HC Deb 18 May 1962 vol 659 cc1779-84

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

3.45 p.m.

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

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

I feel myself under an obligation to make two apologies to hon. Members, first, for the rather short interval between the Committee stage and Third Reading of the Bill and, secondly, for the fact that there were many Amendments in Committee which I put down and which, at first sight, might make it appear to hon. Members that they were considering a rather different Bill.

I give them my assurance, and it could be given by other hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee, that the principles and main provisions of the Bill which hon. Members kindly accepted on Second Reading have not been altered. I admit that there has been a considerable redrafting, but that was entirely due to the inexperience and, perhaps, to some extent to the ignorance of the sponsor of the Bill.

As a result of the Amendments, the Bill has been considerably improved and on that account I offer my sincere thanks to all those hon. Members who made such helpful contributions on Second Reading, to hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee, and particularly to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

In the short time available to me, as the drafting of the Bill has been so altered, I ought briefly to refer to the main differences between the Bill as it now is and as it received a Second Reading. Two or three criticisms were made on Second Reading, although nobody actually disagreed with the Bill in principle. The main alteration from the original draft is in the scope of the Bill.

Originally, the Bill was limited, among other ways, to dwelling-houses with a rateable value of £40 in London and £30 elsewhere, or less. Various hon. Members objected to that and thought that the limitation was drawn too closely and that the scope of the Bill should be wider. They said that it was virtually limited to controlled tenants and that if it was good for controlled tenants, it was good for uncontrolled tenants. The point was put very well on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), who said: 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? My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) supported him and said: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd March. 1962; Vol. 656, c. 785–800.] Other hon. Members said the same thing.

We have endeavoured to rectify that to a large extent and, although I would have liked to have gone into this matter in general and in more detail, I can only say that we found that the best method of meeting this criticism was not by altering the Clause which defined the scope of the Bill, but by altering Clause 1 and saying simply that the Bill applied to all tenancies where the rent was paid weekly, whether they were controlled or uncontrolled. It was not quite fair to say that the Bill was virtually limited to controlled property originally, because so much has fallen out of control by what is known as "creeping decontrol", that is to say, by new tenancies or change of tenancy.

In addition to that point, which, I hope, has met the criticisms that were made, Clause 2 attempts to regularise the position with regard to the provision of rent books and the information to be provided in them. What we have endeavoured to do by amending the Bill in Committee—and I think that we have been successful—is to draw together all the provisions of the law concerning the provision of rent books and what should go into them. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to agree that the Bill clarifies the position. This is not in any way due to my efforts, but to the efforts of wiser minds than mine, and I think that the Bill will make the law on this subject easier for those who have to administer it.

It was also pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that Clause 2 as originally drawn did away with certain obligations which the landlord had towards the tenant. For instance, it did away with his obligation in certain cases to supply certain information in the rent book, such as the name of the medical officer of health, and certain conditions in connection with the tenancy. This criticism has been met by the Amendments that have been made to the Bill.

Another major criticism, and, indeed, a valid one, was that under the Bill as originally drawn an offence was committed by a rent collector or agent if he continued to collect rent after the landlord had refused, or had failed under Clause 3 of the Bill to supply information to the tenant concerning the identity of the directors and secretary of a landlord company even though he might not have the information for which the landlord had been asked. The Bill makes it clear that although there is an obligation on the agent to pass such a request from a tenant to the landlord, he commits an offence only if he fails to pass on this request, and the landlord commits an offence if he fails to provide the information.

The penalties in the Bill as originally drafted remain virtually the same. The maximum penalty is £50 and regularises the law which previously was in a chaotic condition. The fine could be £10, or £50, or £2. The maximum penalty for the first offence is now £50. In the Bill as originally drawn there was a continuing penalty of £10 a day if a landlord was in default for not providing the information that was requested, or whatever it was. This was against Government policy. It was too severe a penalty, and the maximum fine for a second offence is now £100.

Those are the main alterations to the Bill. There are one or two minor alterations whereby we make sure that boarding houses, hotels and lodgings are excluded from the terms of the Bill, and that the powers of local authorities to launch prosecutions if they so desire are unimpaired.

I apologise to hon. Members for being so brief. I had wanted to inflict on them a long speech. I felt that it was my duty to do so, but they have been spared this. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will say that the Bill makes the law easier to administer. It received close and careful consideration in the Committee upstairs, for which I am most grateful, and I hope that it will be given a Third Reading.

3.54 p.m.

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

I am happy to give my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) the assurance for which he asks. The Bill as it stands both simplifies and strengthens the law relating to rent books.

I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on the way in which he has handled this Measure throughout its history to date and particularly on the way in which he dealt with these matters in Committee. I think that anyone who reads the proceedings in Committee will appreciate the reason for the Amendments then made which alter the Bill from the form in which it was introduced. I hope that it will be given a Third Reading.

3.55 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

I welcome the Bill because it has been very much improved. It has clarified the position and it will help an enormous number of weekly tenants throughout the country. I also welcome the reasonableness of the penalty Clauses, which I thought a little unfair originally. I am glad to see that Amendments have dealt with the position satisfactorily, and also that the Bill is not now restricted, as it was originally, to rent-controlled properties.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I respectfully but warmly support the Bill. It will prove a boon to a great number of tenants. It will provide them with a little more protection against the rascally landlords who, in Brixton and elsewhere, operate under nom de plumes from accommodation addresses and who, when the situation proves too hot for them, suddenly reappear in the guise of a registered property company with offices in Dublin. All that kind of thing will be checked to some extent by this useful Measure. For those reason, I hope that it will reach the Statute Book in the not-too-distant future.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

In respect of Clause 3 (1), tenants should understand that they have to prove that they have made their request in writing. I want to put it on record that an effective method of doing this would be to send the request by registered post. I hope that tenants who are troubled by landlords of the sort referred to by the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) will bear this point in mind. I should think that proof of posting a registered letter would be acceptable in a subsequent prosecution.

My fear is that the unscrupulous landlords whom the Bill is designed to catch—who are in a minority—will not be caught by its provisions. If the Parliamentary Secretary or his right hon. Friend can devise, by way of regulations, some means by which these people can be trapped, no one will be more pleased than I. I welcome the good work done by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) in introducing the Bill, and I hope that it will speedily find its way on to the Statute Book.

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) for having taken notice of the remarks I made shortly before four o'clock in the Second Reading debate. I then said that I would give him some advice and that I would sit down before four o'clock, so that the Bill's further progress would not be impeded. I say the same thing today, and I will watch the clock even more carefully.

My hon. and gallant Friend has taken my advice, with the result that the Bill is a much better one than it was when originally introduced. I thank him for the trouble that he has taken, and I wish the Bill speedy progress to the Statute Book.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

The fact that I have not spoken so far does not indicate any lack of concern on my part to see the Bill go through. I was merely concerned to give priority to those hon. Members who were not on the Standing Committee. I would not like it to be thought that I did not support the Measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.