case where there is an agent who stands between the tenant and the landlord. In such a case, what is the purpose in wanting the name and address of the landlord to be disclosed? One might say that anyone is entitled to conduct his business by an agent. One can think of many cases in which there might be a very reasonable desire to conduct the business of letting and management through an agent. I cannot see any great objection to that provided there is someone who can be sued and it is possible to serve the necessary notices and the necessary legal process in order to bring action if the tenant is aggrieved at some course which his landlord has taken.

If the agent who has let the property, who manages the property and who receives the rent is the agent for an undisclosed principal, that is to say, he discloses his agency but not the name of his principal, he himself can be sued. There is someone against whom the tenant can take action and on whom the tenant can serve notices. If the agent is an agent for a named principal, I would have thought that there would be no difficulty in obtaining an order for substituted service under a legal process through the agent even though the agent may not have disclosed to the tenant the address of the named landlord. Wherever there is an agent, the tenant has a remedy against the landlord or against some person he can sue and make responsible.

Having pointed out that there is an ultimate remedy in these cases—an ultimate civil remedy—I would agree that it is not a protection in all cases. I do not think that we ought to go, as this Bill does, into the field of criminal law too far or lightly create new offences. The civil law can be far more effective in these cases than the criminal law. If we were to say that if the landlord does not provide the particulars which statutorily he is required to provide the landlord should be unable to recover the rent, it would probably be a far greater deterrent than creating an offence in respect of which it is very difficult to get anyone to prosecute. Whoever is to do anything about it has to do something active, whereas, if one leaves it to the civil law, passive action by the tenant in withholding his rent may be far more effectve in bringing about what my hon. and gallant Friend wants, the obligation to give this information to the tenant.

I suggest that he could achieve the object of the Bill in a simpler way by discarding all mention of the Rent Acts and by saying that wherever a tenancy is not granted in writing it shall be an obligation on the landlord to provide his name and address to the tenant; or to provide a rent book in which the landlord's name and address should be given.

My hon. and gallant Friend said that if there is a written agreement the information is there and the tenant has that information. The time when he requires the information is when there is no written agreement and no rent book in which the landlord's name and address appears. Let us make it an obligation where there is no written agreement that the landlord shall not be able to enforce any terms of the tenancy nor able to terminate the tenancy or evict the tenant unless and until he has provided a rent book with his name and with an address at which notices and legal process can be served upon him. That would be a one-Clause Bill without the complication of the Rent Acts, would achieve the principle which my hon. and gallant Friend desires, and be simplicity in itself.

I once again congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on bringing forward his Bill and raising this matter. If I have criticised the way in which he has done it and the drafting of the Bill, it is because I believe that there is a sound principle behind it and one which should not be restricted to any particular rateable value of property or any particular type of tenant but which should be a general obligation where this information is not already given, that is to say, a general obligation where the tenancy is not in writing.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has said. He very often brings a great deal of common sense to Private Members' Bills. I cannot, however, entirely congratulate him on his approach to it, although I am in accord with what he said towards the end of his speech. I was rather astounded when he asked in the middle of his speech whether it was necessary to make a provision for the tenant to know the identity of his landlord. Of course it is necessary. It is necessary for a very human reason and of great social consequence.

Mr. Graham Page

I think that I corrected myself. What I intended to ask was whether a new law was necessary for this purpose. Would not the law at present sufficiently provide protection for the tenant?

Mr. Fletcher

It is because the law is not sufficient and has so far departed from what I regard as the elements of justice and social equity that I am very glad we have the opportunity to consider the Bill.

I start from the premise that, apart from family relationship, the relationship between landlord and tenant is the most intimate relationship that one can contemplate. It may be that an individual has an intimate relationship with his butcher, or newsagent or doctor, but the relationship between landlord and tenant is something vital to everything upon which the tenant's comfort and happiness depends. I would have thought it would have been axiomatic that for the majority of tenants living in premises where they have complaints to make against their landlords that the happiness of the tenant or the physical conditions of life depend on his being able to live in premises properly roofed, properly built and properly repaired.

We are concerned with the relationship of landlord and tenant. This relationship, involving the home in which the tenant and his family live, is so vital to his whole happiness that it is extraordinary that anyone dare argue that it is not necessary for the tenant to know the name of his landlord. In my view, it is essential that he should know it, and I regard it as one of the elements that any self-respecting community should observe. It seems to me fundamental that a person living in a house with hi" family should know who his landlord is, to whom he pays his rent, to whom he goes to ask for his roof to be repaired when the rain comes in, to whom he goes to have the repairs done on which the whole basis of his family's comfort and the decency in which they live depends.

Just as it seems to me that we could not have a relationship with an anonymous doctor or an anonymous lawyer or an anonymous butcher, so we should not have an anonymous relationship under which a person living in a house did not know the name of his landlord. In feudal days this was the whole basis of social relationships in this country. It was fundamental that one knew whose tenant one was. That may have developed a good many abuses in the course of centuries, but it produced the foundations of society. It is no less necessary today that a man living in a house and paying rent should know who his landlord is. It shows what a vast erosion there has been in conceptions of elementary justice that we have so many hundreds of thousands of people, as a result of the housing shortage, suffering hardship week by week because of the anonymity of landlords.

That is why the Bill is necessary. Because landlords have been able to shield behind that anonymity they have been able to neglect their duties. A great many individuals would not dare to indulge in this disgraceful neglect of landlords' duties if they knew that their identity could be publicised. There is a disgraceful neglect perpetuated by a great number of anonymous landlords. A great number of landlords are shielding behind an agent. That is the principle which lies behind the Bill.

When the hon. Member for Crosby, who often talks such sense, talked in his legalistic manner about anyone having a right to contract through an agent, I was prompted to ask, has a doctor a right to contract through an agent? There are many examples, particularly of the most intimate relationships of social life, in which there is no such right. If the hon. Member had said that every thief needs a receiver, there would have been some sense in it, because that is the true analogy. It is because unscrupulous, wicked landlords are able to contract through agents and to conceal their identity that much of the hardship of which we complain is suffered by tenants.

I agree with the tail end of the hon. Member's speech. Although my name appears among the supporters of the Bill, I hope that it will be possible to amend it. For the reasons which I have indicated, I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) on having introduced the Bill, but I hope that it will be possible to improve it in Committee.

The Bill gives effect to proposals which I put forward in a Bill called the Rent Bill, which was introduced in the last Session but which unhappily did not make much progress. In Clause 10 of that Bill I sought to enable a tenant in all circumstances to ascertain information about the identity of his landlord and, very much as the hon. Member for Crosby has indicated, I then suggested that the right method for ensuring that the tenant obtained the information was not prosecution but giving the tenant an absolute statutory right to withhold rent until he had that information.

That is the logic of it, and that is the remedy which I should like to see; I should like to see it laid down that the tenant has the right to withhold rent unless the landlord is willing to let it be known to his tenants and to anyone else interested that he is the owner of the property or the director of the company owning the property. It may be derelict property or in a state of disrepair. The landlord should be prepared to face the ignominy or whatever risks are involved in acknowledging himself the owner or a director of the company which is the owner of the property. Before being permitted to collect rents from such premises he should be prepared to give this information. The tenant should be entitled to live in those premises scot-free until the landlord discloses his identity. That is the remedy I should like to see. It seems elementary common sense and justice, and I hope that we shall be able to amend the Bill in that respect in Committee.

The provision of a rent book is a matter of great importance to many tenants in poor and humble circumstances, or even in semi-illiterate circumstances. I know—and I have no doubt that other hon. Members also know—of many cases in which tenants have an almost exaggerated respect for this document. It is a symbol of the great pride they take in paying their rant regularly. Some unscrupulous landlords are mot very careful about the entries they make in rent books. I have known cases in which landlords have written up as arrears payments which ought never to have been written up as arrears.

Under the present system there is nothing to prevent a landlord putting what he likes in a rent book. If he chooses to say that the tenant is two weeks in arrears with his rent, that the tenant has not paid his rant, or that the standard rent is higher than it really is, the tenant has no redress; he feels unable to correct the landlord's mis-statements in the rent book.

In order to protect tenants generally we should make a drastic overhaul of the existing statutory requirements relating to entries in rent books, in addition to the requirement concerning the landlord's identity. In cases where agents collect the rents for landlords it would be reasonable for penalties to be imposed upon them as well as upon the landlords if false information is contained in rent books.

In the present situation of acute shortage of housing accommodation, which has now existed for many years and which, without meaning to criticise anybody, I submit is likely to continue for a long time, the scales of justice are weighted unfairly between the landlord—especially the anonymous landlord who collects his rent through an agent—and the tenant who is anxious to keep a roof above his head. It is the duty of this House to do everything possible to see that these scales are more fairly equated, and that the tenant is given more drastic remedies in cases where he cannot discover the name of his landlord, or where false information is contained in his rent book about the standard rent, or the rates, or any other relevant matter.

I shall not detain the House any longer, above all because I am anxious to see that the Bill obtains a Second Reading.

3.9 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) has described all tenants as angels and all landlords as devils.

Mr. Fletcher

I did not say that.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Very nearly. We know that most landlords and most tenants are fairly good, but that there are exceptions in both cases.

The Bill is right in principle, although I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, East that it should be amended in Committee. It should certainly be amended on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) to the extent of cutting out its limitation to rent-controlled property. It seems to me, on logical grounds, that if the Bill is good in respect of rent controlled property, it is equally applicable in respect of property which is no longer rent controlled.

We all know that there are many cases in which a tenant does not know who is his landlord. That happens at least as frequently in the case of uncontrolled property as it does in the case of controlled property. I should have that thought that the need to know the landlord was greater in the case of decontrolled property. Having said that, I am not altogether certain that the Bill as drafted sets about doing what is necessary in the best possible way.

In the sort of case which I come across—and I fancy that my experience is the same as that of most hon. Members—the landlord is known to the tenant, but it is a company which gives nothing away about who runs it or where it is situated. I am not sure that Clause 3 will do much to amend that situation. Merely knowing the name of a company will enable a tenant to take legal action if he wishes to do so, but as a rule tenants are not anxious to take legal action.

Normally, they want to be able to see their landlord in order to make personal representations to him. Merely knowing that the landlord is a company which, perhaps, has a registered office 100 miles away does not help. Nor does it help to have the names of the directors and secretary of the company. To the ordinary citizen, that is a lot of legal gibberish which does not help him at all. I am, therefore, not sure that Clause 3 will be of much help, or whether something more is needed, although I do not quite know how to deal with the matter.

One thing which would be helpful to a tenant—how provision for it can be made in a Statute I do not know—would be to know who is beneficially interested in the company. Very often that is someone who is near by and who is available to be approached personally. However, there would even be difficulties in that.

In the ordinary way, merely to provide that a tenant should be told the name of the directors and secretary of the company will not help if that company is merely a trustee. That is a very common state of affairs. In many of the cases which I come across the name of the landlord is known to the tenant, but he is only a trustee or executor of someone who has recently died. When the tenant approaches that trustee or executor, he is merely informed, "I am a trustee", or, "I am the executor. I have to do the best I can for my beneficiaries. I can do nothing to help you". If the tenant asks, "Will you tell me the names of those beneficiaries?", he is then in difficulty.

Apart from that kind of case, which is a bona fide case, under the law, if it were amended as proposed by the Bill, there could easily be cases in which the landlord transferred his legal interest to a nominee trustee. All that the tenant will be able to learn is that his technical landlord was XYZ Ltd. with a registered office in Glasgow and with McTavish and Stewart as the directors and Mackenzie as the secretary.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

Is my hon. Friend aware that when a landlord dies intestate, and no one wants to take up his rent-restricted property, which is a liability, the property is, by law, vested in the President of the Divorce, Probate and Admiralty Division. According to the Bill, in such cases the name which would have to appear on the rent book would be that of Sir Jocelyn Simon, who recently left the Government Front Bench to become President of the Division.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) has carried the argument a little further than I intended. This is a complex problem which is extremely difficult to deal with. I doubt whether we could include a provision in the Bill that when a landlord died intestate one should disclose that fact and also the name of his beneficiaries. Very often, to do that would be to disclose a mass of information to the tenant which would be useless to him and of a kind which no one would suggest should be made available in that way.

That being so, I am not certain that the Bill will have the effect desired. I believe, however, that it should be sent to a Standing Committee. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to comment on some of these matters. These questions should be more within the knowledge and ability of the draftsmen at his disposal than they are within the knowledge of back benchers. I hope that he will recommend that the Bill be given a Second Reading and that the matter may be considered in detail upstairs.

3.17 p.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

I join in the congratulations to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut-Col. Cordeaux). I declare my interest as a landlord—but as one of the vast majority who make no secret of their identities and addresses. If anybody knows how to spell my name he can find me in the telephone book, but few people do.

It is extremely important that the minority of landlords who have been cloaking their activities and hiding their names should be brought into the open. It is a fact that, in some cases, all that happens in the collection of rents is that a strange character appears on Friday night at an elusive time, collects the rents, and disappears. Nobody knows where he comes from and nobody knows where he goes.

It is very important that local councils should know who the landlords are. On occasion, when a council tries to trace a rent collector, he does not appear on that Friday. Perhaps he gets wind of what is going on, or else he sees the council official coming first. It is important for a council to know the names of landlords.

Of course, in these cases there is a constant change of ownership. Where the council wants to, or perhaps does, issue an enforcement notice—perhaps a sanitary order which will have a rather serious effect on the house—it is probably well worth while to change the house from the ownership of one company to that of another. The council is then left some months behind, having to serve a new enforcement notice on the new owner. The declaration of ownership under the Bill would be of very great assistance and would, perhaps, mean that it would not be so easy for the sharp landlords to dodge away from their obligations.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) said, there will be difficulties over Clause 3, where, if it is a company that is involved, there is provision for the names of the directors and of the secretary to be revealed, but not the names of the shareholders. It may well be that the directors are pure nominees, put in to cloak the identity of the true owner, and equally, the shares may be in the names of nominees and the true owner is hiding away in Dublin or somewhere, and it could be very difficult to get to the identity of the ultimate owner. However, that does not mean that we should not try to do it.

The whole purpose of the Bill, as I see it, is to unmask the name of the landlord who wants to try to hide it away, and I am sure that the right way to do it is by putting it on the rent book, that very valuable document which is so much prized. I believe that this is the right way to do it and I very much welcome this Measure.

3.20 p.m.

Sir James Pitman (Bath)

I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut-Colonel Cordeaux) and welcome the Bill.

Let me take this question of the difficulty of Clause 3 in comparison with the comparable difficulty in respect of nominees holding shares in companies. I think that we have got to recognise that we are living in a practical world, and that if Mr. Khrushchev wants to buy some property for one of his spies to live in, just as if he wanted to buy some shares for some purpose or another, he will always get a nominee to stand in for him. This House has always taken the view, I think very rightly, that it is no use legislating in any direction in which we cannot achieve our objective.

I think that the same sort of remedy might apply in this case where we want to know who it is who is in a position to answer. He may not be completely responsible in one sense of the word, but he is responsible in the sense that he has got to give an answer. He is as a trustee, as I see it, and in that sense is the responsible person, and when a trustee says, "I am sorry, but I cannot do this because I have got to do the best for my beneficiaries," the tenant's come-back and answer to him is to say, "What you are really saying is that you do not agree to this, but you are the person responsible who can agree and nobody else can agree." In company finance only the first name on the books is recognised as being the person whose word counts in that matter.

I think that When we take the Bill into Committee, as I hope we shall, we shall have to take remedy in this direction by putting on the rent book the name of the person who is authoritatively charged with the power to give a decision in this matter, because I very much agree with the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) that the issue here is the obloquy when there is a bad situation, and we want to know who it is who really "carries the can" of responsibility for saying "No". I hope that the House will agree with me that it is irrelevant really who are the beneficial owners some miles back. We want to know who is the man who has the duty and responsibility of taking a clear decision in that case.

There is another point we have got to remember. There is such a thing as blinding people with too much information. It might be an awful job if the rent book had the first sixteen pages taken up with a list of shareholders with all their names and addresses. And where will that get anybody when he has read them all? I think that in Committee it would be a desirable thing to pinpoint the responsibility on one shoulder of that person who is in a powerful position to give a decision.

If I may take up what has been said by so many Members about how they have experienced the difficulties in their own constituencies in this respect, I would say that this has come into my field, also. The way in Which it really arises is from the change to a sellers' market from a buyers' market. I was looking at the Bath Chronicle not so very long ago, at pages and pages of advertisements of houses to let and the ridiculously low rents at which people could take them. In the good old days, if one did not like one's landlord, if he was not keeping one's premises in repair, and so on, one had a very proper remedy—of going to a better landlord somewhere else.

The real gravamen of our difficulty at present is that we are in a sellers' market and the poor tenant is so much at the mercy of the landlord because of that. So we are back on a theme we are always playing in this House, how important it is that we should use economically the accommodation which is built and not have widows living in four-bedroom or five-bedroom houses and pointing to the room and the bed in which they gave birth to 16 children all of whom have gone out into the world and need 16 further accommodation units.

In that way I am sure that, partly by building and partly by putting our accommodation to better use, we can bring it back so that no longer will there be this seller's market in housing. That would go a long way to achieve the very worthy purpose of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central.

3.26 p.m.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

This is such a good Bill that I hesitate to say anything much about it in case I embarrass its progress through the House. I am not sure whether it would not be wiser to attack it rather than to praise it, and gain support for it in that way.

This is an excellent idea. I am only sorry that we did not think of it earlier, when we were in Committee on the Housing Bill last Session. We tried to get this extended to houses in multiple occupation, but we did not get very far. I wish that we had had more support for it then. I am all in favour of having rent books with the landlord's name in them. I hope that the points on which there have been some differences and argument and detail will not be regarded as interfering with consideration of the Bill in Committee.

I make only one or two short points on the Bill. The first concerns the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) and the hon. Member for Bath (Sir J. Pitman), about beneficial ownership. If I may seek a little free advertisement, we had a shot at that in an Amendment which we moved to the Housing Bill last Session, in which we attempted to define beneficial ownership, in one case drawing on the Income Tax Acts. I think that we got reasonably near to doing it, but the Government did not take that view. I wish that they had shown a little more drafting courage. Possibly in this Measure that can be done. It is not an argument against a Bill that one cannot do everything with it. In a substantial way I think that this is worth doing.

I am not sure whether I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) about withholding rent as a sanction. That is open to a great deal of misgiving which people generally have about tenant's rights. One thing which tenants should not be encouraged to do is to withhold rents, because it is so tricky a thing to know when it is right to do so and when it is not. If we say that a tenant can withhold rent in one case because it is perfectly legal to do so, but that in another case, where there is a counter-claim for repairs not done, the rent should not be withheld, it becomes extremely confusing.

Sir J. Pitman

I think that it should be put on record that Section 151 of the Law of Property Act gives the tenant whose landlord assigned his interest the absolute right to withhold his rent until he has been informed of the name and address of that landlord. That does what is wanted in this Bill in the case of assignment. It is only in the case of the original tenant that one needs this Bill.

Mr. MacColl

If I were in the unfortunate position of having a collision with my landlord I should have the inestimable privilege of consulting the hon. Member for Crosby or my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East. In either case the hon. Member would whip out of his pocket the Law of Property Act, turn over the pages and say what should happen, but in the case of the average tenant on a weekly tenancy it is not so easy to peruse that Act. Therefore, I think that he would be frightened about doing it. I think that he feels more confidence in the penal sanction of the landlord coming before the magistrates' court. That happens in health prosecutions and so on. It is a common enough thing.

These are matters for detailed argument in Committee. In general, I warmly commend the Bill to the House.

3.30 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

I was impressed by what the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said about rent books. All who represent poorer districts in London appreciate the importance which is attached to those documents.

I was very interested in the remarks that the hon. Gentleman made about the possibility of false entries being made in rent books. I do not think that there is any provision in our legislation which makes that heinous crime an offence. In some cases tenants are the victims of unscrupulous landlords. However, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that all landlords are bad. There are good landlords and bad landlords.

The main objective of the Bill is to make the address of the landlord available to the tenant. Those who represent poorer districts in London know that there are syndicates of people who own property, that they do not wish their names to be publicised, and that they continuously shield behind a screen of nominees. I do not know whether the Bill will be able to tackle that problem. It seems that there is always a method by which people can avoid a direct link with the property which they possess when they consider that it is undesirable for them to be associated with it. I only wish that the Bill would deal with the problem. There have been many instances in my constituency where it has been practically impossible to trace the real landlord and bring down the shame which ought to be brought upon him.

It is, perhaps, a pity that the Bill does not encompass all classes of property. Clause 5 restricts the Measure virtually to properties falling under rent control. In a way, it might have been better had there been a wider provision.

On the other hand, some of the provisions appear to be a little too wide.

I instance "conditions of the contract" in respect of furnished housing in Clause 2. I think that it might be interpreted that the landlord had an unreasonable obligation towards his tenant, perhaps to give a complete inventory and other details which neither the tenant nor the landlord really desire.

I am sure, however, that none of us would quarrel with the principle of the Bill. I was, nevertheless, impressed by the remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that perhaps this was not the best method for tackling the problem. It is for the House to decide whether a Committee stage for the Bill will be worth while; in other words, whether the alterations which will be required for the Bill warrant the time of those who work upstairs on Wednesday mornings.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will give a very full answer to all the points which have been raised. I hope that perhaps some other additional means may be found of making landlords disclose the name of property which they own.

3.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

I certainly welcome the initiative of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) in introducing the Bill. It is by no means the first occasion on which he has shown his concern that the law should hold the balance fairly between landlord and tenant and that, in particular, the bad landlord should not be able to evade his responsibility.

I am sure the House will accept the general principle of the Bill, which is aimed at the type of landlord who goes to some trouble in preventing his tenants from establishing direct contact with him, usually in order to ask, as the hon. Gentleman said, for the execution of essential repairs and other works. The Bill is aimed only at a small minority of landlords, and I think there is no reason to suppose that there is anything wrong about a landlord acting by or through an agent, but the majority must accept, perhaps, a little inconvenience and difficulty in order that we can curb this minority of sharks and speculators. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend has no desire to complicate matters for the ordinary decent landlord, who now, in accordance with existing law, gives a number of items of information in the rent book which he provides, including his name and address.

In so far as the Bill seeks to consolidate and rationalise the existing statutory provisions, it can serve a useful purpose. Apart from the fact that the existing provisions are not entirely consistent, as my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, in the matter of penalties awarded they are not effective. It is a matter of common knowledge that there are disreputable landlords who evade their responsibilities by converting themselves into one or more accommodation companies, and giving as the registered office of their company the address of a secretary or typist, who has no authority to act.

Clauses 3 and 4 are designed to deal with the problem of the bogus company. These purposes are unexceptionable, but the difficulty, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) pointed out, is one of drafting. This is not an easy matter, and I have no doubt that if the Bill is given a Second Reading some considerable thought will have to be given to this aspect of the problem. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Sir J. Pitman) made a substantial point when he said that even if we cannot get at the ultimate beneficial owner the tenant must be able to get at someone who has some authority and is in a position to act.

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) hoped that some drafting courage would be shown, but we do not want to have merely bold, bad drafting. Certainly, we should do all we can, if the House is minded to give the Bill a Second Reading, to assist in finding some provision which will get at the mischief which I think we all want to curb. Probably, further consideration will have to be given to some of the other provisions in the Bill, such as the nature of the penalties, and the scope of the Bill. My hon. Friends the Members for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) made pertinent points in relation to the dwelling-houses and tenancies to which this Bill ought properly to be applied.

I think my hon. Friends have made a case for the general principle of this Bill, which the House might well consider should go to a Committee for detailed scrutiny on the lines which have been suggested this afternoon.

3.39 p.m.

Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)

I agree that this Bill ought to go to a Committee for consideration, but I am a little disturbed about some of its provisions. One of the provisions that seems to me to require more careful thought is contained in Clause 4 (1), where I foresee considerable danger for agents who are collecting rents on behalf of a landlord. The subsection reads: If a landlord of a dwelling-house to which this Act applies fails to comply with any requirement of the foregoing provisions of this Act, he and any person who on his behalf demands or receives rent in respect of the dwelling-house, shall be guilty of an offence,". If information has been called for under Clause 3 and the landlord has failed to give it but the agent, being ignorant of the request and of the failure to comply, he may continue to collect rent and be guilty of an offence.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has suggested that consideration should be given to the scope of the penalties. It has always been thought that, where a private Member introduces a Bill involving serious penalties, in these circumstances a liability for substantial sums of money, the provisions on which the penalties are based should be clear and definite.

I have an interest. I am a landlord both through companies and otherwise. I am wondering whether the answer to at least some of these problems lies in a greater use of the written agreement as such. The rent book nowadays contains very many clauses—if that be the right word—or paragraphs very often written in comparatively small print. It may be necessary in cases Where the houses come under the Rent Act for some such document to be made available, but I incline to the view that in oases outside the Rent Act a greater use of the written agreement, perhaps in a clearer form, might be better.

It has been said that the rent book is regarded as a most valuable document, and this is so in some cases, but one's experience in other circumstances shows the other side of the picture; the rent book is sometimes lost and people do not realise how important it is. There is no magic in the rent book as such.

I suggest that we should consider carefully the limitation to decontrolled properties up to a rateable value of £40 in London and £30 elsewhere which is contained in the Bill. It seems to me that this is a limitation for which there is no obvious reason.

When I heard the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) talking about hundreds of thousands of landlords sheltering behind agents, I knew, of course, that that was a hopeless exaggeration.

Mr. Fletcher

I spoke of hundreds of thousands of tenants.

Sir E. Errington

Hundreds of thousands of tenants sheltering behind agents?

Mr. Fletcher

No, suffering from landlords, I said.

Sir E. Errington

When the hon. Gentleman reads what he said, he will find that those were not his words.

What we must do in legislation like this is to clamp down on the bad landlord, the landlord who is taking every opportunity to avoid his obligations, without making life difficult—and it can be very difficult—for the good landlord who is doing his very best to preserve his property in good condition and work in helpful agreement with the tenants. I hope that the Bill will be considered on that basis in Committee.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

On the whole, it is my view that the Bill should go to Committee for radical alteration of its details. Nothing I say or do today will alter that view in any way. But, as with everything else which one does in life, one must consider one's reasons for doing so and whether it is necessary and advisable to do it. The only reason why this can be necessary is that there are a few—I am glad to say a very small number—landlord property companies or landlord individuals who avoid their obligations as landlords and put an unnecessary burden upon their tenants. There are also, of course, many tenants who avoid their obligations as tenants.

It may well be that in cases where a tenant is or considers that he is badly treated there has been a breach of contract between him and his landlord, but he is unable to find out who his landlord is. But he has the simplest possible remedy at present—he can refuse to pay his rent. If finally he is sued for it, he has to be sued by the landlord and not by the agent, and in that action he can bring such counter-claims as he may think fit.

Hon. Members have spoken as though being the landlord of property of this type was something in which there was a future. In fact, in the vast majority of cases it represents a serious financial liability with no possible future. It frequently leads to very great legal complications. When people die—and I regret to say that they do with the utmost regularity—no one will take on a property of this kind if it is left to him in a will or because the first landlord died intestate. The liabilities and obligations involved in such property are such that no one would touch it and on the death of a landlord it often becomes virtually ownerless.

Because of the peculiarities of our testacy law, it becomes vested in the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division and in every rent book there is the name of the hon. and learned Member who used to be in this House and who is now the President of the Divorce, Probate and Admiralty Division. That sort of thing does not make sense and it is the kind of thing that has to be borne in mind when we are dealing with a Bill of this kind.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

Would it not be a solution for the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division to form a property company?

Mr. Doughty

Yes, but as he has no personal liability for anything, we require indemnities out of the Consolidated Fund provided by the House of Commons. Nobody would be more delighted about that than the people whose property is involved.

How does the Bill deal with these difficulties, assuming that they exist? Clause 1 says: Where the rent of a dwelling-house to which this Act applies is payable weekly, it shall be the duty of the landlord to provide a rent book or other similar document for use in respect of the dwelling-house. What does the landlord do if he is dishonest or is collaborating with a dishonest agent?

He produces that book, which is a rent book for all the properties street by street, and into it he enters every week the rent paid, or, when it is not paid, he makes an entry showing the arrears. To satisfy the tenant he gives him a receipt. To comply with the provisions of the Bill, he will put on the book the name of the landlord, but he will not be obliged to show the book to the landlord. He will not be obliged to give the tenant any information relating to the landlord, so that as at present drafted the provisions of the Bill will be easy to avoid.

In any event, is it really necessary to give the name of the landlord? Supposing it is a property company? In this type of property the tenant always deals with the agent. It may be that occasionally he cannot get any sense out of the agent and is forced to seek out the landlord, but if both the tenant and the landlord behave themselves discussions about repairs and so on are held between the tenant and the agent. The agent authorises the repairs and pays for them on behalf of the landlord.

It is Clause 3 to which I object. What does it matter who are the directors? They are not personally liable for failure to repair the roof of the property. No action can be taken against them, but only against the landlord, that is, the property company. If it is vitally important to the tenant to discover who are the directors, he can go to Somerset House and search the Register of Companies to get the information.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

I know that my hon. and learned Friend was not able to be present when I was dealing with this point. I was trying to emphasise that although it would be easy for, say, an hon. Member to get this information from Somerset House, it would not be so easy for the humbler tenant who lived in, say, in Penzance or Newcastle because the application has to be made in person. It cannot be made by post. The more humble and simple tenant whom the Bill is designed to protect might find it an insuperable problem to get this information.

Mr. Doughty

He can get someone to get it for him. Everybody has friends in London.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

I cannot see what value it would be to the tenant to have this information. He may discover three or four names, but he would be in no better position than he was before. What he needs to know is the name of the company.

Mr. Doughty

I agree with my hon. Friend. What use would the names of the directors of the company be to the tenant? If he is incensed at the way he has been treated, his remedy lies in bringing an action against the company. The directors of the company may not even know that the action is being brought because the agent and, if necessary, solicitors and legal people, will deal with the matter on their behalf.

Then, one has to look at the penalty Clauses very carefully. Even if there is a genuine mistake in entering the name of the landlord in the book, and even though the landlord may know nothing about the mistake, he will still be liable to a penalty. He will be liable to be brought before a criminal court and fined because his agent has perhaps innocently entered the wrong name in the rent book, or got the name of the wrong company because the company has changed hands without him knowing it. Whatever the reason for the wrong name being on the book, the landlord will find himself in the magistrates' court and liable to be fined because of an error by his agent.

Again, if there should perhaps be an accident or slip by somebody not filling in the name of the landlord, and the landlord receives rent which is due and payable to him in any event, the agent, and probably the landlord as well, will be liable to be brought before a magistrates' court for asking for that to which they are entitled and fined.

It does not sound right, and I would recommend my hon. and gallant Friend to look into the matter more carefully and to consider whether a withholding of rent from such time as this information is withheld would not probably be the better course and the one which, in practice, would work out better. It would be a course which the tenant could himself apply summarily, quickly and effectively. Who is going to start these proceedings in the magistrates' court? The local police are not interested. Is the tenant himself going to organise the case, which is somewhat complicated? Is he going to apply for a summons against people whom he does not know, the grounds of the offence being, "I do not know who they are because they are not on the rent book."?

In all these circumstances, I think that the matter wants looking at very carefully before a penalty Clause of this kind is imposed. The fines proposed are not small. They are £100 and £10 for every day. That is the type of penalty which is imposed for a very serious offence, one wilfully committed and one having serious effects upon other people. It is for the House to consider whether the undoubted misdemeanours of a small number of people justify the introduction of this further burden on those who act as agents for the letting of lower rateable value property. They would have to remind their employees, who come and go with remarkable speed, that they must give this information correctly or render their employers liable to be sued in a magistrates' court.

If the House thinks that the time has come when this should be done, no doubt the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and will deal with these questions in Committee. Whether the supplying of the name and address of a company which is not perhaps registered in this country, or whether the supplying of the name and address of a syndicate which, perhaps, may only be temporarily resident in this country and difficult to trace, will really have the effect of dealing with people who wish to be awkward because they are trying to avoid their obligations is another question indeed.

I wish my hon. and gallant Friend success with his Bill, but I hope that he will look at the points which I and other hon. Members have raised and will not be intransigent in Committee as, otherwise, he may find that his Bill will not have the same easy passage when it comes to Third Reading as it has had today. If my hon. and gallant Friend will bear that in mind and will put down the appropriate Amendments, I am sure that he will produce a workable Bill which we shall ail have great pleasure in getting through its final stages.

As far as I personally am concerned, I do not propose to do anything which will prevent my hon. and gallant Friend from taking his Bill to Committee and discussing there the points raised today by myself and other hon. Members, and no doubt a great many other points which he will think of after his Bill has obtained its Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).