HC Deb 10 July 1964 vol 698 cc804-9

Lords Amendment: In page 72, line 32, leave out "nine" and insert "twelve".

Sir K. Joseph

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This Amendment, which increases the period during which a landlord cannot, under the circumstances described, recover possession of his property without the permission of the court during the relevant period, extends the relevant period from nine to twelve months. This is a result of representations made by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and a number of his hon. Friends during the Report stage in this House and I think that it will meet the wishes of all that this Amendment should be made.

Mr. M. Stewart

We certainly welcome this Amendment as far as it goes, but I am still a little sorry that it has not been so worded as to close the gap completely. It was never quite clear to me why we could not say that, when a compulsory purchase order had been made, it should be impossible, except with the approval of the court, to turn the tenant out until the matter had been finally determined either by the acquisition of the House by the local authority or by the quashing of the order.

I agree that extending the relevant period from nine to 12 months makes it more likely that there will not be any gap period when it is still uncertain as to what was to happen to the order and during which the landlord could turn the tenant out. But it is not clear yet why we could not have worded it so as to make it clear that in no circumstances could there be any gap.

The principle is reasonable. If the local authority applies for power to purchase a house, the landlord should not be allowed to turn the tenant out until it is finally decided whether or not the local authority is to have the house—in which case he will never be able to turn the tenant out. If the order is quashed, he will have the same rights as he had before proceedings were instituted.

Sir K. Joseph

In this esoteric language in which we speak of these things, the hon. Gentleman is, I presume, referring to the fear that some compulsory purchase orders might not be settled aye or nay within even twelve months. I think that he would have a case if the average period for dealing with orders of this nature were anywhere near 12 months, but I can assure him that the average period for such orders is somewhere between 30 to 35 weeks.

I expect that, if a local authority pursues its processes with diligence, some weeks could be cut even from that average. The Department realises that there is a special necessity here to work as quickly as practicable and therefore there is ample margin to make this an effective cover for security for the tenant in every case where an order is made.

Mr. M. Stewart

I see the point but I am still not entirely happy. The right hon. Gentleman said that the average was about 30 weeks. But that is nearly three-quarters of a year and it is of the essence of averaging that some of the things one is considering are above the average. In addition, how long the period is in any particular case does not only depend on the diligence of the local authority but on the diligence of the Ministry as well.

I cannot see what harm would have been done in so wording the Amendment as to give exactly the effect I described just now, instead of prescribing a period of time. I agree, however, that it is unlikely that the thing would ever run beyond 12 months. But, if we are to amend the provision at all, why should we not amend it in a way which would make it quite certain that that could never happen?

However, it is clear from the reference to a period of 35 weeks that it was desirable to extend the relevant period from nine to 12 months, because if the average were: 35 weeks, there might have been some which ran beyond the period of nine months. The increase from nine to 12 months is certainly better than nothing, and to that extent we are glad to welcome the Amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 72, line 37, at end insert: (1A) Subject to this section, in proceedings in the county court instituted during the relevant period to enforce against the former lessee the right to recover possession of the premises the court may if it thinks fit—

  1. (a) suspend the execution of any order for possession of the premises made in the proceedings for such period, not exceeding the period of twelve months beginning with the making of the said compulsory purchase order, and subject to such conditions, if any, as the court thinks fit, and
  2. (b) from time to time vary the period of suspension (but not so as to enlarge that period beyond the end of the said period of twelve months), or terminate it, and vary the terms of the order in other respects.
If at any time the Minister notifies the local authority that he declines to confirm the said compulsory purchase order, or that order is quashed by a court, or, whether before or after that order has been submitted to the Minister for confirmation, the local authority decide not to proceed with it, it shall be the duty of the local authority to notify the person entitled to the benefit of the order for possession of the premises, and that person shall be entitled, on applying to the court, to obtain an order terminating the period of suspension, but subject to the exercise of such discretion in fixing the date on which possession is to be given as the court might exercise apart from this subsection if it were then making an order for possession for the first time.

Sir K. Joseph

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

I suggest that the following Amendment may be taken with this one.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

If that is agreeable.

Sir K. Joseph

During the debate on the protection for tenants during the consideration of a compulsory purchase order, it was pointed out by the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) that while the tenants were protected against any eviction, save where the landlord got the authority of the court, the discretion given to the court to refuse eviction was limited to a matter of only a few weeks. It was pointed out from this side of the House that the tenant had the whole period during which the case was brought by the landlord to the court and the period during which the case had to wait before the court would deal with it, as well as the few weeks which judicially could be given before the eviction notice would bite.

Nevertheless, the point was fairly taken then that even with the protection provided it would be possible for a landlord to get the approval of the court to an eviction even before the compulsory purchase order had been considered and a decision taken by the Minister within what was then nine months and what has now been extended to twelve months.

Consequently, the Amendment provides further protection for the tenants in a house for which a compulsory purchase order is being made. The form of the extra protection is that the court has power to extend the security of the tenant for up to a maximum period of twelve months, always provided that, if during that period the compulsory purchase order is quashed, it will be open to the landlord to seek the recovery of the property and that it shall be an obligation on the local authority to inform the landlord that the compulsory purchase order has been quashed.

Even in this case the Amendment provides that it shall be open to the court, when considering the landlord's application for recovery of premises on which a compulsory purchase order has been quashed, to exercise its discretion about the further period of security given to the tenant within the maximum period of 12 months. I hope that this will be an acceptable further increase in the security of such tenants.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. M. Stewart

This is a welcome Amendment, because I always felt that it made a mockery of the law that it should be possible for landlords to get the tenant out when there were proceedings for compulsory purchase pending. Any measure which makes that less likely and which gives protection to the tenant in such circumstances is to be welcomed.

However, I cannot leave the Amendment without expressing my regret that the protection given in this and the preceding Amendments and the whole Clause applies only when it is a house let in lodgings or occupied by members of more than one family. I would have thought that the principle that it was a mockery of the law to allow a landlord to get the tenant out when the question of whether the house was to be compulsorily acquired was still pending was as sound if there was only one family as tenants as when the house was let in lodgings or occupied by more than one family.

I regret that even in its amended form the Bill still gives this protection only to houses let in lodgings or to members of more than one family. This is a matter to which the House will have to return subsequently, when it will have to extend this principle to all dwellings.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.