HC Deb 26 November 1964 vol 702 cc1631-72
The Deputy-Chairman

The next Amendment selected is No. 20, in page 2, line 43, to leave out "may" and to insert shall subject to subsection (4) of this section". The following Amendments may be discussed with that one: No. 19, in page 2, line 43, leave out "may" and insert "shall".

No. 21, in line 44, leave out "such period, not exceeding".

No. 22, in line 45, leave out as the court thinks reasonable". No. 23, in line 45, at end insert: unless having regard to the circumstances set out in subsection (4) the court considers that such a suspension would be unjust or unreasonable". No. 28, in page 3, line 13, leave out subsection (4) and insert: (4) If it appears to the court—

  1. (a) that the occupier has failed (whether before or after the termination of the former tenancy) to observe any terms or conditions thereof; or
  2. (b) that the occupier has unreasonably refused an offer of a tenancy or other contract for the occupation of the premises or part of the premises for a reasonable term and at a reasonable rent; or
  3. (c) that the dwelling is reasonably required by the landlord (not being a landlord who has become landlord by purchasing the dwelling or any interest therein after the commencement of this Act) for occupation as a residence by himself, or by any son or daughter of his over 18 years of age, or by his father or mother, and that greater hardship would be caused by the suspension of the order than by its execution without suspension or further suspension;
the court may, if it thinks it reasonable so to do, having regard to all the circumstances and in particular to any of the foregoing circumstances, either refuse to suspend the execution of the order or suspend the order for twelve months or for such lesser period or on such terms as it thinks reasonable. No. 29, in page 3, line 14, after "court", insert: shall exercise the power of suspension by virtue of this Act only if and so far as it is satisfied by the occupier that it is reasonable so to do and the court". If required, there can be a Division on Amendment No. 29.

Mr. Harold Lever

I beg to move, Amendment No. 20, in page 2, line 43, to leave out "may" and to insert: shall subject to subsection (4) of this section". I shall try to be brief. The intention of these Amendments is to shift the onus of proof from the tenant to the landlord to withhold the suspension of an order. At present the scheme of the Bill is that when a landlord desires to get possession he goes to the county court judge and the matter is then left at large within the discretion of the county court judge.

The effect of the Amendment is that in the ordinary course the county court judge will suspend the order for 12 months. In other words, it gives him a prima facie basis on which to act, and clear advise as to the intent of the Legislature.

If the subsequent Amendment to subsection (4) is accepted, the effect will be that the judge can withhold the suspension of an order only in certain special conditions. These conditions are the same as those contained in the original subsection, with two important differences. First, the judge will not be obliged to take into account the question whether the tenant has made reasonable efforts to obtain other suitable accommodation. The reason why I seek to delete paragraph (c) is that it is obviously contrary to the main spirit of the Bill that the judge should be able to take it into account as one of the grounds for refusing to suspend the order.

If the Clause remains as it is worded at present, one of the grounds for a judge making an order for immediate possession would be that the tenant had failed to make reasonable efforts to obtain other suitable accommodation. Since the whole purpose of the Bill, in effect, is to say to the tenant, "Stand pat for the moment. You may not have to be put into the street. You may not be put out by a court order", it is obviously unreasonable, and contrary to the principle of the Bill, to provide that the tenant should pretend to make efforts to find other accommodation, because the whole purpose of the legislation is to preserve the tenant's right to stay where he is until the arrival of permanent legislation which is shortly to come before the House. It would be illogical then to say to a tenant whom we intend to protect by our permanent legislation that he should look for alternative accommodation before he can see what his position will be under the permanent legislation. I urge this as a ground for deleting paragraph (c).

The second important difference in my version of the matters which the county court judge can take into account before making an order for immediate possession is that whereas the original drafting said that he must take into account the question whether greater hardship would be caused by the suspension of the execution of the order for possession than by its execution without suspension or further suspension", my version leaves the matter at large. If the landlord claims greater hardship on the ground that he would be financially embarrassed, under the present terms of the Bill it would be open to the court to hold in his favour. This Clause is intended to be an echo of the old "greater hardship" provisions contained in former rent restriction legislation. But that legislation is more tightly drawn, and I have copied it more closely in my Amendment.

If the Amendment is accepted the landlord will be able to urge greater hardship only if it is greater hardship of a kind which this House would approve as a ground for evicting the tenant, namely, hardship for the landlord or his immediate family, who want the house for their own occupation. As the Clause is as present worded, if the landlord could show that hardship to some stranger would result if an order for possession was not made—if the landlord could claim that he intended to give the tenancy to a complete stranger—and picked on a particularly sad case, he could go to the county court judge and claim that even greater hardship would be caused to his proposed new tenant than to the existing tenant if the judge did not make an order.

11.15 p.m.

On the conditions for limiting it in the way I propose, the Committee can he reasonably assured that no spectacular increase in malnutrition among landlords is likely to arise. I submit that these restrictions are important and useful. The judge must make the order unless the landlord shows on the specified grounds that it would be unreasonable to do so. The specified grounds are restricted to those listed in my Amendment, and one will not be attempting to obtain other suitable accommodation. The kind of hardship must be that of the landlord or his immediate family wanting the premises for his or their own use.

Even if the landlord proved these things, it would be for the court to look at the whole circumstances and say whether it was fair and just to give possession. I should have thought that this Committee would wish the tenant to remain in possession until we have our permanent legislation, unless a very strong case is made that he should go in the interim period. If the judge thought it a proper ground he might make the order for immediate possession.

Mr. Julius Silverman

I want to deal briefly with the limited point in the Amendments in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends. The object of those Amendments is to direct the discretion of the county court judge to this particular issue. At present he is not given any direction whatever as to whether or not to make an order for suspension. He is told of certain matters he has to consider, but suppose that those matters are not there. If he has considered those matters, he is not told what he should do.

The two Amendments together say that the judge should make the order of suspension unless, because of the factors contained in subsection (4), he considers that such an order would be unjust or unreasonable. This shows exactly where the onus lies and what the judge should do, although it does not deprive him of discretion. I should think that is what the Bill intends, to stop unreasonable or unjust evictions. I hope that it will be possible for the Minister to consider these Amendments favourably either now or later.

Sir J. Hobson

I deal first with the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever). He was certainly right in saying that it would very much restrict the position as it is under the Bill. It would place not only the shackles he has suggested on the possibilities of getting possession, but would provide that a suspension order is to be made for 12 months in all circumstances unless one or other of the three conditions he mentioned are fulfilled. Either the occupier has to be in breach of the terms of the tenancy, or there must be an unreasonable refusal by the tenant of a new tenancy of those premises—not even alternative accommodation—or the landlord wants the premises for himself or his family and there will be greater hardship on the landlord unless he gets them. Unless one or other of these factors alone is proved, the tenant is bound to be left in possession for a further 12 months after the date of the hearing in the county court.

This is far too restrictive for a holding Measure. It ignores wholly and entirely the interest of any prospective tenant. It ignores the position that we have discussed so frequently of those who are in service occupancies and service tenancies on farms. In the case of an agricultural worker, whether he was occupying under a service occupancy or a service tenancy, if one of those three matters were proved to exist the tenant would be allowed to stay for a further 12 months, come what may of the cattle and come what may of the real necessities and urgencies to put in another agricultural worker.

The proposal ignores wholly whether the tenant has made any efforts at all to obtain other accommodation in circumstances in which he could easily have obtained other accommodation. Let us not forget that we are including all premises up to a rateable value of £400, and even though it was a category of house of which there was an ample supply, provided the tenant made an effort to get other accommodation in the higher grades of rateable value, still the tenant would be entitled to stay on.

Mr. Harold Lever

This is surely an argument to reduce the ceiling of value and not against the merits of the Amendment.

Sir J. Hobson

We have got to discuss this Amendment on the basis on which the hon. Gentleman has put it to the Committee. He said that he was taking a limit of £400. I suspect that when we get to the discussion of that point on Clause 3 we shall find that a sufficient number of his hon. Friends will be persuaded by his argument that £400 is the right figure, and at this stage I can only proceed safely on that basis. The Amendment limits the power of a county court judge, even in circumstances which he thought were wholly reasonable, even in circumstances in which anybody else would think it was wholly reasonable that a tenant should have only another couple of months in which to readjust his affairs. It would prevent any order being made except 12 months automatic suspension. I should have thought that this goes too far in a stop-gap Measure, and I and my hon. Friends infinitely prefer the Bill as it stands to the proposals of the hon. Member for Cheetham.

I hope the Committee will agree that his proposal should not be adopted. It proceeds on the basis that the only people who are interested are the individual landlord and the individual tenant, whereas we have got to look at the prospects of prospective tenants; we have got to look at the total availability of accommodation for letting.

If there is to be control, the county court judges are the people who can judge best. It is surely best to leave them to judge whether it is right that premises should become available for additional letting. If we have Measures as restrictive as this, we get back to the position in which everybody will say that the only sensible thing to do is to sell with vacant possession and not for letting. There should be reasonable and sensible provisions whereby the county court judge, if he thinks it is fair to make the premises available for a new tenant, can make a new order.

May I draw attention to Amendment No. 29, in page 3, line 14? A very remarkable feature of this Bill is that the whole control of tenancies and of every dwellinghouse—and that is almost all of them in this country—and their possession after the termination of the tenancy is being placed in the hands of the county court judges.

The other very remarkable thing, which I think is a point which the hon. Member for Cheetham has made, is that, in the Bill as drafted county court judges are given almost no guidance at all as to what they should consider. They are not even bound to consider whether suspension of an order would be reasonable or not.

In Clause 2(1) they have indeed to consider what is a reasonable time, but there is nothing to direct the mind of the admirable—and hereafter no doubt hard worked—county court judge as to what are the issues he should consider, whether he should grant the suspension order after the determination of a tenancy or not. While I greatly admire county court judges, and I agree that they if anyone are the best people to take on this task, we should at least give them the direction that they should consider whether a suspension order is reasonable or not. That is the minimum. It is very little indeed, and the principal purpose of my Amendment is to see that in Clause 2(3) the county court judge, in considering whether or how to exercise his power under the Clause, shall consider whether it is reasonable or not in all the circumstances to exercise that discretion.

Mr. Harold Lever

That is not in the Amendment.

Sir J. Hobson

It is one of the things Amendment No. 29 says: shall exercise the power of suspension by virtue of this Act only if and so far as it is satisfied by the occupier that it is reasonable so to do … I am defining the issue he has first of all to consider as whether it is reasonable. That is the most important part. The second part is upon whom lies the burden to show whether it is reasonable or not? No direction for this is given at all. The county court judge is left entirely in the air. Who is left with the burden? Who is to show whether it is reasonable to have a suspension order or not?

The basis of my Amendment is that those who are asserting that they should be granted a special statutory right, those who are asserting that a privilege should be extended to them, are the persons upon whom the burden should be. I think that where the burden lies before the county court judge does not normally make very much difference. Once the county court judge has heard all the arguments, he will make up his mind in the vast majority of cases as to what is or what is not reasonable. What is essential is that he should have his mind directed to the question he should ask himself, and I say that it is whether he should grant a suspension order or not. Is it not right that, when matters tremble in the balance in those few cases where the burden of proof is important, the burden should be on the person who is asserting that he should have the privilege of a special statutory position?

For these reasons, I hope that the Committee will accept my Amendment and reject the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cheetham.

Mr. Weitzman

This Clause in the Bill is devised, I take it, not to protect the bad tenant, but to protect the tenant oppressed by a bad landlord. If that is the object of the Bill, I frankly do not agree with the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever). I do not agree with him, because I think that the Clause as drawn sets out very clearly the considerations that should be in the mind of the learned county court judge.

For that reason also I disagree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) has said. It seems to me—and he will have had experience of county court judges, as I have—that they will be able to apply rough and reedy methods to this. They will go carefully into it. All the relevant considerations are set out in Clause 2(4). The county court judge, hearing the argument and the evidence, will decide upon the matter. It seems to me that both Amendments should be rejected. The form in which the Clause is put is quite satisfactory.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Harold Lever

Does my hon. and learned Friend think that one of the reasons should be that reasonable efforts have not been made to obtain suitable accommodation?

Mr. Weitzman

It is a consideration which the judge might well have in mind. He will give it such weight as he thinks fit.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Roots

I beg to move, Amendment No. 24, in page 3, line 5, after the first "the" to insert "amount or".

This is purely a drafting point. Assuming, as I do, to take one example, that the Government would agree that if, under Clause 1(3), certain furniture or services were withdrawn there should be a reduction of rent, I am not entirely satisfied that Clause 2(2) makes it quite clear that the county court judge has power to make that amendment in the amount of the rent. If the wording were simply, … impose such terms and conditions … it might be clear, but the subsection continues to specify, including conditions as to the payment … This might well be the subject of argument, and one wants to avoid subsequent argument about the Clause if possible. It might well be taken as confining what might be imposed simply to a condition of payment, for example, the frequency of the instalments. It is with that in mind that I suggest that it would be clearer if the words of the Amendment were inserted at that point.

Mr. MacColl

I am advised that the Amendment is not necessary. I appreciate the hon. and learned Member's point in wanting to clear the matter up. It would be covered particularly by mesne profits. As the judge will have full powers to fix terms and conditions, including conditions as to payment, mesne profits would cover any variations while the order is in operation. I think that that is the point which the hon. and learned Member is making.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Grant-Ferris)

proceeded to put the Question:

Mr. Harold Lever

On a point of order—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. The hon. Member must acquire a hat to raise a point of order.

Mr. Lever

(Seated and covered): My point of order, Mr. Grant-Ferris, is that I am far from clear about what has happened to my Amendment. Certain right hon. and hon. Members opposite seem, in their confusion, to think that the Amendment has been carried, as do some of my own hon. Friends.

The Temporary Chairman

That is not a point of order. That Amendment has been decided.

Amendment negatived.

Sir J. Hobson

I beg to move Amendment No. 25, in page 3, line 6, after "profits", insert: damages or compensation for loss or injury caused by the suspension of the execution of the order for possession or by the imposition of terms and conditions. We are not surprised that we have suffered a little confusion just lately since we have had no reply to the Amendments moved by the hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) or to that which I moved a little earlier. There has been not a single move from the Government Front Bench, but one supposes that that is hardly surprising if one remembers that the Government Whips did not know what to call out after you, Mr. Grant-Ferris, had put the Question. There was no reply, and the hon. Member for Cheetham, with all his experience, does not know whether or not his Amendment has been carried. It is hardly surprising in view of this complete lack of awareness on the part of the Government Front Bench that the hon. Gentleman is in such a confused state of mind.

The Amendment which I am now moving concerns the power which we are conferring upon the county court judges under Clause 2. It is a special power, in view of what is thought to be the needs of tenants, to deprive landlords, and those who are themselves tenants, but who sublet, of the power that they would otherwise have had to exercise in order to gain possession. We are giving county court judges the power to leave the individual in possession of premises which may go up to a rateable value of some £400; that is, some hon. Members may think, in the country almost a castle, if not quite.

Yet the fact of so doing is to produce an effect which may be much greater so as to alter the position of the owner entitled to the possession than can be properly adjusted by the mere provision of the payment of a reasonable rent. While I quite agree that there may not be many cases where this power would need to be exercised, it might be very useful indeed for a county court judge, in deciding the way to exercise the power of suspension reasonably, to be able not only to adjust the rent but to provide that some special loss which he is going to cause to the landlord should be the subject of some compensation or damages. It is a very frequent provision indeed, where a statutory right is given to a person to the injury of another person, that the courts can then assess the compensation which should be made.

This Amendment would give a good deal of flexibility to a county court judge, particularly under the hardship provision in subsection (4,d), in deciding whether greater hardship to one side or the other would be caused, for he could say, "It is perfectly all right to make the suspension order because I can deal under subsection (4,d) with the hardship to the owner by ordering the tenant, who can well afford to pay, to pay some compensation for the fact that he is to be allowed to remain in possession."

We have to remember that in a great many cases—and in my own division I have often found this—landlords are very much less well off than their tenants. There are many people who have invested their savings, or whose husbands have invested their savings, in property, and who will be, or may be, severely affected in the way they carry on their business and who cannot be compensated by the mere award of payment of the value of the property. All I am saying is that I am sure that it will assist county court judges if, in taking into account the hardship provisions, they can make awards of compensation or damages by statutory powers.

Mr. Mellish

The reply to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that we believe that the subsection he seeks to amend is satisfactory as it now stands. We believe that the proposal he is now making for the extent of the compensation for the owner in respect of the withholding from him of the possession of his property goes far beyond the scope of the mean profit, that is, the fair rental value of the premises. We believe the court, in assessing the mean profit to be paid by the occupier to the owner for the period of the suspension, will nearly always fix it at the level of rent under the old tenancy agreement.

As we understand it, the Amendment means opening the door to all kinds of claims for damages or injury which it would be very difficult to adjudicate upon, and we think that the implications of this are difficult to foresee. We think that in a Measure of this kind, a temporary one, not to remain on the Statute Book for a very long period, this Amendment is not necessary. We believe that the subsection as it is will meet the point.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman defended the owners who are not so well off as their tenants. There may be such owners—and I recognise that there may be—but my right hon. Friend has already said that this legislation, perhaps for the first time in the history of this country, tilts the legislation in favour of the tenant. For that we on this side do not apologise. [Interruption.] Certainly we do not apologise. The previous Administration, through the Rent Act, tilted against the tenant, and that has been so disastrous as to create the difficulties we are now meeting today.

11.45 p.m.

If anyone wants proof of that, let him go tonight to see the homeless people, with no roof over their heads as a result of previous legislation. I respect the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument, but we do not believe that this will be a helpful Amendment. The hon. and learned Gentleman has paid tribute to the county court judges and their great common sense and intelligence in dealing with these matters and their ability to assess in the circumstances questions of damage and hardship—without the addition to the Bill of words which we believe will open the door to many claims to be made.

Sir D. Glover

I have a good deal of sympathy with the Government about the Bill—in fact, more than a good deal; but I support the Amendment. The argument for slip-slod measures throughout history has been that they were good in general character. If ever there were need for a consumer protection society, it is established by the way in which the Bill has been produced.

This is a very complicated Bill which deals very largely with legal points, and. with the greatest respect for my friend, the new Parliamentary Secretary, this sort of stuff is right above his head and mine. We are dealing with legal questions, and in courtesy to the House there ought to be a Law Officer present. I find it far easier to understand various parts of the Bill after my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson), who was a Law Officer, has explained them than after any explanation from the Government Front Bench.

I do not want to be obstructive, but we are not being given the explanations of various parts of the Bill which we are entitled to expect. It is always the argument of a slip-shod Government that it is only emergency legislation. In 1917 legislation was passed which became known as the Defence of the Realm Act. It was passed through the House easily because it was emergency legislation. But it stayed on the Statute Book to a greater or lesser degree for the best part of 30 years. Once we pass an Act of Parliament, none of us knows what will happen in the future.

With all the events of recent days, right hon. Gentlemen opposite may no longer be the Government when the date for the expiry of the Act is reached. It is no part of Parliament's duty to allow slip-shod legislation to reach the Statute Book on the excuse that it is to operate for only 12 months. So much of the Bill has been ill thought out. The Minister himself does not know half its implications. It needs a Law Officer to explain the legal implications.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) when he says that a Law Officer is needed to explain the details and intricacies of the Clause. The Parliamentary Secretary's explanations are lacking in clarity and understanding. He has resorted, as in the past, to sentimentalities to try to move the Committee by talking about hardship in the most sentimental terms, but he fails to appreciate that there is another aspect. I represent a constituency in which there is a lot of holiday accommodation—for example, in North Cornwall. Here a great deal of accommodation is let for the holiday season.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary understands that if this accommodation is let in the winter at a smaller rent compared with that charged during the summer much damage and hardship is likely to be caused to the owners if the tenants stay on during the summer months by using the device of the Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced in a haphazard, ill-thought-out and ill-conceived manner. These owners are liable to suffer a great deal of damage. Ministers seem to have failed to recognise this aspect of the problem. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the whole matter and come back to us, perhaps on Report, with something else, or, if he cannot do that, I should much prefer him to accept the proposal contained in the Amendment.

Mr. Evelyn King

Much of the difference of opinion in the Committee stems not from party dogma but from the difference between London and the rest of the country. I have great sympathy for the hon. Gentleman the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in his interest in London. In London and many of our big towns, some of what he is now proposing is wholly necessary, and many of us on this side would support it, but, when it is applied to a place like Weymouth, it is seen to be not only irrelevant but positively harmful.

Do right hon. and hon. Gentlemen know about what the Minister of Defence has recently done? I see that there is no representative of the Ministry of Defence here tonight. In Portland, in my constituency, he issued a public appeal to the citizens to make available more furnished accommodation for the increased number of Navy personnel about to be stationed there. If that appeal is responded to, as I hope it will be, the lettings will all be for very short periods. It is most odd that one Minister should make that appeal while another Minister makes it extremely difficult to answer.

Royal Navy men, officers, petty officers and seamen, have for many years depended to a large extent on furnished lettings. I mention the Navy particularly because of its presence in my constituency, but this applies also to Army and Air Force men in just the same way. They are always on the move, liable to be posted away at short notice, and they are constantly taking houses for six months, a year or two years.

Another habit of serving officers and N.C.O.s, a good habit, is that towards the end of their career, many of them will buy a house. Having bought their houses, perhaps in their middle 30's they may be stationed in Gibraltar, Cyprus or where-ever it may be, and they will let their houses for six months at a time. When opportunity offers, they will come home, often with their families, and expect to find a home to come to in Britain. If the effect of the Bill were to be that those homes were not open to them, real hardship would be caused.

People are entitled to compensation for such hardship. What about the serving officer's wife or serving seaman's wife who comes home to have her baby in her own house? That house is suddenly not available because the tenant insists on staying. She may have to go to a nursing home or hospital and be put to extra expense. Is it unreasonable to suggest that the person illegally occupying someone else's house should make to the rightful owner some compensation for it?

Mr. Harold Lever

Why does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the judge will not give possession?

Mr. King

The judge has to have regard to the degree of hardship. Perhaps the tenant has six children and the owner has only one. It may be 12 months, or even 23 months if the order comes up in the last month of next year, before possession is given. At best, it will be three months before the case comes before the court at all, and during those three months additional hardship will be suffered. Another person similarly placed may have to bear the cost of storage of furniture or moving into an hotel. These are all unfair expenses.

Those fortunate enough to be able to do so—I am thinking now of the man with £1,000 a year or more—have made an enormous effort to keep up their mortgage repayments to satisfy the natural ambition of men to provide a permanent home for his family. They have made that sacrifice, but when the moment comes when they really want it they cannot get entry into their own homes. The feckless enjoy that for which the prudent pay. Hon. Members opposite must understand that that is real hardship, and it is reasonable that some payment should be made in compensation for it.

The second type of person whose interests I must defend is the one who

lets furnished flats or rooms to holiday makers. I received a letter yesterday, one of a very large correspondence, which I have sent to the right hon. Gentleman, to which I am sure he will return a courteous answer. But what answer is there? The writer said that he lived in Weymouth and during the winter let his flats at a low rental, and those tenants were all due to go out in April or May, and from then on he had no fewer than 10 lets for 10 days, a fortnight or three weeks right through the summer to holiday makers coming into Weymouth for a good time, and if any one of those tenants was as much as three days late—I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) will not suggest that a county court judge would give a decision within three days—somebody's holiday would be spoilt. Resentment will come not only from those who make their living from the tourist industry but from holiday makers whose holidays could be spoilt.

To go back to where I started, the trouble with the Bill is that it is a cockney Bill. I have a great admiration for cockneys—I like them—but it is a cockney Bill and we have a cockney Government. However, I hope that, because of their sense of generosity, the Government will think of places which are not London and not big cities, places where the Bill is not merely irrelevant but actually positively harmful to a living legitimately earned by the people I seek to help.

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 93, Noes 156.

Division No. 11.] AYES [11.58 p.m.]
Agnew, Commander Sir Peter Costain, A. P. Higgins, Terence L.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Crawley, Aidan Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Curran, Charles Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Astor, John Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin
Atkins, Humphrey Drayson, G. B. Hordern, Peter
Berry, Hn. Anthony Eden, Sir John Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.
Biffen, John Foster, Sir John Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
Bingham, R. M. Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan Jopling, Michael
Blaker, Peter Glover, Sir Douglas Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J. Glyn, Sir Richard King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)
Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry Goodhew, Victor Kitson, Timothy
Buck, Antony Grant, Anthony Litchfield, Capt. John
Chataway, Christopher Grieve, Percy Longden, Gilbert
Chichester-Clark, R. Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick) Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh (Hendon, S.)
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Hall, John (Wycombe) MacArthur, Ian
Cole, Norman Hall-Davis, A. G. F. (Morecambe) McLaren, Martin
Corfield, F. V. Hawkins, Paul McNair-Wilson, Patrick
Mathew, Robert Price, David (Eastleigh) Summers, Sir Spencer
Maude, Angus E. U. Pym, Francis Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow,Cathcart)
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Temple, John M.
Meyer, Sir Anthony Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Martin Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Conway)
Miscampbell, Norman Rees-Davies, W. R. (Isle of Thanet) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon,S.)
Mitchell, David Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
More, Jasper Roots, William Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Murton, Oscar St. John-Stevas, Norman Wall, Patrick
Onslow, Cranley Scott-Hopkins, James Walters, Dennis
Page, R. Graham (Crosby) Sharples, Richard Weatherill, Bernard
Peel, John Sinclair, Sir George Whitelaw, William
Peyton, John Soames, Rt. Hn. Christopher Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth Spearman, Sir Alexander
Pitt, Dame Edith Stainton, Keith TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Studholme, Sir Henry Mr. Batsford and Mr. Ian Fraser.
Armstrong, Ernest Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Ogden, Eric
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Hattersley, Ray Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham S.)
Beaney, Alan Hayman, F. H. Orbach, Maurice
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Hazell, Bert Oswald, Thomas
Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Bessell, Peter Horner, John Palmer, Arthur
Blackburn, F. Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Parkin, B. T.
Blenkinsop, Arthur Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Pavitt, Laurence
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S.W.) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Bradley, Tom Howie, W. Pentland, Norman
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Perry, E. G.
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Probert, Arthur
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury) Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Buchan, Norman (Renfrewshire, W.) Hunter, A. E. (Feltham) Reynolds, Gerald
Buchanan,Richard(Gl'sg'w,Spr'burn) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Richard, Ivor
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Carmichael, Neil Jackson, Colin Robinson,Rt.Hn.K.(St.Pancras,N.)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.) Rose, Paul B.
Coleman, Donald Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Short,Rt.Hn.E.(N'c'tle-on-Tyne,C.)
Crawshaw, Richard Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Silkin, John (Deptford)
Crosland, Anthony Kelley, Richard Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S. Kenyon, Clifford Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Dalyell, Tam Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Small, William
Davies, Harold (Leek) Lawson, George Snow, Julian
de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey Leadbitter, Ted Solomons, Henry
Dell, Edmund Ledger, Ron Steele, Thomas
Doig, Peter Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Driberg, Tom Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Stones, William
Dunnett, Jack (Nottingh'm, Central) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Summerskill, Dr. Shirley
Edelman, Maurice Loughlin, Charles Swain, Thomas
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lubbock, Eric Swingler, Stephen
English, Michael McBride, Neil Taverne, Dick
Ensor, David McCann, J. Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) MacColl, James Thornton, Ernest
Fitch, Alan MacDermot, Niall Tomney, Frank
Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Tuck, Raphael
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mackie, John (Enfield, E.) Urwin, T. W.
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Varley, Eric G.
Floud, Bernard Mapp, Charles Wainwright, Edwin
Foley, Maurice Marsh, Richard Wallace, George
Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich) Maxwell, Robert Warbey, William
Ford, Ben Mayhew, Christopher Weitzman, David
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton) Mellish, Robert Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Freeson, Reginald Mendelson, J. J. Whitlock, Charles
Garrow, A. Milne, Edward (Blythe) Wilkins, W. A.
Gregory, Arnold Molloy, William Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Grey, Charles Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Morris, Charles (Openshaw) Woof, Robert
Hale, Leslie Murray, Albert Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Hamilton, William (West Fife) Newens, Stan
Hannan, William Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Harper, Joseph Oakes, Gordon Mr. George Rogers and Mr. Ifor Davies.
Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 26, in page 3, line 7, at the end to insert: Provided that so long as this Act applies to a dwelling, the occupier and the owner thereof shall, except so far as the court may otherwise order or direct by virtue of this subsection, be required to observe and be entitled to the benefits of all the terms and conditions of the former tenancy.

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Harry Legge-Bourke)

With the Amendment it will be convenient to discuss new Clause 4—"Recovery of possession"—and new Clause 7—"Payment by the occupier"—with the right to a Division on new Clause 7 if that is necessary.

Mr. Graham Page

I am grateful to you, Sir Harry, for saying that we may also discuss New Clauses 4 and 7, which deal with exactly the same position. I am sure that in that way we can have a short and effective debate, because I am equally sure that the Government will accept this very reasonable tidying-up Amendment.

Amendment No. 26 contains a proviso to Clause 2(2), by which the court is given the power to impose terms and conditions when it suspends an order for possession. Of course, nine out of ten cases will not come before the court for the court to exercise that power. As I understand it, the intention of the Bill is to provide a deterrent to the landlord taking any steps to evict a tenant without applying to the court, but that does not necessarily mean that every case will come before the court.

The landlord will know that if he brings before the court certain cases in which he is unable to prove hardship to himself, and so on, the tenant will have the 12 months' extension of his right to occupy. Therefore, the parties will not come before the court except in rare cases where there is disagreement. If the parties do not come before the court, the relationship between them as landlord and tenant having come to an end, they are in some sort of suspended state.

The Bill deals with the position, and only with the position, when a tenancy has come to an end. It does not deal with the position when a tenancy exists and there are rights between landlord and tenant. Therefore, it is dealing with a position in which there are no existing rights. Had the Bill said, for example, that when the order for possession is suspended, there shall be a statutory tenancy, we should have known the position; the terms and conditions of the previous tenancy would have continued. But it does not say that. It not only leaves us in suspense about the order for possession, but it leaves us in suspense as to the rights between the parties.

My suggested proviso at the end of subsection (2) would state specifically that the terms of the previous tenancy continue as between the parties until the court makes an order. In nine cases out of ten, perhaps in 99 out of 100, the court will never need to make an order because the case will never come before it. The tenants would rest upon the proviso that the terms of the tenancy continue and the occupier would have his extension by consent for the further six or 12 months or whatever term they agree between them.

New Clause 4 deals with the position of suspended rights as between landlord and tenant. The Bill leaves us in doubt about what the rights are when a tenancy has come to an end and an order for recovery is, or can be, suspended by virtue of the Bill. Those of us who have debated housing matters again and again in the House and in Committee were familiar at one stage with the phrase "the unexpended balance of development value". I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary remembers it. In the Bill, we now have "the suspended balance of an uncontrolled tenancy". By these Amendments, I am endeavouring to explain what the Bill means by that and to state clearly the rights as between the parties. New Clause 4 is only another effort towards that.

New Clause 7 raises a point which, I hope, will dispel a cause of great bitterness between landlord and tenant. When a landlord serves a notice to quit, many tenants think that that ends the payment or rent for them. They get the notice to quit and they cease to pay rent. Certainly, when the notice to quit expires they cease to pay rent. The landlord does not dare to take rent from them in case it is implied that he is giving them a further tenancy.

That is not implied when the landlord continues to take rent from a controlled tenant. In that case, it is clear in law that he runs no risk, because he cannot do anything else. He cannot get the tenant out and, therefore, it is only reasonable that he should continue to take rent from the tenant.

Again, however, the Bill does not convert the occupier into a controlled tenant. I do not know what the position may be if the landlord, instead of going to the court and cluttering it up, agrees to let his occupier carry on and he collects from the occupier payment equal to the rent that he was paying before under his tenancy.

12.15 a.m.

What is to be the position then? Is he running the risk of creating a new tenancy, or is he merely holding this period of suspension? Looking at it from the tenant's point of view, is he right in paying the rent that he has been paying? Does he continue to pay that to the landlord under this suspension order? If we do not put something in the Bill which makes this point clear—and I submit that my new Clause 7 makes it clear—the result will be that both the landlord and the tenant will take the case to court for this to be decided.

We can avoid that if we put in the Bill exactly what the rights of the parties will be during this period of suspension, and they need never go to court to get these conditions settled. They can agree the matter between themselves and let the period run for the twelve months which the tenant might well get if he goes to court.

New Clause 7 is not breaking new ground. This has been put in previous legislation, and I have merely adjusted the wording for this Bill.

Mr. MacColl

I think the position is as stated by the hon. Gentleman. A statutory tenancy is not created. We do not think that it is necessary to have a statutory tenancy. In fact, we think it is better that there should not be one. There is enough confusion in the rent laws without creating another statutory tenancy as a sort of parallel to those which exist in other legislation. What there is, is a suspended order after notice to quit, and the position is that on the expiry of the notice to quit the tenancy is determined and there is now a continuation after that tenancy.

I do not think that there is any difficulty about the rights and duties of the parties. It is clear that the landlord must continue to provide existing services, and we discussed that at some length on Clause 1. It is fairly clear that he is in a position to know what is required in the way of the services and terms that existed at the time.

The tenant is in the position of knowing that if he does not fulfil the terms on which he has obtained the suspension order it can be varied, and he may find himself out more quickly, or paying a higher rent, or paying off arrears, or whatever it is, so both parties have a clear idea of what they are required to do, and there is a sanction to see that they do it.

Mr. Graham Page

The hon. Gentleman talked about when the tenant had obtained the suspension order. I am trying to deal with the position before he has it, and he need never go to court to get it.

Mr. MacColl

The landlord will go on with the services which he provides. That comes under Clause I. He continues to do that on the expiry of the notice to quit. If, before the tenant gets to court, he gets into arrears with his rent, or breaks what have been the previous conditions of the tenancy, he is likely to find himself in difficulties about that when he gets to court. If they do not go to court—and one hopes that in most cases they will not, but will settle it—that will be a matter of understanding between the parties, and it will not be covered by the suspension order, because there will not be one.

Mr. Allason

Surely the difficulty arises where the notice to quit has expired and before it goes to court. The landlord is frequently advised not to accept rent, because it would create a new tenancy if he did. New Clause No. 7 is designed to meet that case. We want to know what the conditions will be during the interim period. It is equally difficult for the tenant if he has put money on one side because the landlord will not accept it; he knows that at some stage he will have to pay it.

Mr. MacColl

That point has been put by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I was developing my argument, and I had not reached new Clause No. 7. I had got to the stage, first, where the landlord does not go to court at all, because there is an agreement between the parties which gets over the difficulty. In those cases there will not be a suspension order. There will be a new tenancy, or the tenant may agree to go out at the end of a given period. That does not involve the court.

The next stage is where the landlord goes to court. In those cases I was saying that the landlord must in the meantime continue to provide the same services. The tenant is under an obligation to pay for those services, and to pay the rent as before, because if he does not the sanction on him would be, if and when the case goes to court, that his action will affect the terms of the suspension order.

Sir J. Hobson


Mr. MacColl

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to finish. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) interrupted me before I got to the point he was making. I get into trouble at one moment for being too short in my explanation; I am now trying to make a longer explanation and I still get into trouble.

The criticism of the Amendment is that if we leave the position as it is in the Bill, without the provision contained in the Amendment, there is no need for the new Clause No. 4. In the Amendment the hon. Gentleman had provided something which looks like a statutory tenancy, and in new Clause No. 4 he proposes to remove a good deal of it, so that there is no estate or interest. But if we do not have the Amendment we do not need the new Clause.

On new Clause No. 7 I am advised—I would not attempt to advise the Committee on my own initiative, because I am not qualified—that it is a piece of folklore to imagine that if a landlord accepts rent after a notice to quit has expired he is creating a new tenancy. It depends on the intentions of the parties. If the landlord is accepting the payment without any intention of creating a new tenancy he is not at risk of its being said that a new tenancy has been created.

But the other side of the story is where there is an intention to create a new tenancy when the rent is accepted. It might be that at that time the parties intended that a new tenancy should be created. Under New Clause No. 7 it would be impossible for the court to construe the actions of the parties as indicating the intent to create a new tenancy. My advice on the new Clause is that the present position is clear, and that provided the intention is made clear when the payments are accepted they do not prejudice the position of the landlord when the final terms of the suspension order are made.

The Amendment and the new Clauses do not help us; they make things a little more complicated, and it would be wiser not to accept them.

Sir J. Hobson

I was disappointed when the Parliamentary Secretary did not answer at all, but I am more disappointed with the answer he has now given. He has not faced the problem which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) put forward.

In the whole of these proceedings, it seems to be envisaged that everyone will rush to the courts on every occasion, but there is a position between going to the court and doing nothing. Of course the tenant is all right, but we had hoped that the Government would try to seek justice between the landlord and the tenant. The other Parliamentary Secretary says that the object is to tilt the balance in favour of the tenant, but we have also to look at the position of the landlord. I should have thought that he would be at grave risk in accepting rent if he does not want possession but is content to allow the tenant to stay. Suppose that there are repairing covenants on the property, what happens then at the end of the tenancy? The landlord is no longer bound by those covenants.

The landlord may be quite content to allow the tenant to stay because he knows that he would not get an order from the county court; the tenant would get a suspended order. It is a waste of money to ask for possession because the tenant will get a suspended order anyway. The tenant gets the services and is to go on having them. The landlord is at risk if he accepts a tender of rent because if he accepts rent as such that creates a tenancy. The tenant may be left in possession and the landlord can say, "The Statute allows you to stay, but it does not say that I have to repair the premises. The roof may fall round your neck".

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the position which he has entirely overlooked, the case in which the landlord is quite happy for the tenant to stay but he does not want to ask for a suspended order. It can happen that the ordinary terms go on without any new estate being created.

Mr. Lubbock

I take the view that it would be a good thing to try to prevent unnecessary litigation under the Bill. I see some force in the arguments of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) on this score, and I wonder if there is a simpler way of dealing with the problem.

When a tenancy comes to an end the landlord may apply to the court for possession, or he may decide that he does not desire possession immediately and will allow the tenant to remain in possession, perhaps for a year. If he applied for possession and the court allowed it, the maximum discretion they would have would be to suspend it for 12 months. Why should we not provide that where a tenancy comes to an end and the landlord allows the tenant to remain in the premises for a year, at the expiry of that period he does not have to apply for an order? That would avoid the application to the court, which I think is the desire of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. We do not want the courts to be cluttered up with unnecessary disputes between landlords and tenants.

The tenant in that case would know that he had a year in which to look for alternative accommodation, and that is the maximum which the court would award him if he went to litigation. This would be a simple solution which would not need the amount of wording there is in Amendment No. 26. I am not a lawyer, and it would be difficult for me to suggest how this might be dealt with, but I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary could find the necessary wording to provide for this solution on Report.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Cole

It has been emphasised that this is a temporary Measure, but, with respect to the Parliamentary Secretary's advisers, it seems to me that the Government are de facto giving what amounts to an extension of the control system. As long as a house is up to the rateable value limit, it will be controlled under the Bill up to a period of 12 months, and then this Measure will be supervened by a new Bill.

Far from making the position less complicated, the Parliamentary Secretary, by refusing these two proposed new Clauses and the Amendment, is making it more complicated. We have the Rent Act, 1957, and the previous rent restriction Acts, so far as they have not been annulled. We have control and decontrol under the 1957 Act, with rateable values controlling the situation in London, the Metropolitan police district and beyond. This Bill extends up to a certain ceiling, and the existing position is not walking side by side with the position as regards the payment of rent and the institution of a new tenancy.

One point which seems to have been overlooked in our debate is this. If the matter is brought to the point when an application for possession is made, how is a court to interpret the actions of the parties in the absence of any written agreement as to whether they intended to create a new tenancy or not by the acceptance of rent?

Secondly, I would remind the Committee that the court may suspend the execution of the order for a period up to 12 months, as seems reasonable to the court. There is no indication that the period will necessarily be 12 months. We ought to have this clear beyond a peradventure. We have been given a kind of illegitimate temporary Measure in an attempt to do something that we all want. Surely the clearer we make it the better it will be.

We are inclined to be too theoretical in discussing these matters. We should be more practical in discussing day-to-day matters concerning landlord and tenant. People come to see me from time to time about notices to quit. They say, "The landlord is not accepting the rent." I always say, "I hope you are putting the money by." We must never overlook the fact that if there is a reconciliation the landlord may well look for his rent, and if the rent is £2 or £3 a week there is a considerable sum to find after several months. More often than not people say, "Yes, I am putting the money aside."

In this connection, the Parliamentary Secretary himself used the word "arrears". I should like to emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said. We are dealing with the interim period, and I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that, however much the county court procedure is expedited, if this Bill means anything at all, it means that quite a lot of cases will come before the county courts. Therefore, despite the hurrying up, the period may well be more than six or eight weeks as it is at the moment. Tenants may be left with eight or ten weeks rent to pay, and if the rent is £2 or £3 a week they may have to find anything up to £25, not knowing what is going to happen.

Even though this is a quick Bill which seeks to do something that is clear to us all, it is not clear, and surely it is not difficult for the draftsmen to dot the i's and cross the t's so that people will not have to consult other statutes to ascertain the position.

Mr. Weitzman

I am a little troubled about the acceptance of rent after the notice to quit and during the interim period. There is a real danger that it might well be said that by the acceptance of rent a new tenancy had been created. I hope that the Government will consider this point.

Mr. Graham Page

I had hoped that by this Amendment and the two proposed new Clauses we could have made it clear what kind of animal—if I may put it in that way the occupier is during this suspended period. There can be only three types. He is either a contractual tenant, a statutory tenant, or a trespasser. He cannot be anything else. I would have liked to have described him as a sort of statutory tenant, as I have described him in these Amendments, but I think it is really immaterial which he is so long as we make certain which he is. At present the Bill does not say.

Is he to be a contractual tenant and go on under his previous tenancy, paying the same rent and under the same conditions? Is he a statutory tenant under the old Rent Acts, or a statutory tenant under the new terms of this Bill? Or is he to be a trespasser? The Bill does not say, and this must mean litigation and the parties going to court in order to get their rights settled.

What we are trying to do here is to prevent the county courts being flooded with cases of this sort. There will be misunderstanding and bitterness between the parties, for instance, over rent, if after two months the tenant has spent it. This is the sort of thing that is going to happen. The landlord is going to sit back and say, "I do not know what my agreement with you is. I am not going to repair the kitchen sink while I do not know what my position is."

This sort of thing can be settled easily between the landlord and the tenant if we state in this Bill what the relationship between them is. I hope that the Minister will think about this again. These are two rather long new Clauses and a long Amendment, but perhaps he will give us some assurance that he will try to look at this again so that parties will not be forced to go to the county court.

Mr. MacColl

I want to make it quite clear that we do not want people unnecessarily to go to the court. We are not rewriting the law of landlord and tenant—we are dealing only with the particular case where a landlord wants to put somebody out without going to the court. We are dealing with the problems which arise in getting to the court and dealing with it.

All cases where the landlord and tenant come to an understanding or have a written agreement and so create a new tenancy are not affected by this. All that is affected by this is what happens when the landlord wants to get the tenant out, and he cannot get the tenant out without going to court.

Mr. Lubbock

The Parliamentary Secretary has talked about understandings and agreements, but suppose the parties amicably arrive at an agreement that the tenant should continue in possession for another year. Would not the landlord be in the same position as if he had applied for an order? Suppose they did come to such an amicable agreement, by the end of the year could court proceedings be avoided and the landlord regain possession?

Mr. MacColl

If he makes an amicable agreement and both sides keep to the agreement, then there is no problem. If at the end of the year he then does not accept the terms of that agreement and he does not leave, then the landlord has to go to court and start his court proceedings. By then we would expect to have the new Act, and it would be dealt with under that Act. But nothing in this Act affects the freedom of the landlord and tenant to make some agreement about staying on, or negotiating for a new tenancy, so I do not think there really is any difficulty about this at all. As for looking at this matter again, I am not prepared to make any undertaking that I will bring anything forward on Report, but if I find that there is need to do something, I will. At the moment I am satisfied that the position is quite clear.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again. My purpose is to give the Government an opportunity of expressing their intentions about the rest of the proceedings.

Mr. Crossman

We seem to be going on very nicely and quietly. It seems to me that if we continue in such a steady way we shall make very satisfactory progress with the Bill between now and breakfast-time. While this side of the Committee is in good fettle I suggest that we continue with the Bill. I shall be glad to see hon. and right hon. Members opposite continue on the same basis and see us safely through the night.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is normal for a Minister to indicate how far he wishes to progress with a Bill.

Mr. Crossman

I thought that it was clear. We clearly must have a Report stage now, because we have accepted many Amendments. I therefore suggest that we complete the Committee stage tonight.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is, of course, the Government's responsibility when they so arrange their business that important matters of this kind have to be conduced at this late hour. If the Government so arrange things, they have the power to do so, though I do not think that many people, and particularly those who have listened to our discussions in the last half hour or so, would think that a Bill of this highly technical nature is very suitable for discussion at this hour of the night.

I have the greatest respect for the Parliamenary Secretary and his abilities, but is has been perfectly plain that he has been unable to answer points raised by my hon, and right hon. and learned Friends, deprived of the assistance of a Law Officer. At 12.40 in the morning that is not surprising. There are many important Clauses still ahead of us but if the Minister and the Government persist in arranging what they themselves regard as important business at this hour it is not for us to do other than continue to do our duty by the Bill. But those of our fellow citizens whose lives and whose rights will be affected by the provisions of the Bill will not, when they are aware of it, think it satisfactory that these matters should be dealt with by an overworked and fatigued Government at one o'clock in the morning.

Mr. Crossman

If the right hon. Gentleman speaks of fatigue, he should speak for himself. I find no sign of fatigue on this side of the Committee. As for public opinion outside and its estimate of our proceedings, I thought that we all agreed on Second Reading that this was an emergency Measure which should be got through as fast as possible. It will be judged by the public whether the Opposition have been helpful in accelerating the progress of the Bill or not. It is still open to them to save their reputation. If they wish to give the public an impression of urgency, they could do better than they have done in the last two hours.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

If the right hon. Gentleman takes that line he should study the OFFICIAL REPORT—

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

On a point of order. Is it in order for this dialogue to take place? I understood that there was a Motion before the Committee.

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Harry Legge-Bourke)

I do not think that anything that is out of order has happened.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I would ask the Minister to note—

Mr. William Hamilton

Is not there a Motion before the Committee? If there is, is the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), or indeed my right hon. Friend, entitled to speak twice on the Motion without leave of the Committee?

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member is somewhat mistaken. The House is still in Committee.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

If the Minister, who is just as little or as much in order as I am, will reflect on his last observation, it is a fact—and I make no complaint about it—that his own hon. Friends have taken a considerable part of the time of the Committee, quite properly, to discuss an important matter. In those circumstances, it would not be for him to make the insinuation which I thought he did make and which he may regret. He may also regret some of the replies which have been given from the Treasury Bench when he comes to study HANSARD the day after tomorrow.

12.45 a.m.

So far as fatigue is concerned, he may not know that medical science shows that the most dangerous form of it is that which is experienced by those who are not aware of it. Again, when he studies HANSARD the right hon. Gentleman may well find that his own observations fully bear out the truth of that medical fact. However, as I do not want to add to the fatigue of the right hon. Gentleman or to that of his colleagues who are showing signs of strain. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Corfield

I beg to move Amendment No. 27, in page 3, line 8, after "court", to insert: upon being satisfied that the circumstances by reference to which the suspension aforesaid or the last preceding variation thereof was made have substantially changed since the date of such suspension or variation (as the case may be)". I do not want to detain the Committee on this Amendment, because, even despite the fatigue about which we have just heard, the Amendment and its objective, is obvious. It is designed to ensure against irresponsible vexatious, and repetitious applications to the county court. I recall the statement by the Parliamentary Secretary on the last Amendment that the county court should not be cluttered up with unnecessary work because of the operation of this Bill or any other Act.

This is a really useful Amendment and I do ask the Government to give it serious consideration. It is designed simply to clarify the position where, in a previous application to the county court, a tenant has been given a suspension up to a certain date and where, I submit, the landlord has a right to count on getting possession at that date unless there are changes in circumstances since the matter was before the county court. The Government would agree that the management of houses is a matter of public interest in so far as houses should not be kept empty because people do not keep to the obligations imposed upon them by the county courts or otherwise.

What we say is that, unless there has been a change of circumstances, there is a strong case for the county court not accepting any application for a further hearing, but enabling the landlord to rely on the date in the original order of the court.

Mr. MacColl

Our view is that this Amendment might have the opposite effect to that which has been suggested in that it might weaken the flexibility of these proceedings. A situation might arise where the whole point was that there has been no change in circumstances. Suppose a county court judge had looked at the situation in the hope that there would be a change in, say, three months' time and, therefore, made a suspension order for three months. The very fact that nothing had happened might, if this Amendment were carried, mean that the judge would make it for a longer period. If the judge suspected that, then he would presumably have made the suspension for, say, six months on the first occasion. That would not be in the interests of the landlord.

Limiting the power of the judge in this way is not helpful and our view is that the best way is to leave matters entirely to him, avoiding any abuse of his functions by people continually going to him. The judge should have full flexibility to make variations and not have imposed on him an artificial limitation such as there would be if the law ruled that a change of circumstances must be established.

Amendment negatived.

Mrs. Lena Jeger

I beg to move Amendment No. 30, in page 3, line 16, to leave out paragraph (a) and to insert: (a) whether there have been substantial breaches by the occupier of his obligations under the present tenancy. As the Clause is drafted, there is a possibility of some of the small print in agreements tripping up tenants who may be unaware of some of the detailed obligations included in their leases. I do not think it would be the intention of this Committee that a tenant should be at fault in that for some technical and trivial reason he did not fulfil some minor point in his lease. I have used the words "substantial breaches" because there are the words used in Section 30(1,c) of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954. It would seem useful and helpful that the same wording should appear here.

Mr. MacColl

I should like to make this point to my hon. Friend. It is one which comes in all this part of the Bill. We are not dealing here with conditions which have got to be meticulously fulfilled before the tenant can retain possession. We are dealing only with things which are guides to the court as to the attitude it should adopt. Therefore I do not think there is any need to have this gloss on what the court is going to do. The court is going to look at the matter reasonably, saying, "This is such a small breach it would be unreasonable to take it into account". I think the court will behave in a reasonable, humane and intelligent manner about it, and I do not think my hon. Friend's Amendment is really necessary.

Mrs. Jeger

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Harold Lever

I beg to move Amendment No. 52, in page 3, line 20, to leave out "or other contract for the occupation".

The Amendment is to restrict the matter of offer of a contract to a tenant.

Mr. Crossman

We see no reason for not accepting this Amendment. These are words left in from a previous law. We see no reason why they should not he left out here.

Mr. Graham Page

Do not these words refer to furnished lettings? If I could have the attention of the Minister, do not these words refer to furnished lettings? Are not these words in the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act—a contract for occupation of a house not a tenancy? If furnished dwellings are to be left in, are not these the appropriate words?

Mr. Crossman

The reason why we are willing that they should be left out is that we may be asking a tenant to accept something less than a tenancy. This we are willing to do.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 31, in page 3, line 21, after the second "premises" to insert: or other suitable alternative accommodation. Encouraged by the result of the last Amendment, I will be so brief as to say, "I move".

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee proceeded to a Division; but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Ayes, The CHAIRMAN declared that the Noes had it.

Mr. Harold Lever

I beg to move, in page 3, line 23, to leave out from the beginning to "and" in line 24.

There is no need to add to what I have already said.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Corfield

I beg to move Amendment No. 34, in page 3, line 28, at the end to insert: (e) whether the premises or a substantial part thereof are to be demolished redeveloped or substantially reconstructed and such work cannot be reasonably carried out without the owner obtaining possession thereof.

The Deputy-Chairman

It would be convenient to take at the same time Amendment No. 35 in page 3, line 28, at the end to insert: (e) whether the industry, profession or occupation in which the occupier or the prospective tenant is or will be engaged will be adversely affected if the execution of the order for possession is suspended. Amendment No. 36, in line 28, at the end to insert: (e) whether any prospective tenant to whom the premises will be let will be caused hardship by the suspension of the execution of the order for possession. and Amendment No. 37, in line 28, at the end to insert: (e) whether the dwelling is required by the owner for occupation as a residence by some person engaged or to be engaged in the full-time employment of the owner and is a dwelling of which the occupier became tenant in consequence of employment and has ceased to be in that employment.

Mr. Corfield

This series of Amendments comprises additions to the special factors which are enumerated in Clause 2(4) to which the county courts are enjoined to have special regard in an application of this sort. I appreciate that there is a certain difficulty in drafting a Clause of this type in that if one puts in too few factors there is said to be too little guidance to the court in the matter in which it exercises its discretion, and if one puts in too many they generally tend to be interpreted as entirely exclusive. But I submit that at least these particular factors deserve attention.

1.0 a.m.

Amendment No. 34, is designed to ensure that, where the suspension of the order would lead to delay in desirable development, this ought to be taken into account. Occasions can arise when a house is one of a row, the remainder of the neighbouring properties being all empty and ready for demolition, and that one house is holding up the process because of the tenant staying beyond the termination of his tenancy. This is a factor which should be taken into account in the public interest as well as the landlord's interest.

Amendments Nos. 35 and 37 are closely linked, both being designed to ensure that, where a dwelling is required for some employee vital to the business or industry—we have agriculture in mind here—this also should be taken into account by the county court in considering whether a notice should be suspended and whether the availability of the premises for another tenant should be delayed.

Amendment No. 36 is somewhat related in that it would require the county court to take into acount the hardship which might result to a prospective tenant with whom arrangements had already been made. One can think of many cases involving properties let on relatively short terms—we have already mentioned the holiday letting—in respect of which it is customary and, indeed, essential to be able to give a definite date to the incoming tenant.

I hope that, even at this late hour, the hon. Gentleman will regard these as serious Amendments. We are endeavouring to make constructive suggestions.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

I suggest that the points in Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 are sufficiently covered by paragraph (d) as the subsection stands and are covered also by the provision at the beginning of the subsection, that the court shall have regard to all the circumstances. For this reason, I regard them as superfluous.

I feel some sympathy with the object of Amendment No. 36, the case of the proposed new tenant whose prospect of a tenancy is affected by a suspension. However, I think that the Committee will agree that the wording of the Amendment goes far too wide. If any regard is to be paid to this factor, it should be confined to cases in which there is in being a contract to let the premises concerned.

Mr. Mellish

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) for the way in which he moved the Amendment. I take the point—we all do—that there are many cases of hardship which could be catalogued in the Clause. However, we think that as the Bill now reads—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) is right—we have given sufficient examples to the judges of the intentions of Parliament. I do not quarrel with anything the hon. Member has said. There is no disagreement here on the point of principle. It is a question only of whether it is logical to write everything of this kind into the Bill. If we agreed with the hon. Gentleman, there would be no reason why we could not think of more to write in on Report.

We appreciate the desire of the Opposition to write into the Bill as much protection as is possible, but we believe, on the legal advice given to us, that because of the way the Bill is worded, what the hon. Gentleman is asking us to do is unnecessary. Apart from paragraph (d), it is stated at the beginning of subsection (4) that the court shall have regard to all the circumstances. We bear in mind what was said earlier by a right hon. Gentleman about the common sense and knowledge of judges in dealing with these matters. We say that these are arguments which will be properly adduced by those who are putting the case for these people. We do not think it right or necessary to put into the Bill what the hon. Gentleman asks us to do. For that reason, we ask the Committee not to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Cole

I do not think that that reply covers everything. This Bill, which is being brought in as an emergency Measure, is redolent all through of the question of suspending orders for possession. Any magistrate will take note of that. The title of the Bill will be an indication to him. The Parliamentary Secretary seemed to think that judges take notice of the proceedings in the House of Commons. It is axiomatic and quite proper that they do not take notice of what goes on here, and we do not take note of what goes on in court. We look at the end product and arrange accordingly.

I do not want to proliferate the various hardships. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned two, the case of the person who might want the premises demolished, and the case of a third party. Since judges take no notice of what goes on in this House—

Mr. Mellish

Oh, really.

Mr. Cole

—they are not supposed to—surely it is not asking too much—though I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary about not proliferating these things—for something to be added by the Government dealing with hardship to the landlord or some other party who may be taking possession. The term "greater hardship" is far too comprehensive to be capable of interpretation by a judge. In other words, it might just as well not be there. It will not mean anything to anybody.

Mr. Corfield

I would make one further plea with regard to Amendments Nos. 36 and 37. I said I accepted the difficulty about how long a catalogue should be put in this type of Clause, but looking at the items which are catalogued, and having in mind the earlier debate on the agricultural tied cottage, I would hope that a combination of these or a redrafted version incorporating the same idea would appeal to the Minister in his fulfilment of the undertaking which we now understand he has given to the National Farmers' Union on the subject. This is basically the same approach, although a good deal simpler, as that of Amendment No. 33 which we mentioned when we were discussing the Amendment to leave out Clause 1(5). I hope that at least we shall have an assurance that the Government will reconsider this suggestion, or a redrafted version incorporating this idea, because it is every bit as important as the items which are enumerated and, if it is left out, that is bound to give the impression to anybody endeavouring to interpret the Bill that it was meant to be left out.

Mr. Mellish

We have given the assurance about agricultural tied cottages, as a consequence of our discussions with the N.F.U., and my right hon. Friend has announced what he intends to do on Report. There is no limit to the sort of things we could include. I ask the hon. Gentleman to believe that we are quite sincere about this and that we have carefully considered what should be included, with special reference to Amendment No. 36. The hon. Gentleman was my predecessor and he will know that we have been well advised, and our advice is that the Amendment is unnecessary and that we must have confidence in the courts. For that reason, I must decline his suggestion.

Mr. Evelyn King

All the references have been to Amendment No. 36, because of the shortage of land in London, but Amendment No. 34 is important. Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that that is, or will be, included in the wording which will ultimately appear in the Bill?

Mr. Graham Page

I cannot feel that the Parliamentary Secretary has dealt with these matters simply by studying what is already in the Bill. I appreciate that subsection (4) says that the court is to have regard to all the circumstances, but it goes on to particularise certain circumstances. We all know perfectly well that when a Statute does that, it excludes the more general words. If we start to set out particular items which we wish the court to take into account, we weaken the general words. If none of these things had been set out and the court had been asked to take all circumstances into account, it might have taken into account those set out in the Amendments.

The provision into which the Parliamentary Secretary has swept all the Amendments is the hardship provision, paragraph (d), but "hardship" is a word well known to the courts. It has been tested again and again in rent cases. It is personal hardship, hardship between the parties. Does demolition of the premises come under that? Does the Parliamentary Secretary think that it would be right for the court to take account of demolition, the desire for the property to be demolished and reconstructed? If he does, under which paragraph will that come?

Does he consider that it would be right to take account of the industry, profession or occupation in which the occupier or prospective tenant was engaged? If so, under which paragraph would that come? The paragraph would not be that dealing with hardship, because the courts would not interpret hardship as applying to those matters. The provision proposed in Amendment No. 36 to deal with cases where the prospective tenant will be caused hardship, not one of the parties, would not be covered by paragraph (d) and the same argument applies to Amendment No. 37.

None of these will come into the particularised items of subsection (4). Having set out these items, the right hon. Gentleman has deprived the general words of their full power and meaning and he ought therefore to include the items in the Amendments, as well as those already in the Clause.

Amendment negatived.

1.15 a.m.

Mr. MacArthur

I beg to move Amendment No. 38, in page 3, line 31, to leave out "removal" and to insert "removing or warrant".

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Barnett Janner)

I suggest that with this Amendment we take Amendment No. 48—in Clause 6, page 5, line 6, leave out "removal" and insert "removing or warrant".

Mr. MacArthur

This is purely a drafting Amendment. Paragraph (a) of subsection (5) refers to a decree of removal or of ejection … whereas Section 38 of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act, 1907, refers to a … decree of removing and warrant of objection. The purpose of the Amendment is simply to bring the Bill into line with the provisions of the 1907 Act.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. George Willis)

The hon. Gentleman is quite correct. The Amendments bring the terminology of this Bill into line with that of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act, and we are prepared to accept them.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Graham Page

Subsection (1) of the Clause refers to bringing proceedings before the court for an order suspending the order for possession. What is not taken into account is the position where a High Court order for possession has already been obtained when this Measure comes into effect. If an owner holds a High Court possession order he cannot enforce it under subsection (1). If he tries to do so, he is committing a criminal offence. But if he goes to the county court to enforce it, it seems to me that he must start all over again, because all that the county court can extend or suspend is an order of "the" court, and that, as defined later in the Bill, means the county court. Therefore, the county court has no power under this subsection to suspend the High Court order. Yet the man who holds that order can do nothing with it.

When a High Court order has already been obtained when the Bill comes into effect, we should give the county court the power to receive applications to suspend, if necessary, that High Court order. Otherwise, the man has to start all over again with his order for possession in the county court and then his application to suspend.

Mr. Weitzman

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for mentioning that case, because I have a constituent who is in exactly that position at the moment. An order for possession was made by the High Court in July of this year. It was suspended until this month, and is at the moment suspended. The effect of subsection (1) is that the order, being a High Court order, cannot be affected by the provisions of the subsection. I hope that something can be done about that.

Mr. Cole

I should like to know what will be the position in regard to a court order for possession that is made some time in the next few weeks, when the period does not expire before the Bill is enacted. Under subsection (3), is it open to the court then to suspend, as I hope that it is, the period of possession up to the maximum of 12 months from either the latter date when the matter comes before it or the nearer date, or is it entirely outwith the ambit of the court because the original action was not taken under the Bill?

Sir J. Hobson

I should like the Minister to consider this problem which arises from the Clause. The power of the court to grant an order for the withdrawal from the occupier of any specified services or furniture depends upon whether an order for suspension or execution of the order has been made. It is clear from what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said in an earlier debate that he has not contemplated the situation that would arise if the landlord did not want to make a new arrangement and did not want to apply for possession. Surely, there should be a process by which application can be made to the court and it would have power to make an order for the withdrawal of services or furniture without the landlord having to seek, first, possession and, then, a suspension order. Perhaps this is merely a drafting point, but it may be of considerable importance.

While we have set out in subsection (4) a number of provisions about the basis on which the county court judge is to proceed in considering whether to suspend an order, he is given no directions about the withdrawal of services or of furniture. The whole thing is left entirely in the air. The county court judge is not directed to consider whether it is reasonable.

Mr. Crossman

That is a perfectly reasonable point and we will certainly consider it before Report. The same applies also to the problem of the High Court order. We have been uneasily aware that, almost certainly, the situation at present is that it is unenforceable, in the sense that it is not suspended. This position must be tidied up and I promise to consider it.

I remind the Committee that I have given an assurance that before Report we will put down a new paragraph (e) to subsection (4) dealing with the special conditions for agricultural land. That undertaking still holds.

Mr. Cole

Would the Minister care to say whether his remark about the High Court also applies to an area county court decision yet to be given? That was the point I raised.

Mr. Crossman

I think the answer is that it does. We will look into that as well.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.